John Carpenter's seminal Halloween has been milked for all its worth on DVD - or so it would seem. Anchor Bay apparently thinks differently, as they've recently unleashed the Halloween: 30th Anniversary Collection, which in reality probably should have been called the Halloween: Everything We've Already Released But Now You Get A Smelly Plastic Mask Collection, because aside from the novelty packaging, there's absolutely nothing new in this set.
First, though, a look at the movies - they're what really matter, after all...
When the first film begins, we see a young boy named Michael Myers murder his older sister, Judith, on Halloween night in 1963 in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Michael is sent to an institution where Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is assigned to his case. Years later, when Michael is a grown man, he escapes from the hospital and returns to Haddonfield where he wants to murder his younger sister, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and anyone else who gets in his way. Clad in dark overalls and an eerie, white faced Halloween mask, Michael begins a killing spree that will ripple through the town long after it's finished.
An incredibly well made exercise in genuine suspense, Halloween holds up incredibly well three decades after it hit theaters in 1978. Carpenter directs the film at a perfect pace and the film's use of shadows is truly incredible. This is one of those rare slasher films that is still scary, it still has the ability to keep audiences on the edge of their seats and it still works really well.
Of course, this being the first film in the series, it's the one that introduced us to the now classic characters of Michael Myers, Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode. Myers, played silently by Nick Castle, is perpetually masked and shows no emotion. He's frightening because he's remorseless and seemingly unstoppable, his sole purpose is to kill and no amount of psychological therapy can help. This is made evident by the presence of Loomis, played very effectively by an almost over zealous Donald Pleasance in the role he'll remain best known for. Loomis is a man on a mission as well, his singular focus is just as obsessive as Michael's is and he'll do whatever he has to in order to stop him from killing again. Laurie Strode is the 'good girl' in the neighborhood. While her teenage girlfriends are interested in drinking and screwing, she's babysitting and behaving herself. Jamie Lee Curtis does a great job of playing the part of the terrified damsel in distress but her character has more brains than similar scream queen types.
Anchor Bay provides Blu-ray and standard definition versions of the theatrical cut as well as a standard definition version of the extended version. The differences between the theatrical version and the extended version are basically in Michael's back story. It was originally created by shooting some additional footage while Halloween II was being made and this additional material was worked into the theatrical version for its television premiere. A fair bit of the violence is trimmed out but we're left with a version that runs twelve minutes longer and includes additional moments where we learn more about Loomis, his relationship with Michael, and see a few additional moments involving some of the girls that Michael stalks in the movie.
Halloween IV: The Return Of Michael Myers
Halloween II, which basically picks up right where the first film left off and is quite important to the continuity, is owned by Universal Studios and is not included in this collection, as is the controversial and out of continuity Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. Rights issues would be the reason that we skip ahead to the fourth film.
Directed by Dwight Little, Halloween IV: The Return Of Michael Myers begins when Michael is being transported from one hospital to another. Of course, he escapes en route and makes his way back to Haddonfield where he sets his sights on Laurie Strode's daughter, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) who lives with a foster family. Jamie's foster sister, Rachel Caruthers (Ellie Cornell), is annoyed that she can't go out with her boyfriend, Brody (Sasha Jenson), as her parents need her to watch young Jamie. No one suspects that Michel is going to make his return except for Loomis, who kicks things into high gear once he learns of Michael's escape - but will he be able to convince the Haddonfield Police in time to save the local teenage population and young Jamie from certain death at the hands of a knife wielding maniac?
Set ten years after the explosive ending of Halloween II, this film is entertaining enough as far as slasher movies go but it does nothing new with the characters or the idea. Michael is more or less back to his old tricks and Loomis is once again out to stop him. Curtis' character is nowhere to be seen and she's basically replaced with the sympathetic Jamie, who is played quite well by young Danielle Harris. She's a pretty sympathetic character and Harris' performance is surprisingly believable here. Pleasance overacts a fair bit throughout the picture. The ending of the film packs an appropriate punch and sets up the next film quite nicely but the film lacks the power of Carpenter's original film despite a few creative murder set pieces and some decent camera work.
All in all, this film is not a bad shake at restarting the franchise. There are some decent, tense moments and a few good performances (look for cult favorite Michael Pataki early on) from the cast. The gore is solid and a bit more plentiful than in the earlier entries and the story fits in nicely with what came before. It isn't the classic that the first film is nor is it as good as Halloween II but based on its own merits or even as an extension of the Michael Myers mythology, it's a good effort.
Halloween V: The Revenge Of Michael Myers
A year after the shock ending of Halloween IV, we learn that Michael is still alive and up to his old tricks. As October 31st rolls around once again, we see that Jamie (Danielle Harris again) is doing time in the mental ward of an Illinois children's hospital. None other than Dr. Loomis (Pleasance again) is the man in charge of her treatment, though Jaime's step-sister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and her friend Tina (Wendy Kaplan) help out where they can. Jamie hasn't uttered a single word to anyone since the events that finished up the last chapter in the series, so no one is aware that she's somehow developed a mental bond to her uncle Michael.
Having recently come out of a coma, Michael's intent on finishing what he tried to accomplish last time - killing Jamie. This time around, however, Michael has a plan: he's going to use Tina and Rachel as bait. Jamie knows that if she wants to save her step-sister and her friend she's going to have to leave the relative safety of the hospital where she's spend the last twelve months, though at the very least, she'll have Loomis on her side. That said, there's this mysterious stranger clad in black running around the area that seems to have some ties to all of the mayhem...
Halloween V: The Revenge Of Michael Myers is more than a little bit disjointed in terms of plot and continuity. It starts off focusing on Jamie's shattered psyche but soon loses that focus and throws that subplot away in favor of the 'mysterious stranger' aspect that doesn't really do the story any favors. When one of the key characters is murdered fairly early on in the storyline, Michael is left with nothing more than a stable of one dimensional characters to choose from and the film turns into a by the numbers stalk and slash number, the kind we've seen time and time again.
Thankfully, there are a couple of aspects that alleviate what could have been a very painful experience for Halloween fans, the first of which is another good performance from Danielle Harris as Jamie. Once again, she does a good job with the material and turns in a surprisingly believable effort on her end. Helping things out immensely is 'the presence of Pleasance.' While Pleasance is older and his character is starting to show signs of insanity himself, Dr. Loomis is the best part of the film. He carries the picture despite some scenery chewing on Pleasance's part and his obsession with Michael and the Myers family bloodline is one of the more interesting aspects of the production. Also worth noting are the kills scenes, which carry a reasonable amount of impact when you consider that most of the murder victims are little more than cardboard cut out characters. When dealing with slasher film genre conventions, it's important to ensure that the kill scenes work and thankfully they do.
The weakest of the film in this collection and one of the weakest in the series overall so far in its history, Halloween V: The Revenge Of Michael Myers is worth seeing for fans of the series but not the best starting point for those who may be new to the characters. It can be enjoyed as a quirky slasher film on its own merits but at this point in the series, it seems that the writers were running low on ideas.
Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror
Did John Carpenter know he would be making horror movie history when he unleashed a low budget thriller called Halloween on an unsuspecting public starring a young Jamie Lee Curtis and seasoned b-movie actor Donald Pleasance? Nope, but that doesn't change the fact that he did. While maybe not quite as recognizable as Freddy Kruger or Jason Vorhees, the inimitable Michael Myers has long held a place in the hearts of slasher movie fans all over the world and that first film has gone on to inspire, at the time of this writing, seven sequels (with one more in the works), action figures, comic books, and more.
This enduring popularity has lead to a strong fan community being built around the films, which culminated at a convention in 2003 called Return To Haddonfield where a wealth of footage was shot with many of the people who were involved in making these films. A lot of this footage has been edited and put into context and combined with interviews and clips from the films and out of all of this was born the feature length documentary, Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror, narrated by P. J. Soles.
So what can fans expect in this almost ninety-minute look at the franchise? Interviews galore, clips, rare footage and more. We also hear from a lot of the people working in the horror industry now who were influenced by Halloween at a younger age, such as Rob Zombie, Clive Barker and Edgar Wright and on the opposite side of the spectrum we learn of the films that came before Halloween that had an impact on its genesis, such as Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre and of course, Bob Clarke's Black Christmas. It's interesting to see what came before and what came later in regards to the movie as it puts it into context in an interesting time capsule styled sort of way.
The documentary gets a little highbrow in spots but it always remains interesting even when it does in comparing Dr. Loomis' plight to put a stop to Myers's murderous ways to the similarly obsessed Captain Ahab from Moby Dick - a comparison that few of us would likely have caught on to but one that is perfectly valid and quite natural when you think about it. The psychology of Myers himself is also explored to an extent as we hear about the bits and pieces of different cultural villains who came before him and how they manifest in various aspects of the seven movies in which he stars. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a documentary if it didn't explore the reasons that the films are as popular as they are, so of course screen time is given to the sex and violence that this series and so many other slasher movies are known for, though even these more exploitative elements are discussed with some brains and critical insight that makes this more than just a greatest hits reel of kill scenes and exposed breasts.
After hearing how Carpenter's first film was put together we then hear about the sequels. Say what you will about them, they've all been successful and they all have their fans despite the varying degrees of their quality. Even Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, which has nothing to do with Myers at all, is covered in a fair bit of detail and out of fairness to that much maligned third film, it's one of the more interesting follow ups to the first one even if it doesn't expand the storyline.
We hear of the effects work and how that was done from the men who went out and did it and from there the famous murder set pieces. Relating to that is the psychology of the way in which female women of dubious morals are dispatched and how their deaths differ from the men in the films with a few different explanations, some of which hold water, some of which don't.
On a melancholy note, it's both charming and sad to hear how passionate producer Moustapha Akkad was about the series (he was killed in a terrorist attack in Jordan not too long after this footage was shot) and how he always tried to treat the franchise as he felt would benefit it the most.
Really, when it's all said and done, no stone is left unturned as we get insight from writers, directors, actors, effects technicians, fans, and pretty much anyone else you would expect to see show up in something like this. It's all put together very well and proves to be not only entertaining but genuinely interesting and insightful as well.
First things first, the transfer on the SD version of Halloween looks to be identical to the 1999 pressing of the DVD and is not the altered colored scheme that popped up on the 25th Anniversary Divimax release afterwards. The transfer on the Extended Version is the same way. These transfers, which show a bit of grain here and there but are otherwise quite clean, represent the color scheme that most fans will associate with the movie. There aren't any serious problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement and overall, both cuts of the movie look pretty good. The theatrical cut is presented in 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen or in a 1.33.1 fullframe version that looks to be pan and scan - go widescreen on this one, kids. It makes a HUGE difference. The Extended Version is 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. The Blu-ray release of Halloween is a different story, as it's a 1080p HD version of the transfer that was created for the 25th Anniversary Divimax release and so it does feature the altered color scheme. That said, the image quality isn't bad at all once you get used to the different coloring. Detail is nice and strong and the blacks stay rich and deep throughout. Grain is there but that's as it should be and it's never overpowering or distracting.
Halloween IV: The Revenge Of Michael Myers and Halloween V: The Revenge Of Michael Myers both appear in anamorphic 1.85.1 transfers that are identical to the Divimax releases that these films received a few years ago. All in all, they look nice and sharp. You'll notice some grain and maybe a spot or speck of print damage here and there but aside from that there's really very little to complain about. Black levels look good and the colors are nice and natural. Skin tones look lifelike and quite realistic and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement here at all.
As far as Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror goes, the fullframe image looks pretty good overall, despite a few clips here and there that can only look as good as the source material provided (a few of the convention clips aren't as sharp looking as the film clips or the interviews but that's to be expected). Detail in both the foreground and the background of the picture is fine, black levels are pretty strong and there aren't any noticeable issues with mpeg compression nor is there an abundance of edge enhancement. There's some mild line shimmering here and there but nothing to worry about in terms of print damage, dirt or debris. Things look pretty nice all the way across this two disc set.
For the theatrical and version of Halloween, audio options are provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, while the extended version is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. The Blu-ray release of Halloween features audio options available in uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround Sound, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Overall, considering the limitations of the original source material, the movie sounds fine regardless of which option you go for. The uncompressed PCM track on the Blu-ray release has a bit more depth to it than the other tracks do and it does a nice job of spreading out the effects and the score throughout the mix. Purists will appreciate the inclusion of the Mono tracks. Clarity is fine throughout and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to report. All the audio options are presented in English.
Halloween IV: The Revenge Of Michael Myers and Halloween V: The Revenge Of Michael Myers both receive Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes in English. These tracks have a bit more activity in the rear channels than the first film did and you'll notice some nice directional effects, particularly in the fifth movie. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are all well balanced throughout. No problems to report here, the movies sound good.
Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror: gets one audio option only in the form of a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. Quality is on par with the video in that there are a few spots where the quality fluctuates a little bit based on the source material but for the most part there's little to complain about here. Dialogue is pretty consistent in that it's easy to follow and understand and the score comes through nicely. This isn't the type of release that really warrants anything more involved than a stereo track so the two-channel mix gets the job done. No alternate language dubs or subtitles are included.
The theatrical Blu-ray release of Halloween carries over the commentary track with John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Jamie Lee Curtis. Also worth checking out is Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest which is a rock solid hour and a half long feature length documentary on the making of the movie that was originally created for AMC. Rounding out the extras on that disc are a trivia track, a trailer, television spots, radio spots, animated menus and chapter selection.
The standard definition version of the theatrical cut contains Halloween Unmasked 2000 (27:13), which is a half an hour long featurette that looks back on the film and features interviews with cast and crew alike as well as a plethora of behind the scenes photos. It's a decent featurette that paints a good picture of the making of the film even if it pales in comparison to some of the other extras in this collection. Also look for a decent sized still gallery of production photos, another still gallery of promotional materials, the film's theatrical trailer, television spots, radio spots, some Halloween Trivia, animated menus and chapter selection. The disc housing the Extended Version of Halloween contains nothing more than a text essay that explains the differences between the two cuts of the movie and the origin behind this extended cut as well as some menus and chapter selection.
Halloween IV: The Return Of Michael Myers contains an audio commentary from Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris. A second audio commentary puts screenwriter Alan B. McElroy in front of the mic to talk about writing the film. Between the two tracks you get a pretty well-rounded look at what it was like working on this picture. McElroy's obviously focuses more on the story and what it was like to write the picture while the actresses discussion is more focused on what it was like in front of the camera. There are some interesting discussions and trivia notes in here detailing what it was like on set, other cast members, effects work and the like.
Also included is a featurette that documents a horror convention discussion where Danielle Harris, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson and Jeffrey Landman talk about making this movie and the fifth film entitled Halloween 4/5 Discussion Panel (18:27). Halloween 4: Final Cut (16:45) allows the late Moustapha Akkad to talk about producing the film before we move on to hearing from the cast and crew about their experiences on the picture. Plenty of neat behind the scenes pictures help add some flair to the featurette. Animated menus, the film's theatrical trailer, and chapter selection are also included.
Halloween V: The Revenge Of Michael Myers contains an audio commentary with Danielle Harris, Jeffrey Landman and co-director Dominique Othenin-Girard. This is a fairly active track and the three have a good vibe going here as they talk about what it was like on set, some of the ideas that come through in the picture and what it was like working together. On The Set Of Halloween 5 (7:15) is a rough, VHS source assemblage of footage that was shot on set during the production of the film. Beau Starr, Wendy Kaplan and Donald Pleasance all appear on camera and talk about their characters and about the movie. Inside Halloween 5 (15:08) is a more recent featurette (it was shot in 2000) that features interviews with Cornell, Harris, and a few others, all of whom look back fondly on the picture and share some memories with us while some behind the scenes pictures and clips from the film play out. Rounding out the extras is an introduction to the movie from Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell (0:11), the film's theatrical trailer, some animated menus and chapter selection.
The first extra on Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror is a featurette called Horror's Hallowed Grounds: An Exclusive Tour Of The Halloween Filming Locations which, as you'd expect, is a video tour of a few of the recognizable shooting locations used in the first film. This excellent segment is handled by Sean Clark of Dread Central, with some help here and there from P. J. Soles. Essentially what happens is they go check out the locations used for the film and give us a peek at how they appear now, decades since the movie was made. It's a fun segment and Soles makes for a great commentator here.
Moving right along we find Halloween II Extended Interviews and Halloween III Extended Interviews in which a few of the actors interviewed for the feature documentary get to talk a little longer than the snippets used in the documentary allowed for. These segments extend on some of their experiences working on the films, and they're worth checking out if you have an interest in either of the sequels that they cover.
Sure to be of interest to a lot of fans will be the Halloween 5 On-Set Footage that Anchor Bay has supplied here as Donald Pleasance shows up in a few of the shots. There isn't a lot of context to it, and the quality isn't fantastic but it's nice to see the atmosphere on set as the movie was being made and it's always a treat to see Pleasance doing his thing and it's great to see him taking things in stride and showing a great sense of humor on camera.
Rounding out the extra features on the first disc is a Halloween Convention Montage clip which gives us a look at the convention as well as the guests and attendees, and a segment entitled Fans of Halloween: Collections Of Props And Memorabilia which is a look at the collections that a few completely rabid fans have assembled. The extras that were included on the second disc of the stand alone release of Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror: are not included in this collection.
You know, if you don't already own these films on DVD this isn't a bad way to get them and the packaging is pretty sweet if you're into creepy little masks. That said, it's hard to believe that fans of the series don't already at least have a copy of the first movie in some incarnation and most of the die-hards, who will want this package, already have everything here. Anchor Bay has done a nice job and compiled a lot of material in this collection - if you don't have it, step right up and consider this set recommended. If you've already got it, however, it's hard to recommend this based on a plastic mask, even if it is a neat plastic mask.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.