Monday, September 23, 2013

Blu-ray Review: HALLOWEEN (1978) 35th Anniversary Edition

HALLOWEEN (1978)
35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray

Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 92 minutes
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1. Original Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles 
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis
Director: John Carpenter

Synopsis: In 1978, Compass International Pictures released an indie horror film by an up and coming director and a largely unknown cast. Presented by the late Moustapha Akkad, the film cost $325,000 and ended up not only becoming one of the most successful independent motion pictures of its time, but single handedly created the genre of the modern horror film along with the first iconic (via a painted-over William Shatner mask) cinematic slasher!

The idea is simplicity itself, why no one thought to make Halloween-themed slasher before John Carpenter did in 1978 is actually a bit odd now that I think about it. Sure, Bob Clark's xmas proto-slasher Black Christmas (1974) might have begun the holiday-themed deathride a few years earlier, but Carpenter nailed Halloween first and best, period.

Halloween (1978) as if you didn't already know, for fuck's sake I hope you know, concerns a young man named Michael Myers whom one Halloween night 1963 just up and snapped, he put on a clown mask and slashed his promiscuous teen sister to death with a butcher knife, afterward he is sent away to Smith's Grove Sanitarium where he remains for 15 years, until he escapes, returning to the Haddonfield, Illinois to murder again... and again. 

His psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance, Cul-De-Sac) knows just where Myers is headed, but when he warns the local Haddonfield police they don't seem overly concerned about the dead-eyed murderer coming to town, and just in time for Halloween, too. 

Local teen Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, Terror Train) is babysitting young Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews, Angel Dusted) while across the street her friend Annie (Nancy Kyes, The Fog) babysits Lindsey (Kyle Richards, The Watcher in the Woods), but when Annie takes off to pick-up her boyfriend Paul she drops the young girl off with Laurie, setting up one of the most unforgettable slasher classics of all time. 

John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is a superb, tightly-knit chiller with a cold, motiveless killer and a group of likable Mid West teens who for whatever reason are caught up in a fateful night of murder, and the kills while mostly bloodless are just as effective and brutal even after countless watches. Jamie Lee Curtis is great as the naive good girl, she pretty much set the gold standard for the final girl in slasher films for the next twenty years, her piercing screams are unforgettable. Of course, every good girl has to have a few promiscuous friends, enter P.J. Soles (Animal House) as the sex-loving Lynda, who quips "totally" in the cutest way ever, her death scene is a bogeyman classic, and when her boyfriend Bob's demise is perfectly executed and brutal. The body count here is not the stuff of legend but their impact is devastating, you actually care for these characters quite a bit. My favorite death has always been Annie, she jumps in her car to pick-up her boyfriend when she realizes something odd about the windshield, there's condensation on the inside, just as she realizes she might not be alone... too late, a classic death.

Carpenter originally wanted Hammer icon Christopher Lee (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) or Peter Cushing (Horror Express) for the role of Dr. Loomis but instead ended-up with Donald Pleasance whom already had a storied career including memorable appearances in Roman Polanski's Cul-De-Sac (1966), Raw Meat (1973) and the Amicus horror anthology From Beyond the Grave (1974) but this is the role that would cement his place forever in the annals of horror cinema, even if his performance in a few the later sequels bordered overwrought parody, in Halloween (1978) he was pure perfection showing concern, frustration and anxiety in just the right amounts. 

Even after 35 years John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is a perfectly scary watch, it's a tense, atmospheric suburban-nightmare, a group of teens versus a killer with no discernible motive, he's a shape, the shape of evil and he's coming to your town and there's very little you can do to stop him. Damn, when I saw this on TV as a kid trick or treating on Halloween night was just scarier, I would see that white mask emerging form every damn shadow on the street, it really affected me and while I'm a bit old for trick or treating and I don't see Myers peering at me from the shadows anymore Halloween is still the best damned slasher ever made.

Blu-ray: For this 35th Anniversary Edition of John Carpenter's seminal slasher classic Anchor Bay went back to the vault and creating an brand-new HD transfer supervised by the film’s original cinematographer, the Prince of Darkness himself, Dean Cundey and what we get is quite a step-up from the previous Anchor Bay Blu-ray I am pleased to report. There's a nice fine layer of film grain present throughout, no grain-scrubbing here, we get a crisp image with a pleasing amount of fine detail, it's wonderful. The brightness had been toned down quite a bit, the previous Blu suffered a bit with brightness boosting and hot skin tones, this is a more natural and pleasing image, fans are gonna be thrilled by the new transfer. 

Audio options include a newly minted Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and the Original Mono with Optional Spanish and English SDH Subtitles, and like the transfer it's quite nice beginning with John Carpenter's iconic score, it's one of the most recognizable pieces of film music with good reason, the chilling piano and the deep throb of the low-end, it's a thing of beauty, the Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" has never sounded better. Score, dialogue and effects come through clean, well-balanced and with nice clarity, the 7.1 definitely adds some atmosphere and depth to the proceedings, I far prefer it to the original mono, so I am not an absolute purist in the audio department, I do enjoy a decent surround remix and I think this one's done very well. 

Fantastic transfer and engaging 7.1 aside let's have a look at what the 35th is packing in terms of extras beginning with a brand new audio commentary with writer/director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis, not a lot of new revelations here but it's great to hear these two sit down and watch/discuss the film. 

 “The Night She Came Home” (59:43) is a new featurette with Jamie Lee Curtis detailing her one and only horror convention appearance to help support her charity causes, it's a fun watch as we see the fans line-up and pour on the love for Curtis while she shows much love and respect for fans of the film. I do recall hearing about this convention appearance a few months back and there was some negative buzz about the prices she was charging for photo ops and this answered a lot of those criticisms for me. It pretty much covers every facet of her appearance from pre-arrival to post-convention, going into this I was bummed it wasn't a new doc about the film but I was thoroughly  entertained

Anchor Bay dig up a vintage featurette with On Location: 25 Years Later (10:25), a narrated extra revisiting the South Pasadena locations with contributions from producer Debra Hill and actress P.J. Soles, it's sorta a mini-making of doc that also touches on the casting and genesis of the film. 

Not sure how I've avoided seeing the TV Version of the film for so long but included on the disc are the Additional Scenes from TV Version (10:46) which was an interesting watch having never seen 'em, but I was also a bit disappointed that the 35th Anniversary Edition did not offer he TV Version as a branching option instead of separate from the film, not that they're all that fantastic but just something for the fans, a more definitive edition. 

The last of the extras on the disc are a selection of trailers, TV spots and radio spots, love me some radio spots and pleased they included them here. Onto the packaging this limited edition release comes in Digibook-styled case with foil lettering and new artwork from artist Jay Shaw, it also features a 20-page essay with writing on the film by film historian Stef Hutchinson, there's some great behind-the-scenes photographs, it's a good read. Love how when you open the cover the first image you see is the iconic theatrical artwork, something I didn't love so much is the way the disc slips into cardboard envelope on the inside back cover of the Digibook, not a fan of slip-ins, much prefer snap-ons, but that's just a personal preference. 

It's no surprise to me, considering just how many different editions of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead Trilogy and Halloween (1978) Anchor Bay have released through the years, that they have chosen not port over every extra for the 35th Anniversary Edition... not surprised but maybe slightly disappointed. Would have loved to see a definitive version of the film with the previous John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Debra Hill commentary, a branching version that includes the TV footage, the fact track and the Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest documentary. Groaning aside, it's still a damn fine edition and there's always the 40th anniversary, don't think for a moment that's not in the works already. 

Special Features:

- All-new commentary track with writer/director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis
- “The Night She Came Home” new featurette with Jamie Lee Curtis (59:43) 

- On Location: 25 Years Later (10:25) 
- Trailer (2:42) 
- TV Spot 1 (0:32)
- TV Spot 2 (0:32)
- TV Spot 3 (0:12)
- Radio Spot 1 (0:29)
- Radio Spot 2 (0:27)
- Radio Spot  3 (0:28) 
- Additional Scenes from TV Version (10:46)

Verdict: Sure, I might bemoan the fact that this is not the one-stop definitive edition of the film I would have hoped for with my laundry list of extras but make no mistake about it, Anchor Bay's 35th Anniversary Blu-ray of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is a thing of chilling beauty with the best transfer yet and a wonderful audio presentation with some great extras, Halloween is the seminal slasher, the one that all others pale in comparison to, and while plenty of fun, tit-riddled slashers came after it none have unmasked it. 5 Outta 5 



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