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Picking up pretty much directly where John Carpenter's original left off, Rick Rosenthal's 1981 sequel, Halloween II begins when infamous murder machine Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) basically gets up and walks away from the damage inflicted on him by Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and his handy pistol. Around the same time, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), has been whisked off to a nearby hospital after that events that took place earlier that night. With Michael still on the loose and bound and determined to kill poor Laurie, Loomis finds himself in a race against time to stop Myers from killing again and saving Laurie from certain death. Thankfully a helpful ambulance attendant named Jimmy (Lance Guest), who takes a shining to Laurie, is intent on keeping tabs on her even if the head nurse keeps trying to get rid of him. Myers inevitably shows up and starts systematically eliminating everyone who gets in his path, be they doctor, nurse or what have you, while Loomis starts to ponder the connection between Myers and Laurie.
While Halloween II doesn't really recreate the slasher film the way that the film that came before it did, the movie still works quite well for what it is. It expands on the storyline that the Carpenter's film started things off with in a fairly logical manner and it brings back the surviving characters for another round of mayhem. Additionally, Rosenthal's film has some solid moments of legitimate suspense that work in its favor, and if it's too bloody and too exploitative to qualify as the classy suspense film it at times seems to be reaching for, at least it doesn't suffer for entertainment value.
Nicely shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey, the film looks good and makes excellent use of shadows throughout. With much of the film taking place in the dark the movie manages to do some interesting things with the contrast provided by shadow and light, letting the white of Myers' mask peer through just enough to make sure we see it without having to give away the farm to get a scare. The makeup effects are done well and go further than anything that we saw in the first movie, and the murder set pieces in the film hold up well. You definitely get the impression that the movie is trying to outdo not only the original Halloween but also the countless knock offs that followed in its wake, and scenes such as the 'needle into the eyeball' bit that we get here do a good job of pushing the envelope in that regard. We don't get the same sort of perfect pacing and thick, black tension that the first movie is so well known and well regarded for, but we do get a good bit more gore, so much so that in one scene a character actually slips and falls from all the blood on the floor!
As far as the cast are concerned, Jamie Lee Curtis is once again very good as Laurie Strode. She has some legitimately sympathetic character traits that are handled well and we feel for her. Her character is understandably upset and confused by all of this and she handles this range of emotions well. Dick Warlock doesn't have any dialogue here but he makes for an imposing figure, his menacing frame doing a fine job of playing the boogeyman, while Donald Pleasance ramps things up to ten and doesn't really ever turn it down. While the aging actor doesn't go as over the top as he would in later sequels, Pleasance chews through a fair bit of scenery and the movie is all the better for it. So closely is Pleasance associated with the character of Dr. Sam Loomis that it's really hard to even imagine anyone else in the role (Sorry, Malcolm McDowell!) and his work here is testament to why that is.
When it's all said and done, the movie works well for what it is, and although that's not the masterpiece of horror Carpenter's film was, it is a fine follow up. Yes, it's a bit formulaic but the film makes great use of the hospital sets and succeeds in expanding the storyline in a decent way. It's slick, it's bloody, it's scary and it's good entertainment.
Halloween II arrives on Blu-ray in an excellent 2.35.1 widescreen AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer from Shout! Factory that looks pretty damn close to the transfer that Universal used for their release of the movie last year but it appears to have a bit less print damage, though some very minor specks pop up here and there. Those who have seen the movie before know that it's a very dark film but shadow detail is generally pretty strong here as are black levels. We don't see an abundance of digital trickery so there are no issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction while detail is considerably improved over the previous DVD editions that have come out over the years. Skin tones are nice and natural looking and color reproduction looks spot on. Texture is strong and there's good depth to the picture throughout. This is still a slasher film made decades ago, so you can't expect it to look like it was made yesterday, but for what it is, the movie looks excellent in high definition.
The main mix on this Blu-ray disc is a new English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track and it's a pretty solid effort as well. The score is spread around very effectively while sound effects and ambient noise make good use of call the channels as well. Dialogue is always easy to understand and follow without a problem and there are no issues with any obvious hiss or distortion in the mix. Bass response is strong when the movie calls for it and a little subtle in other scenes. There are a few spots where things are just a tiny bit less 'full' sounding than a more modern film might be able to offer but again, considering the age of the movie the sound quality on this disc is excellent. It's clean, well balanced, and well choreographed and for those who don't want the 5.1 option, well an English DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track that is just as clean and clear is also included. One complaint? No subtitles or closed captioning options are offered.
So here's the real reason you'll want to consider this release if you've previously purchased the Universal release of the movie. First things first, that Universal release contained the excellent documentary Terror In The Aisles, a pretty interesting dissection of the history of the horror movie. That's not been carried over here, so fans of that documentary will want hold onto that original release for that reason.
What has been created for this disc, however, is impressive starting with the TV edit of the movie. This version will be of interest to fans because it includes quite a bit of alternate footage that was shot specifically for television and therefore not included in the theatrical representation of the movie. Though it's presented in standard definition fullframe and with an English language Dolby Digital Mono track, it's nice to have it here in nice shape. Though it omits most of the bloodshed and R-rated bits that are in the theatrical cut, getting the extra footage makes it and interesting option in its own right. Sure it would have been nice to get it in HD but let's be realistic here, it was never shown that way in the first place, this does an admirable job of recreating the eighties TV movie experience. This is included on a standard DVD as a separate disc within the package, and that disc also contains a PDF version of the script for Halloween II which you can access via DVD-Rom drive.
On top of that, we get two commentary tracks, the first of which is with director Rick Rosenthal who is joined by actor Leo Rossi and the second of which his with the actor who played Michael Myers, Dick Warlock, who also served as stunt coordinator on the film. Both tracks are worth checking out but the Rosenthal/Rossi track is, if you have to pick just one, the choice you'll want to make. It moves at a great pace, covers all the bases you'd expect given that it has the director's involvement and it offers up a load of information. There are moments where the two men slow down a little bit but these are few and far between, fans will definitely appreciate this track. Warlock's solo track is also pretty good, but as he has no one to play off of here (though Robert V. Galluzzo helps moderate and keep him on topic, he wasn't involved in the film so he doesn't have the same type of contributions to make as Rossi does in the first track) it doesn't move at quite the same pace. It does offer up some good information from the opposite side of the camera in some ways, as he talks about the stunts and murder set pieces seen in the movie and his involvement in them as well as what it was like for him to work with the various participants in the film.
From there, be sure to check out a brand new forty-five minute long featurette entitled The Nightmare Isn't Over: The Making Of Halloween II (44:56) created by Red Shirt Pictures. Interviewed here are Rosenthal and Warlock, but also Executive Producer Irwin Yablans, Director Of Photography Dean Cundey, Composer Alan Howarth, Production Designer/Editor Tommy Lee Wallace, Lance Guest and Nancy Stephens among others. With so many involved, the documentary does a good job of leaving no stone unturned as it discusses the problems inherent in making a worthy sequel to a ridiculously popular and successful original film and then shares some stories from the trenches. It does cover some of the same ground as the commentary but realistically, how could it not? Some appropriate clips and photographs are used throughout to illustrate the various points made by the interviewees and he HD featurette is well put together and quite enjoyable. Also worth checking out is the thirteen minute Horror's Hallowed Ground (13:10) HD featurette which brings us back to check out the locations that were originally used in the film. Not everyone appreciates seeing location visits like this but for those of us who do, this proves quite interesting and it's well put together on a technical level and it's just cool to see what's changed and what hasn't over the years.
The disc also includes eight minutes of deleted scenes in HD (8:06 in total) with optional commentary from Rosenthal explaining their context and the reasons they were removed, and an alternate ending (1:44) that runs roughly two minutes and also features optional commentary from Rosenthal. Rounding out the extras on the disc are a fairly massive gallery of production stills and promotional artwork, the film's original theatrical trailer in HD, a trio of television promo spots (1:41 in total), a handful of radio spots, animated menus and chapter selection. The discs come packaged in a Blu-ray case with reversible cover art and with a slip case that fits neatly over top - a nice touch.
Scream Factory's Blu-ray reissue of Halloween II is excellent. It not only offers up a marginally improved transfer over the previous Universal release but improved audio as well and a considerable amount of new extras and the television cut of the movie - it's hard to think of anything that was left out! As to the movie itself, no, it's not as good as Carpenter's original film but it is a very strong sequel in its own right with some great tension, a few memorable murder set pieces, a good cast and some slick direction. Horror fans and Halloween diehards already know they need this, but yeah, it comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.