Halloween – 35th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Halloween-35th-AnniversaryAnchor Bay has released John Carpenter’s Halloween a lot of times.  Each time they manage to successfully add just one ounce of something different that the fan just HAS to dip in again.  Personally, I’ve owned this film countless times, as it’s my favorite film.  I remember when Anchor Bay released a two VHS tape version.  Both the tapes on that set where bright orange too.  One time, they even released a version with the TV scenes inserted into the actual theatrical version of the film.  Needless to say, Anchor Bay has had their fun with Halloween.  This time, they are releasing their second Blu-ray iteration of it in time for the film’s 35th anniversary.  So, is this like a Warner Bros deal where the same transfer and/or disc just gets swapped into a new box or just a bonus feature or two gets added?  Nope, they’ve listened to the fanboy complaints about color timing and remastered the film for a new transfer.  This time, they are determined to give you the original look and feel of the film.  And who best to do that than the film’s cinematographer Dean Cundey.  So, is this worth your double dipping?  Is the image THAT much of a difference?  Read on, and you’ll see!

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On a dark Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers stabbed his sister Judith to death in Haddonfield, Illinois.  He was institutionalized and put under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis.  Loomis found the boy to be something worse than just mentally unstable or confused.  No, he believed Michael to be the incarnate of evil and that he should be locked away forever.

Fifteen years later, on the night prior to his appeal, Dr. Loomis plans on transporting Michael to the court and having him drugged up beyond belief before a judge.  Unfortunately, that night, Michael has broken out of his room and released all the patients from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium.  Stealing Loomis’ car, Michael returns to his home of Haddonfield.  There he takes notice of a young girl, Laurie Strode.  He begins to stalk her and friend Annie Brackett as the babysit across the street from one another on Halloween night.

No matter how many times its been imitated or knocked off, you can never dilute the experience of John Carpenter’s Halloween.  Halloween itself may have taken some cues or been inspired from such films as Black Christmas or Psycho, but it truly is just that; inspired.  No matter how many came later and had some cooler gore effects or more exploitative gags, Halloween was always the king of the slashers.  The film plays as a fantastic measure in suspense to levels of Hitchockian fame.  As a matter of fact, like many a young filmmaker that makes a suspenseful horror film, John Carpenter was dubbed “the next Hitchcock” following this effort.  Also, Carpenter brought a very European flare to the look of Halloween that wasn’t being used in cinema at the time as well.

There are a lot of “uber smarty” people that have analyzed all these “deeper meanings” to the film.  And really, this film is very much surface value.  It is what it truly is.  Carpenter has laughed off such claims that he was trying to preach some sort of morality with the characters and fates they met in the film.  In actuality it was all part of Carpenter trying to catch the characters and the audience off guard.  The man was trying to make a simple and suspenseful film in a vein that hadn’t really been done before.  A lot of the deaths, characters and beats from Halloween would later become exploited in other films and actually become a poster child for those morality issues that Carpenter never intended.  I’ve also seen interpretations where Laurie Strode is battling a woman’s fear of men and rape with this whole thing and it’s just a bit much.  This is a film about a lunatic escaping from an insane asylum stalking and killing people.  That’s really it.

Speaking of Hitchcock, a lot of people feel Psycho is the biggest inspiration for Halloween.  I’m not saying the film isn’t.  There’s a character named Sam Loomis, the daughter of the shower victim is the lead, there’s a man dressed up stabbing people with a big kitchen knife and so on and so on.  But, I honestly believe there’s a film that’s a bigger influence on it.  That film is Strangers On A Train.  The overall feel and creepiness of that film seeps into Halloween.  There are plenty of camera moves and shots that are straight mocks of moments of Strangers On A Train.  Also, the way Hitchock filmed Robert Walker in the film feels very early Michael Myers-y.  Take a look at the films and compare, its quite fun to see all of it come together.

You’ll be hard pressed to find better casting in a slasher movie than we get in square one.  The three girls are actually pretty well developed.  For a lot of this runtime, Nancy Loomis is a pretty big scene stealer as the ornery Annie Brackett.  PJ Soles instantly chews scenery and becomes lovable and quotable within seconds of arriving on screen.  Of course there’s Jamie Lee Curtis who sells fear like no other and is able withstand the constant attacking of Michael Myers.  Donald Pleasance turns in an iconic performance in a role he’d become synonymous with.  His line deliveries are a thing of legend.  Everything that comes from his mouth sounds like some sort of dark poetry.  Because Halloween is based on suspense and not gore and “boo scares”, Pleasance’s Loomis is the character that builds the audience fear of Myers with his dialogue.  As all we’re seeing is Michael standing around houses, we keep hearing how mysterious and evil he is.  Also, rounding out, is Charles Cyphers as Sheriff Brackett who gives a nice and memorable turn himself.

While the kills in the film are largely bloodless, they are highly creative.  These kills were innovative and top dog back in the day.  Remember, this is years before Jason would come on the scene and pull ways to try killing people out of a hat.  The most iconic of the kills being Bob, who gets stabbed up against a wall.  While not very possible it could work out, its cool as hell and Nick Castle sells Michael’s creepiness with just the turn of the head.  This little gesture is something that would be mocked and used over and over again for years to come.

As I’ve mentioned, this is my favorite film.  I easily go on longer than my Friday the 13th with just this one movie.  But, here’s a chunk of some of my rantings/thoughts on the film right here.  And if you want more, you’re in luck as I’ll be going over some stuff extensively on my blog in the month of October.  So if you’re looking for more of me and Halloween, you’re in luck!  Consider this a sneak peek.  But this is a Blu-ray review, so let’s get to the Blu-ray stuff, shall we?

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This is the biggie you all want to know with this release.  The last version looked really good and impressed a lot of people.  While I myself was impressed with its picture, I was aware that the color timing was off.  And, even if fixed, how much better could it look?  Would it even make that big of a stink if something is tinkered a bit?  Surprisingly, Anchor Bay didn’t mess around.  They brought in the film’s iconic cinematographer Dean Cundey to do this thing right.

My oh my, does it make an incredible difference.   The 2:35.1 framed 1080p MPEG-4 AVC picture brings Halloween home like most have never seen before and not like it’s appeared since 1978.  Immediately, you’ll notice it’s readily apparent that there was too much work done on the initial Blu-ray release.  Things are far less warm and digitally corrected.  Instantly with the opening titles we can see a nice glow around the lettering that was “cleaned up” out of the previous incantation.  Also, the pumpkin isn’t a scene stealing striking orange.  It looks…well…REAL.  You can see every blemish and dirt on the thing.  There’s a lot of detail highly noticeable here when you’re not blinded by the pumpkin’s bold orange.

As I said, this thing is nowhere near as warm as the previous version.  The skin tones are down and look a very realistic.  Everything is also a bit sharper now with the colors not dominating.  And people may ask “Brandon, don’t you want the colors to be bold”.  Not here, this is a spooky movie.  And with this color timing, the atmosphere in John Carpenter’s legendary film is even scarier than I could ever remember it.  It becomes a very cold movie.  The look outside and the sky is far more fall and Midwestern looking than before.  Your body can get a sense just what the weather is like out that day with this new transfer.  It’s so good you can almost feel it as if you’re there on the streets of Haddonfield.

Also, this rendition also looks very much in line with the films Dean Cundey shot following Halloween back in the 1980s.  There’s a nice level of gray added to this version but it’s not overbearing at all.  It’s very complimentary.  There’s also the shot of Michael when it’s revealed he’s atop the steps in the Doyle house that just looks far more creepy and menacing than it did before.

I could probably take you on a tour through this whole disc, but I’d rather you see it for yourself.  Retire your old copy, pick this one up.  This film has never looked better than this (I know we could have said it about the last version too, haha).  I’m blown away by what Dean Cundey and Anchor Bay have done, and on paper it doesn’t sound like much, but it makes so much of a difference.  The Night Dean Came Home has truly benefited all of us fans!

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So, not only did they spoil us with an amazing new video transfer, but Anchor Bay goes and spoils us on the audio too.  Halloween is given a Dolby TrueHD 7.1(!!!!) surround track.  Holy hell.  Seven point one.  For Halloween.  This should be a mess right?  WRONG.  Somebody took some damn good care crafting this track.  My only gripe is that some of the lows could have been a bit more impactful, but I can adjust my settings if I’m that pissy.  There are some really really neat things done with the score throughout the speakers here.  This track is fully vamped and programmed to do fun things throughout all 7 channels.  This is by no means half assed.  Did Halloween need this much in the audio department?  No.  But it sure is a great compliment to the film itself.  Also provided is the original mono track.  Unfortunately its not presented in lossless form.  Shame shame.  The 7.1 track enhances the life of this film and captivates you like never before through Michael’s return to Haddonfield.

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All the extras come with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.  This is a nice array of extras to have on the disc and the new commentary is dynamite.  I feel like they could have put some sort of retrospective documentary on this.  There are plenty out there.  Anchor Bay has even made some.  The Halloween: The Inside Story one would have been perfect.  I know plenty of people with interviews and a guy with reels of never before seen footage have offered Anchor Bay the material (most of it free of charge) and they’ve refused.  I don’t know why either.  So, while I think these extras are pretty definitive, I can’t give a perfect score as I know that they had the ability to put more on here.

Audio Commentary With Writer/Director John Carpenter And Actor Jamie Lee Curtis – This all new commentary reunites the director and his star.  The previous commentary was from a laser disc and I’m not sure everyone was in the same room or even doing a commentary for that recording.  While I miss having Debra Hill’s contributions, this new commentary is full of energy and positive vibes as both Carpenter and especially Curtis are excited to relive this time in their lives for 91 minutes.  There’s never a dull moment and Curtis is surprisingly a vault of knowledge.  It’s almost as if she got done shooting yesterday.  Her and Carpenter also have a great comedic back and forth as well.  I was almost ho-hum about this one when it was announced, but it totally took me by surprised and I couldn’t stop listening to it.  CHECK IT OUT

The Night SHE Came Home!! (HD, 59:43) – A short film documenting Jamie Lee Curtis’ first and only ever convention appearance at HorrorHound in Indianapolis in November 2012.  This shows the behind the scenes of her trip and days at the event.  It shows her interaction with fans and that she at no point half asses any of it.  Horror fave and convention director Sean Clark is there to comment on the occasion and seems to take the blunt of most of the stress.  My only qualm…only about a split second of Tom Atkins is shown!  C’mon, now! Haha

On Location: 25 Years Later (SD, 10:25) – A vintage featurette that has Debra Hill and actress PJ Soles talking about the locations they shot at and their status nowadays.  PJ Soles takes her daughter to a few of the locations.  I was so glad something like this is on here as the late Debra Hill was an incredibly big part of this production and Hollywood in general and it would have been a shame if nothing with her presence was on this release.

TV Version Footage (HD, 10:46) – Three scenes that were shot during Halloween II for the network premiere of Halloween.  The edited down version was too short to fill air time, so these scenes were added.  One of the scenes even retcons and adds to a plot twist in Halloween II.  These are pretty fun scenes to have and I’m glad they made the jump from DVD to Blu-ray and got HD treatment.

Trailer (SD, 2:42)

TV Spots – There is no play all function for the 3 TV Spots.

  • TV Spot #1 (SD, :32)
  • TV Spot #2 (SD, :32)
  • TV Spot #3 (SD, :12)

Radio Spots – There is no play all function for the 3 radio spots.

  • Radio Spot #1 (SD, :29)
  • Radio Spot #2 (SD, :27)
  • Radio Spot #3 (SD, :28)

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Halloween still holds up and still manages to produce the suspense and scares today as it did in 1978.  Maybe the most iconic slasher of all time, Michael Myers, looks creepier than he ever has on Anchor Bay’s new Blu-ray transfer.  Sporting the knife slashes at 7.1, he sounds great too.  This release should hold as the definitive release of John Carpenter’s Halloween until a proven better format comes along.  While a retro documentary would’ve been nice, the bonus features here aren’t a slouch.  And I’m betting if you’re a fan or have bought a lot of these, you’ve seen most of everything already or have a copy.  So, things can get nit picky.  You get plenty of new Jamie Lee Curtis material and the commentary is crazy good.  This exercise in suspense and terror was the ultimate film watching experience for me as a child as it kept me on the edge of my seat and frightened the bejeezus out of me.  I was peering out the windows before I went to bed to see if Michael was out there stalking my own neighborhood.  A big thank you to Anchor Bay for once again releasing a version of my favorite film that I’ve seen a zillion times and making it feel like the first time all over again.



5 Responses to “Halloween – 35th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Great review, I can’t wait for this to arrive in the mail.

    And you “Totally” nailed it with that Strangers on a Train call!

  2. Brian White

    Love this review and her’s why!
    Your passion and love for this film is evident as it should be for any horror aficionado.
    But you attention to the detail in the video section is bar none one of the beefiest write-ups I have ever seen.
    Great review!
    I can’t wait for you to bring this down when you visit so I can see the magic of Halloween as it is supposed to be seen!

  3. Laney

    I watched it (thanks to you)! It wasn’t blu-ray, but I still managed to enjoy it. Well… you’ll see 🙂

  4. Eric Flapjack Ashley

    It is really disappointing and baffling that Anchor Bay rereleases their movies so often, but rarely carry over all the featurettes and stuff from previous versions. This is a great disc, but I would have loved to see the documentary from the previous Blu-ray on it.

    I thought the commentary was great, and the documentary of Jamie Lee Curtis coming to Indianapolis was outstanding. She really does love her fans and treats them great.

  5. Brandon Peters

    I get what you’re saying Eric. But I’m not too big on bonus material nowadays. Once I’ve watched them I rarely find myself the time to revisit them. Keeping commentaries I think is important though. The documentary on the previous release was ok, but there was a much much better one in the form of “Halloween: The Inside Story” that aired on A&E many moons ago. Also, there’s a DVD release called “Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror” covering the whole original canon that Anchor Bay put out as well which feels like a demo reel for what would later be masterpieces like “Crystal Lake Memories” and “Never Sleep Again”.

    What I was looking for in this release was a pristine video transfer akin to the original print, and that’s what we got. So I was more than happy with it.

    Thankfully you’re just pining for ported over material, not wanting “NEW” stuff…to which I’ve always argued on forums…”What more can these people say on this film that they’ve been talking about for 35 years now?”