Anchor Bay // 1978 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // September 30th, 2013
"I wish I had you all alone...just the two of us."
After 35 years and ten sequels, it's strange to think that John Carpenter made Halloween as a standalone movie. It was made quickly, on a relatively small budget, but a cult director at a time before slashers and sequels ruled Hollywood. In the years following its release, Halloween became bigger than anyone who worked on it could have imagined. The same can be said for the film's home video history, spanning VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray. With Carpenter's masterpiece celebrating three and a half decades, there's a good chance even the most casual Halloween fan owns the movie several times over. Six years after Anchor Bay's first high-def release, they're back with the stellar Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray set -- a.k.a. one more thing for fans to buy.
As if you didn't know: 15 years after a young Michael Myers murdered his sister on Halloween night, he escapes imprisonment and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to stalk a fresh batch of teenaged victims.
Whatever you think of John Carpenter's uneven career, Halloween is one hell of a horror movie. It set the standard for slasher movies at a time when they barely existed. Whether this movie invented the genre is beside the point. Some horror fans will say Halloween is the Edison to Black Christmas's Tesla. Perhaps, but this movie not only had a huge impact on those that followed, Halloween is still one of the best.
Halloween works because Carpenter keeps it simple. After the threat of Michael Myers is introduced, nearly half the movie passes before the silent watcher kills his first victim. Instead of the massive body count of later movies, the number of murders here can be counted on one hand. The film is terrifying because no one besides the audience sees Myers coming until it's too late. Carpenter is more interested in atmosphere and tension than blood spatters and convoluted kills. From the characters to the murders, the film is believable. There's nothing scarier than that.
There are those who find the film boring. It's certainly a straightforward story -- one of Halloween's major strengths -- but I bet most of that boils down to familiarity. What horror fan hasn't seen and/or purchased Halloween a dozen times? Halloween: 35th Anniversary is the latest in a long line of commercial releases for the film, the eighth (as far as I can tell) from Anchor Bay alone. It's a shame because this latest set might be the best. It's not definitive -- several bonus features from past releases are missing -- but it looks and sounds better than ever, with two new extras with the film's evasive star.
First up, the presentation. This 35th Anniversary 2.35:1 1080p transfer was supervised by Dean Cundey, Carpenter's DP on the original film. The film's 2007 Blu-ray release was criticized for a too-warm color palette. This new transfer returns to the cooler, natural look Cundey intended. Everything about the picture is top-notch, with details as sharp as the source material allows, rich blacks, and pleasing grain. It's hard to imagine Halloween looking much better. Another knock against the 2007 Blu-ray was the lossy sound. This new release features a new 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix that opens up the soundscape. Surround effects are limited to a few key scenes, but the dynamic mix kicks in from the first notes of Carpenter's iconic theme. Dialogue is sometimes flat, but that has more to do with the low-budget production than Anchor Bay's efforts.
We'll get to the missing extras in a bit, but let's start with two of the best things about this 35th Anniversary Blu-ray:
* Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis: This isn't the first commentary Carpenter and Curtis recorded for the film, but these old friends bring a career's worth of hindsight to this engaging conversation full of production anecdotes, thoughts about horror movies, and the fun of hearing Jamie Lee Curtis react to Halloween's scariest scenes. Curtis and Carpenter approach the movie as the DIY affair it was, pointing out shortcuts and errors I'd never noticed -- like a camera shadow during the young Michael POV sequence, and the fact that all of the leaves on the trees are bright green. It goes to show that great movies don't have to be perfect; they just need to be so engrossing you don't notice the mistakes until the twentieth viewing.
* "The Night She Came Home!!" (59:43): This hour-long documentary filmed by Jamie Lee Curtis's brother-in-law follows the actress during her first (and last) convention appearance, in November of 2012. Unlike many horror actors, Curtis has avoided cons, but she made a one-time exception to raise money for the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles -- bringing her enthusiasm and a stunning collection of rare memorabilia for auction. Although this feel-good doc paints Curtis in the best possible light, it's no puff piece. This celebration of horror fandom takes a peek into the exhilarating and exhausting world of conventions, with footage of Curtis signing posters, masks, and even a knife for grateful fans, appearances by other Halloween franchise alums, Q&A snippets, an interviews with some of the hundreds of fans who spent their time and money to meet her. It's a wonderful, candid featurette.
* "On Location: 25 Years Later" (10:25): This full frame mini-doc, ported over from previous releases, looks at the making of the film with special focus on the Hollywood and South Pasadena locations where it was shot.
* TV Footage (10:46): A collection of scenes shot to pad out the edited TV version of the film, including Loomis fighting the bureaucracy at the mental institution and Laurie at home getting ready to go out.
* Trailer (2:42): You think modern trailers give everything away? This lengthy trailer includes nearly every plot detail and murder in the movie.
* TV and Radio spots.
All that, plus 18 pages of archival photos with a new essay written by Halloween expert Stef Hutchinson, in a spiffy limited edition slimline Digibook with cover art by Jay Shaw. The Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition is a solid package. It's just not the end-all for those hoping to pare down their DVD library. Fans who want all the bonus features that have ever come with the film -- including an older commentary with Curtis, Carpenter, and co-writer Debra Hill; full TV movie; the "Cut Above the Rest" and "Halloween Unmasked 2000" documentaries; bios; and stills gallery -- will need to hold onto previous discs.
There are lots of reasons why Halloween still plays 35 years after it ushered in modern horror movies, but the best thing about John Carpenter and Debra Hill's spooky classic is that it wasn't made to be part of a franchise. The franchise came later, in a big way, but unlike too many Hollywood offerings there was no thought of a sequel, no lazy storytelling with the out that questions could be answered in later installments. Just a simple, perfect slice of terror told with economy and maximum impact. Halloween is everything most of the movies it inspired are not. Sad, but at least fans of the original have a great way to experience it again with this pristine 35th Anniversary Blu-ray release that celebrates the film and the actress who made us believe in the boogeyman.
As a matter of fact, it's Not Guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 7.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Radio Spots
* TV Spots