It's Halloween: Judge Dan Mancini is entitled to one good scare.
Our reviews of Halloween: Extended Version (published August 24th, 2001), Halloween: Limited Edition (published September 29th, 1999), Halloween: 25th Anniversary Edition (published August 12th, 2003), Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (published August 14th, 1999), Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers: Divimax Special Edition (published August 7th, 2006), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers: Limited Edition Tin (published October 25th, 2001), Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers (published October 11th, 2000), Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers: Divimax Special Edition (published August 7th, 2006), Halloween: 3-Disc Unrated Collector's Edition (published October 15th, 2008), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Blu-ray) (published August 21st, 2012), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Blu-ray) (published August 21st, 2012), Halloween (2007) (Blu-ray) (published October 21st, 2008), Halloween (Blu-Ray) (published October 4th, 2007), and Halloween (Blu-ray) 35th Anniversary Edition (published September 30th, 2013) are also available.
The night he came home!
In 1978, director John Carpenter (The Thing) and producer Debra Hill (The Fog) released the little horror movie that could. Made on a paltry $320,000 budget, Halloween raked in close to 50 million dollars in revenue, making it the film industry's return-on-investment champion for over twenty years (The Blair Witch Project finally unseated Carpenter's classic in 1999). Halloween was so successful that it single-handedly kicked off the slasher flick craze that dominated American horror movies in the 1980s. In addition to setting the stage for the ongoing (and increasingly ridiculous) adventures of mass-murderer Michael Myers (aka "The Shape"), Halloween spawned a spate of imitators like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night, April Fools Day, Slumber Party Massacre, and countless others. The influence of its masked killer can still be felt today (The Strangers, anyone?).
Is it any wonder, then, that Anchor Bay has milked its home video distribution rights to three of the movies in the Halloween series for all that they're worth? That Fall will bring yet another Anchor Bay Halloween release of one kind or another is almost as certain as the rising and setting of the Sun.
Facts of the Case
And so we have the Halloween: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Edition…just in time for Halloween. The set is essentially a collection of previous Anchor Bay releases (some now out of print), wrapped up in a fancy new case with a miniature rubber replica of Michael Myers' grim visage encased beneath a plastic slipcover. Inside, six discs are squeezed nicely into a standard sized keep case. They contain three versions of Carpenter's original movie, a documentary, and two of the later entries in the series:
Disc One: Halloween (Blu-Ray)
Disc Four: Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
This feature-length documentary is about the Halloween series from John Carpenter's 1978 original to 2002's Halloween: Resurrection. Talking heads include Carpenter, Debra Hill, producer Moustapha Akkad, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, Clive Barker, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, special effects guru Greg Nicotero, and others. Halloween: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Edition contains Disc One of what was originally a two-disc set.
Disc Five: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
A decade after his original rampage, Michael Myers escapes from the booby hatch (again on Halloween) and returns to Haddonfield. This time he targets Laurie Strode's orphaned daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris, Urban Legend), who also happens to be Myers' niece based on a lame plot twist in Halloween II. Jamie's only protection is her foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell, House of the Dead) and the scarred and weary Dr. Loomis (Pleasence).
Disc Six: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
One year after the events of Halloween 4, Jamie (Harris) is in an asylum recovering from the trauma of Michael Myers' rampage. Michael returns to Haddonfield to resume his hobby of murdering horny teenagers. Rachel (Cornell) is one of his first targets, as are her friends Tina (Wendy Kaplan) and Samantha (Tamara Glynn). Unfortunately for Jamie, she has a psychic connection with her uncle and can sense his evil from miles away. She escapes from the asylum in order to stop Myers. The ever-vigilant Dr. Loomis (Pleasence once again) is determined to save the girl and stop Michael Myers once and for all.
John Carpenter and Debra Hill's screenplay for Halloween provided the template for approximately one gazillion slasher movies that came out of Hollywood (and elsewhere) in the 1980s—Masked Killer stalks over-sexed teens; Last Girl Standing discovers the bodies of her friends and screams a lot during her third act flight from MK; LGS barely survives while MK dies (or not) in a hail of gunfire or pitchforks or whatever; The End. But Halloween itself is in an entirely different league than the movies that followed in its macabre footsteps. It stands head-and-shoulders above its legions of imitators almost solely because of Carpenter's eye for composition and refined visual sensibilities.
While jump scares and gore are the driving force behind most '80s horror, Halloween is all about dread—much of which is delivered via Carpenter's playful and precise use of the 2.35:1 frame (a rarity itself in the slasher genre). Consider a scene in which babysitter Annie Brackett talks playfully with her boyfriend on the phone. She's facing the camera. As she passes across the frame, we see Michael Myers framed in the screen door behind her, standing motionless, expressionless, a knife in one hand. When she crosses the frame again, he's gone. Next, she stops in the center of the frame, facing us and blocking our view of the screen door so that we don't know whether Michael is behind her or not. She stands there talking for maybe 10 seconds before she moves again, but those 10 seconds are an eternity of suspense. Consider, too, an elegantly framed and color-timed sequence in which Laurie Strode huddles terrified on the left side of the frame. Slowly and with great subtlety, Myers' pallid mask materializes from the depths of a dark closet behind her back. It's utterly horrifying. I could go on and on with examples of Carpenter's visual ingenuity, but it's better that you run off and watch the film yourself. Halloween is a surprisingly low-key slasher film, content to slowly twist its audience into knots of anxiety rather than piling on cheap scares and buckets of fake blood. That's why it's easily one of the best examples of its genre (rivaled only, perhaps, by Hitchcock's Psycho).
Halloween: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set skips the first two sequels to Carpenter's original—Halloween II and Halloween III: Season the Witch (the rights to both are owned by Universal)—and caps off the kill-fest with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Both films represent a reboot of the series (Carpenter and Hill washed their hands of the franchise after the miserable box office failure of Halloween III, which attempted to leave Michael Myers behind in favor of a new direction). Director Dwight H. Little's Halloween 4 is the better of the two, but not by much. It would be a solid entry in, say, the Friday the 13th franchise, but comes off as a mostly soulless imitation of Carpenter's work. Ten years down the line, Myers is less boogeyman than unintentionally funny cliché. The creepy menace of his silence, facelessness, and slow, relentless gait in the first film is replaced by a doltish stiffness and comically absurd indestructibility. Worst of all, Donald Pleasence is left to do all of the thespian heavy lifting on his own as neither Ellie Cornell nor the young Danielle Harris are up to the task of filling Jamie Lee Curtis' shoes. The movie hits most of the right slasher beats, but lacks personality. It's also burdened by a love triangle subplot that is an unnecessary distraction from the main event. The only time Halloween 4 comes close to the chills in the original is during its truly creepy finale.
Unfortunately, Halloween 5 squanders Halloween 4's spine-tingling ending in order to play it safe as a poorly knitted together collection of tried-and-true slasher conventions. It starts pathetically by undoing much of what we saw during the previous film, then gets steadily worse, culminating in a lame final act that has poor Michael Myers shedding a tear (before collecting himself for another round of mayhem). Director Dominique Othenin-Girard (Omen IV: The Awakening) adheres to the slasher formula of softcore sex and slayings while trying to add healthy doses of humor with two bumbling cops (complete with a dump-de-dump theme song) and a dipshit teen named Tina, none of whom die quickly enough or gruesomely enough to satisfy annoyed viewers. Poor Donald Pleasence, who reportedly wasn't happy with Othenin-Girard's take on the script, spends the entire movie looking weary and exasperated. Speaking of Pleasence, it turns out his Dr. Loomis is the sort of douche bag who'd use an unwitting 10-year-old girl as bait to capture a deranged serial killer. Who knew? He seemed like such a decent guy in the earlier flicks. Oh, and did I mention that there's an undeveloped subplot about a silhouetted man in cowboy boots and a duster who stalks around after Myers for no apparent reason? No? Well, there is.
Halloween: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set offers Carpenter's original film in three flavors: Blu-ray and DVD versions of the theatrical cut, and a DVD version of the extended cut assembled by Carpenter and Hill for network television broadcast (it contains 13 minutes of extra footage, mostly dealing with Michael's back story).
The Blu-ray edition contains a 1080p transfer of the same master used for the 25th Anniversary DVD—that would be the master that was not approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey. Slight color timing variations may bother purists. Nighttime scenes are more naturalistic, without the forceful blues in Cundey's 1999 master. Daytime sequences have fewer noticeable differences. Detail is mostly impressive throughout, limited only by some focus problems in the source. For instance, the focal point during a scene in which Nancy Loomis and Jamie Lee Curtis are chatting in the front seat of a car is Loomis' hand on the steering wheel and not the actresses' faces. As scope films are challenging to light, the movie's miniscule budget and tight schedule are likely to blame. Key sequences, such as when Dr. Loomis relates Michael Myers' story to Sheriff Brackett, are beautifully lighted and rendered on the Blu-ray in crisp detail, as though Carpenter organized the schedule around key sequences so that Cundey had time to best capture the movie's most important scenes. Audio is presented in Dolby 5.1 surround, Dolby stereo, and uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround. Given the limitations of the source, none of the tracks is a stand-out, but all are clean and pleasant.
Extras include a number of the supplements from the 25th Anniversary DVD: a cobbled-together commentary by Carpenter, Hill, and Curtis; a 90-minute making-of documentary that was originally produced as an episode of AMC's Backstory called Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest; a trivia track; a trailer; and a collection of television and radio ads for the movie.
Purists will be pleased to learn that the DVD version of the theatrical cut is identical to the 1999 Limited Edition release that contained the Cundey-approved transfer. Again, detail is excellent and the image itself is nearly pristine. The movie is presented in both its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and full frame pan-and-scan, though the latter is best ignored as Halloween becomes a mediocrity when stripped of Carpenter's careful framing. Audio is presented both in a two-channel mix of the film's original mono and a Dolby 5.1 track. Dynamic range on both is limited by the aged source, but the tracks are free of hiss and other annoyances. Though the disc otherwise resembles the Limited Edition release, it doesn't contain the TV version audio track.
Supplements include everything from the Limited Edition DVD: a 30-minute making-of featurette called "Halloween Unmasked 2000"; poster and behind-the-scenes galleries; and the same collection of radio and TV spots included on the Blu-ray.
The transfer of the Extended Version is most similar to the Limited Edition DVD. Detail is strong. Color is close to Cundey's preferences. The image is clean and stable throughout. Audio is limited to a two-channel mono mix, but sounds solid considering the movie's limited source.
The only extra accompanying the Extended Version is a text-based featurette explaining its origins.
Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 are presented in anamorphically-enhanced transfers at their original theatrical ratios of 1.85:1. They boast smooth, detailed images with a skosh too much edge enhancement. Given their newer vintage, they leave little to complain about. Each movie comes with Dolby 5.1 surround and Dolby stereo audio options. The tracks are clean and vibrant. Halloween 5 has a bit more oomph than its predecessor.
Halloween 4 is accompanied by most of the supplements from the previously released Divimax Special Edition DVD: two audio commentaries—one by Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris, the other by writer Alan B. McElroy; and a horror convention panel discussion of Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 featuring Cornell and Harris.
Halloween 5 also includes most of the extras from its earlier Divimax Special Edition DVD release: an audio commentary by Othenin-Girard and actors Danielle Harris and Jeffrey Landman; an introduction to the film by Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell; and on-the-set and making-of featurettes.
Couple the supplements on each disc with the inclusion of Halloween: 25 Years of Terror as a stand-alone feature (with a healthy body of supplements of its own) and you have a lot of material examining the franchise's history. There's a fair amount of repetition among the making-of documentaries, but the entire slate of extras is impressive and appreciated.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is a stylish set but its target audience is terribly narrow: Unless you own none of the previous DVD releases of Halloween, want to own Carpenter's original film on both DVD and Blu-ray, will enjoy repeat viewings of Halloween 4 and Halloween 5, and are a sucker for Michael Myers-related chotchki, this is 50 clams you don't need to spend.
Halloween is one of the great horror movies of the '70s (a decade that brought us The Exorcist, Jaws, and Alien, among many others). But Halloween: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set isn't the best way to get your hands on Carpenter's classic. In fact, it's less commemoration than crass commercialization.
Guilty as charged.
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