Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
DVD - Image B- Sound A Extras A
4K UHD - Image A- Sound A- Extras A-
starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles
screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill
directed by John Carpenter
by Walter Chaw As tempting as it is to write the umpteenth dissertation on the importance and brilliance of John Carpenter's Halloween, it's almost enough to say that there is very possibly no other seminal Seventies film--not The Godfather, not Star Wars, perhaps not even Jaws--that has had a greater influence on popular culture. It's a movie about a fishbowl that exists now only in a fishbowl, a picture so examined that its sadistic ability to maintain an atmosphere of horrified anticipation is consumed by the intellectualization of its hedonism=death equation. A screening with fresh eyes reveals a picture and a filmmaker owing incalculable debts to Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks.
Having already aped Hawks's Rio Bravo with the in-ascendance Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter makes reference to the great director in Halloween's spacious tableaux and canny utilization of depth of field, as well as directly in an oft-glimpsed late show revival of The Thing from Another World, a film he would, of course, remake four years later. Hitchock-ily speaking, the picture's prologue murder, borrowing the killer-child's POV shots from Bob Clark's under-credited Black Christmas, owes to Psycho the fast-edited shower attack, while the character of vein-popping psychiatrist Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) owes that movie's beefcake lover his name. Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis is, of course, Janet Leigh's daughter, and her character, naïve babysitter Laurie Strode, answers a phone in her employer's house the same way as a housekeeper in Rear Window. Film buffery aside (and Carpenter is unofficially among the first wave of film-brat filmmakers in the United States), Halloween works because it understands Hitchcock's idea of suspense: The first two-thirds of the picture essentially character development and set-up, and the last third a continuous pay-off.
Laurie isn't so much the prototypical virgin of psychosexual slasher operas to follow as she is just generally ignorant about the harshness of life. In a way, Halloween can be read with most profit as a coming-of-age fantasy--a Little Red Riding Hood fable, a story of course with decidedly overt sexual elements, where the Big Bad Wolf is an indestructible archetype of entropy rather than just a statement of the bestial nature of sexuality. Notice that in Halloween, the victims of the boogeyman are the ones who stray, literally, from the safety of the "path" as Laurie strides, again literally, the straight and narrow. The moment that Laurie crosses the street, in effect bisecting the safe passage, is also the moment she becomes viable prey.
The power of Halloween, aside from Carpenter's brilliant use of Panaglide tracks and push-ins and gift for packing the fore- and backgrounds with information, lies in the clarity with which these occasionally wayward teens care for children and one another. With the element of empathy the very thing that distinguishes the best of Carpenter (The Fog, The Thing) from the worst (Vampires, Ghosts of Mars), Halloween is at some level about sacrifice and love. Even histrionically-prone shrink Loomis is something of a disillusioned father figure, the delight he exhibits in scaring a few kids away from the killer's home a complicated gesture that speaks at once of paternal concern and prurient delight. At its heart, the same warring instincts define the film proper, which, for all the babysitting lives claimed by the mad-dog killer, dedicatedly spares the lives of its youngest charges, often as a direct result of the selfless actions of the teen protagonists. Halloween cares about the cult of childhood, and that, above possibly anything else, is reason enough that the picture is an enduring modern masterpiece.
Anchor Bay, an outfit I praise effusively and without reservation for their dedication to the preservation and restoration of important genre films, has dropped the ball with their 25th Anniversary Divimax edition of Halloween. Cinematographer Dean Cundey's colour filters have been messed with, rendering the picture ludicrously bright at the expense of any real believability that it takes place near the time of the titular season. The frustration of the video presentation is that it's married to the long-coveted Criterion LaserDisc commentary track featuring producer Debra Hill, Carpenter, and Curtis; in a perfect world, this yakker would attend the format's previous, Cundey-approved transfer of Halloween. The world is, alas, a flyblown mistress, and the best extras for this seminal offering come with a video transfer that's far from the worst, and also sadly far from faithful. All things being equal, though, it's better to see this picture in its 2.35:1 glory with 16x9 enhancement (see also: MGM's Special Edition of The Fog, Cundey's amazing work rendered with more faithfulness therein). There's more information at the peripherals and foreground in Carpenter/Cundey's worst than in the best of most--thank Hawks's influence for that, despite Hawks's own aversion to widescreen. Here's a movie not conducive to panning-and-scanning.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix doesn't sound any different from the last couple of iterations to these weary ears. Dialogue is crisp and Carpenter's excellent score is rendered with fidelity from every channel. Most impressive is the use of surround and rear channel effects--dare you not to jump at least once to a cunning atmospheric creeping up from behind. The abovementioned feature-length yakker is informative and good natured, with Hill providing the bulk of the "meat" and Carpenter the fluffier potatoes--which is not to say that he doesn't impart neat information ("This is where PJ Soles trips on the dolly track...right...there"), just that he seems more convivial than Hill. Hill also irritates with her early assertion, never corrected, that Michael Myers's soon-to-be dead sister is the only girl topless in the flick--I'm no expert, having only seen the film a few dozen times, but I could swear that Soles displays her wares, and conspicuously to boot.
A second platter reveals an 87-minute documentary, Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest, that will be mostly second nature for a fanboy, but is arranged and presented in such a way as to make it indispensable for the neophyte while still serving as a nice reference for the scholar. It's probably unavoidable, for the breadth of both, that a lot of the information is duplicated in the commentary. (The treasure of the piece for me, as you might imagine by now, are the bits with Cundey.) A 10-minute "On Location, 25 Years Later" is a factory-fresh featurette featuring "then and now" shots of the picture's locations with commentary by Hill and Soles (all of it superfluous, if you ask me); a shoddy-looking 1.85:1 theatrical trailer; two 1.33:1 television spots; two brief radio spots; a DVD-ROM interface through which you can access the script and screen savers; and an exhaustive promotional art/stills gallery make up the requisite portion of the extras.
Additionally, Anchor Bay's wonderful bio-writers chime in on the careers of Curtis, Carpenter, and Donald Pleasence. If you skip the bios on other discs, and for good reason, don't make that mistake on any of Anchor Bay's product--you'd be missing out. Packaged in a standard-width, two-tray keepcase, the Divimax Halloween: 25th Anniversary Edition (the term "Divimax" referring to a process of HiDef premastering) is thisclose to being the definitive home video version. Unfortunately, for the inexplicable mucking about with Cundey's timing, that crown still goes to the Criterion LaserDisc. Originally published: October 30, 2003.
THE 4K UHD DISC
by Bill Chambers Please note that while Lionsgate's 4K Ultra HD release of Halloween comes with Dolby Vision, we were only able to evaluate the HDR10 component. I feel the need to say this at the top, because the bulk of my criticisms of this native 4K presentation will be aimed at the intensity--or lack thereof--of the movie's colours. First, to allay any concerns, the 2.35:1, 2160p transfer has obviously taken its cues from the master that DP Dean Cundey signed off on for the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray, restoring blue to the night scenes and correcting the oversaturation of the daylit exteriors. Still, I was surprised by not only how little impact the addition of HDR had on the introductory scenes set in Haddonfield, but also how the understatedness of the colours is adversely amplified by the surrounding strengths of the image: Laurie looks all the more dangerously anaemic given the newly tactile clarity of her hair and clothes. Once the movie transitions to All Hallows' Eve, Halloween in UHD becomes the best version of something cozily familiar: the blues are more nuanced and less dense; the shadows take on detail that makes them unsettlingly alive (Michael materializing in the dark behind Laurie is freshly unnerving); and some measure of warmth returns to the palette as characters settle in to be menaced in the incandescent glow of tacky lamps, although all but the boldest hues remain somewhat flat. With the exception of blacks that appear to have been pushed to the point of washing out as the girls walk together in chapter 5, this is demo-worthy 4K as far as managing dynamic range goes, and the HDR uses highlights well to transform porch lights, flashlights, and lit matches into beacons in the night. More emphatic now is the film's grain structure, which I personally appreciated for putting some drive-in energy back in a picture that's frequently too noise-reduced on home video. Shame about those wan colours, but the continued elusiveness of a definitive Halloween is what keeps physical media in business and food on John Carpenter's table.
The attendant 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack debuted on the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray. It's a remix, of course, an inoffensive one that makes it easier to appreciate the layers of instrumentation in Carpenter's theme/score. It sounds, frankly, remarkable (and remarkably complex), and those low piano chords really resonate during the second half of the film. What impressed me most, however, were the vacuums of silence, which convey stillness without deadness; and though the subwoofer feels a tad underfed throughout, there are good whomps of bass accompanying the thunderclaps as Dr. Loomis and Nurse Marion drive through the rain. A DD 2.0 mono mix is on board as well in a lossy option that clocks in at a puny 384 Kbps--though before you lament that, allow me to add insult to injury by reporting that it isn't even the original mono audio but rather a cynical downmix of the remix!* Halloween is a fickle mistress. But wait, there's more! Instead of Carpenter's commentary with the late Debra Hill--which, curiously unadvertised, can still be accessed on the bundled Blu-ray from 2007 (along with the theatrical mix and the Cundey-disowned Divimax transfer)--find a delightful feature-length yakker that Carpenter recorded with actress Jamie Lee Curtis in 2013. Carpenter doesn't laugh himself hoarse like he does with Kurt Russell, but maybe that's a good thing, since they get down to brass tacks here. It helps that Curtis has a sharp memory and, owing to her allegiance to Carpenter and Hill, spent a lot of time on set even when she wasn't needed on camera. In fact, this is largely her yak-track. She talks about helping whitewash the Myers house to un-dirty it for the prologue, about her entire wardrobe on the film being a prefabricated package deal (the idea was that Laurie's mom still picked out her clothes for her), about how heavy the Panaglide motion-stabilizer was and looked, earning Cundey some praise. She's also a fun critic. Of the offscreen sex that opens the film she says, "Quickest shtupp in movie history!" And she practically forces Carpenter to notice how beautiful the shots inside Annie's car at dusk are, with the sun flaring and streaking through the windshield. Indeed, in 4K HDR they are seriously beautiful. Malick beautiful.
Save a subtitled "fact track," Lionsgate has ported all of the video-based 35th Anniversary extras onto the UHD disc, albeit not in 4K. Start with footage Carpenter shot in 1981 exclusively for the network premiere of Halloween to compensate for the time lost to TV censorship of the movie's sex and violence. Presented in upscaled HD, this 12-minute block features three additional Loomis scenes, such as a flashback to his first encounter with a still-young, still-blonde, quite-catatonic Michael Myers, plus there's a truly water-treading sequence in which Lynda and Alice ask to borrow the same sweater from Laurie. (Curtis wears a towel on her head to hide a change in hairstyle.) This material was previously reincorporated into a Bizarro cut of Halloween first seen on the bonus DVD of Anchor Bay's Limited Edition from 2000, and is largely of interest as the only time in 40 years, eight sequels, and two remakes that Carpenter himself directed these actors in these roles again. Next, Kelly Curtis and John P. Marsh's "The Night She Came Home!!" (59 mins., HD) documents Curtis's charity-driven trip to the HorrorHound convention in Indianapolis, where she was reunited with former cast and crew members, posed for pictures with fans, and regaled an attentive audience with tales from the set. For Curtis, who has come to embrace her Scream Queen past after once swearing off genre fare, the weekend proved a pleasant homecoming, not the least because its organizers knew how to keep both her and the attendees happy. In private moments she riffs on memorabilia, at one point revealing that a famous production still of Laurie smoking is not from an outtake but was actually snapped between setups. The piece is affable and oddly soothing despite its somewhat poor miking and mixing. "Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest" and "On Location, 25 Years Later" meanwhile make their umpteenth appearance on a reissue of Halloween, as do the usual assortment of trailers (well, trailer), TV spots (three this time), and radio commercials (ditto) for the film. And that's all she wrote...at least until the picture's 45th anniversary.
*09/27/18: As our own Bryant Frazer recently said to me, "Do they think we want a mono mix because we don't like directionality?!" For what it's worth, Bryant's extremely positive reaction to the transfer has convinced me to bump up the image grade from a B+ to an A- after publication. I came to this UHD release cataloguing its advances on the previous standard-bearer, whereas this was his first exposure to Halloween in many years and he found the colours gratifyingly autumnal, as revelatory as I'd once found the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray. He also reminded me of a gnarly jump-scare introduced by the 7.1 mix while Loomis and Sheriff Brackett check out the Myers place; I dropped the ball here, folks.