Halloween II - Unrated Director's Cut Blu-ray Review
Don't get any hopes up for a pretty picture here, folks. Halloween II may be served up via 1080p AVC, but this 1.85:1 image is not exactly hi-def in style, depth or detail. Rob Zombie has given the film a desaturated appearance, bleaching out a lot of life and vitality to leave a very sombre, pallid and cold-looking picture that he also made sure to shoot on 16mm stock just to maintain that grungier look. He also brings in grain, a whole lot of grain. This takes on the form of some often fuzzy noise that fizzes away in the darker elements as well as stippling the skies and the whiter portions of the screen. This gives the film an intensely gritty feel, but although this is almost certainly totally intentional, it robs any semblance of a hi-def sheen from the image, making it look rough and unpleasant.
Colours are reserved for neon-signs, the odd splash of blood in a well-lit environment, some occasional close-ups where eyes and clothing can be examined and some flames from a burning car later on, as well as the garish Halloween Party - though even this looks a little muted and ill. The grey ambience of the bleak landscape, autumnal and leached, is pretty authentic when seen during Michael's cross country trek, and skin tones are appreciably realistic for the locale and the time of year. But for a lot of its running time, the film seems barely intended to operate on anything more than a monochromatic basis. But we do get some green and blue push, with both casts filtering through the image to add to that down 'n' dirty, cold appearance.
Contrast is fairly consistent - we have deep blacks and high whites. This is predominantly a very dark film, with both noise and black crush having an impact, but well-lit interiors and daytime scenes can look sharp and detailed. Just about any close-up of Loomis or Sheriff Brackett look good - the press conference for the former and the dinner-table shenanigans for the latter are both good examples - with craggy facial detail, fine hair delineation and a stark vividness to the eyes. Detail on Michael's mask can be effectively rendered too, as well as the numerous wounds we see getting probed and sewn-up near the start. Odd shots do sometimes stand out with typical hi-def clarity. A couple of the overhead tracking shots of Michael stomping across fields, and the various barns that he inhabits are well picked-out and offer quite rewarding detail, though these can serve to highlight the lack of such resolution elsewhere.
Unsurprisingly, depth and three-dimensionality are not at all striking. Naturally, this is all par for the course. This is the low-budget look that Zombie was aiming for, so the image as we see it here is actually pretty accurate. But I would say that, besides blacks that stamp down on some details, there is also an unfair amount of edge enhancement that bothers the definition still further. Other digital gremlins such as smearing, aliasing and DNR do not appear to pester it, though.
Like the film, itself, the image presented here is an acquired taste, but one that I would say was faithful to the source.
If there was one word to describe Halloween II's DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, the only audio option there is, it would be solid. Neither the best surround example that you will have heard, nor the most clinically detailed, this remains strident, hard and gruelling enough to bring home the Haddonfield bacon with an aural violence that won't disappoint.
With very decent strength and aggression spread across the front speakers - where most of the action lies - and some tremendously thick bass reinforcement to the many impacts that populate the various kills and set-pieces, Zombie's sound design is taut and emphatic. What the track lacks in exciting surround usage it more than makes up for in shrill and crisp screaming, stark and guttural grunts (from Michael) and meaty thumps and thuds. The sound of breaking glass - the mirror that a poor girl's face is repeatedly smashed into, and the two van windows that Michael bursts through - is nice and sharp and detailed, although the bass presence is still brought to the fore. When Michael rips through doors and cuts through the wall of the hospital gate-keeper's office, there is plenty of pulverising and gut-tightening depth and solidity.
Although the source music from the band and on the various radios and players in the film is often quite restrained within the mix, Tyler Bates' score has some swirling presence, even bleeding into the rears to help foster some deeper and more enveloping resonance. And there is some natural ambience that finds its way over your shoulder from time to time, such as thunder and the fine positioning of rainfall, but this isn't a big and demonstrative showcase for wraparound sound, despite some keen steerage. The film is hard, punchy and frontally assaulting. Each kill seems to be accompanied by deep, bone-rattling force. Gunshots are okay, with some degree of directionality and the sound of the helicopter rotoring overhead offers good spread and depth, with a definite sense of placement above the scene. Dialogue doesn't suffer at all throughout this onslaught, remaining clear and realistic throughout. The babble in the press conference is varied and nicely spread around, individual speakers having a keen clarity, as is the difficult situation that ensues at the book signing.
So, overall, Halloween II has a fine and powerful lossless track. The sound design is brutal and swift and reliant upon booming impacts, but these do come over very well, leading to an aural experience that is raw and unsettling.
Zombie isn't the most enthusiastic of speakers, but he does issue a relatively detailed summation of the film's production. Quite obviously conscious of the fact that his films have a divided audience, he is reasonably defensive of his motivations and creative decisions without being overly arrogant. His response as to how he was able to bring Michael back from the dead after being shot in the head at the end of the first film - let's not forget that his version of the character is definitely meant to be flesh and blood and not at all supernatural - is perfunctory and dismissive. The bullet may only have glanced him, for instance, or, as he ultimately signs the plot point off - I did it and what are you going to do about it? He naturally discusses the elements that are different from the theatrical cut, explaining the whys and wherefores, and he even goes on to defend the ending and the extended “grief scene” for Sheriff Brackett and the inclusion of genuine snapshots of a very young Danielle Harris. This isn't the best or the most detailed commentary track that I have heard, but Zombie is honest and compelling enough in his own right.
Should you want to see makeup tests for Tyler Mane and Sheri Moon, the former brooding menacingly under both the mask and then simply a shaggy beard and hobo-hair in a succession of repeated broad daylight shots, and the latter in spectral white robes, then look no further.
The massive selection of Deleted and Alternate Scene - 23 of them that run for 25 minutes - provide more dialogue, more character beats, more vomiting, a nasty vision of a hanging, some more slap 'n' tickle down at the strip-club followed by a different take on the slaughter that takes place there, including more gore and a totally extra killing. This is a fine enough assortment to wade through, though there is nothing new to add to the story.
We get a Blooper Reel (4.26 mins) that is mainly props not working and giggling fits, but this isn't as amusing as I'd hoped it would be.
The Audition Footage lasts for 9 minutes and lets us take a look at several cast members, including the young Michael, going through some pivotal line readings. Surprisingly excellent is Jeffrey Daniel Phillips who gives an absolutely spot-on raw performance as Howard (head-mash) Boggs, the numpty who gets offed outside the strip-club.
Party host for the film's big Halloween bash, Uncle Seymour Coffin appears as pure filler on the Extras-list in 8.40 minutes of stand-up routines that are just extensions of his spot in the film, all on-set and with full cast audience. Sadly, though, he just isn't funny or even entertaining. Well, the two topless babes who flank him are ... so he can easily be ignored.
Captain Clegg And The Night Creatures, the fabulously named hick psycho-billy band that we see in the film performing at the Halloween party (named after Hammer's wacky historical yarn with Peter Cushing) provide six creepy-titled music videos, all spliced with footage from their gig in the movie.
There is also Movie-IQ and BD-Live functionality to go along with a slew of previews.
Tantalisingly close to being something worth recommending, Zombie's second (and final) Myers outing drops the ball come the lacklustre final act, failing to either shock or disturb. He turns things into a Greek Tragedy that is, in fact, an impressive switcheroo of the traditional slasher opus, but somehow loses steam in the poetic drama that unfolds and forgets to keep up the violence and the outrage levels. Potentially sacrilegious liberties with the characters and the visuals seek to distance this film from its revered ancestors and most of these elements will prove difficult for many to accept. But this is the rock and the hard place that Zombie has found himself in. Damned if you do. Damned if you don't. If he remained totally faithful to the originals, then what would be the point? But breaking some of the rules and conventions only seems to anger and aggravate people just as much. Tough call, really, and one that I was able to get along with only over time. But if you like Rob Zombie films, then it is a cinch that you will like this. Others may take some convincing and it is this very diversity of opinion that makes Halloween II, 2009-style, difficult to tip for the uninitiated.
As far as this US region-free Blu-ray release goes, we get a sporadically interesting commentary from Zombie, which is about the best thing that this disc contains in the extras department, everything else falling rather flat. Considering the hype and the marketing that this film had, as well as the for/against fascination that it still courts, the lack of a meaningful making-of is a surprising oversight. You get the impression, in fact, that Zombie is pleased to be shut of it now. The studio tempted him back for a second stab, which he didn't really want to do - and many would say that this shows. Yet I would say that if you have any interest in Michael Myers and the whole Halloween mythos, then this skewed variation on the theme is still worth checking out.
So, here it is with a stark and gritty transfer, a hard and aggressive audio track and instant love it or loathe it credentials.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.15
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