Considering the play and hype Halloween gets every October, youíd think the title was the smartest thing Irwin Yablans could ever do. Like Bob Clarkís A Christmas Story, itís become one of those perennial must-sees that never seems to get old. The appeal, though, is so much more than just the title. John Carpenter created a quintessential horror masterpiece, one that thrives whether you are watching it October 31st, June 22nd, 1978 or 2008. Itís timeless and even if Rob Zombie wants to shit all over it, it will endure. Helping preserve the film for as long as possible, Anchor Bay has put out a Blu-ray to bring the film into its thirtieth year in style. Itís Halloween night, letís end the hallowed horror month in style!
On Halloween night 1963 in the quiet town of Haddonfield, Illinois a young boy - Michael Myers - brutally murdered his sister Judith Myers. Michael is then placed in a minimum security mental institute against his psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis's (Donald Pleasence) wishes that better precautions be taken. Dr. Loomis believes Michael is pure evil and on a stormy Halloween eve 15 years later his worst fear comes true. Dr. Loomis and Nurse Marion Chambers, while driving up to the Sanitarium, discover the patients walking around outside in the storm and that Michael Myers has escaped from the institute. Proclaiming that "the evil is gone from here!", Dr. Loomis knowing the true nature of Michael Myers anticipates he will return "home" to Haddonfield to continue his murderous rampage.
No one believes Dr. Loomis's story that Michael would be able to return home, so Loomis heads to Haddonfield by himself to try and stop him. Meanwhile, Michael back in Haddonfield is one step ahead of Dr. Loomis and has already begun stalking a group of friends - Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Loomis). Laurie, who is very quiet and observant, knows that something is terribly wrong and that a masked man is stalking her. Lynda and Annie, on the other hand, shrug off Laurie's suspicions and don't realize that they are in serious danger. When night falls Laurie's suspicion's come true as the Shape (Nick Castle) comes out of hiding and systematically murders her friends, leaving her alone to fend for herself and the children she's baby-sitting.
John Carpenter is my favorite director and Halloween ranks as my second favorite of his works, behind The Thing. Halloween is arguably the best slasher film ever made and is a beloved favorite by horror and John Carpenter fans. The film pretty much wrote the book on slashers. The tormented heroin, her friend's would-be murders all are the blue prints by which many films of this kind imitate. However, where others failed John Carpenter succeeded in creating an excellent horror film with interesting characters, great suspense, a fantastic score and brilliant cinematography by Dean Cundey. An excellent point for the film is the characters. Their not the two dimensional cardboard characters that you find in many other slasher films, but rather interesting well acted ones you care about.
Too many slashers don't have any kind of character development and when they are killed in the film you really don't care. This is also a failing in that it hampers what would be suspenseful moments, its much more scary to watch characters you actually care about getting stalked and killed rather than characters you despise because they irritate you beyond belief. Another strong focus point for the characters is their behavior. Laurie is an observer; she sees things that others don't in much the same way Dr. Loomis sees Michael's true nature while others can't accept it. Laurie's friends Lynda and Annie are too focused in their own lives and are oblivious to the things that happen around them. This is an excellent character study and it's an extra layer to the film worth contemplating and exploring.
Speaking of actors, Halloween, for an independent film, has some fine acting. Halloween was the movie debut of Jamie Lee Curtis, after which she would go on to star in several other horror films and attain the title "Scream Queen". The film also features one of my favorite actors - Donald Pleasance. Pleasance plays the role perfectly and authentically. The scenes where he explains Michael's evil nature to Sheriff Bracket (the one in the Myer's House in particular) are mesmerizing and convincing. Donald Pleasance gives Dr. Loomis a genuine fear of the prospect of what Michael Myers really is. That scene is an excellent dialogue scene and another aspect of Halloween that sets it apart from many other films of this kind. How many slashers can you name that have had dialogue scenes of the same caliber as the one mentioned?
As I've already mentioned, the cinematography by Dean Cundey is excellent with some great-composed shots. Take for instance the scene after Laurie discovers her friends murdered and runs into the hallway. After which Michael's mask emerges from the shadows behind Laurie and attacks her; that's a beautiful shot and one of the best moments of the film. Don't even bother watching this film pan & scan. As always, the process of cropping a film to fill the TV screen destroys a film's cinematography, and in the case of Halloween virtually half of the picture information is cut off at the sides. The scene I'm talking about is completely ruined, as the focus is on Laurie and Michael's face emerging from the shadows is completely out of the frame!
Last but not the least of Halloween's bright spots is John Carpenter's musical score. John Carpenter composed the entire score in three days. It's rather simplistic, but extremely effective, the rhythm and pacing is excellent and really adds to the suspense of the film particularly the scenes where Michael is chasing Laurie in the house and then outside across the street. Indeed the score to Halloween is one of the most memorable and intricate parts of the film and it would not be as effective a film without it.
Okay, hereís where it gets a little complicated. First, some history. Halloween was originally released by Anchor Bay in 1997 with an absolutely dreadful pan and scan master. Enough about that. The company rebounded with the much loved Halloween: Limited Edition, which was digitally remastered, 2.35:1 and anamorphic. Released in 1999, this was one of the first really big cries of superiority for the DVD format over the competing LaserDisc. Then came the 25th anniversary four years later in 2003. With transfer techniques much improved since the 1999 release, and with the new ďDivimaxĒ banner attached, this new release certainly promised an even better upgrade. While there was no question about the improvement in sharpness, detail and cleanliness, there was a major issue that sent fans into uproar. The disc was color timed much different than the previous disc and original theatrical presentations. Those moody blues during the night scenes were now muted greys. Dean Cundeyís colorful style was restrained, and even with all the clarity enhancements, fans greatly preferred the 1999 pressing.
So now, here we are another five years after the 25th anniversary debacle, and the question must now be asked: Which transfer did they use for the Blu-ray? The answer: neither. Most of the time it's the Divimax, but as you can see in the single of Laurie, they've gone in to fix the timing in a few problematic situations. It no longer looks spring green outside, it's now the proper yellow autumn. The blues still aren't there for a couple key sequences, but before the uproar commences, Iíve got to sayÖI actually prefer the Blu-ray coloring. Sure, there are times when I wish things were just a bit more blue, particularly The Shapeís siege on Laurie in the kitchen, but there are more times when it either looks too blue, like in the famous shot of Michael emerging from the shadows of the 2.35:1 frame, or more often than not, too green, like in the living room scenes with Laurie or with Lynda and her boyfriend. Flesh tones seem a little too red in the 1999 transfer, too. It might not be perfect, but the Blu-ray transfer is all scenes taken into account, the superior presentation of the film. If you even look at the scene at the Myers home with Sheriff Brackett and Loomis, itís the Blu-ray that comes even bluer than the 1999 edition. If you weigh it scene by scene, the controversial Divimax transfer is in fact the superior in terms of color.
Thatís not all, though. This new Blu-ray disc is even more crisp than the Divimax edition Ė significantly so. That ďpopĒ effect is regularly visible, itís pretty amazing how sharp everything is. So much more of the peripheral text can be read, like the fine print on the matches that Loomis finds, or the writing on the comics Laurie lifts up. I have seen this film more than almost any other, and even still I found myself seeing many scenes anew. In the scene where Michael drives his car past the girls, you can actually see his face in clear detail, where in the others it was only a blurry implication. Thatís what high definition is all about!
The other big improvement is in contrast depth. The cinematography in the film plays very much on shadows and the subtlety of light. The frame is always riddled with objects cast in the faintest of light, that until Blu-ray were not visible. Put simply: the mise-en-scene comes alive once more in this new transfer. Perhaps the most telling image is when Michael emerges from the aforementioned scope shadows. On both DVD versions he cannot be seen at all until a few seconds later. On the Blu-ray disc, though, that subtle entrance is finally as it should look on film. The pictures below show this significant difference in exposure depth.
This is a fantastic restoration, on all accounts, although it must be noted that it is not perfect. More precisely, the materials just arenít perfect. Thereís still a significant amount of grain that makes itself very visible in the night sequences. Itís not The Texas Chain Saw Massacre grainy, but Cundey and co. were no doubt using a faster stock at night, and that extra grain makes itself very apparent in this Blu-ray transfer. Still, whatís a little grain, right? Thatís what film is all about. If youíve seen Halloween before, trust me, seeing it in Blu is like seeing it again for the first time. Beautiful.
Like the other Anchor Bay Blu-ray discs, Halloween is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, PCM Lossless 5.1 and the original mono (which is not advertised on the back of the box). This is basically the 5.1 remix that has been on every Halloween disc since the 1999 incarnation, and thatís perfectly fine. The mix itself is not overly enveloping or anything Ė very little from the rears other than some music, and the bass channel only gets a few boosts here and there. Itís mostly a mono mix with a slightly widened sound space, and if you liked it on DVD youíll like it hear. Itís a clean track, with very little hiss and no distortion or drop outs. Itís fairly flat, but so too was the original recording. Nothing to write home about, but probably still better than how it sounded in theaters.
This release retains most, but not all, of the special features from the 25th anniversary disc. While the transfer may not have been preferred, the extras were sure great, with the original Criterion LD audio commentary with Jamie Lee Curtis, John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Even if the group is recorded separately, itís of the high caliber of other Criterion commentaries, although not quite as dry. There are a ton of great facts, including the revelation that Tommy Lee Wallace stood in for the shape during the closet scene, and enjoyable observations, like Jamie Lee saying how her dropping the knife a second time was a bonehead move. Those who grew up with Laserdisc know Ė a Carpenter commentary always delivers, and this ranks right up there with his Kurt Russell commentaries.
The other big extra is the 87-minute ďHalloween: A Cut Above the RestĒ featurette that brings together just about everybody who matters in the film, from the people in front like Jamie Lee, Charles Cyphers and PJ Soles to the people behind, like John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Tommy Lee Wallace. Itís exhaustive in covering all the aspects, from concept to financing to casting to success and to the legacy it has gone on to create. Carpenter even talks about the additional NBC scenes (which are sadly not included on this release). There have been a ton of great documentaries made about Halloween, and this one is another fine addition.
Rounding out the extras from the 25th anniversary DVD release are the TV spots, radio spots and the trailer. Whatís missing? The nice ďOn Location: 25 Years LaterĒ featurette hosted by PJ Soles, which while only seven minutes, proved a nice look at the iconic locations used in the film. The DVD-ROM content is also missing, which included the original screenplay and film inspired screensavers. The talent bios and still galleries are gone too, but you probably wonít miss those too much. Also of note, this doesnít have the alternate extended cut found on the Halloween: Limited Edition DVD, nor does it have that shorter making-of documentary, either.
There is one Blu-ray exclusive, and thatís the ďFast Film FactsĒ pop-up video track. Like with their other Blu releases, this pops up intermittently to present ďdid you knowĒ sort of facts throughout the runtime. Compared to Day of the Dead, the facts come at a much slower clip, and are pretty much old hat to any Halloween fan at this point. Thereís just been too much already said about the film in the various documentaries already released (a full two discs were devoted to just that on the Halloween: 25 Years of Terror set) to warrant this track. Considering most Blus are bare, this has a healthy batch of supplements, but considering all the great extras that didnít make the cut here, it still could have been a lot better.
Halloween is that perennial film to watch every October, but whatís striking is just how good it holds up every other month of the year. Itís a timeless classic with scripting, performances and cinematography so meticulously sculptured that like Michelangeloís David, itís something that physical, political or ideological weathering could ever tarnish. Itís one of the true classics, and Anchor Bayís Blu-ray disc brings it alive once more in HD. The transfer is phenomenal, with so much added detail and range that nearly every scene becomes layered with even more visual complexity. It has to be seen to be believed. The audio is the same as always, which means quality. The supplements have mostly been successfully ported from the 25th Anniversary DVD, and while there are still notable omissions, like the TV cut, itís certainly no slouch. Iíve had my share of Happy Halloweens, but seeing Carpenterís classic anew on Blu-ray has made this the happiest of all.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Nice - I'm going to be watching my new Blu-Ray of this tonight!
damn the Blu-Ray looks good!
Rhett, I gotta say...I agree 150% about the color timing of this transfer. The blu-ray is perfect. I honestly never liked how overly-blue Cundey tweaked the film on the Limited Edition release. (The movie was not actually shot this way. Cundey tweaked it to how he would've liked it to look had he been given a bigger budget.) The blu-ray is like a cross between the Divimax and the original DVD. The first half of the film is more orangey, which I liked a lot better on the original release, but the second half...he went ridiculous with the blue tint. Seems as though on the blu-ray they kept the orangey tint which worked much better, and toned down the blue tint significanly in the second half of the film. (It looks realistic now, not like the blue hue given off by the closet in Poltergeist.) Finally a version of Halloween that looks perfect. Absolutely stunning. Those few extras that are missing...meh. There isn't really anything new you could tell me about the film that I didn't already know. To be honest, I never even watched most of the stuff on the 25th Anniversary set.
Granted, not a term used when talking about films, there is a case here for authorial intention regardless whether we think the Divimax or Blu-Ray prints are superior. I reason that if a director has a vision of how a movie is to be, then who are we to say otherwise.
I have a friend who thinks practically every film should be widescreen. And when I remind him that a director wants it to be full, he'll grumble at first but finally relent and accept the director's vision.
Maybe I'm being a purist here but if Cundey says this is how it's to be with Carpenter's blessing, then that's the Halloween gospel as far as I'm concerned.
Well considering that any movie made pre-1953 was made for fullscreen, yeah it's a pretty good claim to say that films should be shown in their original ratio, not just "widescreen". (You simply CAN'T matte a film made pre-1953 for widescreen without losing VITAL picture information.)
But what I don't like about the Limited Edition release is that Cundey tweaked the colours. The movie NEVER originally looked that way. You can check it on various home video editions made previous to this 1999 remaster. It's like Lucas going back and fiddling with Star Wars (although he did it to a MUCH greater extent), but I didn't like it because it wasn't an accurate representation of how the film looked ORIGINALLY, and the blue tint really makes the movie look fake rather than stylish. He really overdid it, I think. I mean, this isn't Suspiria.
I hear you Matt but what the camera captures in real time is just raw footage until the director does some tweaking of his own, be it editing or changing colors. I feel after a director does his thing, then his finished product is what a purist should consider "the real deal."
On the other hand, using Lucas as an example, it's hard to digest when a film deviates from what we are used to. Lucas had a vision that couldn't be realized in the '70s. Now with modern FX, he had the ability to make those changes which allowed him to realize his dream. Unfortunately, the fan suffers because they were fed a version of Star Wars that has taken a back seat and that stinks. In other words, we are not in synch with Lucas' real vision, but I never said we were all purists.
Now with Halloween, if Carpenter told Cundey that certain scenes had to have the blue tint because that's what he wanted, then I'm all for it. If Carepenter couldn't care less and told Cundey to use his better judgement, then I'd be annoyed. I'd also go for the Halloween without the blue tint because that's what Carpenter wanted at the time. I guess one could go either way in that instance.
Maybe we have to check the audio commentaries and hear what Carpenter has to say about the color tinting. I hope he had something to say.
In the end, I always go with the director's vision, even though I may not like it. I had that problem with Amadeus when I bought the director's cut. It kind of through me off but eventually I'll grow to like it.
the image quality on this is amazing. Halloween will never look much better. It's pretty amazing. Especially for a 30 year old movie.
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