Halloween is my all-time favorite movie. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, on with the review.
Halloween opens on October 31st, 1963, as we see a young boy named Michael murder his older sister. The story then jumps ahead to 15 years later. On Halloween Eve, Michael Myers (Nick Castle), now 21 years old, escapes from the Smith's Grove-Warren County Sanitarium, much to the horror of his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who had dedicated his life to keeping Michael locked up, as he feels that the boy is very dangerous. The action then moves to Haddonfield, Illinois, where we are introduced to three teenage girls: the virginal and smart Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis); the sassy Annie (Nancy Loomis); and the vivacious Linda (P.J. Soles). As the story progresses, we realize that these girls are being followed by someone. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis has come to Haddonfield, fearing that Michael Myers has returned home to continue his murder spree.
As night falls, Laurie and Annie arrive at their respective babysitting jobs for Halloween night, while Linda goes on a date with her boyfriend, Bob (John Michael Graham). Before the night is over, the three girls will come face-to-face with pure evil, as Michael Myers stops simply stalking the girls and begins killing once again.
Despite my love for Halloween, I can see how some would have problems with it. The story is incredibly simplistic, and it's not until the very end that there's anything that could be called a plot twist. During the first half of the film, the pacing is somewhat slow, as Carpenter builds suspense. The characters are very two-dimensional.
But, none of that matters, as Halloween redeems itself as the ultimate horror film. As a low-budget shocker made for $300,000, the movie is a masterpiece of pure technical filmmaking. Carpenter takes this bare-bones story and simple characters, and creates a movie which is essentially a suspense machine. We have the two key ingredients -- a killer and potential victims -- and that's all the audience needs to be drawn into this story, as we wait and see who will survive. But, on top of that, Carpenter uses his camera to help tell the story. It's made very clear that Michael Myers can be anywhere, so Carpenter places the killer in the widescreen frame of many shots. Once this idea has been established, the viewer begins to scan the screen, looking for a glimpse of the white-masked killer. The suspense builds until the finale, in which the viewer is on the edge of their seat, cheering for Laurie to get away (or more often, grab the knife!) Halloween paved the way for the "slasher" movement of the 80s and has spawned 7 sequels, but this film will always be the best of the bunch, and the perfect example of how ingenuity can overcome budget or story limitations.
This newly released 25th Anniversary Edition of Halloween (which carries the ludicrous "H25" logo on the cover) marks the 6th (I think) version of the film that Anchor Bay has released. The difference this time is that the transfer was done using Anchor Bay's new "Divimax" system. Divimax is defined as "a High-Definition film transfer process that provides state-of-the-art picture quality and can be viewed on any home entertainment system." Interesting. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. For this review, I compared this new release with the "Restored Limited Edition" Halloween DVD which was released in September, 1999. The 25th Anniversary Edition is sharper in the daytime sequences, but the colors are not as vivid. The new transfer cleans up some of the haloing and artifacting which was present on the old disc. However, in the night scenes, this new transfer shows noticeable grain which wasn't present in the previous release. Also, in the old transfer the night scenes has a blue tint, which isn't present in the new release. So, there have been some improvements, but I must say that I wasn't crazy about that grain in the latter half of the film. Still, the film is presented letterboxed which is one of the most important aspects of viewing Halloween.
This new disc sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which is practically identical to the 5.1 track which appeared on the prior release. This track provides clear dialogue, which is never garbled or distorted. Carpenter's trademark soundtrack sounds fantastic. The best aspect of this track is the use of the surround sound channels. In the second scene, the sound of rain fills the room and the thunder provides an appreciable amount of bass response. This "juiced up" soundtrack sounds a bit overly tweaked at times, but that's a moot point, as the great sounds adds another level to the film.
This new 2-disc set provides some new extras, as well as some that we've seen before. Disc 1 includes an audio commentary with co-writer/director John Carpenter, co-writer/producer Debra Hill, and star Jamie Lee Curtis. This is the same commentary which appeared on the Criterion Collection laserdisc edition of Halloween which appeared in the early 90s, so the track is somewhat old. Still, this is a fantastic commentary, as the three speakers, who were recorded separately and edited together in true Criterion fashion, divulge an incredible amount of information about the film, from location info to casting stories to on-set issues. The only problem with this commentary is that much of this information has appeared elsewhere, most notably in the "Halloween Unmasked" featurette from previous DVD releases.
The remainder of the extras appear on Disc 2. We start with "Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest", an 87-minute featurette (wouldn't that count as a feature?!) which gives an incredibly in-depth overview of the making of Halloween. The segment was clearly made-for-TV, as there are spaces for commercial breaks, but I'm not sure where (or if) this originally aired, as it contains most of the violence from the film. Along with these clips, the segment contains interviews with most of the cast & crew, and rare behind-the-scenes footage and stills. Most of the information will be familiar to Halloween fans, but this documentary is very well-made and certainly worth watching. Next up is "On Location: 25 Years Later". The 10-minute segment includes video footage of the various locations used in the film, along with comments from Debra Hill and P.J. Soles (most of which can be found in the documentary). In the last 2 minutes of "On Location", we are treated to footage of P.J. Soles and her daughter (both of whom I've met) touring one of the locations. This featurette is semi-interesting, mostly if you plan on visiting these sites.
The rest of the extras are pretty standard. The theatrical trailer is included here, letterboxed at 1.85:1, as well as two 30-second TV spots, both of which are full-frame. There are two 30-second radio spots. There is a poster & still gallery, which contains about 30 images. Finally, there are biographies for Carpenter, Curtis, and Pleasence. The Restored Limited Edition DVD of Halloween contained all of these elements, plus more trailers, TV spots, and stills. So, this package is good, but not quite complete.
For any horror fan, having Halloween in their collection is a no-brainer. But, those who already own one (or more) Halloween DVDs may still want to pick up this version. The commentary, while old, is indispensable, and the new documentary is quite good. But, the important thing is that you have at least copy of Halloween. You won't regret it.