Studio: Anchor Bay
Film Length: 91 min.
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
English DD 5.1 surround
English DD 2.0 surround
English DD 2.0 mono
Release Date: NOW!
I think everyone remembers when they first saw the movie Halloween. Given that Halloween is only a few days away, I feel it is appropriate to review this title that Anchor Bay released a few months back. Halloween was different from other horror films of the day because it brought something fresh to the horror genre that wasn’t there before. Several other films in the 1970s shared a similar response because they brought surprises and advancements to cinema. Star Wars amazed people with its good pacing and special effects that were unlike any other Sci-Fi film. The film Alien used a small cast whose scares relied on the premise that seeing ‘less is more’ brang claustrophobia, hopelessness and horror to the big screen. It was unlike any creature film at the time that had a simple story and equalled big fear. Halloween was developed in the same manner only a year before and with just a fraction of the budget. Using his knowledge of what made a great horror film, writer/director John Carpenter’s Halloween is the film that spawned many sequels and rip-offs and revitalized the genre of horror films.
Michael Myers, the ultimate evil behind the mask, escapes from a mental institution fifteen years after he committed the murder of his sister at the ripe old age to kill of six years old. Sporting a clown suit and a Halloween clown mask, Carpenter’s use of the then-new Panavision steadycam lets us look through Michael’s eyes as he puts in that sharp steely knife on Halloween, 1963. Because of this night, this little town of Haddonfield, Illinois will always have a story and an empty haunted house of where the murder took place.
Take us to 1978 now, and its Hallowe’en night again (FYI, according to M-W, Halloween short for ‘All Hallow Even’, or ‘all saints’ eve’). The town now has an unexpected visitor and a few local teenage girls have a new admirer. One of the girls, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) sees this ‘shape’ appearing and disappearing before her eyes, but ignores it and insists that this boogieman isn’t real. Dr. Loomis, the doctor on pursuit, knows Michael very well. He is the only one who knows the horror behind his black eyes.
For Laurie, the plan for the night is to do some babysitting while her friends do some loving. Myers on the other hand has another plan in mind to let us experience his terror once again - on Halloween night. A true horror classic in any regard without the blood, guts, and ultra-violence that some might expect. Would this be rated PG-13 by today’s standards?
The first time I was introduced to the name of the film was when I was very young. I used to be the most frightened kid on earth and horror films were not my flavour at the time. My family trip to the video store consisted of bringing home family orientated films. I had a habit of wandering into the isles of films “not for my age”. Horror and Sci-Fi titles whose cover art depicted scenes of horror scared me to believing that what I saw was real. Looking at the reverse side of those Beta tapes (yes, we were Beta supporters) got my attention even more as pictures of scenes from the films were now spinning my imagination and haunting my dreams at night. Scared as hell, I’d never want to watch those movies – ever! Or did I?
Even though I had a frightened mind, I was very curious. At some point in life I was able to finally confront those fears and be determined to watch one of these horror movies. The movie I chose was Halloween.
I visited a relative who had a huge movie collection on VHS (this was the time when we finally admitted our world had gone VHS and if we were to watch any more movies we’d have to buy the machine). He decided one night to lend me a box full of tapes and after making my pickings I saw on the shelf both Halloween and Halloween 2. I snuck them in the box and then one evening when I was left at home alone I watched these movies.
Halloween will always be etched in my mind for introducing me to the horror genre, and for making it one of my favourites. I love horror movies now, thanks to that one evening alone. I don’t think Halloween is a very scary film on screen, but it does play with your mind off-screen. It might make you fear the world a little more. It might not let you be alone in the dark. It might make you fear the evil that we like to associate with Halloween. This is a great movie and will always be remembered as the first film that spawned the millions of slasher films like Friday the 13th and every other horror film, all of which are about some type of killer holiday. Halloween was also one of the most successful independent films of all time – with a budget of $320 000, it grossed over $54 million in its initial theatrical run. The studios that never believed this film would have a following were proved wrong and then scrambled to get out the sequels. Directors working with a shoestring budget can make a really great film when there is great writing and great teamwork among the film crew. Halloween proves this to be true.
So if a small film can do so well and amaze an audience, can a smaller Entertainment company like Anchor Bay do the same? Absolutely! Proving that no movie is not worth remastering (several times too), Anchor Bay has done a magnificent job with this two-disc release. In fact, I want you to just take my word for it and just go buy the disc, there is no need to read the proof below! Trust me! But if you really need to know why, then read on…
PICTURE QUALITY? /
When I first saw this on VHS, the image was really bad. It was faded; there were spots, dirt, and even yellow looking tape holding the film together. Even at my young age I was conscious of quality although not to the extent that I am today. Anchor Bay Entertainment has raised the bar once again in giving us a glorious DVD presentation of this film – and fans can really appreciate the up in quality. This is a DIVIMAX HD release, so the film has been run through the telecine again to be mastered in high definition (so we should expect to see this as an HD-DVD release one day).
In direct comparison to the 1999 THX-certified limited edition release that I own, this is a COMPLETELY different look for this 2.35:1 film. Enhanced for widescreen TVs, in terms of sharpness and detail this 25th Anniversary Edition is a winner without any debate. This difference is not subtle folks – it’s huge. I used to believe the 1999 release looked amazing but now it pales in comparison because of the dirt specks, undefined blacks and awkward color palette. This new release is absent of virtually all dirt and grain and is absolutely amazing in regards to colour vividness. Blacks are solid and I can actually see into all of the dark areas with great detail and with no added film grain. Interior scenes never look dim, washed out, or soft, as they can on the 1999 release.
Much of the film was shot ‘on location’ so out door scenes look beautiful. There are a few scenes that appear slightly out of focus, but that was probably the original photography because these scenes are so few and far between. Given the observations above, my conclusion is that the THX DVD program was never really up to snuff. I’d like to consider this because even the video test patterns included on each of those THX discs were never consistent with the levels of other THX-certified discs or with the Video Essentials DVD that my video system was calibrated with. …but then there are inconsistencies between all video test discs.
In regards to the colour palette for the 2003 25th Anniversary Edition there is a huge change here. I’m not sure what to think and I’ll tell you why after a little explaining of my observations.
John Carpenter shot this film in the springtime when leaves and grass was as green as green can be. The autumn leaves used in the film were spread by hand on the set by the crew to give it an autumn look. The problem as I see it with the 2003 release is the colour isn’t timed for the same stylized look as in the previous release. To me that stylized look seems more correct. On the 2003 release the orange autumn leaves falling out of the bright-green leaved trees on the bright-green grass leaves me scratching my head as to whether or not this was an oversight in the telecine for this release. The 1999 version has the spotty-orange grass and a brown look in the trees reminiscent of autumn. In this sense it looks correct. A huge downside is the 1999 version’s colour suffers everywhere else looking murky as can be, as all colours have a brown tinge and flesh tones fall between brown, red, and pink. I could almost see a computer generated ‘floating flesh tone’ on Curtis’s face as she was walking down the street. To me it seemed on a frame-by-frame basis, whoever did the colour analysis and timing did a poor job because it is so inconsistent across the width of the screen. I’m giving both thumbs up to the 2003 release for colour fidelity and uniformity on the print.
Also, the stylized “night blue” of the moonlight that is commonly used in night scenes in film is also gone from this release. Shots of the house across the street at night in 1999 appear totally blue (yes, totally). In 2003, the house is white, I suppose as it was filmed. The result is the same for interior scenes when there are no lights on in the house. The good result is much more depth perception and definition, but the stylizing is gone. I don’t know who’s made these decisions and why they were done. My guess is that a decision was made to preserve as much detail as possible, or at least show it. If that is the case it was a very successful decision because the unnatural telecine re-colouring of the previous release was detrimental to the image’s fidelity. But for those of us who remember Halloween with the 1999 palette, you may raise your eyebrow in strange wonder.
AUDIO QUALITY? /
This appears to be the same wonder 5.1 remix presented in Dolby Digital. The sense of space with the music is stunning with great soundstage depth. Each tap of the key is as chilling as I remembered because of the wonderful remix from the original mono soundtrack (also included as an audio option along with DD2.0 surround).
The soundstage and music is primarily up front. There is little surround activity but when there is it does nicely to support the sounds in the front. Bass is limited in the LFE, but there is nothing really in this soundtrack to give it much to work with. Bass is prominent in the main channels with the music and is blended nicely. While not an aggressive soundtrack, this is a wonderful job done by the sound team and I can’t imagine it done any better. With Anchor Bay releasing most of their major restorations with a DTS-ES encoding, I was disappointed not to find that option on this release.
SPECIAL FEATURES? /
You bet! Giving it a disc of its own, Anchor Bay has added three new features over the previous release. In an all-new 87 minute documentary Halloween – A Cut Above The Rest, we see the making of this film from the beginning to end. With original production footage and photos, and all-new interviews with writer/director John Carpenter, actors Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nick Castle, John Cypers and producer Debra Hill (and more), we can hear of the stories and the ideas that went on behind the scenes when the camera wasn’t rolling during the four weeks of shooting. Very interesting and also presented in DD5.1 or DD2.0.
The next feature is a just over 10-minute On Location – 25 Years Later bit. Much of it is a repeat of what you will hear in the previous feature, but this time P.J. Soles takes us back to the street where the movie was filmed and what the houses look like today.
An audio commentary with John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Debra Hill is included on the movie disc. The three of them were not recorded at the same time, and seems that pieces from their commentaries can be heard at the appropriate moments. It does sound fluent, and entertaining nonetheless.
Also included is the theatrical trailer, two T.V. Spots, two radio spots, a poster and still gallery, and talent bios. Two DVD-ROM features included are the Original Screenplay and Screen Savers, both I did not review.
All special features are enhanced for widescreen televisions.
My conclusion? I’m left shaking my head in awe. This is a beautiful release of this film. For those of you who have not bought this 25th Anniversary Edition because you feel you have ‘pretty much the same release’ from 1999 are way off the mark. The new look of this film is so much superior I know I won’t be watching my 1999 version anymore because it just looks so bad next to this one. So if you are a Halloween fan, go buy yourself a copy now! I mean it too. If you’ve never seen this movie before, this is the version to get before Halloween comes this October 31. With pleasing supplements, and only leaving me in wanting of a DTS-ES encoding, I am happy that Halloween is finally brought to DVD with such quality. Will it put Michael Myers to rest? Definitely not, there is still HD-DVD when it comes. Fortunately, like Michael Myers himself, this Halloween film will never die.