One of the most financially successful independent motion pictures of all time, John Carpenter's highly influential 'Halloween' is the kind of horror movie that creeps out at you from behind the bushes and taps you on the shoulder, sending a long, ice-cold chill down your spine. And like its star boogeyman, Michael Myers, it is a film whose legacy just won’t die. With its cheap budget, simple premise and highly imitable conventions -- girl, monster, knife, blood -- 'Halloween' begat one of the most incredible phenomenons in recent motion picture history: the slasher movie. Yet Carpenter's stylish scarefest is so much better than its imitators as to be almost incomparable; it has been called the most terrifying motion picture next to 'Psycho' and 'The Exorcist,' and for once the hyperbole is not that far off the mark.
Although it presents an admittedly simplistic modern fable -- Myers returns home on Halloween, fifteen years after brutally murdering his sister, to wreak even more havoc on a trio of babysitters -- Carpenter's minimalist brilliance proved impossible not to copy. Simply put, upon its debut in 1978, Carpenter and co-scenarist Debra Hill's skeleton-thin narrative was the perfect film at the perfect time, tapping into America's then-growing fear of random, faceless, unmotivated violence. Myer's "The Shape" remains a terrifying cinematic creation because of its very blankness -- the white mask (actually a painted visage of 'Star Trek's William Shatner!), black eyes and almost robotic walk suggest pathology at work, but never explain it. Myers is just smart enough to be truly dangerous but lacking the intelligence to allow for reason, and he's the archetypal boogeyman, evil personified in human form and blown up to mythic proportions.
Though slow by today's quick-cut standards, 'Halloween' is arguably one of the most expertly constructed modern horror movies. All ranking a cut above are the film's sharp cinematography (by future Oscar-winner Dean Cundey), memorable performances by a cast of then-unknowns (including Jamie Lee Curtis in her debut performance as Laurie Strode, and still the genre's honorary "scream queen") and Hill's fine ear for teenage "girl talk," which effectively counter-balances Carpenter's sometimes nihilistic worldview and his unrelenting need to scare the audience, occasionally at the expense of logic.2007 Blu-ray
The film's most noted stylistic features have also been those most exploited by its imitators. The spooky haunted house interiors, cat-and-mouse games and "Gotcha!" scares are the cinematic equivalent of peek-a-boo, but don't rely on a drop of blood to work up our nerves. Carpenter's sometimes sluggish pacing can tax our patience to the breaking point because he stretches the suspense to such a degree that we almost want him to kill his next victim just to get it over with. Yet, unlike so many of the copycat slasher pics (and most of 'Halloween's own dreadful sequels), we never cheer Myers on, but instead are always emotionally on the side of his targets. Carpenter is an intuitive filmmaker who understands that it is not the blood and violence that gets the audience off, but the build-up.
Sadly, the years have not been totally kind to 'Halloween,' if only due to the sheer dreck that it inspired. As was so evidenced by the recent, utterly horrid Rob Zombie remake, the material itself is not foolproof, and its elements are now so familiar that those seeing 'Halloween' for the first time may wonder what all the fuss was about. But it is Carpenter's innate respect for craft -- and absolute glee in playing the audience like a piano -- that has earned 'Halloween' its rightful place in the horror film canon as a must-see classic (and, it is worth noting, a fresh slot in the National Film Registry). It is the one American franchise horror film of the past three decades to rightly earn comparisons not only to Browning, Whale, Hitchcock and Murnau , but as one of the true greats of a ill-reputed genre.2007 Blu-ray
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay and Starz Home Entertainment celebrate John Carpenter's 'Halloween' with a special 35th Anniversary Edition. The Region A locked, BD50 disc arrives inside a glossy sleeve at the end of an attractively textured and lightly embossed digibook, which includes 20 pages of behind-the-scenes photos and an essay by Stef Hutchinson detailing the history of the production. Owners can skip over a couple trailers at startup and afterwards be greeted by a static menu screen with the iconic music playing in the background.2007 Blu-ray
Almost as if Anchor Bay and Starz Home Entertainment actually listened to devoted 'Halloween' fans, the massively influential classic takes another stab at Blu-ray, boasting a brand new remaster that was supervised and approved by none other than the film's cinematographer Dean Cundey. After its disastrous 2007 HD debut, news of this 35th Anniversary Digibook Edition came as a welcomed, highly-anticipated surprise. The first Blu-ray release recycled the same terrible transfer used for the DiviMax DVD edition from 2003, which showed the wrong color timing and boosted contrast. The orange and brown colors of autumn were completely gone, and the memorable blue tint in nighttime scenes was missing.
Sadly, as much as I was excited to revisit Haddonfield once more, I am sorely disappointed yet again by another video presentation with the wrong color timing. In spite of Cundey's approval, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode still shows the bright green leaves of springtime in California, not the chilly reddish browns of fall in Illinois. Admittedly, this is a notable improvement over the previous release, displaying much better contrast levels. Whites don't bloom as much and the little bit of noise around the highlights is gone. Blacks are slightly richer and deeper, providing the 2.35:1 image with some dimensionality and a nice cinematic appeal. Fine object details and textures are very well-defined with good, distinct clarity of background information, and facial complexions appear healthy. One small nitpick is the minor but pretty noticeable aliasing on the edges of cars, which did distract on various occasions.
However, we still must contend with the fact that the story loses some of its effectiveness when it no longer feels like it takes place on Halloween night. The color palette is brighter and bolder than it really should be, and the overall presentation largely looks almost identical to its predecessor. It seems as though Cundey's input was mostly directed at minor adjustments, little small tweaks to an already available HD master rather than working with the original elements for a wholly new remaster. During the course of those small corrections, it would also seem as if Cundey must have forgotten about the correct color timing, which to date is only available on the Criterion Collection laserdisc and THX-certified DVD. I'm sad to report devoted fans are forced to continue waiting for a proper HD release of the seminal horror classic.2007 Blu-ray
The John Carpenter classic also celebrates 35 years of scares with a new Dolby TrueHD soundtrack which unfortunately isn't all that different than its uncompressed PCM predecessor. While I do appreciate Anchor Bay releasing this dearly beloved flick with the latest and greatest in digital sound, the effort is rather needless without a lossless option for the original mono design. Granted, the studio does include a mono track, but it's only available in legacy Dolby Digital and overall feels restricted while lacking fidelity, warmth and a bit of bass in the music.
The new-fangled 7.1 surround mix sounds more welcoming with imaging that's decently broad and expansive. Carpenter's iconic score fills the entire soundstage with surprisingly excellent clarity and detail, making it the best aspect of the entire presentation. There's a noticeably hearty low-end that's appropriate and ample enough to give the music a bit of weight and depth. Sadly, this doesn't apply to other parts of the movie, like a few of the action sequences and gunshots. The mid-range isn't particularly dynamic or extensive, mostly coming off flat and uniform, which very likely has as much to do with the source as the attempt to upmix an already limited design. In fact, the couple times when frequencies are pushed into the upper ranges, such as gunshots or when Laurie screams for help, the noise is very bright and clipping is apparent. And finally, vocals are pretty dull and somewhat lifeless.
The four added channels are also rather pointless and wasted, adding nothing to the experience. There's really no sense of environment, no subtle sounds of wind blowing through the trees or leaves falling all around. Even the couple attempts at rear activity feel forced and hollow, serving better as a distraction than a complement to the on-screen action. After all these years of various double dips, it would be nice to finally hear 'Halloween' as it was meant to be heard in lossless mono, but that doesn't appear to be the case here.2007 Blu-ray
A couple supplements are ported over from previous home video releases which went missing from the last Blu-ray, and they also offer a couple more new additions to the mix which are welcomed.
Peter Bracke summed it up best when he wrote that 'Halloween' "is the king of slasher films. Those who've been weaned on thirty years of remakes, homages, parodies, and torture porn flicks may wonder what all the fuss was about, but John Carpenter crafted a simple, effective genre piece with great style, atmosphere, and wit."
As for this Blu-ray double dip from Starz/Anchor Bay, which celebrates the film's 35th Anniversary, I'm sad to report that the improvements over the previous release are small and not very exciting. Despite being reportedly supervised and approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey, the high-def presentation doesn't look all that much different, except that contrast and brightness are better and appear more natural. In fact, for intents and purposes, this appears to be the exact same encode as the last one with the wrong color timing, only slightly modified. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is equally a disappointment as the upmix seems largely flat and lifeless without a lossless option of the original mono design. For this 35th Anniversary Edition, a few supplements are ported over from older DVD releases, but also includes a pair of new exclusives that are quite enjoyable. All in all, the package is admittedly nice and highly tempting, especially for the price. For neophytes and those who didn't buy the previous disastrous Blu-ray, this is the one to purchase, but devoted fans will have to continue waiting for a proper high-definition presentation of this beloved, massively influential classic.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.