Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Limited Collector's Edition DVD
Anchor Bay, THX, widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, pan&scan, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], Dolby Surround & Digital Mono, subtitles: none, 2-disc set, theatrical version: single side-dual layer, TV version: single side-single layer, 56 chapters, rated R, 92 min., $44.98, street date 9/14/99.
Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards.
Fifteen years ago, Michael Myers brutally massacred his sister. Now, after escaping from a mental hospital, he’s back to relive his grisly crime again, and again...and again.
This is Halloween like you’ve never seen or heard it before!
Halloween has been fully restored under the supervision of Lucasfilm’s THX Digital Mastering Services. The video was transferred by the award-winning colorist Adam Adams (Terminator 2, Titanic) from a new 35mm interpositive (mode from the original camera negative) and approved by the film’s cinematographer Dean Cundey (Jurassic Park, Who Framed Roger Rabbit). The new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was created by Chace Productions in association with Alan Howarth using the original 16-track music studio master and the recently discovered original 35mm magnetic dialogue and effects tracks.
Here's a question for you: would we still have witnessed the explosion of "slasher" movies during the late 1970s and early 1980s if 1978's Halloween never existed? Methinks not. While that creates a muddled legacy for the film - for every good horror movie of that time, there were about ten terrible ones (including the sequels to Halloween) - the high quality of that effort cannot be disputed: more than 20 years later, Halloween remains one of the all-time great horror films.
This film is a textbook study in how to make an effective slasher thriller. It makes mostly all of the right moves. It starts out slowly, builds with a number of well-timed scares, and ends with a truly climatic showdown. Actually, it has a BUNCH of climactic showdowns, since villain Michael Myers foreshadowed the Energizer bunny by a number of years with his refusal to stay dead. That's one of the many soon-to-be conventions of the genre that appear in Halloween. The unstoppable killer, the virginal heroine, the multiple endings - you name it, it's here. One difference is that these weren't cliches where they were featured here.
Another contrast between Halloween and most of the subsequent films in the genre is the style and panache that John Carpenter's direction brought to it. He moves the film along effectively and tries not to waste the viewer's time; there's just enough exposition to set the stage, but not too much to bog down the audience. I also really liked the way that he used the camera and the full width of the widescreen frame. Carpenter tends to keep the camera at something of a distance from its subjects, and he also frequently uses steadicam; these two factors combine to give the film an effective "voyeuristic" feel, like we're viewing these events ourselves from a slightly-removed vantagepoint.
Also excellent is Carpenter's minimalist score. All we hear throughout the film is very simple piano with some synthesizer intermixed. It probably SHOULDN'T work, but it does - big time! Carpenter's eerie piano ranks up there with the shrieking violins of Psycho as some of the all-time best horror movie music.
The acting in Halloween is a cut above that usually found in horror movies, but that isn't saying much. Jamie Lee Curtis easily outshines the rest of the cast. Her turn as heroine Laurie Strode is very simple, natural and honest, with none of the annoying histrionics one frequently encounters in this kind of role.
As foreboding psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis, Donald Pleasence is pretty good, but I think he's hampered by some of the corny lines he has to speak ("The evil is gone!"). Also, his character really doesn't do much; he's largely there for expository reasons, and Pleasence makes do the best he can.
Both P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis, as Curtis' slutty teenage friends, round out the main cast, and they do so with rather unspectacular performances. Loomis is rather wooden and artificial, while Soles errs on the opposite end of the spectrum; she plays her role with too much energy and exuberance. I wonder if perhaps these parts were played somewhat poorly on purpose, since the artificiality of these characters contrasts so strongly with the down-to-earth nature of Laurie. Whether intentional or not, I didn't find that the somewhat substandard acting harmed the film.
Something that DID apparently harm Halloween was its initial release on DVD. This edition is not Anchor Bay's first go-round with the film; they produced a previous edition back in 1997. I never saw that DVD, but I've heard uniformly bad comments about it. It apparently looked and sounded horrible, and generally was ranked as one of the lowest quality DVDs ever produced.
That definitely is not the case with Anchor Bay's reissue of Halloween. This new DVD presents the film in both full-frame and widescreen versions. The latter reproduces the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Both versions are available on one side of this dual-layered DVD; you select which ratio you prefer when the DVD starts. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was watched.
All in all, Halloween looks fantastic; it's difficult to believe that this film is more than 20 years old, and it boasted it tiny budget to boot! It stands up well when compared to movies from recent years. The image is very sharp, even though it frequently uses somewhat distant shots that occur in low light situations; both of those circumstances could easily affect the resolution. Overall, it's also a surprisingly clean image. I saw no evidence of grain, and very few print flaws; we get a speckle here and there, and one nasty hair that pops up at the bottom of the screen toward the end of the film, but that's it. I also did not discern any digital artifacts.
Although Halloween is a film with fairly muted colors, the hues we do see look positively vibrant; this DVD nicely reproduces the movie's original image, including some nicely defined black levels. Which brings me to the DVD's two main flaws. First, the movie often seems too dark. I don't think this is a fault of the DVD; I believe it's simply an aspect of the original production. Whether this was intentional or resulted from the picture's low budget, I don't know, but I DO know that I felt I had to struggle to make out aspects of the image too frequently.
Nonetheless, the relatively dark image is a minor complaint. More significant in my opinion is the pronounced moiré effect that frequently occurs. Lots of areas of the image shimmer throughout Halloween, from the typical blinds to cars and even the pavement itself! Though this effect bothered me, your mileage may vary; the shimmering probably resulted from the DVD's 16X9 downconversion. As such, folks with 16X9 TVs - or with DVD players that handle the downconversion better than my Panasonic does - may not see the edginess that I witnessed. Nonetheless, I can only report what I actually saw, and I found the shimmering to be some of the most severe I've seen in some time. Despite that occasional flaw, I found the picture of Halloween to be terrifically good; only those moiré effects kept it from "A" level.
Equally good is the newly-created Dolby Digital 5.1 mix found on the Halloween DVD. In the past, I went on record as not much caring for these; they usually came across as glorified Pro Logic mixes and added very little. However, some new releases like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Halloween are starting to change my mind.
The amazing thing about this soundtrack is that it comes from an inexpensive mono mix! While it doesn't match up to the audio from recent movies, this 5.1 track is an astonishing achievement when one considers the film's inauspicious origins. Directionality between channels in somewhat limited, but the right and left front speakers both offer a fair amount of effects activity, plus some occasional dialogue. The rear channels don't feature too many effects, but what they do give us usually works well; this DVD's "demo" moment comes during a thunderstorm in chapter 3, a moment when the sound genuinely heightens the tension in the scene. The only flaw I discovered in regard to the use of the surrounds comes during some of the outdoor daytime scenes; the rear left speaker plays sounds that seem to try to replicate birds chirping and sprinklers... uh... SPRINKLING, but the end result mainly sounds like tape hiss - I had to closely attend to that channel to discover the true nature of the audio.
Overall, I found the actual quality of the audio to also be surprisingly strong. A Nightmare On Elm Street made good use of the directionality of 5.1, but the sound itself still revealed the track's mono, low-budget origins. That's generally not the case for Halloween. At times the effects sound a little flat and artificial, but they do avoid the harshness and the tinny quality that frequently accompany these inexpensive efforts. Dialogue varies throughout the film; it generally sounds reasonably warm and natural, but it occasionally betrays some flatness. Carpenter's terrific score comes across wonderfully, though; it always sounds vibrant and musical, and it really helps make the film work.
(By the way, in addition to this fine new 5.1 mix, the DVD also offers the original mono track and a Dolby Pro Logic edition as well. The latter seems somewhat superfluous, but I'm sure it's appreciated by folks who don't have Dolby Digital receivers and who don't like 5.1 downmixes. At the very least, it provides them an option they usually don't have, and I thought it was a considerate touch.)
Anchor Bay's Halloween features a few nice extras. Most significant here is "Halloween Unmasked 2000", a pretty good 26-minute documentary about the film that was produced recently. It features new interviews with all of the principals (except for the late Pleasence) intermixed with clips from the film and vintage stills and footage. I enjoyed this production, although I wish it had been longer and more detailed. It's a nice overview of the process of making the film, but it could have provided many more specifics. Still, it's a solid program, and probably one I'll rewatch a few times in the future.
Interestingly, I thought the second most interesting supplement on this DVD was its cast and crew biographies. These are a staple of DVDs and they're usually minimally worthwhile at best. However, Anchor Bay incorporated a lot of entertaining information in their bios of four crew members and three actors; in addition to the usual career info, we get some interesting anecdotes and personal facts. These are quite possibly the best DVD biographies I've yet seen. If you usually skip them, make sure you check these out.
The Halloween DVD also includes a bunch of promotional material. In the visual department, we get two trailers (original theatrical and re-release theatrical) and three TV spots (all of which seem to be tied to the re-release). The original trailer's decent, though a little dull. The re-release trailer simply shows the original trailer in its entirety; it adds a slightly different voice-over and a card at the start that reads "The One, The Only, The Classic." All three of the TV spots (two 30 second ads and one 10 second bit) simply offer edited versions of the original trailer. As such, if you watch the original trailer, you've seen everything; the other four clips offer nothing different.
We also hear three radio ads. These are mildly interesting, but nothing special. The same holds true for the extensive still archives. I've never been a big fan of these, but those on Halloween are pretty well produced. One section features about 60 publicity stills and promotional materials, while the other shows approximately 100 "behind the scenes" shots. They're worth a look; even if you don't care for them, they won't take you long to watch them.
Anchor Bay has released two separate editions of Halloween (not counting the much-maligned 1997 version). There's a "Collector's Edition" and a "Limited Collector's Edition". What's the difference between the two? Well, the latter is supposedly a limited edition, as implied by its name; it supposedly had a press run of about 40,000 copies, and each package is individually numbered. (I'm # 2881! Hooray for me!) The Limited Collector's Edition lists for $44.95, while the Collector's Edition features an MSRP of $29.95.
The content of the two sets differs. The Limited Edition contains a second DVD that offers the "Television" version of Halloween. This edit offers the same film as the original cut except it includes about eleven minutes of additional footage that was shot during the production of Halloween II; that material was created to extend the length of the film for TV broadcast, which is why it has that name.
Since it didn't cost me too much through Reel, I decided to get the Limited Collector's Edition. While I'm glad I got it, I can't really espouse it above the regular Collector's Edition. The additional footage is mildly interesting at best; it offers very little useful information and feels like the padding that it essentially is.
Despite that, I'd probably watch the TV version instead of the original except for one major difference: the original cut offers MUCH higher audio quality! The TV edition only features mono sound. This decision makes no sense to me. They created this terrific 5.1 mix; why not include in for both versions? Even if the extra scenes could only be reproduced in mono, so what? At least make the rest of it sound as good as possible! Actually, the ideal solution would have been to offer a "branching" option whereby both versions would be contained on the same DVD and the viewer could select which he wanted to watch. As it stands now, I keep the TV cut in my collection as a curiosity; I KNOW I'll never watch it from start to finish, unlike the original cut.
One historical footnote in regard to the TV cut: despite its name, this version has NOT been edited or censored for television. It truly offers the complete original cut of Halloween with these eleven extra minutes simply inserted into it, and it's shown in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Interestingly, this is the first time the extra footage has been offered in the widescreen format. Its only previous appearance was on Criterion's 1994 laserdisc edition, but at that time, it was believed that only 1.33:1 versions of the additional footage existed. In the meantime, the widescreen shots were found, and here they are! Overall, they look decent but not nearly as good as the rest of the film; they seem somewhat fuzzy and the colors appear oversaturated. Still, they don't stand out to any extreme; the additional footage blends in fairly well.
To the best of my knowledge, the extra DVD with the additional material makes for the only difference between the two editions. From what I understand, the basic Collector's Edition DVD will include all of the supplements I mentioned and will offer the same transfer of the movie; it just won't have the extended version of the film.
In my book, the basic Collector's Edition is probably the way to go. Of course, by the time you read this, it may be a moot point; you may no longer be able to locate a copy of the Limited Edition. Anyway, unless you really want that TV cut, I think you're better off with the less expensive version; in my opinion, the Limited Edition offers very little for the extra money.
The Limited Collector's Edition contains no booklet with information about the film. Instead, we get two cards, each of which list the chapters for the individual DVDs. Happily, the card for the TV cut highlights the chapters that feature the extra footage. (The "chapter search" option on the DVD itself does the same.) Also, the package includes a postcard that shows a behind the scenes still from the production. It appears that there is more than one still used for these postcards; mine shows Donald Pleasence and the actress who plays a nurse at the start of the film, but another reviewer stated that his shows the actor who plays Michael. I don't know if these postcards will also be available in the basic Collector's Edition.
In any case, Halloween is definitely a DVD that should belong in the collection of anyone who even remotely considers themselves a fan of horror films. Anchor Bay really shot themselves in the foot with their infamously bad 1997 DVD release of the film, but they seem to have largely redeemed themselves with this new version. It's extremely doubtful that Halloween has ever looked better, and it DEFINITELY sounds better than ever! Add in a few decent supplements and you have a DVD that I recommend to any fans of the horror genre.
Current as of 10/1/99
Official Site--What a bloody awesome site! The amount of contents for the entire series are mind-boggling and will take many hours just to skimp through. There are also plenty of freebies, such as screensavers and wallpapers. Highly recommended!!