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Halloween II (Collector's Edition)

Director: Rick Rosenthal
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence

(US DVD: 18 Sep 2012)

By any means, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) has proved to be an enduring classic of the horror genre. Over 30 years after its original release, Halloween continues to provide a beautifully frightening viewing experience. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Halloween II, the completely uninspired and misguided second entry in the series. But despite its many shortcomings, this is an enjoyable flick that may only be of interest to compulsive horror fans.


Most probably, Halloween II ended up being a disappointing film because Carpenter refused to return to the director’s chair for the sequel. Instead, Carpenter simply co-produced the film, co-wrote the screenplay, and contributed to the soundtrack. Taking the director reigns for Halloween II was newcomer Rick Rosenthal, who would eventually return to the franchise to direct Halloween: Resurrection (2002).


Halloween II begins right after the ending of the first film. Actually, the first couple of minutes recap the apparent demise of Michael Myers at the hands of the obsessed Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence). The rest of the film is straightforward mayhem and brainless violence. As Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is rushed to the nearby hospital, the unstoppable Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) resumes his brutal killing spree.


As we find out in a plot twist that came out of thin air, Laurie is the sister of Michael. Therefore, the relentless monster will stop at nothing to kill his own sister, slaying everybody that crosses his path in the grim and forbidding hospital corridors. And really, there is not much else that can be said about the naïve and simpleminded narrative of Halloween II.


In an attempt to give Michael Myer a motivation for his insane obsession to kill Laurie, the filmmakers managed to destroy the key element that made Halloween such a successful and terrifying horror flick. Indeed, the first film of the series was scary because of the irrational, random, and indiscriminate violence exercised by Michael Myers.


By all means, the Michael Myers of Halloween is comparable to a force of nature. Everybody and anybody was a potential target for his murdering delirium. On the other hand, in Halloween II, Michael Myers has an objective, for as crazy as it may be, which gives him a sense of purpose and makes him more human.


As a consequence, Michael Myers is a far less scary presence in the sequel than in the original film. To compensate for this shortcoming, Halloween II introduces a substantial amount of blood and gore. This is also in strong contrast to Halloween, which did not have any real gruesome visual elements and mostly relied on mood and good storytelling to creep out audiences.


In this regard, it is perhaps ironic that the most squirming scene in Halloween II is not even related to Michael Myers. Indeed, the scene in the emergency room where a young kid arrives with a razor blade stuck in his mouth, after taking a bite at a Halloween treat from a disgruntled neighbor, is chilling to say the least. By far, because of its senseless and brutal violence, this is the most memorable scene in the entire flick.


As such, Halloween II is more about style than substance. The cinematography, for example, is as astounding as it was in the original film. This is not a surprise. After all, Dean Cundey was the director of photography in both films. Arguably, Cundey should be recognized for his substantial contributions to the incredible visual structure that characterizes the oeuvre of Carpenter. Indeed, Cundey photographed the best movies directed by Carpenter, including The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), and Big Trouble in Little China (1986).


In the particular case of Halloween II, the night and low-light conditions cinematography is truly amazing. But then again, the movie suffers from a terrible lack of originality. For example, the best-photographed scene in Halloween II is a plain and simple rehash of a scene that appeared in the original Halloween. I am talking about the moment in which Michael Myers is hidden in the shadows of a dark room, right behind an unsuspicious character. And then, his white mask slowly appears from the black background by a subtle change in the illumination conditions.


Another important asset of Halloween II is its minimalist soundtrack that has the exact same melodic and thematic structure as the score composed for the original Halloween. That is, four principal cues performed by a basic array of synthesized instruments which are repeated ad nauseam throughout the movie. But then again, both scores were composed and performed by Carpenter in association with Alan Howarth.


The well-known Halloween theme uses synthesized pianos and a string ensemble playing an ostinato and a three-note motif, followed by Herrmannesque step-down modulation. This theme also adds a frantic rhythm of an unusual 5-4 time signature (five beats per bar, one quarter note per beat). As most compositional rhythms rely on 2-4, 3-4, or 4-4 time signatures, this one sounds inexorable and unnatural, much like the unstoppable Michael Myers.


For such a mundane movie, it is quite incredible that Halloween II has already received two top-notch releases in the blu-ray format. Universal Studios released the 30th Anniversary Edition blu-ray disc back in September 2011. Besides of offering a high quality image and audio presentation, the disc included a few exciting extra features, including Terror in the Aisles, the enjoyable and long sought after documentary on the history of horror films.


Now, one year later, Shout! Factory has released the Collector’s Edition of Halloween II. The image and audio quality are equivalent to the Universal release, but both versions have different extra features. By far, the Shout! Factory release is the most impressive of the pair, including two audio commentaries, a documentary on the making of the movie, a visit to the original shooting locations of the film, and the television cut with some additional footage not found in the theatrical version.


Unfortunately, the Terror in the Aisles documentary is missing from this presentation. As such, hardcore fans of the genre and the franchise may be required to double dip on this one.

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Marco Lanzagorta received a PhD in physics from Oxford University and has worked at prestigious research institutions in England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and the US. During the past 25 years, he has conducted research in physics, computer science, and neuroscience. Currently, Marco is a research physicist at a major defense research laboratory in Washington DC, and an affiliate associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


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