Okay, score-fans, there's no time to beat about the bush with this one. Severely limited and bound to sell-out in less time than it takes some people to carve out a decent pumpkin face, the expanded score for the John Carpenter produced, Rick Rosenthal directed slasher-sequel (one of the first follow-ups in the genre, as it turns out) Halloween II (1981) arrives with seasonal haste in a brand new 30th Anniversary Edition from co-composer Alan Howarth's own record label, AHI. Timely, also, because it ties-in with Rob Zombie's own remake, this second instalment of the great Michael Myers slay-a-thon was actually more of a project for regular Carpenter collaborator, Alan Howarth, than the cult filmmaker, himself. Having been green-lit by Universal Carpenter was suddenly very involved with The Thing so, handing Howarth the composing reins to free-up time for him to edit, oversee and insert some extra “shock” footage into the continuation of the night He came home, he relaxed in the knowledge that his immortal synth-theme from the first film would be hugely incorporated into the second one. And, as well as this, all the main themes, motifs and signatures would be returning, although this time out Howarth was able to augment the original phrases with new lines and additional atmospheric material of his own creation. Cleverly transferring the original score's 16-track analog tape to a new 24-track analog, he was able to overdub his new music directly on to Carpenter's and integrate the enhanced themes seamlessly. The advances made in equipment since 1978, when Carpenter and his early orchestrator, arranger and associate, Dan Wyman, first explored the synth's capabilities for scoring movies, were huge and Howarth was now able to take advantage of Prophet 5 and 10 keyboards and a pair of ARP Avatar synthesisers to digitally control his sequencing, formulating a type of overall texture that was also found in the previous Escape From New York and the forthcoming Halloween III.
The score then, which is primarily the first film's music reassigned and arranged, reached a tremendous new level of sizzling intensity, gleaming high ends and stingers, a much deeper and wider soundfield of dense thematic ambience, and a profoundly more aggressive momentum that would literally bludgeon listeners with its singular ferocity. It would guarantee the film a lasting impression on those who saw it, even if they were, ultimately, disappointed by the story and the contrivances it ladled in.
Laurie Strode (a role reprised by Jamie Lee Curtis, who looks considerably older than the mere three years between the films would imply) has survived Haddonfield's bloodiest night so far, and is en route to the most deserted hospital in the world, the Shape has suffered six bullets getting pumped into him, as well knives and knitting-needles and then a supposedly back-breaking fall, Dr. Sam Loomis (the always excellent Donald Pleasance) is babbling deliriously about his shooting skills and the sheer unkillability of his former patient, and Dean Cundey's superlative camera is prowling the shadow-draped streets in deadly earnest. And that pulsating, metronomic theme is pounding relentlessly across the terrified frame all the while. Nobody would argue that this second helping of the Haddonfield hack-fest is inferior to its predecessor, but these early scenes create a truly mesmerising mood of tangible fear and genuine excitement. It is the rest of the film, with a couple of botched set-pieces, a woeful romantic sub-plot, a frankly ludicrous twist and a somewhat tension-sapped mid-section that denies Michael Myers the iconic power and supernatural aura that he once possessed. But, I still love the film though, and would far rather watch this than Zombie's grim, but bland version or any of the endless stalk 'n' slash rip-offs that followed.
Slick, colourful and graced with some great moments that are somewhat haphazardly thrown about the narrative - the case of mistaken identity that turns into a hideous human inferno, the State Marshal getting his throat sliced, and Loomis uttering the line “This ... time ... Michael!” - Halloween II is pure Carpenter-cannon thanks to that wickedly addictive score. The celebrated main theme is certainly as memorable and as well known as Bernard Herrmann's Psycho strings and John Williams' devastatingly simple Jaws motif and, with its hypnotic 5/4 time piano rhythm (inspired by a tribal bongo rhythm that Carpenter's father taught him as a child) now replaced with a synthesiser organ lending it a more glistening, spectral glamour. Heard throughout, of course, the theme kick-starts the album in Track 1. You can almost hear those useless gunshots and the body hitting the deck in that curiously re-shot finale that serves as the introductory re-cap to the sequel, as well as Howard Culver's sniffy neighbour coming out to enquire as to the screaming - I mean he has “been trick or-treated to death tonight” after all. But, as Loomis is keen to point out, and we have already learned, he clearly doesn't “know what death is!” just yet.
Cue that theme.
As relentless as the killer it serenades, the theme, virtually a march for the bogeyman, clicks-in with an urgency that is much greater than that of the original film. Sharper, deeper, faster, the cue is all-encompassing, spreading its ice-cool malevolence as though a deep-freeze has swept over the soul. Maintaining the hospital atmosphere of the second film's primary setting, Howarth pitches the synth at a pristine, stringently sterilised level that is evocative of heart-monitors, hypodermics, white walls and shiny floors. The speed of the theme is swift and aggressive, Michael, if you watch the movie closely, is actually slower moving than before, but his theme provides all the insanity and strength that he requires to get the job done. The long, slow secondary chords have a smothering effect, but it is when the 5/4 breaks free from them for lone mid-section stretch that the real magic comes alive - blackDevil's eyes.”
The second of the definitive three Halloween themes is Laurie's Theme, which, in contrast to the Main one, is slow, eerie and composed of gleaming chords of tragic melancholy. Just four notes repeated at a differing pitch each time, occasionally highlighted by a mournful chime that sounds like it has been carried on the wind from some fog-enshrouded coastal cove. It is interesting to note that the piano keyboard that forms the main melody of the cue is still retained as it was in the original movie. Elsewhere, though, and right across the board, the synths dominate as the composing duo find succour from their new amassed banks of electronica. It is worth mentioning that many score-fans still denounce such synthesised music as being a poor and lazy alternative to the, ahem, more “grown-up” form of orchestral composition that has always been, and almost certainly always will form comprise the majority of film scores. However, it should be pointed out that a great many classic composers for the movies - people such as Jerry Goldsmith, Trevor Jones, John Powell, Craig Safan, Alan Silvestri and, of course, Hans Zimmer and Vangelis - have all explored the possibilities of tonal textures and ambient chords created electronically. Some, such as Zimmer and Powell, possibly opt for electronica all too easily, but the case against such mixing-desk, button-pushing and sequencing performances becomes utterly redundant when faced with scores such as those devised by Carpenter and Howarth. Halloween, Escape From New York, The Fog and Prince Of Darkness, to name but a few of their iconic works have all assumed a positive and unmistakable identity largely because of their distinctive synth-layered music. Mood, essentially for the Halloween series, is paramount, and the cold weight of the synthesiser captures the single-minded quest of the killer and the terror he creates for those around him perfectly. When composer John Ottman entered the series for the Halloween H20, this dark, repetitive rhythm was lost, along with much of the ruthless spirit it once gave the character and the story.
Laurie's Theme now carries a more doomed weight to it. Whereas, previously, it had a note of innocence, it now reflects the horrific events that she has witnessed and the growing sense of loss that the town is experiencing.
The third track, He Knows Where She Is, reprises the Main Theme, as Michael marches off in the direction of the hospital completely unnoticed by anyone except some poor yokel who jumps out of his skin when he bumps into him. It is Track 4, Laurie And Jimmy, that heralds the return of Carpenter's third familiar motif. A newly sharpened version of the previous film's Haunted House cue, this is, perhaps, the spookiest piece of music in the Halloween franchise. Another repeating four-note phrase persists in undermining our resolve, backed by an incredibly glassy refrain and that far-off chime tolling in deadly lament. This cue is what could be called the “Legend” of the score, as it usually accompanies scenes of Loomis talking about Michael and his madness and the good doctor's impassioned fears for what he is capable of. Here, it is Jimmy, the hospital orderly (played by The Last Starfighter's Lance Guest) who takes a shine to Laurie, telling her just who it was that came after her. Subtle and creepy, this is finely evocative yarn-spinning even in musical terms, the growing sense of unease delightfully chilling.
Still He Kills, Track 5, is just awesome. After a paralysing stinger signifying that the hospital's lone security guard has just taken a claw-hammer through the brain, that main theme for the Shape grabs you by the throat and, lent a delicious sci-fi edge because of that insanely scalpel-sharp glistening quality, seems to traverse the roof of your skull, latticing it from within almost as though you are being Cenobitised from the inside-out. Then Howarth adds some new material which provides an unstoppable voice for the hot-tub scald 'n' drown session for Haddonfield's hottest nurse. Supplying a steam-punk hiss and pump effect that, on this disc, sounds as though your own head is being dunked, the cue is viciously pro-active, set-piece in its intentions and deliberately designed to knock the wind out of you. The main theme accelerates back in, and then another stinger to throw you off-balance, before a series of sustained chords grip and unnerve. But Howarth isn't finished yet. Delivering an even faster rendition of the Shape's motif, this time featuring the terrific heart-lurching stinger that accompanied the moment when Myers first escaped from the mental institute and, lit up in demonic red from the tail-lights, leapt up on to the roof of Marion Crane's car, as well as the equally sphincter-clutching sonic-grasp for the instance when his hand comes down and grabs the nurse through the window. All round, this is a terrific track that packs in a lot of activity - basically a collection of deaths - and a mood that will not let go.
Michael makes a hash of things when he unleashes a calmly furious (only He can manage such a contradictory attitude) attack on Laurie's empty bed in Track 6, The Shape Enters Laurie's Room. Howarth supplies a foundation of low suspenseful bass triple-thumping beneath a glacial array of effects and cloud piercing metallic jangles. Mrs. Alves, which follows-on from this, is more subdued and melancholic, its tone one of grim foreboding. We are finding another example of Michael's handiwork - some impressive blood-transfusing, only the blood is being methodically transfused to the floor - and Howarth is creating clinical variations on what Carpenter established in the first movie with even more emphasis on the ambiance that the setting inspires.
With Laurie's discovery that the Shape has really put the boot in and sabotaged the cars parked outside the hospital, Flats In The Parking Lot (Track 8), is another superbly impressionistic display of Howarth's new material. Discounting the ineptly devised moment when a concussed Jimmy passes out and leaves a frightened, injured and half-drugged Laurie to fend for herself again, this cue mingles the eeriness of not knowing exactly where the Shape is, with the growing sensation that Laurie is beginning to understand his motives a little more clearly than she'd like to. Commencing with some more steam hisses, and the hoot of what sounds like a distant locomotive trapped, perhaps, in a tunnel of despair, the cue evolves into a simple, almost flute-driven lament for the dead and the soon-to-be. It is another brief, but unique flavour in the blood-soaked recipe before we are greeted by a slightly longer rendition of the “Legend” theme, as Loomis and a returning Marion Crane investigate a break-in at the local school, discovering a knife embedded in the drawn depiction a "sister" in a child's family picture, and Halloween II springs its infamous Empire Strikes Back-inspired plot twist. If I'm honest, it's a lousy and wholly implausible idea, but, hey, I grew up with it and I can't imagine the series without its zany revelation now. The cue is just as eerie as it was earlier, perhaps more so with its repeat phraseology now adding to the poetry of such calculated evil.
Tracks 10 and 11 focus on momentum as the Shape, having been shot repeatedly again by Loomis, takes out the foolhardy Marshal who has accompanied him to the hospital after the canny doctor virtually abducts him, and then rises - in a superbly edited shot - to resume his stalking of Laurie. Scalpel in hand, Michael Myers walks in unhurried time to the relentless and implacable beat of the music, which pounds like blood throbbing at your temple. The pursuit and the systematic drive that propels it is demented and dominating. The thudding metronomic beat tilts from higher to lower notes, echoing the opening and closing of the numerous doors that will offer absolutely no safety from the Shape. Carpenter and Rosenthal have agreed that they both wanted the film to end with a sequence of almost unendurable high tension, and certainly the music rises to the occasion with the utmost dread being compounded with each and every beat. Michael smashes his way through the final barrier, a defenceless door to the Operating Room (Track 11), and finds his prey cowering in the corner. With a disrespectful thrust of his scalpel in Loomis' stomach (so much for all those years of care, eh?), the Shape then advances upon his whimpering sister. The film then plays either a trump card, or drops the ball, depending upon how you look at it. Laurie shooting Michael in both eyes and blinding him results in a highly stylish image of the William Shatner mask oozing blood from the eye-sockets and Michael brilliantly swinging the scalpel in his now-literally blind devotion to duty. But this also creates the illusion that the Shape is mortal, after all, and can therefore be defeated. We've seen him take numerous bullets, walk through toughened glass doors - another great bit, that - and get stabbed and maimed over and over again. Seeing him now slash and slice the air around him with two slugs having clearly penetrated his skull sort of sends out a mixed message - his brain is indestructible, but his eyes aren't, or the evil spirit that resides within him can keep him alive, but can't steer him. It was a neat, and certainly ironic, visual concept but one that, like much of the film, strains too hard for effect at the expense of the simple ambiguity of its predecessor. Mind you, the series would then go on to establish such impossibly daft ideas regarding Michael's importance and legacy that Rosenthal's film positively pales cutely and coherently in comparison.
The music for this sequence reaches that unbearable fever-pitch that the two filmmakers intended all along. A high gleaming cadence gets dogs whining all over the place, rattles the nerves as well as the teeth once an incessant monitor-like bleeping joins the fray, and then beautifully adds discordant chords and effects as a dying (well, that's how it seemed at the time) Dr. Loomis flicks his Zippo and, having filled the room with gas, blows himself and his quarry into oblivion as Laurie scrambles to safety. Michael's final, flame-engulfed march down the blazing corridor can be heard later in the appropriate Halloween II Suite, for the album presentation of the score ends here.
I love the use of The Chordettes' version of Mr. Sandman over the end credits of the film. And, just like the previous score release, the track features on this edition, too. Perhaps alluding to Laurie's doped condition and the surreal dreams-cum-memories that she has of her brother, the song's innocence is resolutely corrupted by the lurking presence of Michael Myers, and the moment when a male voice suddenly, but softly replies to the chorus of “Mr. Sandman”, becomes acutely creepy and sinister. Whilst both Carpenter and Howarth would be able to collaborate together on Halloween III: Season Of The Witch - another mightily effective score that, like the film it supports, branches out in a wildly new and imaginative direction - only Howarth would carry on with Michael's saga afterwards. His score for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is actually very good, indeed - a great mix of the familiar themes and many more jacked-up nightmare-tones and epic stingers.
This fresh release has been taken from the original 2-track analog masters, and cleaned-up and sharpened to simply dazzling effect. The old vinyl album version, which was given life by Varese Sarabande and has long been out of print on disc as well, is presented with a truly staggering level of pin-sharp clarity, bowel-loosening depth and a gloriously wide stereo image. But the real boon here, folks, is the inclusion of the entire score, note for note, as it actually appears in the film. Presented as a series of suites, just as Howarth did for his new complete score releases of They Live and Prince Of Darkness (see separate CD review), from A to F and totalling almost forty minutes, this is the kind of special treatment that you would only get from the composer, himself. Sequenced, layered and arranged in chronological order, with the appropriate overdubs and blending, this is exactly how the score should sound - and it sounds incredible. All the previous tracks are here, boasting the same elegant mix, but they are occasionally longer and tracked with maximum mood in mind. Taken as a whole, the entire album is a glory, but these seven suites are possibly the best way to hear the score as the new bits sprinkled here and there add a fantastic frisson to the spine-tingling pot - especially a shiver-inducing instance when a hushed voice begins to whisper in your ear!
As well as some notes on the film and the score, and their critical reception, in the small illustrated booklet that accompanies the disc, we can also find a technical note from Howarth explaining the recording. Sadly, this release is horribly limited to only 1000 copies worldwide. But since my copy has only just arrived, post-strikes and all, I have not been able to alert fans and collectors to its outstanding quality until now.
It just leaves me to say that however you do it, just try to obtain a copy if you can. Nothing cries out Halloween more than this score, folks.
Full Track Listing -
1. Halloween II Theme 4.30
2. Laurie's Theme 2.54
3. He Knows Where She Is 1.08
4. Laurie And Jimmy 3.03
5. Still He Kills 4.32
6. The Shape Enters Laurie's Room 1.35
7. Mrs. Alves 1.45.
8. Flats In The Parking Lot 1.27
9. Michael's Sister? 3.05
10. The Shape Stalks Again 3.04
11. Operation Room 1.50
12. Mr. Sandman 2.22
13. Halloween II Suite A 10.05
14. Halloween II Suite B 5.04
15. Halloween II Suite C 6.34
16. Halloween II Suite D 3.34
17. Halloween II Suite E 8.08
18. Halloween II Suite F 5.10
Well, at this time of the year - and as I write this, the score is playing, there are trick or treaters outside and the entire house has been transformed into a horror theme-park - I can hardly think of a score that I can recommend more than this exemplary showcase for hyped-up electronica, dazzlingly atmospheric ambience and one of the most distinctive main themes in genre history given an incredibly revitalised crystalline cadence. Carpenter would deviate from his own well-worn path almost immediately after this, by having the great Ennio Morricone score The Thing - although both he and Howarth did supply a degree of music, themselves, for the Antarctic classic that barely saw the light of day. And, barring Christine, Big Trouble In Little China and Prince Of Darkness, it is debatable if he ever returned to such composing glories. Certainly his own crafted scores have been surprisingly poor and it is only the additional work done by the likes of the late Shirley Walker and other collaborators that have saved them from sub-par atmospherics.
Michael Myers walks and stalks again in this supreme score. Alan Howarth gets tremendous kudos for his revamped approach to Carpenter's original and undying material. There is a level of simplistic brutality here that flips the bird at conventional symphonic bravura, and carves out a mesmerising path to the dark side that is possibly beyond equal in terms of signature, distinction and cut-to-the-bone suspense.
Folks, I cannot convey enough just how good this recording sounds. There are many occasions when the hairs literally stand up in the delicate beauty of the inordinately glacial resonance. I, myself, almost always prefer the full orchestral approach to such scores, but there is no denying the power and raw immediacy of the music for Halloween II.
No tricks, then ... just a treat from start to finish.
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