Blu-Ray Review: HALLOWEEN II and III

Brian takes a look at the new, superior special editions from Shout! Factory.

If you've read enough of my Collins Crypt columns, you'd know two things for sure: 1. I use a lot of parenthetical asides, and 2. I love the Halloween movies (well, most of them). I believe I own at least two copies of each entry, even the ones I don't like too much - if ever forced to watch Rob Zombie's remake again, I have two versions to choose from! But until this past week, I only had single, bare-bones copies of Halloween II and III, because those two entries (the only ones owned by Universal for most of their lifespan) never got proper special editions*, giving me no reason to upgrade.

However, Shout! Factory has seen fit to correct that, and this week the fruits of their labor were released to deserved acclaim. Correcting the wrongs of last year's pitiful Halloween II blu-ray (which only had some deleted scenes you can find on Youtube, plus the Terror In The Aisles documentary as a bonus feature, for some reason), their new edition has those deleted scenes PLUS commentary from director Rick Rosenthal explaining why they were cut. Some of them are pretty worthless, but there's a great scene that explains two minor plot puddles (not quite holes) at once. At a certain point in the theatrical cut, Laurie is suddenly comatose, which seems odd as it seemed she had recovered from the drugs they gave her at the beginning of the film. Also, the hospital is noticeably darker, which I just always assumed was a stylistic choice. But there is a lengthy section of the film that was excised, where we see that Laurie has begun to panic about Michael Myers and thus had to be sedated once again, just as Michael cuts the power (which kicks in emergency lighting). Rosenthal tells us it was cut for pacing, which is the cause for most of the scenes' removal.

Also, some of these scenes would have made for a better movie, which might inspire you to watch the "Television Cut", available on a 2nd (DVD) disc, however the best version of the film lies somewhere in between, as the TV cut removes a few kill scenes entirely and contains several nonsensical voiceovers. The fates of at least 3 characters are left completely unanswered in this cut, and other scenes are re-edited to the point of incomprehensibility, such as Michael grabbing the knife from the Elrods' house. It also tries to make it look like the explosion at the end is what knocks Jimmy to the floor, instead of the truth (that the idiot slipped on a pool of blood and knocked himself out). Sadly, this version is only available in fullframe, so if some fan with a lot of time on his hands wanted to make an "ultimate cut" of some sort, he'd have to crop the whole thing or just keep changing the aspect ratio every time he went to the other source. Neither option is ideal, obviously - Dean Cundey's great compositions deserve better.

As for the film itself, it's fine. I think Halloween 4 is a superior sequel; it may lack Jamie Lee Curtis but it has the Halloween atmosphere and emphasis on suspense that this one lacks. For me, the best way to enjoy Halloween II is not to compare it to the original (which is difficult since it picks up precisely where Carpenter's film left off and takes place in the same night), but to other 1981 slashers, of which there were several dozen. It's not even my favorite among those (that would be My Bloody Valentine), but it's certainly more stylish than many, with a more iconic killer and a charming group of characters who were a bit older than the usual bland teens that populate the bulk of these films from the period. However, there are elements I just can't get around, such as the fact that its "heroine" does absolutely nothing throughout the entire movie (even during the big chase at the end, Loomis is dragging her around and telling her what to do - he even has to tell her to run!), and features a few too many extraneous kills like that girl on the phone near the beginning - why would he stop to kill her? And come on, a cat scare? We can do better.

I have no complaints about Halloween III, however. I don't listen to "It's not a Halloween movie!" type "defenses", so you can save your keystrokes if you planned on replying in such a manner - it's more a Halloween movie than half of the "real" ones, if you ask me. Creepy and weird, but with a deliciously mean-spirited sense of humor, Season of the Witch is the sort of movie I wish a major studio like Universal would release more often, albeit with a little more money behind it. As much as I love the film, it's hard not to laugh at the chintzy sets during the climax (Conal Cochran planned to destroy the world with what looks like 6 computers and a card table), and a few of the FX certainly don't benefit from this new high def transfer (the first time the film has appeared in the US on Blu-ray).

But the film has the best special effect of them all, one that will never date or look bad due to a new transfer: Tom Atkins! A veteran character actor who has appeared in a number of genre classics (he's the dad in the wraparounds for Creepshow and one of the commanding officers in Escape From New York), Halloween III offered him one of his few leading action hero roles, which is a shame as he's pretty much the greatest dude ever in this movie. A doctor who drinks and smokes every chance he gets, a ladies man who can bed a girl half his age within hours of meeting her, and a badass who will stand up against an army of Druid robots? Who wouldn't kill for that role?!? His performance as Dan Challis alone makes this worth a look, regardless of how you may feel about its nutty plot or lack of connection to an established franchise.

Both discs come with never before seen/heard bonus features, including retrospective documentaries featuring a number of the principals from both (no Carpenter, unfortunately). Halloween II's runs a bit longer than III's, but they both cover the same territory - how they originated, the casting process, production, the release, and how they look back on the film today. Both are filled with rather candid anecdotes (Tommy Wallace turned down directing II because he thought the script sucked) and an impressive number of participants in new interviews; Halloween III's piece even boasts a bit of a BAD connection - some snippets of a Q&A hosted by yours truly and shot by fellow Badass Phil Nobile Jr! My ego wants to ask why they didn't just put the whole Q&A on there as a bonus feature, but I'm happy to play a small part on this definitive edition of a film I've championed for years.

Both films also have a pair of new commentaries, though they're not as exciting as they look on paper. Rosenthal and Leo "Bud" Rossi often just watch their movie or offer useless observations like "Oh, she was great to work with", and it seems neither of them have seen it for a while. Dick Warlock's track is much better; Rob Galluzzo from Icons of Fright keeps him talking with a variety of questions about its production, and the two rarely fall silent. However his memory isn't always accurate, claiming things like "We didn't shoot alternate versions of any deaths" when we've already seen an alternate version of the marshal's demise. Ditto for Halloween III - the director track is a bit quiet and not very informative (most of it is about shooting locations - something covered in the "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" bonus features available for both films), but the actor track (with Atkins) is lively and fun. I should note that Atkins mostly talks about his career as a whole, offering anecdotes from a number of his films, including one about meeting Shane Black, who wanted him for the Riggs role in Lethal Weapon (obviously that didn't pan out, but he got the role of Hunsacker instead), with only about a third of his comments concerning Halloween III.

Both sets are rounded out with a variety of trailers and TV spots, plus impressive stills galleries, and in Halloween II's case, a PDF of the shooting script. In other words, they're pretty jam-packed, which is always impressive for movies that were produced long before the days of special editions. They also boast new artwork that (IMO) exceeds any other modified art we've seen for these films, but with a bonus: you can reverse their covers and have the ORIGINAL art showing instead. For Halloween III this is no big deal, but for Halloween II it's a huge relief as the film has never had anything even CLOSE to its theatrical art (the pumpkin with a skull face and the words ALL NEW emblazoned on the side), as it always used shots of Myers instead. I wish all studios followed their lead - I understand that new box art is a good way to attract new buyers, but they should at least give us the option of the original art the way Shout! has done here. It's a very much appreciated gesture.

The two films are part of a series called "Scream Factory", with other titles rolling out soon (including a jam-packed edition of Carpenter's They Live and the first DVD release of the obscure Death Valley starring a pre-Christmas Story Peter Billingsley), and if these are any indication of how the others will turn out, I'd say these titles are in very good hands. I am pretty damn picky when it comes to Halloween DVDs, and I have almost nothing negative to say about either of these releases (though I wish they could have tracked down the original elements so that the TV version OR the deleted scenes for H2 would have been widescreen), so you can be assured that they are worth the upgrade(s).

(Note - in depth reviews of Halloween II and Halloween III are available at Horror Movie A Day)

*I refused to buy last year's Halloween II Special Edition from Universal, as it lacked any new material and was discovered to have removed Moustapha Akkad's credit from the film, which I found quite insulting. It was later corrected, but the damage had been done, and honestly by the time I even remembered that I never got it, Shout! had announced their REAL special edition anyway.