A deep dive into the tumultuous development of the sequel
Given our current climate of IP fueled franchises filling every nook and cranny of every content aggregator imaginable, it’s hard to believe sequels are a relatively new thing. Once upon a time sequels to films were almost unheard of, but Halloween became the template for the slasher franchise when three years after the original film hit theaters, we were treated to the next chapter in the tale of Michael Myers. This entry’s tumultuous journey to screen is fascinating, because given the success of the first film, that next installment would be a done deal before that first film screened today. Instead, it birthed a film which is divisive in Halloween fandom, with even Carpenter himself calling it “an abomination and a horrible movie”. I am going to dig into the how and why in this week’s essay celebrating the 4K UHD release of Halloween II, thanks to Scream Factory.
On a flight back from Cannes, Halloween producer Irwin Yablans, let it slip that he had locked in the director of the first film, via verbal agreement, for not only a sequel to the genre juggernaut, but his next project, also starring Jamie Lee Curtis — The Fog. The problem is the conversation happened to be with Bob Rehme, president of Avco Embassy Pictures, with whom Carpenter had previously just signed a two picture deal for, wait for it — The Fog and Escape from New York. Yablans was understandably upset at this betrayal, and sued both Carpenter and Rehme. In the settlement Yablans got Carpenter for the sequel he was promised, but only after he finished The Fog for Rehme. Where this gets a bit more complex and we add yet another cook to this already busy kitchen is, during the development of Halloween II Yablans sold Dino De Laurentiis the rights to produce Halloween II, with a contractual option for a third. Dino also brought Universal to the table as a distributor, which is why you see the Universal logo at the front of the film.
“We were literally forced into making a sequel because of business considerations.”
– John Carpenter
Never shy, Carpenter made it abundantly clear he didn’t want to direct a sequel, because he was more interested in tackling his slate of original properties. But he agreed to a compromise out of fear he wouldn’t get his cut of the profits from the original that were still trickling in. That contentious bargain had him and Debra Hill contributing the script, that pretty much everyone involved has gone on record saying wasn’t particularly great. The duo would also be consulting on the production to complicate things even further. This left Rehme with the unenviable task of finding a director to follow in Carpenter’s footsteps. Tommy Lee Wallace who served as production designer on the first film and would eventually direct III was on the short list, but declined after reading the script. It’s rumored David Lynch was even in the running, but the job fell to the very green Rick Rosenthal, who would be making his feature length directorial debut with the sequel.
Rosenthal was paired with Carpenter cinematographer Dean Cundey to retain the look and feel of the first film, a clause in Cundey’s contract that famously cost him lensing on Poltergeist. Halloween not only made Carpenter a hot commodity, but its star Jamie Lee Curtis as well. Jamie went on to capitalize on her role as Laurie Strode becoming a bonafide scream queen and starred in such horror classics as Prom Night, Terror Train and Road Games in the short 3 years between Halloween entries. Curtis was looking to end her run in genre and explore different roles, and was lured back on the condition this would be her final turn as Strode and her final horror film. The six week shoot took place without incident, mostly at an abandoned hospital outside of California. The concept had Rosenthal returning to the “night he came home”, showing the carnage and aftermath in the small town in the wake of the Myers’ killings, with the majority of the film taking place in a hospital where Laurie is taken and Michael follows.
When Rosenthal’s first cut was screened, it wasn’t received well by studio execs or test audiences. After another cut failed to show any signs of improvement according to those involved, Carpenter who had originally wanted to distance himself from the project, stepped in for a few additional days of shooting and a re-edit. Another point of contention was Rosenthal’s attempt to mimic the director’s suspense and the bloodlessness of the first film, which was called out by none other than Carpenter himself. Thanks to Friday the 13th, one of the things shot was a new kill and more gore to amp up the violence to mimic Myers’ more violent contemporaries. Rosenthal basically was caught in the middle as Dino De Laurentiis also began to make his own demands, claiming the film was too slow. This attempt to please everyone thoroughly killed any clear voice the film might have, turning the final product into a bit of a middling mess of tone.
To be honest, of all the revisits, I think it’s been the longest since I’ve re-watched II and now I understand why. The pacing in this film is rough as the film takes all the tension that was supplied by that opening first act, which rides the momentum of that first film and effectively suffocates it. The film just seems to drag when they get to the hospital as well, and it never really gets going again. Not to mention Laurie Strode is bedridden and sidelined for the majority of the film leaving us to contend with no real protagonist for a good chunk of the film and a trigger-happy Donald Pleasence here, who feels like he’s playing Yosemite Sam instead of Dr. Loomis. THIS, and add in a bunch of other characters we really don’t care about and that’s basically the film in nutshell. Halloween was a high bar and Halloween II isn’t allowed to sit at its table.
The two big additions to the mythology of the series delivered in II is the Celtic mythology reference, when Michael writes “Samhain” in blood on the chalkboard. This would come into play later in the series when it comes to the Cult of Thorn. And when we learn via flashback that Michael and Laurie are siblings. This move by Carpenter is an odd choice, since it gives a motive and purpose to what was simply supposed to be evil incarnate, and that takes quite a bit of the edge and mystery out of the character of Myers. Carpenter himself has attributed it to a bit of desperation on his part at the 11th hour and I think there was a bit of inspiration from The Empire Strikes Back as well, if you ask me. The ironic part being that except for III, which does not include Myers, these two thematic elements, the Myers family and Samhain would feature prominently in the franchise in almost every entry moving forward.
It’s interesting looking back since they probably didn’t realize the longevity these films would have almost four decades later, and that knowledge probably would have changed this outcome quite a bit. While its not my favorite entry I mean its still a Halloween film and I quite enjoyed it. Could it have been been better? Definitely. I would have been interested to have seen a reconstruction of Rosenthal’s first cut, or even a director’s cut of the available footage. (You can see some of Rosenthal’s deleted plot threads in the included TV Cut) Given the situation that presented itself to the young director, he is honestly quite pleasant when discussing his experience in the special features. I mean the film made a ton of money and he got a decent career out of it.
Of everyone here, I am almost sympathetic for Rosenthal, to be stuck on a project where no one wanted to really wanted to be there, but him. Rosenthal would later get his revenge on the franchise, by literally killing it, with the worst film in the canon — Halloween: Resurrection. You know, the film where Busta Rhymes says “Hey Michael… Trick or treat, motherfucker!” and then proceeds to use Kung-fu on the masked killer. After that entry the series was later unsuccessfully rebooted and handed over to Rob Zombie, who then promptly killed it again with his Halloween II, a film I’ve never been able to make it through. With this pattern, I am curious to see how it fares for Halloween Kills, the third iteration of Halloween II.
The disc here is sourced from a brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative, approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey with Dolby Vision (and HDR10) and paired with a new Dolby Atmos track. While the first film was already readily available in 4K, this one is quite a bit step up from the 2012 disc. Compared to the previous transfer this one has more realistic flesh tones and fuller more robust blacks. The transfer also exhibits excellent contrast and makes sure to keep the blacks inky even with the brighter elements, like the nurses uniforms on screen. This is no easy task given 90% of the film takes place at night or in a darkened hospital. The scan is visibly cleaner with more visible detail in the frame and a worthy upgrade to its predecessor. The new Atmos track here wasn’t quite as robust as Halloween’s, however this does lend itself to the quieter moments of II. I will say, I missed the breathing that always clued you in on where The Shape was hiding. The presentation comes with all the extras previously available in Scream’s 15 Disc set as you can see below.
DISC 1: 4K Ultra HD
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, 5.1, Dolby Atmos — English SDH
- NEW 4K scan of the original camera negative, approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey
- Audio Commentary with director Rick Rosenthal and actor Leo Rossi
- Audio Commentary with actor/stuntman Dick Warlock
DISC 2: Blu-Ray
- NEW 16-bit 4K scan of the original camera negative, approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey
- Audio Commentary with director Rick Rosenthal and actor Leo Rossi
- Audio Commentary with actor/stunt Dick Warlock
- The Nightmare Isn’t Over: The Making of HALLOWEEN II
- Horror’s Hallowed Grounds — a look at the original film locations
- Deleted Scenes with optional audio commentary by Rick Rosenthal
- Alternate Ending with optional audio commentary by Rick Rosenthal
- Teaser Trailer
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Radio Spots
- TV promo
- NEW Newspaper Ad Still Gallery by Drive-In Asylum
- Movie Stills Gallery
- Posters and Lobby Cards Gallery
DISC 3: DVD
- The Television Cut (standard definition 1.33:1)
- Film Script (DVD Rom)