'Halloween II,' the direct follow-up to John Carpenter's seminal horror slasher, may not have attained the same level of admiration as its predecessor, but it remains quite an effective sequel and one that's just about as entertaining. Picking up literally moments after the first's conclusion, the film purposefully doesn't bother with being seen as a separate feature, interestingly preferring that audiences accept it as a continuation of prior events. Essentially, the makers make a conscious effort to maintain a similar mood as Carpenter's popular hit with some minor variations on its motifs. This is most apparent in the opening credits where the camera slowly moves in on a jack-o'-lantern, and it suddenly opens to reveal a human skull underneath. Something new added to something old.
A then first time filmmaker, Rick Rosenthal, who later returned for the god-awful 'Halloween: Resurrection,' does a rather excellent job sustaining much of the atmospheric elements and tone of the first movie. He makes it quite clear this an extension not only of the narrative but also its visual appeal. Of course, it doesn't hurt that cinematographer Dean Cundey returns to the material, supplying the screen with the same feel as previously. Audiences, as well as the characters, are continuously surrounded by menacing shadows. We can't ever clearly make out what or who hides beneath them. One of the best uses of the darkness is the scene with the young hospital volunteer discovering the dead body of the doctor. We don't realize the killer is standing behind her until it's too late.
Working from a script by the original creators, Carpenter and Debra Hill, Rosenthal also maintains another distinctive attribute in the way he portrays Michael Myers. It's one which distinguishes the film from the succeeding sequels and adds a great deal to its scare factor. He's shown as a constant presence of threat because the darkness serves as his ally. As in part one, he is very much a brooding, ominous shape, just outside of our peripheral vision, not moving until just the right moment, when the victim lets their guard down. Even if the characters for the most part act like idiots in light of danger, Michael persists as a terrifying boogeyman that will catch you no matter how fast you run. It's all in the use of shadows.
Since the plot takes place on the same trick-o-treat night, Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance reprise their roles as Laurie Strode and Myers's childhood psychiatrist Dr. Loomis, the two indispensable figures of the 'Halloween' universe. Another added touch that's quite nice is turning the entire night into one major fiasco of local cops scrambling about unable, or possibly unequipped, to handle the situation. Viewers know Michael is after Laurie in the hospital, but neither Loomis nor the police know, creating a good deal of suspense. We don't learn why Michael specifically chases after Laurie until later in an amusing twist towards the end, which somehow relates to the word SAMHAIN — an idea not revisited again in the series 'til the sixth installment.
Making a sequel to a movie touted as a major influence with a lasting impact is not an easy task. It's downright intimidating, as a matter of fact. But Rosenthal gives it a surprisingly stylish effort in his follow-up to Carpenter's slasher classic. And as a first-time film director no less. It maintains much of that same creepy atmosphere and even uses the first-person POV at the beginning to make clear his intentions as it relates to its predecessor. Granted, it's not as scary, but it's entertaining, with plenty of spooks and ambiance, which makes it very easy to overlook some of its minor drawbacks — liking finding dead bodies throughout the hospital instead of watching them be attacked. Best of all, fans get to relish in the iconic music and cues as Carpenter originally designed them, and that's a big part of the fun in watching any 'Halloween' movie.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Halloween II' to Blu-ray as a 30th Anniversary Edition with more supplements than previous releases. The Region Free, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with brand new cover art. When popped into the player, the disc kicks off with the usual series of internet-based trailer before being greeted by the usual main menu selection with the memorable music and the film's opening sequence.
Of interest, especially for fans, the series producer's name, Moustapha Akkad, has been replaced with a generic Universal/MCA title card. The change is fairly obvious as the new card has a different font style than the rest of the credits. That's a real shame and travesty to the man's name and his family, and Universal should explain themselves not only to his family but to the fans as a whole.
Looking all spiffy and fresh, 'Halloween II' arrives on Blu-ray with a very nice 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will surprise most viewers.
Aside from a couple of obvious scenes with poor resolution that makes grain thicker and more apparent, likely inherent to the source material used, the overall picture quality is in great shape. Fine object and textural details are plainly visible and beautifully defined, giving the natural facial complexions of the cast an excellently distinct appearance. Hair and clothing are quite sharp and resolute throughout while deep, penetrating shadows allow viewers to clearly see movement and other background info. Contrast is well-balanced with an attractive, crisp punch to the image, and blacks are often richly rendered and accurate. The color palette is equally impressive with strong, vivid saturation levels, especially in the primaries where reds and greens take prominent role.
All in all, this is a great high-def presentation of a Halloween favorite.
On a sad note, Universal Studios has seen fit to only equip the slasher sequel with a legacy DTS soundtrack, which is disappointing but not too terrible. Why the studio chose to forego on a lossless mix is a mystery, but at least the track still provides some great entertainment, particularly in the musical score. Whenever Carpenter's iconic synth tune comes in, it spreads evenly across the front speakers and lightly bleeds into the background, creating an eerie ambiance that's decently immersive. The rest of the soundstage delivers excellent, intelligible dialogue and good channel separation, allowing the design a strong acoustical presence that feels somewhat spacious. The higher frequencies are sharply rendered without any loss in detail and fidelity while low bass gives a nice, throaty thump when called upon and works best during the music. Where the need of a high-rez mix becomes apparent is in the off-screen effects, which are easily localized and lack the sort of airiness we've come to expect of the format.
In the end, what's offered isn't completely awful and accompanied by a stereo option if the listener prefers. Thing is, it could also be substantially better.
As far as I can gather, special features are mostly exclusive to this Blu-ray edition of 'Halloween II.' While I prefer not support Universal's decision to remove Mr. Akkad's name from the credit sequence, I have to praise them for offering fans this assortment of supplements.
Although not quite the equal to its predecessor, 'Halloween II' still offers an entertaining follow-up for a fun, spooky night. Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance return for more of the night HE came home, picking up a few moments after the conclusion of the first movie. Rick Rosenthal made his feature-length debut with this sequel, oozing with the same thematic tone and style meant to serve as a direct extension of Carpenter seminal slasher classic. The Blu-ray arrives with a great picture quality but a somewhat disappointing audio presentation. The supplements seem to make up the difference by being mostly exclusive to the format, making this 30th Anniversary Edition highly recommended for devoted fans (minus the exclusion of Mr. Akkad's name) and a great rental for others wanting to enjoy the Halloween season.