SEPTEMBER 18, 2012
Universal really screwed over Michael Myers fans last year when they put out the first Blu-ray of Halloween II, opting not to include several already available bonus features nor commission any new ones, and pouring salt in the wound by replacing Moustapha Akkad's credit on the top of the film (it was later corrected, but the insult was never satisfyingly explained). Thankfully, Shout! Factory has managed to right the wrongs just a year later, providing a real special edition that has pretty much everything we've been asking for.
And that includes the "Television Cut" of the film, which is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "Rick Rosenthal Cut". However this moniker is inaccurate (why would his cut have one of the scenes John Carpenter directed?), his original cut remains lost, though I'm sure this one is close enough to get the idea of how his version went. Either way, I prefer the theatrical version - while there are some nice character moments here and there, and it's great to have the explanation for the hospital's darkened state (Myers cuts the power - a subplot excised entirely from the theatrical version) and Laurie's sudden comatose state (they drug her up again during the blackout scene), most of the changes are not for the better.
For starters, it's missing way too much footage - whatever television station this was prepared for was more irrational than the MPAA, as some of the excised material renders certain scenes incoherent, such as when Michael gets the knife from the Elrods - Mrs. Elrod just turns around, a shot of Michael (from the hospital!) is randomly inserted, and then she screams - we have no idea what actually happened. Hell, they didn't even allow the closeup of the blood-scrawled "SAMHAIN" on the blackboard at the school, making this already extraneous scene even more worthless. All but one of the scenes featuring the kid with a razor blade in his mouth (one of the film's few nods to its namesake holiday) are gone, as is the death of Janet, which means her character (along with Dr. Mixter and Nurse Alves, who always died off-screen but at least had their bodies discovered) just completely disappears from the film without explanation. The only missing death that helps is the pointless killing of the Elrod's neighbor (another Carpenter shoot), but all of the above, plus some strange alternate takes, makes this version nearly worthless to anyone but the insanely curious. Plus, unlike the original film's TV version (which had new scenes specifically shot for it), it's only available cropped, which kills some of Dean Cundey's trademark widescreen scares (like Michael wandering around the nursery behind Alves and Karen). This version also has a bunch of nonsensical voiceovers and dubs, including the unforgivable reworking of Bud's "Amazing Grace" parody.
So, stick with the theatrical version, which has its own problems but is easily the superior of the two. While I'm not crazy about the fact that it's more of a typical 1981 generic slasher than the original Halloween deserved for a followup, it certainly delivers on that lesser level. Donald Pleasence's role is greatly expanded, and it's probably his most out-there incarnation of Loomis - I love when Marion is trying to tell him about Laurie and he interrupts her to tell her about pagan rituals for no real reason. Plus it has one of his all time weirdest lines: "It's a TRIBE! One of their number was butchered, this is a WAKE!" (to which Officer Hunt just sort of nods and carries on as he would had Loomis not said anything to begin with), and I've always loved his weird murmuring during the climax.
However, I still can't get past how Laurie is used here. She was such a great heroine in the original, and while I don't expect or need her to become Ripley this time around, anything would be better than having her lay in bed for an hour before crawling around and whimpering for the rest of the film - apart from shooting him in the face (which, according to the sequels, did absolutely nothing), she does NOTHING in this entire movie! Add in the hideous wig (all the more apparent in this high def transfer) and the silly dream sequences (which are expanded in the TV cut, another red mark), and her role in Halloween: Resurrection almost looks good in comparison. At least she was proactive there.
But after 30 years, any fan of the film is bound to own a copy already, so who cares about all that? The real question here is whether or not this is worth the upgrade, and that is a definite YES. Unless Terror In The Aisles is your favorite movie of all time, there is nothing about last year's Universal release that surpasses what you get here. For starters, it retains the deleted scenes and alternate ending footage that was available on that one, but this time it adds optional commentary from Rick Rosenthal, explaining why each scene was cut and other little tidbits of info not previously available. And I'm not sure if this is a new transfer or not (I never actually got last year's release, finding the Akkad credit issue too insulting for my money), but it's certainly a huge step up from the previous DVD, with the high def transfer providing a much needed boost in contrast during the darker scenes. The color timing isn't much different; I did notice that this one is a bit cooler (bluish) than the DVD I have, though to me that just makes it look more like the original film - perfect for double features!
Then we have two all new commentaries, one with Rosenthal and Leo "Bud" Rossi, the other with Dick Warlock, moderated by Icons Of Fright's Rob G. The Rosenthal commentary is a bit of a snoozer; it seems neither of them have watched the movie in a while, so there's a lot of silence as they just watch it, occasionally chuckling or offering a brief comment. But when they're actually talking, it's fun to listen to - they have some great stories and plenty of kind words for just about everyone else in the film. Warlock's track is much better, however - there isn't a lot of silence, and Rob keeps the questions coming so things never get too far off track (unlike Tom Atkins' commentary on H3). Warlock's memory isn't always completely accurate (or at least, doesn't always match what we've heard elsewhere), but he's got a fun blue collar attitude about it that I much enjoyed, and speaks highly of the other guys to play The Shape.
All of the above, and more, take part in a new retrospective documentary from Michael Felsher, which runs a little over 40 minutes and covers the usual bases with an impressive amount of candidness. It's a shame Carpenter couldn't have been roped in to offer his side of the story on certain aspects, but no one seems particularly bitter about anything that was changed; Lance Guest even graciously points out that his character's apparent demise is fine as "the movie's about Jamie Lee, not me" (the original ending had him riding in the ambulance with her at the end; now it appears he died from his head wound after making his way to the car). There's also another edition of Horror's Hallowed Grounds, where we see most of the important shooting locations as they look today, though sadly the hospital where most of the film was shot has been torn down, though the building used for the exteriors is still there and seen briefly (they weren't allowed on the property itself so they just film it from the car). The trailer, some typically over-enthusiastic TV spots, and a stills gallery round things out...
...on disc 1, that is. Disc 2 houses the television cut, a nice move as it allowed more disc space for the film and the more exciting supplements on Disc 1. While 2nd disc is actually a DVD, not a Blu-ray, it's great that they opted to do it this way, and it also means it'll be easier for most folks to get at disc 2's other item: a PDF of the shooting script, which you can access by popping the disc in your PC's DVD drive. There isn't much here that isn't in either version of the film (it mostly follows the TV cut version, though it includes the violence that it lacked such as Janet's death), but it DOES have the rest of the reporter subplot (the one who instructs her assistant (Dana Carvey!) to get a statement from some kids), which was excised at some point - perhaps it was never even shot as it has never appeared in any form. Also, it has a lot of directorial instructions from Carpenter, which is funny considering he didn't direct it.
Obviously if you just bought the release last year then it's probably pretty frustrating to be presented with another one already, but I assure you that it's worth the re-upgrade (if you only have one of the previous, featureless DVD incarnations, there's no question that you should double dip). The bonus features are superior and worth your time, the transfer is terrific, and it gives you an alternate version of the film, which even though its inferior, still has some merit thanks to the added scenes (some of which aren't in the separate deleted scenes section) in addition to the curiosity factor. At 20 bucks or less, the new bonus features alone make it worth the cost if you're a fan, and Shout! has done you another solid - the cover is reversible, so you can have it on your shelf with the original artwork (the skull inside the pumpkin) for the first time EVER on disc format as every single release - from the 1999 Goodtimes disc to Universal's original release from the early 00s to last year's Blu-ray - has had some (typically terrible) new art. They designed their own cover as well, but they give you the option of using the original - THAT is how you do a special edition for us nutty Halloween fans!
Film score: 7/10
A/V score: 8/10
Extras score: 8/10