Anchor Bay // 1978 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 12th, 2003
I have the feeling that if you looked up the words "Halloween" and "DVD" on Yahoo, you'd find about a gazillion matches. Why? Because as of this writing Anchor Bay has released what seems to be dozens of editions of the horror classic on DVD, laserdisc, and VHS. Not surprisingly, we're back once again for yet another look at yet another edition of John Carpenter's Halloween on DVD. This time it's cleverly called Halloween: 25th Anniversary Edition and features a two-disc set with brand new bells and whistles to thrill fans all over again.
At least until next year.
Do I really need to recap this movie for you? Like Star Wars and The Godfather, little Johnny Carpenter's Halloween is so imbedded in the American psyche that even folks who hate horror movies can practically recite the plot. For the sake of time, here are a few quick mathematical equations to help you understand the movie:
disturbed young boy + nubile sister = death
disturbed young boy + time in psych ward = patience
disturbed young man + loopy doctor who no one will listen to = escape
disturbed young man + gaggle of babysitters = carnage
disturbed young man + lots of sharp instruments = more carnage
disturbed young man + 1 resilient babysitter = suspense
disturbed young man + open ended conclusion = lots of sequels
And there you have it. There's no arguing about my points: I have pie charts and bar graphs to back up my facts.
All right, I'm not going to bore you with an in-depth analysis of Halloween. In our review archives we have no less than eleven reviews featuring the Halloween series, two of which already focus on the original film. Nothing I can say can add any more depth on the subject -- Halloween may be the #1 horror film in the past 25 years that's been analyzed to death by scholars, film students, and critics. The damn thing is scary, and you don't need me to tell you that. If you want to see the one that started it all, Halloween is your only ticket to ride.
So let's talk about what the 25 year mark means to the franchise, and to horror movies in general. Upon its release, Halloween opened the door to the slasher film, a genre that is near and dear to my heart. I know it's not "popular" to lavish praise upon those movies, but what can I say? I grew up with and subsequently love those movies. Halloween opened the floodgates for Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, Hellraiser, the Scream series (and all their sequels), and a host of other maniacal-killer-in-a-mask-slaying-on-a-holiday flicks. Some are good, some are bad, and some are so bad they're good. The 1980s were a golden time to love horror movies. There were so many gems to come out of that decade -- as well as guilty pleasures -- that it boggles the mind. I don't know about you, but if I have to live in a world without Return of the Living Dead...well, life just ain't worth livin'.
And then the 1990s rolled around, along with Kevin Williamson's genre bending Scream trilogy. It's here that you can see exactly where the horror beast turned on itself and started feeding. Self mockery was in, solid scares were out. Teens were now "in the know" and mocking the very movies they loved. While I liked Scream as much as the next guy and gal, I practically despised most of the movies left in its wake. I Know What You Did Last Summer, Final Destination, Valentine, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer...Lord, these were terrible movies. For every well done effort (Jeepers Creepers), there were six equally terrible movies. Even the Halloween series wasn't immune -- in the time between Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (the sixth film and an abysmal one at that) and Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, things had changed radically. Though the return of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was a welcome surprise, Halloween H20 felt too much like a Scream knockoff (even if it was one of the best in the series). Even worse was director Rick Rosenthal's Halloween: Resurrection, a needless return to familiar territory that took H20's great ending and turned it into a shoddy tool for Halloween series investor Moustapha Akkad to make more cash. With the returns at an all time low, Halloween: Resurrection may have permanently buried this franchise, though don't count your chickens quite yet: Friday the 13th has had two faulty "Final" installments and it's still ticking along...
So where does this leave the future of horror? As of this writing it's a week before the highly anticipated Freddy vs. Jason opens theatrically. In October comes the remake of Tobe Hooper's splatter classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Will they find their fan base or go belly up? Does this genre have anything left in it at all? If Jason X or any of those straight-to-DVD Hellraiser flicks are any indication, no way, Jose. Yet for all the odds against it, the horror genre tends to rebound faster than Michael Jordan's basketball career. If Freddy vs. Jason or the TCM remake turn out to be hits, expect more Halloween flicks to hit your local multiplexes. And more Nightmare on Elm Streets. And more Friday the 13ths. Upon second thought, I think these movies have more lives than the entire feline population combined.
And you know what? That makes me smile one big, demented maniacal smile.
Halloween is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen with an anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 TV sets. Originally Anchor Bay released a 1997 edition of Halloween that -- how do I put this delicately? -- sucked monkey nads. Since then they've released the film a few more times to better results; overall their newer transfers have been solid with a minimum of imperfections. Apparently someone felt that there needed to be yet another transfer struck, which is what's on this newest DVD (called "Divimax"). Anchor Bay has once again done a commendable job on this transfer. There are hardly any blemishes in the image, and dirt and grain has been kept to a bare minimum. However, as you may have read, there have been some issues regarding the color and tint. After watching the film and glancing at previous editions, I can safely determine that the colors do look slightly off. Many of the blues and oranges look different, sometimes strikingly so. Does this make Halloween: 25th Anniversary Edition a horrid print? No. However, be warned that there are slight differences in this transfer, so purists may want to hold onto their previous discs.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, as well as Dolby 2.0 Surround and Dolby 1.0 Mono, both in English. Unlike the video transfer, this sound mix doesn't differ from the pervious incarnations. Though it's considered a 5.1 mix, this soundtrack for the most part sounds like a mono mix. It's front heavy with surround sounds and directional effects kicking in every so often (Carpenter's music score, those crazy "stingers" to let us know we should be scared, et cetera). Thankfully, hiss and distortion is kept to a bare minimum -- in fact, this mix is free of any major flaws. It may not blow away your sound system, but it's a solid effort by Anchor Bay. Somewhat bafflingly, no alternate subtitles are included on this disc.
Once again, Anchor Bay has produced another Halloween DVD set, and once again, there are more extras to wade through. However, this edition of the film may be the best yet with two extra features that are well worth your time. Here's a rundown of what's been included on this set:
* Commentary Track with writer/director John Carpenter, Star Jamie Lee Curtis, and Producer Debra Hill: Somehow, someway, Anchor Bay was finally able to snag the rights to this long coveted laserdisc commentary track from Criterion. Originally recorded in the early 1990s, there's a lot of information (and laughs) available on this track. Of course, by now fans will be familiar with most of these stories and anecdotes -- even so, this track is still a worthwhile listen for those wanting to know as much as they can about Halloween. All three participants seem genuinely thrilled to be talking about the picture, and are shocked and awed at how popular it still is among fans. This is certainly one of the better commentary tracks out there and is a must for fans.
* "Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest": Aside of the commentary track, this nearly hour and a half long documentary will be the main draw for fans. This comprehensive feature includes interviews with (but is not limited to) director John Carpenter, co-writer/producer Debra Hill, Moustapha Akkad, executive producer Irwin Yablans, director of photography Dean Cundey, Tommy Lee Wallace, Joseph Wolf, Fangoria magazine editor Tony Timpone, and stars Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J Soles, and Charles Cyphers. Much of this footage was taken from the promotional materials from Halloween H20 and the AMC Backstory with John Carpenter. By now most fans will have already heard these stories and recollections dozens of times. Yet this piece is still fascinating with much detail given about the film's production shoot, the impact it had on horror, the success it achieved, as well as a sort of "where are they now?" on various cast and crew members. Included in this documentary are some real gems: rehearsal footage with Donald Pleasence and Carpenter, behind-the-scenes photos, and a rare glimpse at who played Michael Myers (why, it was the director of Dennis the Menace)! Practically a movie in itself, this supplement alone is nearly worth the set's price tag.
* "On Location: 25 Years Later" featurette: Debra Hill talks openly about her experiences making Halloween, while actress P.J. Soles (who was married to Dennis Quaid!) revisits the locations and houses used in the film. Once again, this is a lot of retread with discussions about the same old, same old. And yet, I still found it to be a nice little feature, mostly because of the footage involving Soles (and her daughter and a friend) walking around the film's old stomping grounds. Worth the watch since it's only 10 minutes long.
Finally there is a poster and still gallery with well over 50 images, two TV spots, two radio spots, a theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen, some fleshed out bios on Carpenter, Pleasence, and Curtis, a few DVD-ROM features (screen savers and the original screenplay), and a 16-page booklet with liner notes and photographs.
If you've read this far it's obvious that you've seen Halloween six dozen times by now. So what are you waiting for? Though the transfer isn't perfect, this edition of Halloween should make fans happy even if it isn't a "definitive DVD version" of the film.
You can't keep a good cinematic serial killer down, and why would you want to? Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary by Director John Carpenter, Star Jamie Lee Curtis, and Producer Debra Hill
* Documentary "Halloween -- A Cut Above the Rest"
* "On Location: 25 Years Later" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer
* Two TV Spots
* Two Radio Spots
* Poster and Still Gallery
* Talent Bios
* John Carpenter's Official Site
* HalloweenMovies.com (Official Series Site)
* Filmsite.Org Halloween Analysis