‘Halloween II’ Shout Factory Blu-ray Review

Halloween II Shout Factory blu ray cover

Universal Pictures first released 1981’s “Halloween II” on Blu-ray, and it was a release many horror fans had long awaited. But a year later, Shout Factory gave us another edition of this sequel, and it contained a lot of extras which were sorely missing from the Universal release: audio commentaries, a documentary on its making, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, trailers and TV spots among other goodies. This release also includes what the previous Universal Blu-ray controversially, and unforgivably, left out of the opening credits: “Moustapha Akkad Presents.”

Great care has been taken in this release’s packaging as it contains an excellent cover created by artist Nathan Thomas Milliner. This illustration has Michael Myers walking with that scalpel of his and crying tears of blood, Donald Pleasance holding out his hand which has Myers’ blood on it, and Jamie Lee Curtis looking as fierce as she did in the first “Halloween” movie. Looking at this cover should everyone an idea of just how big a cult following this sequel has more than 30 years after its theatrical release.

When comparing the look and sound of Shout Factory’s release to Universal’s, it’s hard to see much, if any, of a difference between them. Both versions make this sequel look better than it has in ages even though there is a bit of grain in certain scenes. But what this version does have which the Universal release lacked are two DTS-HD Master Audio tracks which include a 5.1 remix and a stereo mix.

This edition also contains two audio commentaries, and the first one is with “Halloween II’s” director Rick Rosenthal who is joined by actor Leo Rossi who played the chauvinistic ambulance driver Budd Scarlotti. Now this is an audio commentary fans have been dying to hear for the longest time, and Rosenthal provides a number of interesting tidbits throughout. Rossi himself is a delight as he talks about how Rosenthal went to bat for him when the late Debra Hill did not even want him in the movie. Hill was instead looking for Midwestern actors as the movie took place in Illinois, but Rosenthal managed to wear her down and get Rossi cast even though he looks and sounds like a New York native.

The other audio commentary is with stunt coordinator Dick Warlock who also played Michael Myers. Of the two commentary tracks, this one proved to be the most entertaining. There are a number of spots in the Rosenthal/Rossi where they both went silent and seemed unsure of what to say, but Warlock is full of details on how he went about playing Michael Myers and of how he handled some of the more dangerous stunts in the sequel.

We do also get a documentary entitled “The Nightmare Isn’t Over: The Making of ‘Halloween II'” which features interviews with Rosenthal, Warlock, Lance Guest, Rossi, Nancy Stephens and many others who were in front of or behind the camera. Like Rosenthal’s commentary, this is another special feature fans have been waiting for endlessly, and it does not disappoint. Some of the best anecdotes come from Rossi who explains how and why he changed the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” when he sang it, and Warlock makes clear why metal zippers do not belong on insulated clothing when you have been set on fire.

There is an additional DVD disc which contains the TV version of “Halloween II” on it, and this is the same version which has been shown on the A&E network. It features additional scenes not found in the theatrical cut as well as an alternate ending which shows one character to still be very much alive.

Other special features include an episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” which has host Sean Clark revisiting the original shooting locations of “Halloween II.” It’s surprising to see some of them still intact 30 years later. There’s also the theatrical trailer, television and radio spots, and deleted scenes with commentary from Rosenthal.

For those of you who still own the Universal Blu-ray release of “Halloween II,” you may not want to get rid of it just yet. The documentary “Terror in the Aisles” did not transfer over to the Shout Factory release, and it is unlikely you will see it available in its own release in the near future.

When Universal Pictures released its Blu-ray of “Halloween II,” it looked like we would never get a better version of it and had to be happy with what we got. Shout Factory, however, has given us a 2-disc set which has just about every special feature fans of this sequel could ever want, and it will certainly keep them busy for hours.

While it was ill-received upon its release in 1981 and considered a pale imitation of the original, “Halloween II” has long since gained a cult following as there are actually many things about it worth admiring. The look and feel of this sequel mirrors the original, and this was something the sequels which followed it could only dream of capturing.

Before ‘The Hurt Locker,’ Kathryn Bigelow Gave Us These Movies

Kathryn Bigelow photo

You only need to see one film directed by Kathryn Bigelow to know that few, if any, other directors can create such an unrelentingly intense movie going experience the way she can. Bigelow didn’t win the Best Director Oscar for “The Hurt Locker” because she is a woman. She won it because she made a war movie which was unlike many we saw at the time. She gave us yet another intense war movie with “Zero Dark Thirty” which looks at the decade long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. It won the New York Film Critics’ Awards for Best Film and Best Director, and it maintains a strong level of intensity from start to finish.

But the truth is Bigelow has always been a great director, and her talent behind the camera has never been in doubt. Whether it’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Point Break” or “Detroit,” her films keep us on the edge of our seats throughout and barely give us a moment to breathe. If you enjoyed these movies, here are some of her other efforts which deserve your attention.

The Loveless movie poster

“The Loveless”

This 1982 film marked Bigelow’s feature film directorial debut, and she co-directed it with Monty Montgomery, the actor who played the Cowboy in David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.” “The Loveless” stars Willem Dafoe and tells the story of a motorcycle gang that makes a pit stop in a small southern town while on their way to Daytona. Once they arrive, however, trouble starts brewing when the gang starts fancying the female locals.

Blue Underground, which released a special edition of “The Loveless” on DVD, called it “the thinking man’s biker movie.” Whether you agree with this assessment or not, Bigelow does give us many beautiful images of leather and chrome, and she does show a love for the look of neon lights as well.

Blue Steel movie poster

“Blue Steel”

Bigelow’s 1989 action thriller next because was the first movie of hers which I watched, and I was absolutely stunned by her unflinching style of direction. The always terrific Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Megan Turner, a rookie New York City police officer who shoots and kills a grocery store robber (played by Tom Sizemore) on her first day. But while staring in shock at what she has done, New York Stock Exchange trader Eugene Hunt (the late Ron Silver) grabs the suspect’s gun and uses it to go on a psychotic killing spree.

What looks like your average police thriller ends up turning out to be a far more violent and unsettling movie than you might expect. Silver gives us one of the craziest and most unhinged psychopaths ever to appear on the silver screen, and Bigelow gives the action sequences a thrill as vicious as it is visceral. Regardless of “Blue Steel” having a plot which has been used over and over, it still stays with me years after having seen it as Bigelow doesn’t shy away from the violent natures of Curtis’ and Silver’s characters.

Near Dark movie poster

“Near Dark”

Forget the “Twilight” films, this is a real vampire movie! Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) gets up close and personal with the beautiful Mae (Jenny Wright) only to be bitten on the neck by her. It soon turns out Mae is a bloodsucking vampire who travels from town to town with her extended vampire family which includes actors Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton and Joshua John Miller. They end up taking Caleb in once he has become one of them, and this forces him to make some tough decisions which he may not be able to live with.

“Near Dark” was a box office disappointment upon its release, but it has since gained a large and deserved cult following. Bigelow, along with cinematographer Adam Greenberg, gives the film such a beautiful look which is aided by one of the many great Tangerine Dream film scores of the 1980s. Its best scene comes when the vampire gang visits a bar in the middle of nowhere, and Bigelow does a literally bloody good job in how she stages it.

Strange Days movie poster

“Strange Days”

Like “Near Dark,” “Strange Days” was a box office failure which has since gained a cult following over the years. Co-written by Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron, it stars Ralph Fiennes as a former cop who deals in SQUID equipment, devices which record images taken directly from an individual’s cerebral cortex. When those images are played back, it allows the user to experience a person’s memory as if they are living it themselves.

This concept allows Bigelow to stage some exhilarating point of view action sequences which must have been insanely difficult to choreograph and put together. While it may be tempting to compare “Strange Days” to other futuristic movies which show a major city in peril, this film really has its own unique look. And like your typical Bigelow movie, you don’t watch it as much as you experience it.

K19 The Widowmaker movie poster

“K-19: The Widowmaker”

Okay, I know many had issues with Harrison Ford’s and Liam Neeson’s accents and of the liberties taken with the movie’s true story, but I still think “K-19: The Widowmaker” is a far better movie than people give it credit for. It’s no “Das Boot,” but Bigelow mines a lot of raw emotion out of the story of Russia’s first nuclear submarine. This comes about when the ship’s reactor malfunctions to where it will explode if the temperature to continues to climb, and members of the crew are dispatched to work on the reactor while wearing chemical suits which do far too little to protect them from severe radiation sickness (“they might as well wear raincoats,” says Neeson’s character).

Watching these young men essentially sacrifice their own lives in order to prevent World War III is devastating to witness, and Bigelow makes you respect their selfless act to where you cannot help but be on the verge of tears while watching them go into a room they will not come out of in one piece.

Kathryn Bigelow

John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ Covers the Coastal Towns Again in a Beautiful 4K Restoration

 

The Fog 4K Restoration posterThe Fog” remains one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Every time a fog bank appears in whatever town I happen to be in, I immediately put on his score to the film and start playing its theme song. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” “The Fog” is, for me, one of the most iconic Northern California horror movies ever made as it captures the beauty of coast near Bodega Bay and beyond while enthralling you with a number of terrifying images.

Rialto Pictures has now released a 4K restoration of “The Fog,” and seeing it again on the big screen proves to be a real treat. Granted, this Carpenter movie has been restored previously for the special edition MGM DVD and Shout Factory’s Blu-ray collector’s edition, and the results were truly astonishing. But just when I thought the image couldn’t be improved upon any further, along comes this restoration which looks truly pristine and clear to where the image, if you’ll excuse the expression, isn’t as foggy as it once was.

“The Fog” takes place in the coastal town of Antonio Bay which is about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its formation, but we soon discover it was actually built on blood and theft. Father Malone (the great Hal Holbrook) discovers a diary hidden in the walls of his church written by his grandfather, and it tells of how he and five of the town’s founders deliberately plundered and sunk a clipper ship named the Elizabeth Dane. The owner of the ship was Blake, a wealthy man looking to establish a leper colony, but he and his crew ended up being murdered, and the gold found on their ship was used to build the town and its church.

Now Blake and his crew are back to get their revenge against the offspring of the town’s founders and retrieve their gold. Once you are surrounded by the fog to where Blake and his crew have you in their sights, it is too late to escape. There is a Klingon proverb which tells of how revenge is a dish best served cold, and it is served here very coldly to where we are quickly reminded of the movie’s tagline:

“It won’t hurt you. IT’LL KILL YOU.”

Watching “The Fog” for the umpteenth time, I am reminded of what a brilliant cinematographer Dean Cundey is as his lighting helps to make the movie’s central nemesis all the more mysterious and devilishly suffocating. The dark of the night is made to look especially chilling as things constantly leap out of it, and Blake and his crew are largely kept in the shadows as neither Cundey or Carpenter want to reveal too much of the monster to the audience.

This was Carpenter’s and the late Debra Hill’s first movie after “Halloween,” and I can understand why audiences felt a little let down by “The Fog” when it arrived in theaters. The anticipation for something usually ends up being more exciting than the finished product as our minds are filled with the possibilities of what we think will end up on the silver screen, but not everything comes out the way we want it to. It’s an unfair obstacle that filmmakers often have to deal with when following up such a successful motion picture, and sometimes we need to revisit certain movies like these years later to give them a much-needed reassessment.

More than 30 years have passed since Carpenter’s “The Fog” was released, and I like to think it has gotten better over time. In terms of atmospheric horror movies, I see it as one of the best. Those low-flying clouds are always a fascinating sight as well as a scary one. When the visibility is practically zero, you cannot help but feel trapped in the fog as it makes you believe the world has cut you off. Carpenter captures this feeling here as the fog proves to be thick and infinitely suffocating. There’s no escaping it or what is inside of it as those not smart enough to run away from it are almost deserving of the fate about to greet them.

Carpenter assembled a terrific cast of actors for “The Fog,” many of whom became regulars in his later movies. John Houseman gets things off to a chilling start as he recounts the story of the Elizabeth Dane in a way which feels vivid and probably helped the producers save money to where an actual recreation of the event he talks about proved completely unnecessary. Houseman was a brilliant actor who somehow managed to walk the line of doing work for either the love of the theatre or instead a nice paycheck, and I like to believe he did “The Fog” for the former. Still, I am often reminded of what the late Robin Williams said about the advice Houseman gave him while he was a student at Julliard:

“The theatre needs you. I’m going off to sell Volvos.”

Tom Atkins co-stars as town resident Nick Castle (lol) who is quick to pick up hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) and later have sex with her before asking the question often heard in movies of the late 70’s and early 80’s, “What’s your name?” Atkins showed what a confident lady’s man he was here, and he later built on this confidence to terrific and hilarious effect in “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.”

“The Fog” also marked the film debut of Adrienne Barbeau, and the camera loves her here. As single mom and local radio disc jockey Stevie Wayne, Barbeau gives this Carpenter movie the strong female character it needs and deserves. Stevie is not a person to back down from danger and, like Laurie Strode, she is very observant of everything going on around her. When Barbeau’s voice is giving you more than enough of a reason to listen to jazz music on a regular basis, she keeps you on the edge of your seat as she fends off the bloodthirsty mariners hiding in the fog in ways her male counterparts fail to.

And, of course, I have to mention Carpenter’s score as I remain as big a fan of his music as I do of his movies. His main theme for “The Fog” is one of his most memorable as it has the same rapid pace of his “Halloween” theme. The musical stings pack a wallop in certain scenes where ghostly hands reach out of the fog to grab at unsuspecting victims who think this is the work of kids, and his other big theme in “The Fog” is “Reel 9” which brings the movie to its riveting climax in which the mariners close in on the townspeople who have no place to escape certain death.

Carpenter has described “The Fog” as being one of his least favorite movies as its initial cut proved to be very disappointing, and he had to reshoot and rescore much of it before its release. Whatever the case, it is a wonderfully atmospheric horror movie which stands among his finest works, and watching this 4K restoration of it reminds one of why certain movies play best on the silver screen.

It’s also fun to watch a movie made back in the pre-digital age when cell phones and GPS were not around to save our heroes. Instead, they had to deal with landlines, a desperate DJ and the limits of technology. After watching “The Fog” again in this day and age, I kept waiting for one of the characters to say the following:

“It’s just you, me, and my Thomas Guide.”

* * * * out of * * * *

David Gordon Green’s ‘Halloween’ is the Sequel We Have Been Waiting For

Halloween 2018 theatrical poster

Why do filmmakers constantly insist on doing a retcon of the “Halloween” franchise? Every once in a while, the continuity of the series is tossed to the wayside, usually for profit and greed, but perhaps deep down there are those out there who remain infinitely eager for another and more fulfilling showdown between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. We thought we got it in 1981’s “Halloween II,” but even Michael couldn’t stay down after being burned beyond recognition. Then there was “Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later,” but that was really a “Scream” movie disguised as a “Halloween” movie, and what resulted did not feel particularly compelling.

But just when you thought it was time to lay this long-running franchise to rest, along comes the simply titled “Halloween” which wipes the slate clean to give us the true sequel fans of the series have been waiting 40 years for. Once again, Michael Myers breaks free and heads back to Haddonfield, Illinois for a bloody homecoming. But this time, Laurie Strode is ready and waiting, and she is not about to take any prisoners. As this “Halloween” unfolds, you will see what Sylvester Stallone meant when he said, while in pursuit of Wesley Snipes in “Demotion Man:”

“Send a maniac to catch a maniac.”

In this alternate timeline, Michael did not escape at the end of John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” but was instead captured and sent back to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and has remained there for the last 40 years. His latest psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), insists Michael can talk but chooses not to, but this doesn’t stop a pair of true-crime podcasters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), from trying to make him say something, anything. But once Aaron pulls Michael’s old mask out of his bag, we know it won’t be long before they are reminded of what curiosity did to the cat.

This particular “Halloween” was directed by David Gordon Green and co-written by him, Jeff Fradley and actor Danny McBride, and the respect they have for Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is on display throughout. They even bring back the serif font from the original’s credits as they are determined to make us accept this is a direct sequel to the one which started it all. I admired how the credits started off with a pumpkin which looks to have been stomped on one too many times and which reforms slowly but surely. It’s almost like a metaphor for this franchise as many continue to resurrect Michael, or “The Shape” as he is often referred to, with varying results.

Green is one of those filmmakers who can go from making independent films like “All the Real Girls” and “Joe” to more mainstream fare such as “Pineapple Express” and “Stronger” with relative ease. With his “Halloween,” he gives a slow-burn thriller which thankfully doesn’t peak too soon. Many horror movies give us their best moments far too early these days, so it’s nice to see Green not making this same mistake here as he gives us a deeply suspenseful thriller which builds up and up to its much-anticipated climax.

I also have to give Green and his collaborators credit for giving us characters we care about. It is impossible not to relate to them in one way or another as we remember having their same needs and desires when we were their age. Many of the “Friday the 13th” sequels kept giving us characters we couldn’t wait to see get killed off as we were made to hate them, but when the residents of Haddonfield are killed off, you cannot help but feel for them, and not just because they never got the chance to lose their virginity.

The real big news, however, about this “Halloween” is John Carpenter is back. It marks his return to the franchise he created for the first time since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” I imagine money was a big motivating factor, but I do believe Carpenter when he said how enthusiastic he was about Green and McBride’s pitch for this movie. In addition to acting as executive producer, Carpenter also scored the movie along with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, and they give the brutal proceedings here an extra hard kick in the ass (click here to check out my review of the soundtrack).

But let’s face facts, the real star of this “Halloween” movie is Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her iconic role with a real vengeance, and she plays Laurie to the hilt in this installment. When Curtis first played Laurie, she was a kind, shy and innocent young woman. 40 years later, Laurie is a shell of her former self as her life has been severely undone by PTSD, alcoholism and agoraphobia. She has spent the past few decades training to be a survivalist as her life is now dedicated to removing Michael from the face of the earth, and it has all come at the expense of caring for her own family.

Curtis has always put in a great performance in each movie she appears in, be it a good or a bad one, but she really hits it out of the park here. She succeeds in turning Laurie Strode into a bad ass warrior who is never determined to suffer in the same way she did before, and at times she threatens to be more frightening than Michael herself. Just check out the scene when Laurie breaks into her daughter Karen’s (Judy Greer) house and reminds her bluntly of how unprepared she is for the oncoming slaughter.

Moreover, Curtis really makes us sympathize with Laurie Strode throughout. We know all what she has been through, and to see the effect it has on those closest to her is heartbreaking. We learn she has been divorced twice, and her daughter Karen wants little to do with her and constantly begs her to get help. Even when Laurie absent-mindedly takes a drink from a glass of wine like as it it were was an automatic impulse, we feel for her as no one can see Michael Myers as being the embodiment of pure evil the way she can.

Watching Curtis as Laurie here quickly reminded me of a line the late Natasha Richardson said in “Patty Hearst:”

“I finally realized what my crime was, I lived. Big mistake. Very messy.”

The cast overall does really good work, and they are made of very likable and dependable actors which include Judy Greer and Will Patton who make their characters seem very down to earth in a way you want them to be. One real standout here is Andi Matichak who plays Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter and the only one capable of having a meaningful relationship with her. Matichak proves to be a very appealing presence here, and she makes Allyson into a strong and defiant young woman who is not about to suffer fools in the slightest.

As “Halloween” builds up to its inevitable climax, Green keeps increasing the tension throughout. He smartly leaves Michael in the shadows, and you can’t help but wondering when he is going to jump out next. Green also leaves you wondering if we might actually see Michael’s face or even hear him speak. Does he? Wouldn’t you like to know?

This “Halloween” is not at all groundbreaking, but then again neither was Carpenter’s film. The 1978 “Halloween” owed a lot to the works of Alfred Hitchcock among others, but it also managed to give a freshness to the horror genre in the same way “Psycho” did years before. With any “Halloween” follow-up, we can only hope for it to be as good, if not better, than the original. There’s no way you can top what Carpenter pulled off 40 years ago as none of us saw Michael Myers coming. But with this “Halloween,” we get the true sequel the original never quite received, and it proves to be well worth the wait.

There is also something very cathartic about watching this one in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Essentially, we are watching a woman take revenge on a man who thoughtlessly ruined her life years before, and seeing her do battle with him makes this “Halloween” especially thrilling. Lord knows women have been forced to be silent for far too long, so seeing one get her revenge feels much, much overdue.

By the way, I think I’m going to start calling this one “Halloween: 40 is the New 20.” It seems appropriate, don’t you think?

* * * ½ out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: A lot of people have been getting mad at Jamie Lee Curtis recently. We see her wielding many different weapons and firearms in this movie as Laurie Strode, but some have been quick to call her a hypocrite for doing so as her stance on gun control and the need for it has been well-documented. Why is she appearing in this movie armed to the hilt and yet complaining about gun violence in real life? Ladies and gentlemen, what Curtis is doing in this movie is called ACTING. SHE IS PLAYING A CHARACTER. Whatever happened to make believe anyway? Not all actors are out to put their political issues into each movie they do. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and stop blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction. That is all.

First ‘Halloween’ Trailer Has Been Released, and it Looks Awesome!

Halloween 2018 teaser poster

I have not been as excited for a movie trailer as I have been for this one. Sure, there were the ones for various “Star Wars” movies, particularly “The Force Awakens,” which got me all excited, but this one feels especially thrilling. It is a direct sequel to one of the scariest horror movies ever made, and it dares to retcon a franchise which has seen a large deal of retconning throughout a number of sequels. Plus, with the director of “Pineapple Express,” “Joe” and “All the Real Girls” at the helm, I cannot help but anticipate something more than just another dumb horror sequel. I am of course talking about David Gordon Green’s upcoming “Halloween,” and after a week filled with teasers, the first full trailer was released, and damn it looks awesome!

Unlike “Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later” which was a direct sequel to 1981’s “Halloween II,” this “Halloween” serves as a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s original 1978 film. The trailer indicates that, instead of disappearing even after being shot six times by Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers was in fact captured and has been imprisoned in an asylum ever since. Gone is the implication of Laurie Strode actually being Michael’s sister, and this is made perfectly clear by Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter, who is played by Andi Matichak. There’s no battle this time between brother and sister, but instead between a survivor who has no choice but to believe in the boogeyman, and a man who, as Dr. Loomis once said, isn’t even remotely human.

Right from the trailer’s first frame, I already love the look of this “Halloween” as the visuals are stark and ominous. I was taken aback at the production values on display here as horror movies in general are made on very low budgets to where the filmmakers are forced to cut more corners than they would ever want to. But here it looks like everyone at Blumhouse Productions and the filmmakers have crafted a true horror film where the shadows prove to be as ominous as ever, and we all remember how easily Michael can disappear into them.

In several interviews, the filmmakers behind this “Halloween” have said this film will ignore the continuity of the sequels, but that it will allude to them in one way or another. The scene in which the two reporters, both whom we see attempting to interview Michael, are stuck a deserted gas station and are stalked by him quickly reminded me of similar scene from “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.” When Michael approaches the female reporter while she is in a bathroom stall, it brought to my mind of when Ken Foree tried to explain why he wasn’t finished dropping the kids in the pool in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween.” It will be interesting to see what other allusions Green and company have in store with us in a few months.

After the first poster for the movie was released, many complained about how Michael Myers’ mask looked way too similar to the one used in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” and “Halloween II.” Seeing it in the trailer here, it doesn’t look the least bit similar, and it instead looks very much like the one Nick Castle donned all those years ago. Many of the “Halloween” sequels had Michael wearing a different mask in each one, and it made me miss the original as it had an infinitely creepy look none of the others could match. But seeing Michael put on this particular mask once again had my excitement levels going through the roof.

And of course, it is so great to see Jamie Lee Curtis back in her star-making role as Laurie Strode. While Curtis portrayed Laurie as a barely functioning alcoholic in “Halloween H20,” she looks to play this character here as a survivor whose scars are more apparent on her psyche than on her body. As Laurie tells a police officer, played by Will Patton, how she always hopes Michael will escape again so she can have a chance to kill him, we see her shooting guns at various targets to where we can believe she has been practicing her aim for a very, very, very long time. Curtis is always a fantastic presence in any movie she stars in, and to see her make Laurie Strode into a true badass here has me looking forward to this “Halloween” movie even more.

I also have to say how much I loved this trailer’s last image of a young boy asking his babysitter to shut his closet door. Boy does this bring back memories of when we were young and believed there was a monster hiding in our closets. As we get older, we stop believing in monsters as real life proves to be far more terrifying, but in this scene certain characters are shocked to see there is one inside this particular closet. Whether or not you believe in monsters, we are once again reminded of how the boogeyman is real and that evil never dies.

Ever since learning David Gordon Green was working with Danny McBride on a new “Halloween” screenplay, I have been super excited about this project. Having Jamie Lee Curtis come back as Laurie Strode makes me even happier, and I have to applaud Jason Blum for managing to bring John Carpenter himself back to this franchise for the first time since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” as securing Carpenter’s involvement could not have been easy. Carpenter serves as executive producer, and he will also be scoring the film along with his son, Cody Carpenter (YAY!). Furthermore, Carpenter made it clear how this addition to the “Halloween” franchise will bring Michael Myers back to his original roots as he always saw this character as not a real person, but instead as an almost supernatural force and the embodiment of evil. With all these talented people involved, I cannot help but have huge expectations for this upcoming horror film, and the trailer makes it seem like this endeavor will be worth the wait.

I also have to say I am glad this one isn’t titled “Michael vs Laurie” as it would have cheapened what we see here. Granted, this movie is to contain the final confrontation between these two, and I would hate to see it end when they both realize they have mothers named Martha.

“Halloween” is set to be released on October 19, 2018, a date which cannot come soon enough. Please check out the trailer below and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel if you haven’t already.

 

Blu-ray Review: Anchor Bay’s ‘Halloween’ 35th Anniversary Edition

halloween-35th-anniversary-blu-ray-cover

Just when you thought Anchor Bay Entertainment had released the last edition of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” on DVD or Blu-ray, another one emerges to taunt the movie’s die-hard fans with the possibility of purchasing it. Now we have the “Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition” which was released on Blu-ray and contains an all-new high definition transfer supervised and approved by the film’s cinematographer, Dean Cundey. With a couple of new special features combined with a few from previous editions, is it worth paying a few more bucks to own another version of this horror classic? Well, let’s find out…

Anchor Bay has released just about as many special editions of “Halloween” as they have of “Evil Dead” and “Army of Darkness,” so it’s hard to see what the point was of putting out yet another. But after watching this one, I can certainly see why. The colors on this high definition transfer look very balanced, and the movie looks far more vividly frightening as a result. It is a huge improvement over the 25th anniversary DVD Anchor Bay released as part of their Divimax Series as it proved to be hard on the eyes due to certain colors being far brighter than they needed to be. Seriously, this particular Blu-ray edition makes me want to watch “Halloween” over and over again as it made me feel like I had never watched it before, and I have seen this horror classic over a hundred times.

Among the brand new special features, the one I was surprised to see most was a brand-new commentary with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. That Carpenter would even consent to doing another commentary on “Halloween,” which he has long since answered every conceivable question about, is astonishing, but he sounds very enthusiastic here as he talks with Curtis about what went down during this movie’s making. It’s also great to hear Curtis’ thoughts on “Halloween” as we haven’t heard her talk too much about it in a long time. Carpenter’s commentaries are always more fun when he has someone to converse with, and he and Curtis share a lot of great memories here.

The other new special feature is the documentary “The Night She Came Home” which follows Curtis as she attends her first ever horror convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. Curtis talks about how she has stayed away from her past in horror movies because she was working on other things or being a mom, but now she feels the need to honor the fans who love “Halloween” so much because she now realizes just how strong the horror fan base is. It’s fun watching her sign autographs for fans who waited hours in line, and her generosity to them is genuinely sweet. The convention also proves to be a reunion of sorts as Curtis meets up with Charles Cyphers who played Sheriff Leigh Brackett, Brian Andrews who played the young Tommy Doyle, Production Designer Tommy Lee Wallace who would later go on to direct “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and filmmaker Nick Castle who was the first person to play Michael Myers.

As for the other special features, they are recycled from other previous editions. There’s the featurette “On Location: 25 Years Later” which looks at where “Halloween” was shot. Also included are the movie’s trailer, some TV and radio spots, and footage specifically shot for the television version. You’d figure Anchor Bay would make this another ultimate edition that would be jam packed with extras, but since this the umpteenth edition of this horror classic, I guess they didn’t want to make the previous editions seem altogether disposable. So for those who still own those editions, you should hang onto them as they contain a lot of extras and commentaries not to be found here.

Is it worth it to buy the “Halloween 35th Anniversary Edition” from Anchor Bay Entertainment? Well, it may depend on how much you love this movie. The remastered high definition transfer makes it look like it was filmed not too long ago, and watching it can quickly remind you of how frightening this horror classic is. You also get a nice booklet with interesting behind the scenes photos of the production and an essay by Stef Hutchinson which details why this movie still has a powerful impact on people years after its release.

The fact is none of the sequels or shameless imitators of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” can ever take away from the suspense and uneasiness it generated upon its release. I find myself revisiting this classic quite often, and this 35th anniversary edition makes me want to revisit it more and more. If you are happy with the “Halloween” special edition you currently own, then you probably won’t need this one, but you should at least check out how it looks here. For those who are still committed to buying every single incarnation of this movie Anchor Bay releases, then this one is definitely worth your money.

Halloween II (1981)

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Sequels are usually beaten to a critical pulp, and it’s not hard to understand why. They are primarily made because the original made a ton of money, and heaven forbid that the money train stops there. It’s not enough to make a killing at the box office (no pun intended); you have to capitalize on what you made because greed still reigns supreme. Heck, these days studios are franchise crazy and are always on the lookout for the next one to start up. However, audiences these days are a lot more discerning and are quick to question why certain sequels were even made. They can tell when they are being scammed out of their hard-earned money, but the curiosity of what the sequel has to offer can be hard to ignore.

In a lot of ways, sequels are undone by the high expectations placed on them. Certain movies have no chance of living up to the brilliance of their predecessor, but maybe they can be enjoyable enough when you come to them with reduced expectations. Sometimes that can be enough.

Case in point is “Halloween II,” the sequel to, at the time, the highest grossing independent film ever made. “Halloween” was and still is one of the scariest movies ever made. The ending of the movie had Michael Myers disappearing from sight, and it was visual proof of how evil never dies. “Halloween II,” however, takes place at the exact moment the original ended with Michael still on the loose, and even while he moves a hell of a lot slower, he still proves to be a very deadly threat to everyone around him. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) continues to hunt for the man he tried to keep locked up, and Jaime Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode who is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to recover from the injuries she suffered a few hours earlier.

“Halloween II” was torn apart by the critics for being nowhere as good as the original, proclaiming it a rehash of what we saw before and for having nothing new to say about Michael Myers  or anyone else from the original. Even John Carpenter, who co-wrote the script for this one with the late Debra Hill but did not direct it, said he hated it, and the only thing which got him to finish writing this sequel was a six-pack of Budweiser. Even he realized he was making the same movie which is probably why he declined to direct it. The only really fresh aspect of this one is that we discover how Laurie Strode and Michael Myers have a closer bond than they realize, and it comes to explain why he made the long trip back to Haddonfield after waiting for years while staring out a window in total silence.

But despite its flaws, I still enjoyed “Halloween II” for what it was. Yes, it is a retread of the original, but what else are you gonna do with Michael Myers? Do you want him to win the Nobel Peace Prize? Get rehabilitated? Make peace with his sister after killing so many people? Don’t you remember? Evil never dies!

The one thing to note about “Halloween II” is how much bloodier and gorier it is than its predecessor. When this sequel came out, there had already been so many knock offs of “Halloween” with the psychotic and silent killer wearing a different kind of mask and using a different weapon which suits their murderous rages more than any other. “Friday The 13th” would not have existed without Carpenter’s original masterpiece.

At the very least, “Halloween II” tries to be more creative in the way Michael kills his victims as he proves to be  inventive with hypodermic needles, scalding hot water, and he even conducts a blood drive which doesn’t require anyone from the Red Cross to help out. If you run into Michael, you’re a donor whether you driver’s license says you are or not.

While “Halloween” only showed us so much of Michael and kept him hidden in the shadows for the most part, “Halloween II” pretty much shows everything. While it makes this sequel less effective than the original, I still got a kick out of it. Carpenter apparently came in to reshoot some scenes because he felt audiences would be demanding more blood and guts as horror movies have upped the ante in that arena since the original. Whether or not this was the right decision may be up for debate, but fans of Fangoria Magazine will not be complaining. The scene where Michael plunges Pamela Susan Shoop into scalding hot water is shocking and highly unnerving, and seeing a hypodermic needle get inserted into someone’s eye is very unsettling.

One thing this sequel has to its advantage is that is made by the same team which made the original. Director of photography Dean Cundey came back for it, and he gives “Halloween II” a dark and creepy look to where you want to keep an eye on what is hiding in those shadows across the hall. Michael could be anywhere, waiting for you to come out into the open.

At the very least, Carpenter and Hill do a good job of giving us characters who are as down to earth as those in the original. There’s a little scene where three of them are in a hospital lounge watching TV and talking about what just happened their previously quiet little town of Haddonfield. The young nurse claims she saw Michael, and one of the guys is a sexually frustrated prick who is more interested in having sex than the fact this force of evil is still on the loose.

The characters may come across as clichés after having seen the first one, but to me, they still felt real enough to where I wasn’t snickering at their actions. Among them is Jimmy, a paramedic played by Lance Guest, who ends up developing a protective crush on Laurie. After seeing Laurie being all shy in the first film, it was  nice to see her get something of a boyfriend in this one, and seeing him get hurt actually made me feel bad. If this were any other sequel to a slasher flick, I probably would have been cheering the killer on more than the victim.

There’s also the ever so serious nurse Mrs. Alves played by Gloria Gifford. She plays the boss you probably have been stuck with once or twice in your life, and one which you hope you never have again. Pamela Susan Shoop plays the well-meaning but always tardy Nurse Karen Bailey and, she is very good and appealing here and shows off the appropriate cleavage for a horror movie like this.

If there is a major weakness in “Halloween II,” it is the way Laurie Strode is written. She is not the same brave heroine we saw in the first movie. Here, she is drugged out after the doctor works on her injuries, and there is only so much she can do as a result. She is smart enough to run away when she feels Michael closing in, but she becomes utterly helpless instead of being inventive in the ways she protects herself. Regardless, I still liked Laurie Strode here, but it would have been better to see her kick more ass like she did the first time around. Perhaps she could have been much more vengeful towards Michael and much more eager to put an end to his rampage.

Donald Pleasance once again gives the demonic lines he is given a lot of depth to where they stay with you long after the movie has ended. His little speech on the festival of Sam Hain, the Lord of the Dead, and how we are all afraid of the darkness inside of ourselves is a great moment. The unconscious mind can be a very frightening place indeed.

I also have to say that when it comes Pleasance and Curtis, I have never really seen give a bad performance in any film they have ever been in. Put either of them into the worse movie ever made, and they will still be good.

But my most favorite thing about this “Halloween II” is the gothic score composed by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. It’s not any different from the score for the original, but I loved how it was done with synthesizers this time around. It feels all the more atmospherically consuming even after all these years, and I never get sick of listening to it. The piece of music where Michael  finally finds Laurie in the hospital and pursues her remains one of my favorite pieces of music in any movie ever.

Dick Warlock takes on the role of Michael this time around. I do agree that it would have been great if Nick Castle came back to play Michael again, but I imagine his own directing career must have been keeping him busy at that point. Warlock tries a little too hard to mimic Castle’s movements, but it is understandable why he moves so slowly in this one (he was shot six times). All the same, Michael still came across as a very threatening figure to me. Even if he moved so slowly, I was still terrified of him coming up on unsuspecting hospital employees, and it was excruciating to wait for that elevator door to open.

“Halloween II” might not be a great movie, but I still enjoyed it a lot. This sequel in many ways marked the last time where these characters seemed relatable as just about all the other sequels in this franchise as they came to feature infinitely stupid characters played by mediocre actors. Perhaps the passage of time has been kinder to this sequel than others as the series soon descended into mediocrity, but it didn’t decrease in quality as quickly as other slasher franchises have.

I have no shame in saying I really enjoyed this sequel. Then again, why should I have any shame about like it? Other critics can bash it all they want. But for me, “Halloween II” still delivers.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)

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What is there to say about “Halloween” which hasn’t already been said? It has been discussed ad nauseam, and even Carpenter must be sick of talking about it all the time. Granted, he did take the time to record a new commentary track with Jamie Lee Curtis for Anchor Bay’s 35th anniversary edition, but when the 25th anniversary edition came out it just had the same commentary track from the Criterion Collection laserdisc.

We all know the story, and this is in large part due to the countless imitators who rushed to create their own psychotic killer following “Halloween’s” astonishing success. At the time of its release, it was the most successful independent movie ever made. Made for about $300,000, it ended up grossing over $50 million. “Friday The 13th” would never have existed without “Halloween,” and that franchise is far more responsible for those clichés horror movies exploit to infinity.

What I love about “Halloween” is how down to earth it is. All of these characters come across as very relatable. The way the script is written and how the actors played their roles, they easily reminded us of people from our own lives we grew up with. The only character in the whole movie who is NOT down to earth is Michael Meyers as he is a killer who has no real motive for why he heads back home to kill. As the movie goes on, we eventually stop seeing him as a person and instead as a force of evil which cannot be easily stopped.

We have all lived in a town like Haddonfield, a small town where families can raise their children in peace, or so it would seem, and the problems they face there end up paling in comparison to those they were forced to endure in the city. The parents see small town life as a home away from reality, but for the children it is reality. It is all they know. So when multiple murders occur there, it threatens to define the town more than anything else. Was there anything interesting about Haddonfield before young Michael Meyers took a knife to his sister when he was only a boy?

I also love how “Halloween” was shot. Working with Director of Photography Dean Cundey, Carpenter creates truly unnerving visuals of a killer lurking in the shadows. One moment Michael appears in the frame, and in the next he is gone. Michael could be anywhere and there is no escape from him. How does one escape from evil anyway? One of Carpenter’s main themes with “Halloween” is how evil never dies. It is a force which is with us whether we like it or not, and it is always just around the corner…

One of my favorite shots is when little Tommy is fooling around with Lindsay as they watch Howard Hawks’ version of “The Thing.” But when Tommy turns around and looks out the window, he sees a man carrying a lifeless body from the garage to the front door. The bullies at school kept warning him about the boogeyman coming, and it is an unfortunate and infuriating coincidence that they are correct. It is one of the creepiest images from “Halloween,” and it is one which always stays with me. Don’t you wonder what your neighbors are up as you look at their houses across the street?

The other brilliant thing about “Halloween” is how it was edited in such a way where you cannot be sure when or where Michael will appear next. The best example of this is when Laurie Strode is running away from Michael. Carpenter puts us right in her shoes as she desperately tries to escape the madman who wears an altered William Shatner mask. The editing plays with your emotions beautifully. You want her to escape, but you soon feel as helpless as her as she yells at Tommy to wake the hell up.

The moment where Laurie is at the front door of Tommy’s house, screaming for him to let her in, is one of the scariest scenes I have ever seen in a movie. It intercuts with her banging on the door while the Shape approaches her, and Carpenter succeeds brilliantly in leaving us stuck in a place we are desperate to escape from. Like her, we are begging for Tommy to unlock the door to where we want to yell at the movie screen, TV set or whatever device you are watching this movie on.

And who could ever forget the music? Carpenter’s score for “Halloween” ranks among the greatest horror movie scores ever composed to where I would put it up alongside Bernard Herrmann’s score for “Psycho.” Carpenter’s musical work has been done mostly in a minimalist style, very much unlike the bombastic orchestral scores from every other Hollywood composer. After all these years, the main title for “Halloween” is a piece of music I never get sick of listening to. The music succeeds in heightening the ever growing tension which never lets up even after the movie is ovr.

The final shot is unnerving and utterly perfect in the way Carpenter shows how evil never dies. We see images we have become familiar with throughout the movie, and they now have the stain of evil on them. The point is point he could be anywhere at this point.

This is definitely one of my all-time favorite movies, and the recent 35th anniversary edition Blu-ray reminded me of how I never get tired of watching it. Jamie Lee Curtis is great here as Laurie Strode, the only one who is the least bit observant about what’s going on around her. Then you have P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis as Laurie’s so-called friends who frolic around, completely unaware of the killer stalking them from a distance. And you have Donald Pleasance, and his Dr. Loomis is a character which pretty much came to define the latter half of the franchise.

Many say “Halloween” originated the undying cliché of how teenagers who have premarital sex and do drugs are the first ones to be killed off. In the Criterion commentary, both Carpenter and the late Debra Hill make it abundantly clear they were not trying to lay any sort of judgment on these characters. Religion was not intended to shoved down our throats by anyone involved with this movie. These characters don’t get murdered because they are sinners, but because they aren’t paying attention to what is going on around them. Laurie Strode, on the other hand, is always very suspicious of her surroundings.

John Carpenter’s “Halloween” will always remain the best of all the so-called slasher movies in my humble opinion. There is no way anyone can top what he did with the 1978 classic, and this is even though Rob Zombie’s take on Michael Meyers was better than people gave his “Halloween” movies credit for. It has reached such a high level of praise in the ever growing pantheon of cinema to where duplicating its power is extremely difficult to pull off. The fact it still has the power to unsettle generations of audiences is a testament to Carpenter’s brilliance as a director, and its amazing success led him to make many other great films which continue to stay with us long after the end credits have finished.

* * * * out of * * * *