The Shape, the stoic, masked figure at the core of Halloween, has been haunting our Halloweens for 35 years, appearing in countless lesser sequels and a dispiriting remake and its sequel, but John Carpenter’s original, masterful classic of horror remains firmly entrenched as a formative work. The independent production and remarkably modest budget were embraced by relative newcomer John Carpenter, who displays a confident directorial hand, with nods from time to time toward Hitchcock and other great directors before him, creating an atmospheric and deeply effective horror film. Anchor Bay’s 35th Anniversary Edition becomes just another chapter in the release of this film on home video and it will likely not be the last. With a new transfer approved by the film’s Director of Photography, Dean Cundey, we are provided Halloween as it has not looked before in our home theaters – and it’s a terrific looking disc.
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono), English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD
Run Time: 91 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raySpecial Book
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 09/24/2013
Halloween is the quintessential horror movie. It is the story of a young boy (Michael Myers) on Halloween night, 1963, who slays his sister in a quiet suburban town of Haddonfield, Illinois. He is institutionalized only to escape 15 years later, heading back to his home town, once again on Halloween. Only Dr. Loomis, Myer’s psychiatrist, can fathom the evil that has escaped and where he is headed. Dr. Loomis makes arrives in Haddonfield to warn the local Sherriff and to try and put Michael Myers back where he belongs.
The Production Rating: 4/5
The budget for Halloween was extremely small, jus $300,000, but the effectiveness of John Carpenter’s adept direction and the revealing simplicity of the storyline is significant. Halloween cleverly relies on the "boogeyman" factor to frame its impending danger, using the shadowy figure of "the shape" (as the boiler suit clad Michael Myers is known) in the periphery to create an ominous sense of foreboding, building a horror that is felt more than seen for most of the running time. We catch sight of ‘the shape’ fleetingly, standing by a hedgerow, amongst the flutters of washing on the line, and he is gone as quickly as he is noticed. We see Michael Myers standing just inside the frame, perhaps only an arm or and out of focus profile shot, while Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her babysitter friends have fun, completely unaware. The power of "Halloween" comes predominantly from what the film makes the viewer aware of while the soon-to-be victims amble about, happily oblivious. There’s an effective horror to teenage girls chatting idly about trivial concerns while we, the audience, know full-well what lurks around the corner – in the shadows, and in their future.
The menacing persistence of Michael Myers, an unstoppable force of evil who never utters a word, is an unusual character. He does not speak; his motives are never known, but his relentlessness in pursuing and slaughtering the merry teens of his hometown create such an honest sense of dread that it is easy to see how this film spawned a library of sequels. It is a master of buildup, and does so for the most part in daylight. The Myers character symbolizes such a predatory menace that the audience is placed on edge and kept there, wondering when he will strike and when he will simply stare.
Halloween was Jamie Lee Curtis’ first starring role, helping to launch her career and qualifying her as the go-to actress for strength under duress (as well as providing some of the best onscreen screams of any horror movie). Halloween’s director, John Carpenter, is a master of horror and a creative technical director who has brought cinema many influential works including The Fog, They Live and the woefully underappreciated The Thing. His directorial approach is grandness on a small scale. His unique eye can create a sweeping and big screen feel for the tightest of shots and the smallest of budgets. In Halloween, he uses the camera as an unrelenting voyeur, floating into and out of scenes and making the audiences feel as though they are walking around the autumnal town bearing witness to the horror. At times we have the point of view of ‘the shape’, and that too is as effective as it is unnerving.
Halloween gave rise to the slasher films that dominated the early 1980s, and shaped many of those horror films that followed in its footsteps. It has endured as one of the greatest horror films of all time, not simply because it can easily scare, but because it taps into very core of what scares most people – someone or something lurking in the shadows with every intention of "getting them!"
Halloween has been released more times than I can remember. With numerous DVD releases, most tied with anniversaries, and the previous Blu-ray edition (not to mention the VHS, Laserdisc and UMD versions), any fan collecting every release most likely has a shelf dedicated to nothing but John Carpenter’s seminal classic.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
For this 35th Anniversary edition, the film’s director of photography – the talented Dean Cundey – has once again been brought in to supervise the transfer. The transfer looks terrific with splendid details, a faithful grain across the entire film, excellent black levels – deep and saturated – and somber feel to the decidedly non-Autumn looking Pasadena, CA filming location filling in for Fall in Illinois.
The color timing of this release is different than the previous release approved by DP Dean Cundey featured on the 1999 Limited Edition DVD (and greatly improved over the previous Blu-ray release). Whereas the previous release approved by Cundey took on a warmer tone, generally speaking, with the green trees hued more toward the autumnal colors, orange and yellow, the 35th Anniversary edition has a bias toward a muted green. Autumn in Illinois is less auburn and more overcast, shadowy, gloomy – perfectly fitting for the film, actually. Having never seen the original run of Halloween (I would have been three at the time), I can’t say which version mostly closely aligns with the original presentation. I can only go on what the DP – the legendary Mr. Cundey – has approved and offered. That it differs from his previously approved version is interesting and if given the chance I would make inquiry, but without authoritative word on what the original look was back in the theater, projected under the conditions of a well-maintained theater, it would be a small feat of futility to worry over it.
What I do know is what I prefer when watching Halloween and I must say this latest release is the most pleasing to my eyes. I only watched the 1999 DVD a few times when I first picked it up and went for a number of years without seeing the film until I picked up the 2007 Blu-ray which I watched a few years running on Halloween night (partnered with my all-time favorite horror movie, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), which I watch without fail every October 31st). But this release drains the brightness out of the green, dulling the colors, muting the vibrancy, and providing a greyer flavor, for an excellent look.
This 35th Anniversary edition from Anchor Bay comes with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio and the ‘original’ mono track. I’ll get to the mono in a moment but the 7.1 track is very good. Good depth of sound, surround effects that augment the tension and a pristine representation of John Carpenter’s legendary score add up to a fine listening experience.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Similar to the original intended ‘look’ of the film, the most accurate representation of the original mono soundtrack has been the recipient of a good amount of debate. Some have argued that previous releases claims of the original mono track were not entirely accurate, featuring effects that were not native to the original. Again, I am too young to know how the film sounded, but I do know that the mono on this release is decidedly quieter at times than the previous Blu-ray. It was first noticeable during the opening as the young Michael Myers walks around the outside of his house, peering through the window as his sister and her boyfriend make out on the couch before deciding to head upstairs. It’s very hard to hear what they say in this release whereas in the prior Blu-ray, with the volume at the same level, I can mostly understand it.
The mono track does still shine at times. Cracks of thunder have good depth and moving sound has a wonderful effect to it. While I enjoy the immersive nature of a remixed soundtrack (to 5.1 or 7.1), the mono track is compelling in its own right.
Quite frankly, the selection of special features for this 35th Anniversary Edition is surprisingly light. Over the years an abundance of material has been produced about this film, but most of that is not included here.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
There are several new items however, including a lively and entirely engaging commentary track newly recorded with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Jamie’s appreciation for this film and her director are clear from the onset of the commentary and although Ms. Curtis sometimes falls into the trap and telling us what we are seeing – it’s all with good intentions and there are many anecdotes that come about as a result. Both provide some insight into the technical nature of the production from time to time, but the real joy is hearing these two interact, recalling scenes, performances and reactions.
Also included is a nearly hour-long featurette following Jamie Lee Curtis at a charity event, raising money hosting an auctioning of Halloween memorabilia to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. It is warming to see Curtis so passionate about a worthy cause.
The On Location special feature runs about 10 minutes and revisits the Pasadena shooting locating for the film.
The extra footage filmed during the making of Halloween II for inclusion in the NBC broadcast of Halloween back in the early 80s are included here as a collection of scenes.
New - Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Carpenter and Actor Jamie Lee Curtis
New - The Night She Came Home
On Location: 25 Years Later
TV Version Footage
TV & Radio Spots
For such a low budget and simple premise, Halloween is as scary as they come. The performances are generally good though Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis can be overwrought and too insistent at times. But each actor’s contributions have made an indelible impression on this classic. And once the recognizable music theme starts and the camera begins to drift toward a house or an unaware teen, we are quickly embraced by the effectiveness of Carpenter’s chills. Halloween, now 35 years old, remains as gripping and disquieting as it did all those years ago.
Overall Rating: 4/5
This anniversary release is attractively packaged with a fold-out book packaging featuring production photography and some interesting, if brief, notes. With several new special features included (but so many of the previously created extra features missing), this release stands as an addendum to the unabated releases of this remarkable horror film rather than a book end.
Reviewed By: Neil Middlemiss
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