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Halloween (1978)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/14/2007

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/14/2007; Updated 9/19/2013

There has been a lot of talk lately about bias in the media. Well, prepare yourself for some serious bias.

Halloween opens on Halloween night, 1963. Here, we witness a young boy named Michael Myers murder his older sister. The story then jumps ahead 15 years, where Michael (Nick Castle) escapes from a sanitarium and is doggedly pursued by his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who is convinced that Michael is heading for his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois for the anniversary of his sister's death.

Michael does indeed go to Haddonfield, where he begins to stalk a teenager named Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friend Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles). As the sun sets, and Halloween night begins, Laurie and Annie are babysitting, while Lynda is partying with her boyfriend, Bob (John Michael Graham). None of these young people are aware of the fact that a psychotic killer is about to strike and that few of them will survive the night.

I'll just go ahead and get it out of the way now, Halloween is my all-time favorite movie, and today, after many viewings, it is still a satisfying cinematic experience. Thus, this review is going to be very biased as I describe how much I love this movie. Director/co-writer John Carpenter, along with producer/co-writer Debra Hill and director or photography Dean Cundey, was able to take a movie with a very simple story and create one of the most frightening and iconic horror films of all time. Halloween doesn't have gorgeous sets, dazzling special effects, or even any great plot twists -- it's simply the story of a madman stalking a group of teenagers. But, through lighting, camera angles, and music, Carpenter is able to squeeze an incredible amount of tension out of the film -- enough so that audience members often find themselves yelling at the screen.

I think that one has an even greater appreciation of Halloween if one knows a little of the film's background. Shot in three weeks, with a very limited budget, Halloween was made by a group of youngsters fresh out of film school. Yet, Carpenter shows the steady hand of a master director and he uses this skill to tease and taunt the audience. Seeing Halloween for the first time, I realized just how much power a director can have over an audience. Also, this was the first movie where I really noticed the photography. Few directors have used the widescreen image the way that Carpenter does in Halloween. It takes subsequent viewings (of the widescreen version) to realize that Michael Myers is in the background of many shots, lurking and waiting.

If for nothing else, Halloween must be recognized for starting the slasher movie trend which continues to pop up to this day. And while many of these movies attempted to copy the style of Halloween, none could match it. (Not even the film's sequels.) Seen today, I can imagine that some younger audiences may find the movie a bit slow, especially if they've seen it's many imitators. But, few films match the sheer suspense of the last reel of Halloween, where even the most jaded filmgoer will find themselves getting wrapped up in the film. Even those who claim to not like horror movies should watch Halloween at least once to see that scary movies can be classy, well-made, and most of all, incredibly frightening.

Halloween shows up dressed as a ghost on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. This latest DVD release is clearly intended to coincide with the Halloween remake being helmed by Rob Zombie. This is at least the 7th Halloween DVD which Anchor Bay has released. This disc is identical to Disc 1 of the Limited Edition DVD released in September, 1999. (I knew from the specifications that it was the same disc, but my DVD player confirmed this when I played the original and then switched to the new disc and the player began playing the DVD from the exact same point.) This DVD features both a widescreen and full-frame version of the film. For this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The image has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. This is the "restored" version which was approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey. At first glance, this transfer still looks fine, as it shows Halloween with a slightly muted color palette and a nice reproduction of the blue lighting used in the film. The movie is incredibly dark at times (on purpose) and those scenes look fine here. But, this looks like an old transfer, as there is some notable artifacting and video noise at times. In 2003, Anchor Bay released a Halloween DVD with a different transfer which was "cleaner", but the colors were too bright. So, purists will probably want to stick with this transfer, issues and all. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track sounds fine and does a great job of reproducing Carpenter's signature musical score, but there isn't that much happening in the way of stereo or surround effects. The low tones in the music do resonate through the subwoofer.

This Halloween DVD contains a few extras. First and foremost is the 27-minute documentary "Halloween: Unmasked 2000". This piece features comments from most of the principal players involved in the film, including Carpenter, Hill, and Curtis, and gives a detailed account of the film's conception, production, success, and legacy. The remainder of the extras are pretty standard fare, such as TRAILERS (2), TV SPOTS (3), RADIO SPOTS (3), TALENT BIOS, STILL GALLERIES, and some "Trivia" in text form. The 2003 Halloween DVD sported a fine audio commentary with Carpenter, Hill, and Curtis (which was originally recorded for a Criterion Collection laserdisc), but that isn't to be found here. So, I'm sure that there are many fans who will continue to wait for Anchor Bay to released the definitive, all-inclusive Halloween DVD.

UPDATE: On October 2, 2007, Anchor Bay Entertainment released Halloween on Blu-ray Disc.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is 1080p.  I am not one of those Blu-ray pundits who thinks that the format is perfect, but I must say, Halloween looks really good here.  The daytime scenes are incredibly sharp and clear.  The image shows no grain and only very minor defects from the source material.  (There is a very large hair on the image during the scene when Laurie gets home from school!)  The colors look fantastic and the image has an impressive amount of depth.  The picture probably didn't look this good when the movie was first screened in 1978.  The night time scenes look fine as well.  The blacks are deep and true and the transfer really shows off the way in which Carpenter and director of photography Dean Cundey used light and shadow in the film.  But, the transfer isn't perfect.  The final reel, which is arguably the best part of Halloween shows some notable grain in some shots and there are mild black dots on the image.  Given the relative darkness of these scenes, these flaws aren't crushing, but they do show how the image differs from the pristine daytime scenes.  Also, I noted some mild video noise by the car in the scene in which Laurie is introduced.  Halloween is a movie which is famed for its visuals, and this Blu-ray Disc is arguably the best way to see the film.  The Blu-ray Disc offers an uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio track.  This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  But, as Halloween was original screened with a mono track (which is also available on this disc), this "artificial" surround sound track isn't what I would call demo material.  Chapter 2 offers some nice thunder surround sound effects, and there are some mild subwoofer tones, but the audio mostly comes from the front and center channels.

The Blu-ray Disc release of Halloween further illustrates how Anchor Bay loves to mix and match extra features.  The disc includes an audio commentary with co-writer/director John Carpenter, co-writer/producer Debra Hill, and star Jamie Lee Curtis. This is the same commentary which appeared on the Criterion Collection laserdisc edition of Halloween which appeared in the early 90s, so the track is somewhat old. Still, this is a fantastic commentary, as the three speakers, who were recorded separately and edited together in true Criterion fashion, divulge an incredible amount of information about the film, from location info to casting stories to on-set issues. The only problem with this commentary is that much of this information has appeared elsewhere, most notably in the "Halloween Unmasked" featurette from previous DVD releases.  We also get "Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest", an 87-minute featurette (wouldn't that count as a feature?!) which gives an incredibly in-depth overview of the making of Halloween. The segment was clearly made-for-TV, as there are spaces for commercial breaks, but I'm not sure where (or if) this originally aired, as it contains most of the violence from the film. Along with these clips, the segment contains interviews with most of the cast & crew, and rare behind-the-scenes footage and stills. Most of the information will be familiar to Halloween fans, but this documentary is very well-made and certainly worth watching.  Both of these extras were taken from Anchor Bay's August, 2003 DVD release of Halloween.  Along with these, we also get the same trailers, TV spots, and radio spots as above.  A new extra is the "Fast Film Facts" which pop-up throughout the film via a subtitle stream, but again, most of this info will be familiar to fans of the film.

UPDATE TWO: On September 24, 2013, Anchor Bay Entertainment released a new 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc of Halloween. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. This features an all-new transfer supervised by Director of Photography Dean Cundey. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. One of the things which separates Halloween from the imitators is the film's look and the way in which Carpenter and Cundey were able to make a low-budget flick have the appearance of something much bigger. That look comes through in this transfer, which retains the dark photography, but never allows things to get too dark. The colors in the daytime scenes have a warm tone, but never look washed out. Once night falls, things take on more of a blue hue, but overall the colors remain natural. The image shows a nice amount of detail and the depth, most notable in the nighttime shots, is good. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. Unlike some other re-mixed tracks applied to older movies, this one feels right. The bass from the storm in Chapter 2 is riveting and the familiar music fills the speakers. There's definitely more of a sense of true stereo and surround sound effects here, which only adds to the impact of the movie.

The Halloween 35th Anniversary Edition brings in some new extra features. We begin with a brand new AUDIO COMMENTARY with Writer/Director John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. One gets the feeling that at this point, Carpenter is tired of talking about Halloween, but he does a pretty good job here. There's not much new information here, but Carpenter and Curtis do seem to have a good time. "The Night She Came Home!!" (60 minutes) is a documentary which shows Curtis attending a Halloween convention. She speaks very frankly about her attitude towards horror, but also discusses her plan to use her celebrity in the horror community for charity. "On Location: 25 Years Later" (10 minutes) gives a modern (sort of) look at the more recognizable places where the film was shot. (I've seen this before, but I'm not certain which release(s) this was on in the past.) "TV Version Footage" (11 minutes) condenses the three scenes which were shot for the 1981 NBC broadcast into one reel, as opposed to being edited back into the film. The Trailer, TV Spots, and Radio spots included here are the same as on previous releases. The first printing of this release is housed in a Digibook case which features photos and an essay by Stef Hutchinson.

Review Copyright 2007/2013 by Mike Long