Shout Factory has become the Criterion Collection for horror and B movies, or – if nothing else – the company that Anchor Bay tried to be on DVD. Recently they’ve released some John Carpenter films that he either produced or directed. They are the magnificent They Live, with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Meg Foster and Keith David, and the first two Halloween sequels, Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Our reviews of all these Blu-rays follow after the jump.
They Live has proven evergreen, as its story of the rich controlling and taking advantage of the lower class has stayed relevant, especially in an election year where one of the main issues became higher taxes on the rich. Piper stars as John Nada, a drifter who comes to Los Angeles looking for work. He finds a construction gig where he meets Frank (David), and Frank helps find Nada a place to crash. Nearby there’s a church, which Nada comes to see has no parishioners, only a recording of people. The church is destroyed by the police, which leads Nada to find a box of sunglasses. And when he puts them on he can see the truth. Some of the richest people are aliens, and television and advertising hide subliminal messages like “Obey.” Nada quickly becomes a part of the revolution, killing aliens, and eventually converts Frank – which takes a mighty long fight scene to do. There’s also a woman (Foster) who may or may not work for the aliens.
They Live didn’t do particularly well upon release but it’s since become a cult film, and that cult was helped immeasurably by Shepard Fairey, who incorporated Obey into his artwork. It’s easy to see both why it didn’t do well at the time, but also why it’s become such a cult favorite: They Live is a one note premise that nearly wears out its welcome. There’s not much past the reveal, but what’s said is said so well and so effectively that it doesn’t matter. And Carpenter is in top form here, it’s a very controlled and measured film and he gets good performances out of everyone – including Piper, who is very much in line with Carpenter’s engagingly meatheaded leading men. This is good to great Carpenter; it doesn’t reach the brilliance of his best work (Halloween, The Thing), but if this is minor Carpenter, it shows was a tremendous talent he is. He wrote, directed and scored the movie (the later with Alan Howarth) because he was pissed off with the culture of Ronald Reagan, and this was his takedown of what he saw happening to America in the 1980’s. That it still feels relevant is the saddest aspect of the movie.
Shout Factory presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio. The transfer shows the age of the movie as it occasionally looks a little soft, but it’s a vast improvement over the previous home video releases. Extras include a commentary by Carpenter and Piper that was done for a German DVD release, and though it falls into “this is what’s on screen” from time to time, Carpenter is up front about why he made the film and both he and Piper have fun talking about the movie, so it makes for a great listen. There are new interviews with Carpenter (10 min.), Meg Foster (5 min.), and Keith David (11 min.) that are excellent, “Watch, Look, Listen” (11 min.) gets DP Gary B. Kibbe, stunt coordinator Jeff Imada and co-composer Alan Howarth to talk about the movie as well. Also included are the original EPK (8 min.) footage from the fake commercials and TV shows (3 min.), four TV spots, the film’s trailer and bonus trailers for Halloween II and III, and a still gallery.
There is one clever idea in the entirety of Halloween II. And that’s that the film starts just as the first movie has ended. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is being taken to the hospital, and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is still on the hunt for Michael Myers. But where the first film set up a mood and a sense of dread for a night, here they have to reheat that, and it feels like leftovers.
The problem is that Dr. Loomis emptied a clip into him, but that he’s out of the frame at the end had more to do with keeping the audience goosed than him being an immortal killing machine of evil – it wasn’t about him. But by bringing him back for the sequel, he’s become a sort of Pepe Le Pew-esque immortal killer, and as played by Dick Warlock, he doesn’t have the odd poetry that Nick Castle brought to the part. Michael’s head tilt after killing someone said so much about the character, here it feels like he’s just a story prop. Halloween II also has to establish an entire new set of character for Michael to kill, and so they end up at a hospital. Not a bad location, but the film – which must have been up against the censor board – goes for way more explicit and silly kills, and by having Laurie in the hospital but not doing much, the film doesn’t have a leading protagonist. The main character is Michael, which unbalances what made the first film work.
The first film established the characters and then put them in dangerous positions, here you get introduced to people who are going to die. Where that formula “worked” for the Friday the 13th films, those movies were never all that good. Halloween is a classic, a masterpiece, and so this suffers in comparison. Halloween was a story that didn’t need a sequel, so it’s hard to say if all the fault lays at the feet of director Rick Rosenthal – I don’t think there was a better way to make this movie if it had to exist. It was a cash-grab.
The Blu-ray comes with an additional DVD that holds the TV cut of the film and as hardcore fans know, there was additional material shot specifically for the TV version. That version is still pretty bad though. The TV cut is presented full frame (1.33:1) and in 2.0 Mono. That disc also comes with a downloadable copy of the screenplay. The film proper is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Universal put out a Blu-ray of the film in 2011, and this is a marked improvement on that, and not just for the supplements. Picture quality is slightly better as is the audio as the Universal Blu-ray presented the film in 2.0 Stereo (a mix that is also included here) The film comes with two audio commentaries, the first with Rick Rosenthal and actor Leo Rossi, and the second with actor/stunt coordinator Dick Warlock. Both are pretty entertaining, and Rosenthal and Rossi and honest and engaging about the work.
But that’s not all. There’s a making of called “The Nightmare Isn’t Over!: The Making of Halloween II” (45 min,) which features interviews with Rosenthal, Warlock, executive producer Irwin Yablans, DP Dean Cundey, co-composer Alan Howarth, stars Lance Guest, Nancy Stephens and (again) Rossi. This is a nice, honest making of that covers the film it’s making, and some of the reception. “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: The Locations of Halloween II” (13 min.) has horror writer Sean Clark going to the locations as they exist now, while there’s also deleted scenes (8 min.) and an alternate ending (2 min.) with optional director commentary . A red band theatrical trailer, three TV commercials a series of radio spots, and a still gallery round out the set.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch was a commercial gamble that failed. The idea was that instead of bringing back the characters in another remake of the first film, this time they’d do a story that had nothing to do with the original film (which can be seen on television during the film). It turns out that audiences would rather have had more of the same, which sidelined Halloween sequels for six years. Tom Atkins stars as Doctor Daniel Challis, who’s a drunk, a divorcee, and a wizard with the ladies. Already, awesome. A man comes running into a gas station holding on to a kids Halloween mask and is chased by suited men. He gets a slight reprieve and is taken to the hospital, but there he’s murdered and the killer covers himself in gasoline and lights up. The murdered man was the father of Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin), and the last place he went to was the factory of Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) who makes the Halloween masks that are all the rage that holiday season. Daniel and Ellie go to investigate the sleepy town of Santa Mira, and Cochran himself. It turns out that Cochran is using the masks to kill the children (and their parents), and Daniel and Ellie are probably the only people who can stop him.
It’s hard to say that Halloween III is a good or great movie, but there’s so much to like about the film, which – if nothing else – swings for a different set of fences. Director Tommy Lee Wallace is doing his version of a Carpenter film, and from Atkins (who was a Carpenter regular) to the score by Carpenter and Howarth, this feels like Carpenter light. But the reason why this film has attracted a little cult following is because Cochran and his plan are insane. The masks have a bit of Stonehenge in them, which then causes heads to become insects and snakes and stuff. That’s the premise, and it’s kind of awesome. Atkins makes for a great hero, in that no one else would ever make him the lead of a movie, and where most films would have a dashing or conventionally handsome leading man, Atkins is real, though that makes his coupling with Nelkin (who was a starlet at the time, though she never got that big breakthrough role) all the more odd. Chalk it up to dad issues. Halloween III is the cinematic equivalent of a B side, which is why it works as well as it does now.
Shout Factory’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The transfer is much better than the DVD, and has a filmlike quality, but it also showcases that this was a low budget production. The film comes with an audio commentary by director Tommy Lee Wallace, who’s joined by Rob G. from “Icons of Fright” Sean Clark, and a second track with Tom Atkins and special features producer Michael Felsher. Both – though stuffed with nostalgia – are must listens for fans of the film. There’s also a look back with “Stand Alone: The Making of Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (33 min) with comments from Wallace, Atkins, Nelkin, Dick Warlock, DP Dean Cundey, Costume Designer Jane Ruhm, and producer Irwin Yablans, who does nothing but talk crap about the film. It’s also features a cameo from Horror Movie a Day’s Brian Collins. “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: Revisiting the Original Shooting Locales” (20 min.) gets Sean Clark again to visit the location today, while the set also has the film’s theatrical trailer, three TV spots and a still gallery.
As with all Shout Factory horror releases, the films come with reversible covers with new art and the film’s original theatrical posters on the flip side.