Wednesday, October 12, 2011

HALLOWEEN II: Blu-ray (Moustapha Akad 1981) Universal Home Video

Rick Rosenthal's Halloween II (1981) ought to be ‘required viewing’ for any director attempting a sequel, remake or update of a classic horror film. This sequel pulls off the near impossible task of matching John Carpenter's horror classic chill for chill. And, it remains so reverent to the mood, tone, style and pacing of the original that it’s pretty hard to discern both films were not directed by the same person. Hence, continuity is upheld, the result being that watching both movies back to back feels very much like one four hour epic slasher. Despite the fact that Dick Warlock takes over as 'the shape' from Nick Castle in the original I have never been able to discern any jarring differences in the performance given. Purists: please don't flood this blog with examples of how the two men differ in their take on Michael Myers. Let's just agree that they do, but unremarkably so to the untrained eye.
Scripted by John Carpenter and Debra Hill Halloween II takes up exactly where the original ended and it is to the film makers' credit that despite the passage of nearly four years between the two films, the time lapse is virtually imperceivable. Doctor Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) sends Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) over a second story balcony to his presumed death by firing six slugs into him with his revolver. Regrettably, the inhuman Michael is immune to gunfire. He gets up and continues his bloodthirsty pursuit of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the only survivor from the first movie.
After witnessing the slaughter of virtually all her high school friends, Laurie is in a state of catatonia. She is hurried to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital by attending EMS workers Budd (Leo Rossi) and Jimmy (Lance Guest) for treatment (In the original script by Hill and Carpenter Michael stalked Laurie through her new high rise apartment complex). The hospital is well staffed but totally unprepared for the evil lurking just outside. Dr. Mixter (Ford Rainey) administers a powerful sedative that leaves Laurie incoherent and barely conscious. Meanwhile, Michael has arrived at the hospital to inflict his carnage. Systematically he picks off the staff one at a time and in the most terrifyingly creative ways.
He drains the blood from head nurse Mrs. Alves (Gloria Gifford) in an operating room, strangles Budd, drowns Budd's girlfriend, Nurse Karen (Pamela Sue Shoop) in a scorching recuperative bath that peels away her skin, sticks a hypodermic needle through Nurse Janet's (Ana Alicia) eye, whacks a hammer through security guard Mr. Garrett's (Cliff Emmich) head and sticks a knife into Nurse Jill's (Tawny Moyer) back, using it as a handle to raise her up to the ceiling until her shoes fall off. If nothing else we have to give writers Carpenter and Hill top marks for keeping the slaughter amusing and varied at all times.
In the meantime, Laurie becomes semi-conscious. Realizing she must escape Michael once more, Laurie stumbles through the bowels of the hospital, crawling on wounded hands and knees through tight windows and air ducts until Sam Loomis arrives. He confronts Michael inside one of the operating rooms, opens the valves on the oxygen tanks and instructs Laurie to run for her life, moments before igniting the tainted air with an open flame from his cigarette lighter. Michael emerges from this blaze as a human torch but falls to his 'presumed death' inches away from Laurie.
Halloween II is a spooky film. In keeping with Carpenter’s original intent, the gruesomeness of the aforementioned acts of slaughter in Rosenthal’s sequel is kept at bay, mostly photographed in half-shadow with quick edits. We get just enough to shock us out of our seats without turning our stomachs. That’s clever, in a way that so many horror movies regrettably are not.  It was always Carpenter's intent that his serial killer should die at the end of this sequel. That various directors have continued to resurrect Michael Myers from the ashes is a pity because none of the subsequent movies have been able to retain that all pervasive air of unbridled evil that permeates every frame of the original film and nearly all of the scenes from this first sequel.
Director Rosenthal has gleaned valuable lessons from the master. He recaptures the mood and terror of the original without 'aping' it. Stylistically, Rosenthal manages another minor coup. His staging retains the best elements of suspense from the first film, never devolving into pure camp or gore. Even so, it is rumored that Carpenter was recalled to the studio after the rough cut had been assembled to re-edit this footage. Rosenthal was reportedly not pleased with this decision or with what he perceived as Carpenter's 'tampering'. Nevertheless, Halloween II stands on its own because of Rosenthal's meticulous attention to detail.
Universal Home Video's 30th Anniversary Blu-ray isn’t as good as Shout! Factory’s reissue, reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Nicks and chips have not been cleaned up. In a movie as darkly lit as Halloween II these white specs are even more glaringly obvious when viewed in 1080p. Comparisons between the Shout! release and Universal’s offering reveal striking similarities with color saturation more intense on Shout! disc. There don’t seem to be any digital manipulations going on herein. Film grain looks like grain. The audio has been reprocessed to 5.1 DTS with remarkable clarity. Dialogue still sounds frontal and a tad strident but otherwise the sound mixers at Universal have done a rather handsome job of upgrading this vintage audio.
For this 30th Anniversary Universal has added some meaningful extras. Besides getting virtually all of the scenes shot for the television release included as outtakes (it would have been nice to have the entire TV version included, as in Shout!’s offering) we also get the TV ending that has Laurie reunited with Jimmy in the back of an ambulance. In the theatrical cut Jimmy slips and falls in a pool of blood siphoned from Nurse Alves, presumably dying from the fall by cracking open his skull. But by far the most impressive extra included herein is the feature length docu-tainment, Andrew J. Kuehn's Terror in the Isles, narrated by Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen. This retrospective on horror/suspense and sci-fi movies covers everything from Hitchock's To Catch a Thief and De Palma's Dressed to Kill to Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein, Forbidden Planet, The Birds, The Exorcist, The Omen, Halloween and Jaws and just about everything in between. Great stuff! Bottom line: Halloween II on Blu comes highly recommended! A must have!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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