Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Halloween 25 Years of Terror is a feature length documentary about the phenomenon begun by John Carpenter's smash hit Halloween in 1978, a record-setting independent success that made his career and ensured waves of knock-offs and imitators. A clever spook thriller that makes excellent use of simple cinematic scares and Carpenter's sharp Panavision framing, Halloween is indeed a milestone that is still more memorable and less exploitative than its competition.
The documentary tells the entire tale of the eight-film (so far) series using literally dozens of interviews with practically everyone ever associated with a Halloween film. It also takes advantage of elaborate Halloween- themed fan conventions that prove the films' popularity among young horror devotées. They provide plenty of eccentric behaviors, as when bus tours of the first film's South Pasadena locations are met with re-creations of famous scenes performed by local high school students.
The show is lacking in one major element: Objectivity. That's not unusual in DVD-originated "documentaries" where the producers own the subjects being examined. When a movie documentary uses substantial film clips, the film's owners are almost always involved, as nobody else could afford the clip rights. 25 Years of Terror is more of a celebration of the series than a critical analysis. The script openly allows that some of the sequels were unsuccessful, but overall the show labors mightily to nominate the Halloween franchise as a highly significant addition to American culture. The initial film was interesting and fairly original but the rest of the series is little more than a drawn-out attempt to keep the money machine working, an ambition no different than that of the purveyors of the James Bond or Hello Kitty franchises. Of course, the Halloween producers can always point to their legions of fans and the undeniable popularity of their mighty bogeyman, Michael Myers. Even Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Jane Leigh returned to the series a few years back.
25 Years of Terror tells the production history from the producer's point of view. The creative forces behind the first film -- John Carpenter, Nick Castle, Debra Hill and Nick Castle -- are represented only in 'archive' footage. Ms. Hill is no longer with us, but all of the originators have been disassociated from the series for decades. Thus the editors select flippant remarks from Carpenter that make it seem like he doesn't care about the picture that put him on the map: "I took it because I wasn't doing anything," etc..
Very much present on camera is producer Moustapha Akkad, a Syrian immigrant who strove to make films extolling the Muslim religion (Mohammed, Messenger of God, Lion of the Desert) but ended up backing a fluke hit that became a gold mine for over two decades. Ironically, Akkad's tragic death came last November when his Jordanian hotel was bombed by terrorists. His son Malek has been co-producing the films since 1995 and is listed as executive producer on this documentary.
25 Years of Terror tells us everything we need to know about the series; how and why each sequel came about and how the producers attempted to adjust to the perceived needs of their fans. Plenty of horror experts, most of them interviewed at fan gatherings, add their comments to those of actors, directors and even makeup experts: Kim Newman, Gregory Nicotero, John Carl Buechler, Rick Rosenthal, Edgar Wright, Tommy Lee Wallace. A lot of dubious philosophy is offered about the appeal of the knife-wielding Michael Myers, a character originally conceived as a faceless bogeyman, a cypher purposely kept a mystery.
The new generation of fans and professional filmmakers (or wanna-be professionals) get their time on-screen as well, and their presence seems the most self-promotional of all. Kids with few or no real credits are labeled as film directors, making the musician-trash moviemaker Rob Zombie by comparison come off as a serious auteur. That way lies madness, as they used to say.
The last act of the show is reserved for heavy doses of enthusiasm at the fan conventions, giving the impression that the solution to modern ills is to Stop Worrying and Love Halloween. Fans mob the Myers house location and watch the re-creation of scenes on the sidewalks of the city; the promoters have even gotten the Mayor of South Pasadena into the act. Fans are encouraged to submit audition tapes for a role in the next Halloween picture, leading to sleazy images of topless teens desperate to win a role as a featured victim.
Anchor Bay's Halloween 25 Years of Terror is a polished and handsome presentation, narrated by original series actress P.J. Soles. It would seem like a good freebie extra for yet another release of Halloween, as many of their own fine in-house docus reach feature length as well. To make this show acceptable as a stand-alone offering, its producers have assembled a large volume of video extras, most of which are either outtakes from the mountain of interviews and footage gleaned from the massive Pasadena Halloween convention. There are some extras from earlier shows -- behind-the-scenes footage and older interviews -- but much of the extra content (two discs' worth) comes from the convention: Panel discussions for the films, the actors, cameraman Dean Cundey and the producers; location stills, galleries and tours; artwork, fan collections and so forth. Fandom begins to resemble a snake consuming itself, as the Halloween mercantile business simply returns to the same faithful core of devotées. The fans have bought tickets to the movies, bought the merchandise, attended the (not cheap) conventions and are now going to fork over more cash to see a 'documentary' about their own fan hysteria. There's something not quite right about that.
An impressive insert is a comic book called Halloween Autopsis, a story that posits a necrophiliac morgue attendant as the next inheritor of the Michael Myers role ... as is typical in the world of Halloween, we're invited to a website to continue with the story, presumably on a paying basis.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Halloween 25 Years of Terror rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Very Good
Packaging: Two discs in Keep case in card sleeve
Reviewed: August 5, 2006
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson