Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition

  • Reviewed by: Dr Adam Jahnke
  • Review Date: Oct 11, 2013
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

John Carpenter

Release Date(s)

1978 (September 24, 2013)

Studio(s)

Compass International (Anchor Bay)

Review

As a franchise, I’ve never had all that much interest in the saga of Michael Myers.  Of the big three, Michael, Jason and Freddy, Myers is my least favorite.  The Friday the 13th series started as junk and remained junk, albeit entertaining junk for those of us who enjoy watching teens get sliced and diced by a machete-wielding, hockey-mask-wearing maniac.  As for Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street was a great, scary movie that quickly devolved into nonsense.  But Freddy had personality and, as the saying goes, personality goes a long way.

Michael Myers has no personality.  That’s the whole point of Halloween and it’s why I checked out of the series after part four.  He’s the boogeyman.  The Shape.  The thing that just keeps coming for you no matter what you throw at him.

Unfortunately, Rob Zombie didn’t get that in his 2007 remake.  He tied himself in knots trying to give him a back story and a reason for going after super-babysitter Laurie Strode.  He didn’t understand what Carpenter did.  It’s scarier when there’s just some THING coming for you... and you don’t know why.

All these years later, the original Halloween remains something of an anomaly.  By most any definition, it’s a slasher movie.  Escaped lunatic hunts down and kills randy teens.  End of story.  But it may be the only time that a filmmaker of talent and imagination took seriously the idea that yes, a masked, unstoppable guy with a knife coming after a group of teenagers would actually be frightening.

At his best, there is no one better at executing simple but good ideas on film than John Carpenter.  He realizes something that most directors don’t.  If you’re a character in the movie then sure, being attacked would be terrifying.  But the audience isn’t a character in the movie.  For us, the scariest part of the movie is knowing something the characters don’t.  It’s the anticipation of what could happen.  After the remarkable opening sequence (wherein young Michael Myers kills his sister in one continuous POV shot), there isn’t another death in Halloween for almost an hour.  But The Shape is always there.  Watching.  Lurking around corners and just out of sight.  That kind of restraint is almost unimaginable today.

Carpenter is one of those rare filmmakers who understands that the scariest part of the roller coaster ride isn’t the hairpin turns and insane loops.  It’s that long, slow climb up that first impossibly high hill.  Halloween has one of the best long, slow climbs of any horror movie ever made.  Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey find every possible way of revealing The Shape... emerging from the shadows, glimpsed in the distance, seen from behind.  Their skill combined with that iconic mask and blank slate costume create a threatening symbol of death that retains its power to this day.  This is great filmmaking at work.

Anchor Bay’s 35th Anniversary Edition marks the movie’s second appearance on Blu-ray and it’s very much a good news/bad news release.  First, the good, which is very good indeed.  The transfer is brand-new and personally supervised by Cundey.  The colors have been toned down from the earlier release, giving the film a more appropriate, muted palette.  It’s an extremely cinematic experience and the best presentation of Halloween I’ve ever seen.  Audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 7.1, a great new mix that easily bests the 5.1 track on the earlier Blu-ray.  The disc also includes the same problematic mono track that appeared on the previous Blu-ray release.  There has been grumbling that the tracks are not the same, however we have it on good authority that they are.  Either way, it’s a bit of a moot point because neither release features the original 1978 mono track, which is what audio purists want anyway.

[Editor’s Note: To address a bit of controversy regarding this release, the mono track here is not the original theatrical mono.  Studio sources say it’s the same element provided by the licensee for the previous BD release, however investigation suggests that there are differences between the mono tracks on each.  In any case, there will be no changes made to this release, so “caveat emptor” for now.  Perhaps for the film’s 40th Anniversary the actual original mono will appear.]

It’s in the special features department that the disc stumbles a bit.  On the plus side, there’s a brand-new audio commentary by John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis.  It’s convivial, informative and a real treat to hear these two old collaborators together again.  Unfortunately, the original commentary featuring Carpenter, Curtis and co-writer/producer Debra Hill (originally recorded for the Criterion Collection way back in 1994) has been dropped.  It ought to have been preserved, especially because Debra Hill passed away in 2005.  Also gone: the excellent making-of featurette Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest.  So hang on to whatever previous DVD or Blu-ray releases you have that include these features.

The other brand new extra is The Night She Came Home, a nice 15-20 minute featurette stretched out to an interminable 60 minutes.  It follows Jamie Lee Curtis as she makes her first horror convention appearance in years at the 2012 HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis.  Curtis comes across as a truly wonderful human being but how much footage of her signing autographs and of fans waiting in line do you really need to see?  The disc also includes the On Location: 25 Years Later featurette and footage from the TV version, two bonuses from earlier DVDs that were left off the previous Blu-ray.  Finally, you get the trailer, TV and radio spots, and a very handsome Digibook package with extensive liner notes by Stef Hutchinson.

So is this it, the ultimate end-all and be-all in Halloween releases?  Don’t be ridiculous.  As long as there are anniversaries to be celebrated, Halloween will continue to be re-released.  If the extras were as definitive as the transfer, this would in fact be the only Halloween disc you need to own.  As it is, it’s a must-own addition to your existing, and possibly quite large, collection of Halloween DVDs and Blu-rays.

- Dr. Adam Jahnke

 

Be sure to read more of my reviews in this year’s Hell Plaza Oktoberfest! by clicking on the image below...

 

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