'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 the previous film. 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
Shout! Factory brings 'Halloween II (1981)' to Blu-ray as a Two-Disc Collector's Edition under the distributor's new Scream Factory line. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the normal blue case with brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover. The second disc is a DVD-5 with only the TV version of the film. At startup, the disc goes to a generic main menu selection on the left side with the memorable music and full-motion clips.
For fans, the series producer's name, Moustapha Akkad, replaces the generic Universal/MCA title card seen in the previous Blu-ray. For that alone, Shout! should be rewarded by devoted fans buying several copies of this release and passing them out to friends. Also, if you buy direct from the Shout! Factory website, fans can get an exclusive, limited edition Haddonfield Memorial Hospital nurse’s hat as seen in the film with their purchase!
Compared to last year's anniversary Blu-ray release from Universal Studios, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode from Shout! Factory turns out to be the slightly better presentation. It's not a full and proper restoration of the original film elements, but this version is a tad cleaner and more consistent. The differences are also not night-and-day obvious, but fans are likely to appreciate this collector's edition over its predecessor.
The 2.35:1 frame still comes with a few scenes where the natural grain structure is more prominent than the rest and resolution is just a bit softer. A few spots show an odd pulsating artifact in the color timing, which is related to the age of the source and not an issue with the digital encode. Overall definition and clarity, however, is in great shape with plenty of clean, sharp images throughout. Textural details in the facial complexions and clothing are plainly visible and distinct. Contrast is spot-on with crisp whites while black levels are richer and truer than its HD counterpart. Colors are also bold and accurately rendered with primaries feeling particularly punchy.
Of the two available versions, this high-def transfer is probably the better, but the differences are not glaringly obvious.
Of greater importance for fans is Shout! rectifying Universal's odd decision to only release the sequel in legacy DTS. Even better is the distributor offering two DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks from which to choose: an updated 5.1 track or enjoy in 2.0 stereo. In either case, they're both great!
Because it's closer to the original design, I opted to listen to the latter for this review. With excellent dialogue reproduction in the center of the screen, the front soundstage has a nice, steady presence with well-balanced channel separation and broad imaging, especially when Carpenter's iconic motif comes in. The mid-range is sharp and distinct without any noticeable issues in the upper frequencies. Bass is adequate and deep, providing some dramatic weight to the music and some of the action.
The 5-channel mix is also good with a front-heavy presentation, but displaying a wider and more full-bodied soundstage. The low-end adds a bit more punch and response, which is expected with a dedicated sub channel. More apparent is the classic synth music bleeding into the surrounds with greater distinct clarity and envelopment, which some fans might appreciate better.
Again, whatever track the listener chooses, they're both fantastic!
The package mirrors the assortment found on its DVD counterpart, also releasing at the same time as the Blu-ray. But not to fret, they are still new supplements special to this collector's edition.
Although not quite the equal of 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. This Collector's Edition Blu-ray comes from the Scream Factory with a very good picture quality that's slightly better than last year's release, but the lossless audio presentation is the clear winner here. Bonus features are new and comes with the TV Cut of the film, making this an excellent collector's item for cult enthusiasts.