By Ray Schwetz
Good Times, Widescreen
"Halloween" simply had to have a sequel. Being the most successful independent film of all time (back in 1981, now that title belongs to "The Blair Witch Project"), the saga of Michael Myers was destined to be continued until audiences were unwilling to pay to see it continue. Writer/Director/Demigod John Carpenter felt the story did not need to be continued, although a year or two ago, he was quoted as wanting to continue the idea as a high concept piece involving Michael in space.
Much has been written about the inferiority of sequels, especially horror sequels. I'll try not to focus on that point, but I will say that the "Halloween" sequels were serviceable until later entires in the series. Amazingly, there was still a (superior) sequel after Part 6. After Michael was beheaded in "H20," it would seem that the series has finally ended. However, producer Moustapha Akkad has said that Michael (the cash cow) would never die. But, I digress.
"Halloween II," while not the classic the original was, is still a very good horror film, and a superior entry in the stalk and slash subgenre of the eighties. Most of the elements that made the first film successful are here as well; Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, Carpenter's classic score, and one graphic sex scene. What "HII" is missing, however, is the subtle scares and deliberate pacing of the first film.
In Halloween, as night approaches, we feel this sense of dread. We see Michael systematically stalking the teens. We follow Dr. Loomis pursuing Michael from the mental institution to Haddonfield. In the daylight, Michael is menacing the characters, but we feel a certain safeness in the daylight. In "Halloween II," most of the action takes place in a curiously deserted hospital where Laurie Strode is being cared for. Right away, we can pretty much tell who's going to get offed. Throughout the whole film, we are simply waiting for the inevitable showdown between Loomis, Laurie, and the Shape. Worst of all, Jamie Lee Curtis, a resourceful heroine in the first film, is reduced to a mumbling, stumbling, drugged victim barely able to walk, much less present a challenge to the unstoppable Shape.
To be fair though, this sequel has many positives. Director Rick Rosenthal creates an effectively creepy atmosphere with the desolate, shadow filled corridors of the hospital. Lance Guest (star of original Shape Nick Castle's wonderful "The Last Starfighter") is very engaging as Laurie's possible love interest. The murders portrayed in the film are shocking, and they are paced so that the film works as a cinematic rollercoaster.
Good Times' DVD presentation is a budget priced movie only edition. The video presentation here is much better than the previous pan/scan only domestic editions. It's also better than the rare Japanese import laserdisc that was quite murky and framed at an inaccurate aspect ratio. The DVD is correctly letter boxed at a 2.35:1 ratio. There is evidence of artifacting, but it is not too distracting. Colors are pretty good and black levels are better than previous editions. The audio is presented in Dolby surround. It is pleasing overall, but a 5.1 remix would have been nice. There's decent separation in the surround mix, but the bass level is nothing to write home about.
There are no extras, but there's a neat little animated menu. Michael, holding his trademark butcher knife rushes at a fence while the theme music is looped in the background. The TV version of "Halloween II" has some alternate footage that's pretty cool. Some of it has an alternate take of the fate of the Lance Guest character and an extended ending. It's a shame that this was not available for this DVD. However, at the budget price ($14.95 suggested retail), fans will find this to be a must buy bargain. This DVD is kind of hard to find so if you're a fan, pick it up! Hopefully, Anchor Bay will be able to pick up this title and give it the same special edition treatment they gave the original.
This third entry in the "Halloween" saga was, in my humble opinion, unfairly maligned by critics and series fans alike. The producers hopes were to take the series into a different direction by presenting self contained stories each year under the Halloween moniker. As evidenced by this entry's box office performance, and the subsequent sequels, this idea did not work. That's a shame. I wonder what other stories Carpenter and company would've come up with, had this departure from the Michael Myers saga been successful.
Anyway, "Season of the Witch" tells the tale of a modern day Irish warlock, Conal Cochran (devilishly played by Dan O'Herlihy, who played the alien Grig in "The Last Starfighter") who manufactures masks for children. This Halloween, he has stolen part of Stonehendge (what would Spinal Tap think?) and installed small chips of the stone into buttons on the mask. When the kiddies watch the "Big Halloween Giveaway" on Halloween night, a signal emitted from the show will cause something terrible to happen to them and basically bring about a plague of snakes and nasty looking bugs. Pretty mean spirited, eh? It's also quite a unique concept. The daughter of a man murdered by one of Cochran's lackeys (played by sexy Stacey Nelkin) and a burned out alcoholic doctor (the always-endearing character actor Tom Atkins, given a rare leading role) set out to stop the warlock from destroying the world.
Personally, I feel that the film works as a low rent "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," although it has been pretty much universally panned by everyone else. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I'm biased towards any film involving John Carpenter, so you may want to take me with a grain of salt. I love Carpenter's minimalist synthesizer score, the acting by Atkins and O'Herlihy is uniformly good, and the cinematography by frequent Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey is superb. This is a film that I generally revisit every Halloween season and this year will be no exception.
"One more month til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween..."
Good Times' movie only DVD of this film and the second Halloween are generously priced at a suggested retail price of $19.95, making it a no-brainer for "Halloween" completists. The film is presented here widescreen for the first time. The video presentation is excellent. It definitely surpasses any previous video incarnations of the film. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are gorgeous and DP Cundey's photography is finally given justice. The audio is disappointing. It is presented in mono. Dialogue is clear, as is the rest of the soundtrack, but the film is begging to be remixed. Oh well.
There are no extras, but this is easily the best the film has ever looked. Who knows, maybe this DVD will be remastered in the future. But, I wouldn't hold my breath.