Starz Home Entertainment // 1978 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // October 4th, 2007
The night HE came home.
John Carpenter had a wacky idea, filming at night, using the daughter of a star of one slasher movie, and putting her in her own slasher movie, against a guy who doesn't talk, and wears a Captain Kirk mask that's spray painted white. Made for peanuts, it's made in the tens of millions since. And as one of the first wave of Blu-ray exclusive titles from the Starz Home Entertainment group, how does it look in high definition?
I mean come on, it's Halloween! If you're making a slasher film, and your villain isn't named Freddy or Jason, then you should give Michael Myers points on the backend for anything you're doing. He's the first, best and only (to date) boogeyman. And when one considers the circumstances, he's one crazy dude.
When he was a kid, he killed his sister, and was institutionalized. In 1978, he escaped from the hospital and from Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence, The Great Escape), someone who's more than willing to give him enough thorazine to choke a horse if it will mean not letting Michael loose, and he's the one who knows the true side of Michael. On a side note, what also was neat about some of the films in this period is that some of them had clever nods to Psycho. Aside from Jamie Lee Curtis' ties to it, Sam Loomis is also the name of the character John Gavin played in the Hitchcock film. Anyway, back to topic. Myers is out, and looking to wipe out the town with a vengeance! The clueless sheriff (Charles Cyphers, Major League) and the promiscuous friend (P.J. Soles, Stripes) all fade away at the hands of Michael, but the one who stuck around was Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, Freaky Friday). She fought back, and held her own until Loomis came and shot Myers (or did he?).
It's a movie that chills you, largely because the story that you heard when you were a kid, one designed to scare the pants off of you, that's the story that comes to life here. Despite how cheesy you think it may be, I'm sure this film still scares it fair share of anklebiters year after year. Carpenter has a knack for boiling a story down to a basic psychological element and then working on that element very effectively. And a story about an escaped mental patient might not be much, but in Carpenter's hands, it works quite well.
Of the Starz horror films released on Blu-ray so far, this AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer does make the Divimax version of the film look good and flushes out some more detail that other discs have, which is good. The problem is that the Divimax version was not approved by Carpenter or cinematographer Dean Cundey, so this looks good, but isn't the creative intent. Starz is clearly still exorcising the sins that its predecessor Anchor Bay previously committed. The PCM soundtrack is OK, but is localized to the center channel and very little panning results. But hey, that song never sounded better.
Of all the releases of Halloween through the years, this Blu-ray version pulls closest to the 25th anniversary edition that was released a couple of years ago. One of the highly touted extras from this release is the commentary track that features Carpenter, Curtis and producer Debra Hill. The trio was recorded separately, and as one would expect from a Criterion track, introductions to each individual are included, but not necessary. The track is a good mixture of facts, trivia and anecdotes, along with thoughts on Halloween's place among today's violent films. Carpenter provides a lot of information from the production side, including cameras and casting (Christopher Lee as Sam Loomis, picture that!). Carpenter does manage to give props to The Exorcist and Suspira, and cites them as influences when he made Halloween. Hill talks about the production of the film also, and as a close friend of Carpenter's, talks about how his desire to maintain final cut on his films perhaps not resulting in a bigger stature in Hollywood. It's really interesting to hear her point of view on it. She also talks about trying to get Soles' then-boyfriend (Dennis Quaid) for the film, but that didn't pan out. Curtis talks with a lot of fondness and nostalgia for the film, and she does have a bit more fun with the commentary than I would have expected. All in all, it's understandable why the track is here, I just wish they hadn't oversaturated the market with Halloween releases, a lot of people may miss this extra, and it's pretty good. Next is a 90-minute feature titled "Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest," a look at the production of the film. This special was part of the Backstory series that AMC airs from time to time, and is a pretty good look at the making of the film. Featuring recent interviews with Carpenter, Curtis, Hill, Soles and Cyphers along with other members of the crew, they reminisce on the production and surprises from the success of the film. Called "The Gone with the Wind of horror films" by producer Joseph Wolf, the feature includes on-set footage, and on-set interview footage with Pleasence, who died in 1995. The group recalls how they came together and Carpenter talked about the conditions of acceptance to direct the film (final cut and his name above the title), along with some of his influences, and clips from some of those films. More talk about casting choices is mentioned here, as another choice for Loomis was Peter Cushing, but he was offered the part after the success of Star Wars, and he passed on it. There's talk about the origins about Michael Myers, from the mask to the name, and we also see the steadicam and crane shots that introduced him to the moviegoing public. Carpenter talks about composing the film's soundtrack, and relates a story of showing the film to studio execs, without the finished score, and the criticism he got from it. To illustrate that, clips with and without the score are included also. The producers (and Carpenter) took the film to the University of Southern California for a "test screening," and they remember just how bad some of the students thought it was. The last portion talks about the film's box office explosion (a $320,000 production budget led to over $55 million in box office figures), along with showing some of the added scenes from the NBC cut of the film, and their thoughts on the sequels that have come since then. It's fairly lengthy, and does double the commentary track a little, but it's got a lot of information, and it's a nice addition to the set. There are some trailers, TV spots and radio spots, and exclusive to the Blu-ray release is a subtitled track relating some of the trivia of the film.
People who have had horror films shoved down their throat over the last several years get further and further away from Halloween, and that's too bad. On its own, there's nothing too special about it that current horror fans enjoy or appreciate, and for very little gore, modern fans may be disappointed. I'm not saying that it's a good or bad thing, but sometimes, the oldies are goodies.
While things look fairly decent from a picture perspective, it's still the wrong picture and not the purest. The sound is blah, but the extras are prevalent and quite the saving grace. If you've got the Divimax edition and are looking for something a little more proper and closer to the artistic vision, you're not going to find it here.
Starz gets the guilty verdict, and let's hope the sanitarium can keep all the inmates locked up this time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Starz Home Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (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
* "Halloween -- A Cut Above the Rest" Documentary
* TV and Radio Spots
* "Fast Facts" Subtitled Trivia Track
* Original DVD Verdict (25th Anniversary Edition) Review
* Original DVD Verdict (Extended Edition) Review
* Original DVD Verdict (Limited Edition) Review
* Official Site (Halloween Movies)
* John Carpenter Official Site