The Shape, the stoic, masked figure at the core of Halloween, has been haunting our Halloweens for 35 years, appearing in countless lesser sequels, 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.
I had the opportunity to review Anchor Bay’s 35th Anniversary Edition and noted that it would likely not be the last say on the matter. I’m glad to say it wasn’t as the new 4K UHD release is very, very good (and by all accounts appears to leverage the previously new transfer supervised and approved by the film’s Director of Photography, Dean Cundey.
The Production: 4/5
“I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… Evil!”
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 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!”
3D Rating: NA
Halloween has been released more times than I can remember. Numerous DVD releases, most tied with anniversaries, and previous Blu-ray editions in 2007 and the 35 Anniversary edition I had the pleasure of reviewing, not to mention the VHS, Laserdisc and UMD versions), there have been plenty with different looks.
For Lionsgate’s release of Halloween on 4K for the first time, the image appears to have come from the same source as the 35th Anniversary edition which came with the film’s director of photography, the talented Dean Cundey’s, supervised transfer. As with the 2013 Blu-ray, 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. Where the 4k makes a difference to the experience is in the finer level of details, like clarity in smudges on the interior windscreen of the car Laurie and friend are driving around in. This is a markedly darker looking version as well, but the shadow details and the contrast between the purest blacks and lighter elements is impressive.
There is again a bias toward more muted green. Autumn in Illinois is less auburn and more overcast, shadowy, gloomy – perfectly fitting for the film, actually. This will be my go-to version now, with its superb level of detail and effective and not overbearing Dolby Vision HDR grading.
The audio included with Halloween on UHD seems to be the same that accompanied the 35th Anniversary edition – leading 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 (some of the sound effects added for the 7.1 awkwardly stood out occasionally this year, I should note).
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. I am a little too young to know how the film sounded when it was first released to theaters (I would have been three), it does sound quite good despite the fact that I have become quite accustomed to the 5.1 and 7.1 tracks that have come with the more recent editions. There’s some compelling evidence mentioned right here on Home Theater Forum convincing us that the ‘original mono’ isn’t a faithful reproduction, so keep that in mind if you are looking for the honest-to-goodness, uncompromised original audio.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Included here is the lively and engaging commentary track 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 of 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. Of course, once the recognizable musical 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 40 years old, remains as gripping and disquieting as it did all those years ago.https://smile.amazon.com/Halloween-4K-Blu-ray-Donald-Pleasence/dp/B07FSRBMTJ/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1538446238&sr=1-1&keywords=halloween+4k