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Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Halloween (1978) movie poster Halloween

Theatrical Release: October 25, 1978 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Carpenter / Writers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

Cast: Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Nancy Loomis (Annie Brackett), P.J. Soles (Lynda van der Klok), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace), Brian Andrews (Tommy Doyle), John Michael Graham (Bob Simms), Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers), Arthur Malet (Graveyard Keeper), Mickey Yablans (Richie), Brent Le Page (Lonnie Elamb), Adam Hollander (Keith), Robert Phalen (Dr. Terence Wynn), Tony Moran (Michael Myers - age 23), Will Sandin (Michael Myers - age 6), Sandy Johnson (Judith Myers), David Kyle (Judith's Boyfriend), Peter Griffith (Morgan Strode), Nick Castle (The Shape)

Buy Halloween from Amazon.com: 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Original Blu-ray 2-Disc DVD 1-Disc DVD

No movie has staked as authoritative a claim on a holiday as Halloween. Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve will always be more enjoyable without watching the ensemble romantic comedies bearing the same name. I haven't seen April's Fool Day, but I'm doubtful it qualifies.
Independence Day at least merits consideration, but its connection to July 4th is kind of tenuous given its content. Despite all the hordes of Christmas movies, none has been bold enough to simply call it Christmas. Which brings us back to Halloween, a film that requires no subtitle or qualification.

The origins of the day itself can be traced back centuries and our present understanding of it at least 170 years. Both involve the otherworldly and macabre, making October 31st perhaps the most opportune evening to watch a horror movie. Or to set one, as John Carpenter and Debra Hill did in their screenplay for this 1978 production. Hill was a script supervisor with a tiny bit of other crew experience but no creative body of work. After a decade of dabbling in short films, Carpenter established himself a few years earlier as a serviceable writer/director of genre fare like Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13. Halloween would earn each a place in the hallowed history of horror cinema. In addition, their film stands as one of the most successful independent movies ever made.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is seeing things this Halloween. Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) waits in the bushes near Michael Myers' old home.

The film opens on Halloween 1963, as a couple of unsupervised Illinois teenagers are seen fooling around sexually. This episode plays out from the point of view of a detached spectator in a clown mask who winds up using a butcher knife to slash the girl to her death. It is revealed that we've been sharing the perspective of a disturbed 6-year-old boy, who has just slain his older sister. We then jump ahead fifteen years to what was then the present day. On October 30, there is an escape at the asylum where that young killer, Michael Myers, has spent the past fifteen years. A now adult Michael is on the loose and that's terrifying news to Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), the psychiatrist who has been observing him all these years.

Back in Michael's hometown, the fictional Haddonfield, youngsters are excited to celebrate Halloween in the usual ways, from costumed trick-or-treating to horror movie marathons on television. High school student and realtor's daughter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is on edge, repeatedly seeing visions of a masked man seemingly stalking her. At the same time, she tells Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews), the boy she's babysitting, that there is no Boogieman and nothing to fear while Tommy's on her watch.

Laurie and her best friends, Annie (Nancy Kynes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles), stay in contact with some driving, some drags of a joint, and general plans to meet up later that night while two of the three are babysitting on the same block. Of course, these plans for a carefree night are at odds with Michael Myers' intention to violently observe the anniversary of his sister's death. While Dr. Loomis is guarding the site of Michael's childhood murder and occasionally joined by Annie's father, the town sheriff (Charles Cyphers), the crazed fugitive in blue coveralls and a whitened William Shatner mask is on a nearby street, prepared to strike again.

Michael Myers wields a knife and a William Shatner mask in John Carpenter's "Halloween."

Halloween is a film that unquestionably has grown in stature over time. Like spaghetti westerns in the 1960s, this early slasher flick was not taken too seriously back in the fall of 1978. It was of interest to teenagers and most readily enjoyed by them. That's not to say that Hollywood wasn't hip to scary movies.
In recent years, both The Exorcist and Jaws had done huge business at the box office, which they managed to convert into Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and, in Exorcist's case, other major categories. While it drew some good reviews (including one from Roger Ebert), Halloween did not have the same mass appeal and wide reach. Though this was smack in the middle of what is today considered horror's renaissance, the genre was sort of all over the place. Slick, Exorcist-inspired occult thrillers co-existed with small splatter films and exploitation on the fringes. Halloween didn't tidily fit into any of these classes, but it was unquestionably a horror movie and one whose teenaged leads and R rating invited an audience of comparable ages.

Thirty-five years later, though, those teenage moviegoers are now in their 50s. And if they're still alive, anyone who would have felt too old for such thrills then is now too old to have their opinion carry much weight. Halloween's impact on the genre is immeasurable and though many of the sequels and copycats are far from revered, anyone with any appreciation for horror has to hold some respect for this iconic original. Generations of teenagers have grown up with the film and even those, like me, who caught it a little later in life are likely to develop some fondness for this still scary and scarily well-made ride.

Halloween basically offers a master class in building and sustaining suspense. You may have to go back to Alfred Hitchcock to find techniques as confident and competently applied as those that director Carpenter uses. Film utilizes only two senses, but Carpenter makes sure to keep both of them engaged at all times. He and cinematographer Dean Cundey do imaginative things with the camera, from that opening POV sequence to creepy, voyeuristic angles to playing with foregrounds, backgrounds, and shadows to slow pans with unsettling destinations. They employ the wider 2.35:1 frame typically reserved for epics and musicals, further ensuring their compositions aren't the same old ones you're used to. The bold, creative visuals are nicely complemented by the use of sound, from the heavy breathing of the unseen Michael Myers to the musical punctuation of his every major gesture to that chilling simple piano and synthesizer score composed by Carpenter himself. The two dimensions come together to create an atmosphere that's magically compelling and somehow universally relatable. You needn't have been alive in 1978, let alone be a pot-smoking teenaged girl, to feel like you're in the middle of this jarringly realistic and patient nightmare.

A 6-year-old Michael Myers (Will Sandin) brandishes his first murder weapon on Halloween 1963. A grown-up, masked Michael Myers strikes in a car.

Perhaps the best of its kind and certainly one of the most fundamentally sound and fulfilling modern horror movies, Halloween makes me sad in just one way. That way is trying to make sense of how John Carpenter could bring so much excitement and creativity to cinema for so shortly a time.

Admittedly, I say this on the basis of just three movies: Halloween, Escape from New York, and The Thing. I've seen all three of them multiple times and consider them some of the best films of their time. I've been interested to see the director's other works from this era; The Fog is supposed to be good and Assault is something of a cult classic. But it's never happened and beyond them, I've heard almost no evidence to suggest that any of Carpenter's sporadic other work from the past thirty years is at all worthwhile. Starman is okay, but not in the same league as the others and lacks their raw sensibility. While it's been a long time, I remember Village of the Damned not being very good at all. I have enough faith in the public's judgment and my own gut instincts to trust that movies like Vampires and Ghosts of Mars will not be my cup of tea.

The director's sharp, likely irreversible drop-off in quality seems astonishing, given all the talent and wisdom that's plain to see here. Given the choice between lamenting Carpenter's unrealized potential and celebrating the few tastes of brilliance he gave us long ago, the latter is obviously a far more rewarding path and one I encourage you to take.

Halloween is one of those rare popular movies that seem to demand a guidebook just to make sense of the many different home video editions it's received over the years. As likely the best-selling title in their modest library, Anchor Bay Entertainment has shown admirable restraint in releasing this film to Blu-ray. It got just one release all the way back in October 2007. On Tuesday, it gets a second in the form of a perfectly-timed 35th Anniversary Edition whose first printing renders it a Blu-ray Book, or Digibook. More on that in the packaging section, but first, let's look at this new disc's specs, feature presentation and bonus features.

Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: September 24, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Hardcover Digibook
Still available as Original Blu-ray ($19.99 SRP; October 2, 2007), 1-Disc DVD ($14.98 SRP; August 14, 2007), and 2-Disc 25th Anniversary Edition DVD (August 5, 2003)
Previously released as 6-Disc 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set DVD (October 14, 2008), Extended Edition DVD (August 7, 2001), 2-Disc Limited Edition DVD (September 28, 1999), 1999 1-Disc DVD (September 28, 1999), and 1997 DVD (November 12, 1997)

VIDEO and AUDIO

A title as frequently revisited on disc as Halloween needs a good reason to get a new edition and Anchor Bay has one better than simply "it's been six years." One of the main attractions of this release is its all-new HD transfer supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey. I do not have the 2007 Blu-ray, so I cannot compare this to that. But I would be shocked if its picture looked as terrific as this new remastering. The 2.35:1 presentation pulls off a tricky feat by keeping this looking like the low-budget late '70s film it is, but at the same time making it delightful. This transfer sports breathtaking clarity, detail, and sharpness. Colors are dark, but not too dark, and the studio's claim of Cundey's involvement basically trumps any complaint you could form.
The video's most glaring imperfection is the presence of a hair at the edge of a single bedroom shot. Since this probably could easily be digitally removed, I wonder if it wasn't kept in deliberately to be true to the filming. It's not as if a new hair just somehow crashed those frames. Beyond that, the worst issues encountered are some light grain and brief shots exhibiting partial softness.

Sound is offered in both a brand new Dolby TrueHD 7.1 remix and a Dolby 2.0 monaural mix remaining truer to the original design. That there is a choice warrants praise. The 7.1 remix does feature some clearly new-sounding effects. In addition, the more quiet dialogue has a tendency to get lost among the louder score. It's easy to admire the channel separation performed and how smoothly this mono production pulls off the surround sound thing. But you don't have to be a sound purist to rejoice that a more faithful option is offered. Too bad it's not in an uncompressed format too.

It's worth noting that playback briefly stalled for me at one point, which then threw the audio out of sync, but that was an issue easily corrected and not reproducible.

New documentary "The Night She Came Home!!" covers Jamie Lee Curtis' 2012 public appearances with "Halloween" fans that raised money for children's hospitals. Actress P.J. Soles returns, with daughter and daughter's friend in tow, to the neighborhoods where "Halloween" was shot in "On Location: 25 Years Later."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Anchor Bay further justifies this release by including a couple of major new bonus features.

They begin in the Set Up menu with a new audio commentary by writer/director John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. A track reuniting the two living individuals most closely associated with this film has great and obvious value. It's a warm and lively reflection. Their relative inexperience having cemented this film in each of their minds, they never stop sharing detailed memories, technical and narrative observations, and the little goofs that continue to grab their attention.
They also touch upon the afterthought nature of the sequels, Curtis' aversion to watching horror movies (which she confirms with reactions to the film's every scare), and their many important collaborators. Though I'm sure they're repeating some of the same remarks from their previous commentary, which itself is approaching twenty years old, this is a great listen for someone who hasn't heard the earlier one.

Video extras kick off with "The Night She Came Home!!" (59:43), a polished new documentary that is the disc's only HD extra. It follows Jamie Lee Curtis around in the fall of 2012 as she embraces her horror roots and connects with Halloween fans for the first time in a while for charity's sake. It's a refreshingly candid and unconventional look at enduring fandom from the perspectives of a celebrity, fans, and the event's organizers as Curtis happily signs memorabilia, poses for photos, makes friendly small talk, and reflects on her experiences on her still best-known film. Made by Curtis' daughter and son-in-law, it also features appearances from numerous other Halloween franchise alumni.

"On Location: 25 Years Later" (10:25) is a 2003 featurette that returns to the South Pasadena and Hollywood neighborhoods where Halloween was shot. The late Debra Hill reflects on the locales and the movie in general, while actress P.J. Soles shares her memories and returns to the streets of "Haddonfield" with her daughter and her friend.

Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) pleads for a transfer of Michael Myers to no avail in this TV Version Footage. The original theatrical trailer makes use of the jack-o'-lantern from the film's opening titles.

"TV Version Footage" (10:46) serves up scenes that were shot during Halloween II to be inserted into the original film
to fill a two-hour timeslot after commercials were added and content cuts made for network television broadcast. More than half of the material shows us Dr. Loomis at the asylum, where he argues for transferring a young Michael Myers to a high-security facility, only to be rejected and returned to his patient. There's also a playful scene of Lynda and a freshly-showered Laurie at Laurie's house, concerned that a classmate may be stalking them and taking a phone call from Annie.

The final three listings preserve Halloween's original marketing. They consist of a restricted (red band) theatrical trailer (2:42), three TV spots (two 30-second and one 15-second), and three 30-second radio ads. The latter two groups should have included "Play All" options.

The disc opens with a trailer for Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem, a preview that will soon date the disc in addition to being by far the worst thing on it.

WHAT'S MISSING?

This Blu-ray is designed to add to past editions, not replace them. Thus, it leaves off a number of bonus features produced over the years in favor of this mostly new lot. Casualties from the 2007 Blu-ray are the inclusive 87-minute 2003 documentary "Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest", an audio commentary by Carpenter, Curtis, and Debra Hill that was recorded in the mid-1990s for a Criterion Collection laserdisc, and a pop-up trivia track, whose omission is especially surprising and needless.

DVD extras that have yet to make the leap to Blu-ray Disc (and now seem unlikely to) are the complete "television version" that merely integrates that subsequently-shot footage preserved here into the film, a theatrical rerelease trailer, poster and still galleries, cast & crew biographies, the screenplay and two screensavers (relics of the DVD-ROM age), and the 26-minute 1999 documentary "Halloween Unmasked 2000." Released on its own DVD and never alongside the film is the 84-minute 2006 documentary "Halloween: 25 Years of Terror."

There have also been chapter insert cards and a booklet with an essay by longtime Fangoria editor Michael Gingold that's presumably supplanted by what I will soon discuss.

The Halloween 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray places a logo next to the cover's in-profile portrait of Michael Myers. Halloween's 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is held in a nicely illustrated Digibook with an essay by Stef Hutchinson.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The menu plays some of the iconic theme score over a profile shot adapted from the cover art next to a subtly animated title logo. The jack-o'-lantern cursors are a nice touch.
Though the disc does not resume playback, it does allow you to set bookmarks on the film.

Anchor Bay almost never departs from standard Blu-ray packaging, even being one of the only studios to refrain from BD slipcovers. But they make an exception for one of their crown jewels, at least for its initial printing. This limited edition run holds the disc, not too gracefully, in a pocket on the last page of a Digibook. This thin hardcover book takes up slightly less shelf space than a standard Blu-ray keepcase (which it's slightly taller and wider than) and is nice-looking and distinctive enough to stand out on a shelf. Past the embossed cover, there are twelve pages of Criterion-worthy reflections, a mix of analysis and production facts, from Halloween documentarian and fan Stef Hutchinson. His paragraphs are handsomely illustrated with behind-the-scenes production photos.

Look closely and you'll catch a glimpse of the mask of the man terrorizing Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Halloween holds up remarkably well as a still creepy tour de force that many slasher movies have aspired to and none have matched. Though you might be weary of yet another release of the film, Anchor Bay makes this one well worth your time. The studio stops short of making this the definitive disc to replace all others (and at this point, that's never coming). Although an extra disc preserving some past bonus features would have sweetened the deal, as is, this is definitely an outstanding, easily recommended set boasting remarkable picture and sound, substantial new supplements, and nice limited edition packaging.

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35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray / Original Blu-ray / 2-Disc DVD / 1-Disc DVD

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Related Reviews:
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Jamie Lee Curtis: You Again Freaky Friday Trading Places | Donald Pleasence: Escape to Witch Mountain
The Halloween Tree Hocus Pocus DreamWorks Spooky Stories The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Ring Island of Lost Souls The Watcher in the Woods Something Wicked This Way Comes The Faculty
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Reviewed September 21, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1978 Compass International Pictures, Falcon International Productions, and 2013 Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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