Blu-ray Review: HALLOWEEN II Special Edition (Scream Factory)
Halloween II may be the most obscure title to get two separate Blu-ray releases in this modern high definition age. Initially released in a somewhat compromised edition by Universal almost exactly one year ago, the film has already been taken on as a challenge by Scream Factory, who prove that they are ready to deliver the goods. The disc that Universal released last September actually looked pretty decent. However, the initial printings had strangely erased Moustapha Akkad's producing credit from the film's opening. The "error" was corrected, and the discs in the second printing no longer had that error. However, what really sold most fans was the inclusion of the 1984 horror film documentary Terror in the Aisles, a film that never made its way to DVD. This alone makes the older Halloween II release worth seeking out, especially at the bargain basement prices to which it is sure to drop as soon as Scream Factory's superior disc hits the shelves.
There is often a steep drop off in quality from an original to the first sequel in these big horror franchises, especially when the original auteur is no longer behind the camera. While Halloween II is certainly no classic, I think that it holds its own as well as or better than most slasher sequels. The idea of the film picking up the action literally as the first film finishes is very clever. I enjoyed watching the continuing adventures of Michael Myers and company, and the temporal connection to the first film helps the second feel perhaps better than it actually is.
All the rules of the slasher sequel apply here. More blood, more guts, more gruesome kills, less intricate plotting, and more focus on action. Whereas Carpenter's original was a thriller more than a slasher, Halloween II most definitely knows which side its bread is buttered on. The slasher scene had changed between the release of the first film in 1978 and its sequel in 1981, and that change can pretty much be traced back to the 1980 release of Friday the 13th, which placed the focus on gore in a way that very few films had done. Halloween II is not the kind of film Carpenter would have made, even though he and Debra Hill were involved with the story, but Rosenthal wasn't John Carpenter, and that is plainly evident throughout the film.
Much of the stylistic gloss of the first film is lost, even though famed cinematographer Dean Cundey returned from the first film. Rosenthal's Halloween is a very workmanlike film, a pot-boiler if you will. It is this lack of style that is really the film's biggest downfall. Even with the escalation of violence, the film never manages to find the same fever pitch that Carpenter's does, and that is largely due to Rosenthal's apparent lack of imagination.
Don't get me wrong, I like Halloween II. It's not one of my favorites, but I won't turn it off if I see it on cable. I think, however, that as a continuation is pales to its antecedent, though I suppose that was inevitable.
Wherever you fall on Halloween II as a movie, it's hard not to be damned impressed with this first Scream factory disc for any number of reasons. First of all, Scream's transfer improves on Universal's already pretty good transfer by cleaning up some of the dirt and scratches that the first edition suffered from. In addition, the audio is a major improvement with two DTS-HD MA soundtracks, one 5.1 remix and one stereo mix, where the first release had no lossless options at all. That is a no brainer.
Where this disc really shines is the AMAZING pile of extras they've put together. Gone is Terror in the Aisles, however, its replacements are many and mighty. First of all, there is a DVD disc featuring the complete edited for TV version of the film with alternate footage. Many films from this era had complete alternate cuts made for TV, but most of them have been the domain of bootleggers. Fortunately, Scream Factory have provided a legit alternative for fans to own this version of the film for the first time. Other supplemental material comes from Red Shirt Pictures, who have also produced bonus content for Synapse, Blue Underground, and Lionsgate's Evil Dead 2 Blu-ray among others. There is a 45 minute retrospective of the film and its origins. The Nightmare Isn't Over doesn't pull any punches, and shows the film coming together, warts and all. Very great stuff. There are also two audio commentaries, one from director Rosenthal and actor Leo Rossi and a second from stunt coordinator Dick Warlock (perhaps the best name ever). Both are interesting and engrossing, covering far more than simply descriptions of on screen action, which is why I hate so may commentaries. Rounding out the bonus material is a short piece revisiting the film's shooting locations from Horror's Hallowed Grounds, some deleted scenes with commentary, an alternate ending, and a collection of trailers and TV spots.
Scream Factory means business, and this first release is proof positive of that. For any fans out there, even if you already own the Universal disc, this edition of Halloween II is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!