Shout! Factory // 1981 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // September 6th, 2012
"More of the night HE came home!"
Horror fans have a complicated relationship with sequels. As is true in other genres, the second entry is rarely as good as the first, with a sharp dip in quality as the series moves closer to double digits. Some famous franchises weren't all that great to begin with -- Friday the 13th comes to mind -- so subpar sequels are just more of the same. Others begin with a great standalone movie, followed by needless entries that relate to the original in name only. Just ask Leatherface and Norman Bates.
If horror sequels are terrible, why do horror fans keep going to see them? Why throw good money after bad movies, sending the wrong message to studios who would much rather make a lazy franchise picture than take a chance on something new? It would be easy to blame the bad taste of horror enthusiasts, but that's not fair. When the genre you love is relegated to a handful of releases per year, mostly in October, you take what you can get. If you boycott bad horror movies, you risk sending studios the worst message of all: stop making horror movies. So horror fans sit through awful sequels, finding joy in familiar kills and forgiving cheesy dialogue, all the while waiting for the next big surprise. The next The Woman, the next House of the Devil -- the next Halloween.
John Carpenter's 1978 horror film has some notable antecedents, but at least part of its reputation comes from all the movies it inspired. Halloween is better than those later slasher flicks for the same reason Jaws is better than modern summer blockbusters. The movie takes its time establishing the characters and atmosphere. When the bloodshed finally starts more than halfway through the film, it hits harder because of all the built-up tension. Except for a few too many false endings and some questionable acting, Halloween is grounded and the scares are well-earned. It didn't need a sequel, but it got one anyway.
Inspired by big box office returns, producer Irwin Yablans approached Carpenter with the idea to make Halloween II. The director wanted to make The Fog instead. Yablans agreed, hoping that after the break he would agree to the sequel. In a roundabout way he got his wish. When Carpenter took The Fog to another company, Yablans sued him and in the settlement got the director to commit to Halloween II.
Although John Carpenter wrote the sequel with his returning collaborator Debra Hill, he didn't want to direct it. Neither did Tommy Lee Wallace, who had worked closely with Carpenter on Halloween, and felt the script missed the point of the moody original. Directing duties ultimately fell on Rick Rosenthal, who helped finish the screenplay and brought Halloween II to the screen.
The series' second entry picks up with Michael Myers' disappearing act at the end of Halloween. In that first movie, the cliffhanger fits the "boogeyman" exchange between surviving babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Myers' psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance). In Halloween II, Michael's disappearance is an excuse for him to continue his murder spree long into the Haddonfield night. The movie switches locations from suburban home to a surprisingly empty hospital, as Myers tracks Laurie to the hospital where she is being treated for her wounds, killing everyone he meets along the way.
The decision to make Halloween II a continuation of Halloween is one of its strengths. It carries over enough of the first film's momentum and characters to make it seem like a better movie than it is. Had they gone with an original idea of setting the sequel a few years later, it would probably have felt as cynical as the later Halloween movies. Halloween II might be just as unnecessary as everything since The Return of Michael Myers, but I suspect the lingering goodwill fans have for it comes from misplaced affection for Carpenter's original.
As much as Halloween II benefits from the way it connects back to the first film, it suffers from the way it looks forward to the worst impulses of '80s horror, including the need for sequels to top each other. The kills aren't as over-the-top as the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movies, but they are more elaborate and plentiful than the first movie. In Halloween, the first major kill (minus the opening flashback) comes a full hour into the 90-minute film, and Michael kills only three teens. Halloween II, on the other hand, is murder-free for only about 12 minutes, after which the bodies pile up quickly. In the first movie, Michael's weapon of choice was a knife. In the sequel, he spices things up with claw hammers, hot tubs, and syringes to the eye.
Halloween II makes the mistake of many sequels, and almost all prequels, of trying to flesh out the killer's backstory. In the first movie, Myers is terrifying because his victims are chosen at random. In the credits, he's called "The Shape." He's a boogeyman, pure and simple. The sequel reveals Michael's motivation for stalking Laurie: she's...his sister. Carpenter added the sororicide angle when he realized the sequel wouldn't make much sense unless Michael had a reason to focus on Laurie. I'm not sure his decision makes any more sense. To the film's credit, exposition about Myers' connection to Laurie is limited to a couple of scenes -- one where Dr. Loomis and the police investigate a break-in at the school (where Michael has inexplicably taken the time to leave clues), and another where Loomis is told about secret documents that reveal Laurie's true lineage. The sequels would take the series to wackier places, adding in druid cults and telepathy, but even the rudimentary mythology established in Halloween II is too much. For the same reason Rob Zombie's Halloween remake can't improve on the original, the more we find out about the killer here, the less scary he becomes.
The best decision Carpenter and Hill made with this sequel was to give it a definitive ending -- killing Myers and Loomis in an explosive climax that was supposed to wrap up the Michael story. The plan was for future movies in the franchise to be standalone scary stories linked only by the Halloween name. After Halloween III tried to tell a non-Myers story, and bombed, the series became entirely Michael-centric, bringing back Myers, Loomis, and eventually Laurie Strode. Removed from the mess that was to come, killing off The Shape in Halloween II was brave. Not as brave as stopping after the original Halloween, but when it comes to horror sequels, we take what we can get.
Halloween II looks good in standard definition, although if you can, consider buying the Blu-ray version instead. While neither is reference quality, the DVD image suffers from lost detail in darker scenes -- and there are a lot of dark scenes. The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is impressive in the well-lit moments, and certainly a step up from earlier releases. Another reason to go hi-def is the audio, which is not only lossless on the Blu-ray, but also available in a surround mix. The DVD packaging says the film is in 5.1 Dolby Surround. It's not. The only option is 2.0 Stereo. It's a clear, dynamic stereo mix, but those want 5.1 will need to upgrade.
Shout! Factory kicks off its new "Scream Factory" line of horror releases with the DVD and Blu-ray collector's editions of Halloween II, and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (the latter making its hi-def debut). Both versions of Halloween II come with a second disc -- a full screen DVD -- containing the television cut of the film. For most movies, that wouldn't be a big deal, but as with the TV version of the original Halloween, this alternate cut includes scenes that weren't in the theatrical release. In both cases, the new footage was added to fill out the running time to make up for bloody scenes that had to be removed for television. Since the new footage couldn't be violent, the TV version of Halloween II ends up spending more time on the characters, especially the relationship between Laurie and a paramedic named Jimmy (Lance Guest). While the film benefits from fleshing out characters, it's sorely missing the moments where that flesh is pierced by something sharp. Too bad there's not a third cut that has both. The only bonus feature on Disc Two is a PDF of the shooting script, which can be accessed by inserting it into a computer. The rest of the extras are on Disc One:
* Audio Commentary: The first commentary features director Rick Rosenthal and actor Leo Rossi, who played horndog ambulance driver Budd. The two friends spend an hour and a half chatting about old times. Much of what they have to say focuses on production minutiae. They don't have many real insights beyond how much fun they had making the movie and how great everyone was to work with.
* Audio Commentary: If you only want to sit through one commentary, this is the one to choose, featuring Rob Galluzzo from Icons Of Fright and stuntman Dick Worlock, who also played Michael Myers in the film. Worlock is a sweet guy who tells fascinating stories about his long stunt career, the making of the film, and his many horror convention appearances.
* "The Nightmare Isn't Over" (44:51) This making-of doc is mostly interviews with the cast and crew, director, and composer Alan Howarth, who "upgraded" Carpenter's iconic theme. Although there's a lot of back-patting, there's also honesty about how hard it was to make the film. Unlike most DVD bonus docs, there's a wide spectrum of opinions about Halloween II, from Irwin Yablans, who has the harshest things to say about the movie, to actor Rossi, who thinks it's better than the original.
* "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" (13:09) Hosted by Sean Clark, this latest entry in the series made especially for big horror DVD releases focuses on locations from Halloween II. There's also an awkward staged run-in with Robert Rusler from Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 that's either supposed to be funny or a hint about an upcoming release for that movie.
* Alternate Ending (1:43): Available with and without Rosenthal commentary, this is the ending that aired with the TV version.
* Deleted Scenes (8:04): Also available with director's commentary, this collection of deleted scenes all appear in the TV version -- which explains why they, and the alternate ending above, are shown in full screen format.
* Still Gallery: 61 photos, including a series of captioned black and white promotional cards, and international posters.
* TV Spots (1:39)
* Radio Spots (3:16)
* Original Theatrical Trailer (2:17)
While it would take a lot more than Halloween II to sully the reputation of Halloween, Carpenter does nothing to improve on his original. It's not the worst horror sequel by a long shot -- especially compared to later Halloween movies. It's just not very good. Still, the movie has its fans, and those fans will find plenty to scream about in the new Halloween II: Collector's Edition, especially the inclusion of the TV cut of the film. If you want the best picture and surround sound, though, skip the DVD and pick up the Blu-ray instead.
Mr. Sandman, bring me a scream! Not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2012 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted Scenes
* Image Gallery
* TV Spots
* Radio Spots
* Theatrical Trailer
* PDF Script