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If you've never seen Halloween, you should consider rectifying that as soon as possible. Some minor continuity errors and a few moments of cringe inducing dialogue mean it's not a perfect film, but it excels at virtually everything else.
The plot isn't anything to write home about, but horror is often at its best when things are simple. On the night of Halloween in 1963, a young Michael Myers puts on a mask, grabs a butcher knife and murders his sister. The boy's parents come home in time to find him holding the bloodied weapon on their front lawn. There's no explanation as to why this happened, but that's precisely what makes it all the more terrifying.
The story then jumps to a dark and stormy night fifteen years later when Dr. Loomis, Michael's psychiatrist, is supposed to pick him up from Smith's Grove Sanitarium and bring him to court. He's instead greeted by the eerie sight of mental patients wandering outside the grounds in white robes, and it isn't long before his immediate concern is fully realized: Michael has escaped and is heading back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. Being that it's the fifteenth anniversary of when Michael first tasted blood, Loomis tries to warn the local police that death is about to wreak havoc in their town, but their skepticism proves to be a fatal mistake, as Myers targets babysitter Laurie Strode and her friends on Halloween night.
To understand why a serial killer like Myers has endured over the years, all you'd have to do is have a conversation with my wife. She'd tell you that the horror villain she fears most of all isn't Freddy, Jason, Candyman or even Chucky. Their superhuman strength and supernatural origin stories keep them firmly in the land of make believe, so she sees them as the pure entertainment they're meant to be. Myers, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast against the competition because he's human, just like you and me. He's a reminder that true terror can strike not only in the realm of fantasy, but in your very neighborhood, if not your own home.
But Halloween's effectiveness comes from more than the idea of Joe Everyman going on a killing spree in a familiar rural setting. John Carpenter's screenplay (written with Debra Hill) and direction are largely responsible for how visceral it feels. The decision to open the film with a murder through the killer's perspective is a stinger, but the events that follow are very much a slow burn. We're given the opportunity to get to know the victims before the body count rises, but what makes everything all the more unnerving is that they're stalked throughout the day and Laurie knows it. The key word here is ‘day', because unlike most horror icons, Michael isn't shy about moving around town during normal business hours. Laurie spots him multiple times throughout the day and her conscious nags at her that something's wrong, but much to the audience's horror, she chalks it up as some guy fooling around on Halloween. We know better, of course, but being ‘in on the gag', so to speak, serves to exacerbate that feeling of hopelessness we're supposed to feel for all involved. You feel the urge to shout at the screen, hoping they'll hear and heed your warning, but no such luck. The only thing you can do is watch them fall one by one, and boy do they fall. There are a number of jump scares throughout the film's runtime, and the timing of each is impeccable. You know something's about to happen, but Carpenter has a knack for executing the very moment you've waited long enough to let your guard down. The film's final act picks up the pace considerably, grabbing you by the throat and refusing to let go until well after the end credits roll.
Carpenter's direction and effectively minimal score are enough to carry the film, but Dean Cundey's cinematography is just as vital a companion (even if it has been a controversial component of most every home video release). What especially helps to complete the package is the acting from both Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis. The former is extremely effective at conveying desperation, doing all in one's power to make everyone understand what is at stake but having it all fall on deaf ears. He doesn't steal the show however, as I feel Curtis had an even bigger burden on her shoulders. Her character was mostly quiet and reserved so when she evolves those traits into something wide-eyed and horrified, it's not only good, but palpable. Laurie's transformation is believable and one of the best examples of on-screen fear I've seen to date. These days, Hollywood only has two checkboxes when looking for a suitable ‘final girl': being attractive and having a terrifying scream. Curtis easily transcends the very role she helped to create though, and her masterful performance is still among the best.
There's a reason why this franchise has endured for such a long time. Sure, you could justify its legacy with the umpteen sequels it's had over the years, but while I respect them for what they are, they're nothing like the original classic. The franchise quickly devolved into standard horror fare, but this film is still very much a breath of fresh air. It undoubtedly changed the horror landscape for the better and its influence is still felt today. Despite filmmakers attempting to replicate it over the last forty years, Halloween is still in a class all its own. There are scarier films out there, but very few have proven to resonate with audiences the same way this film has.
Halloween has had it rough on home video. The quality has generally been fine from release to release, the color timing has always caused a substantial uproar from diehard fans. The one thing that's probably been debated most of all are the blue nighttime hues and how saturated they should look. At one point the blue hues were available in most their glory, but subsequent releases have favored a desaturated look. As time went on, the film's color timing as a whole had changed, causing daytime scenes to appear warmer and more fall-like. Then with the 35th Anniversary Edition in 2013, the warmness was dialed back a bit. Each time people would rejoice and cry revisionism in equal numbers, so to get a definitive answer, fans would look for official word from someone who was directly involved with the film. In that respect things get even stickier, because Dean Cundey, the film's cinematographer, has overseen the various incarnations of Halloween on home video, so his very involvement has only helped to cloud what the original artistic intent had been. There are always those who say, "Well I remember seeing Halloween in theaters forty years ago and I remember how it looked exactly!"
No, you don't. Don't be one of those people.
The truth is that many of us have grown up watching this on CRT televisions via broadcast and VHS, so we've become accustomed to a certain, and probably incorrect, color timing. That has, for sure, helped paint the ‘reference' in people's minds as to what the film originally looked like. Sadly, we have to toss our preconceived notions in regards to ‘accuracy' out the window, because none of us really know what Halloween initially looked like.
So let's start with the color timing. In 2007, the daytime scenes were overly warm and the nighttime hues were extremely desaturated. In 2013, daytime was less warm and the nighttime hues were reinstated, but in my opinion overly saturated.
The 4K UHD - which comes to us at a resolution of 2160p and an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 - is the most pleasing release of all. The daytime scenes still aren't overly warm, but natural sunlight is more prominent than on the 2013 disc (minus the overcast shots taken after it had obviously rained) while grass and trees have a little bit of life reinstated. The blue nighttime hues are still very much present, but don't appear overly done. Skin tones look pleasant throughout, although they're understandably weaker in the evening unless there's a direct light source nearby. In fact, other than the blue hues, tones in general look a bit more drab than the previous release, but not in a negative, detracting sort of way. It actually works quite well in the latter half of the film, as it really helps with that ‘bump in the night' aesthetic.
The 4K provides refined detail, although the difference isn't exactly night-and-day. I did find myself looking at things I paid little attention to before though - such as the hat hanging on the wall near Laurie when she sees Michael by the clothesline - but while the bump is appreciable, it's subtle overall. Grain is resolved well and is mostly fine, minus a few occasions where shots seemingly have an inherently thicker coating.
Black levels are sort of a mixed bag. There's a healthy amount of footage that looks deep and inky, but there's also plenty which looks a bit on the weak side. Not enough to be called murky or muddy mind you, but enough to appear less substantial than when blacks are at their strongest. Either way though, there's more detail in these areas than I've ever seen in Halloween before.
The most major upgrade on this disc is the HDR. The flashes of lightning near the beginning, the way light bounces off of Michael's blade, the sun reflecting off of Loomis' windshield as he chats on a nearby payphone, and car lights in the evening, both front and rear, shine with realistic vibrancy. These are the moments that stick out in my mind the most, but the added benefit of HDR was like watching this movie for the first time again. For the sake of full transparency though, this was the first movie I watched on my new 4K television and it's brighter than anything I've ever owned, so of course those moments stick out. The important thing is that there's a bit more depth as a result of HDR's inclusion, but mostly when the black levels are solid.
If you're making the decision to buy this release based on video quality alone, I think you'll be pleased with your purchase. This disc has ranged from $15-$17.99 at retail, and it's a no-brainer at that price point.
This portion of the disc may be the biggest deal breaker for some.
Cutting straight to the chase, the mono track that's been circulating in mainstream channels for years has been problematic. There's been no lossless option and what we got was missing or had additional/altered sound effects. That's because the mono track wasn't the original theatrical version, but rather a condensed form of the remixed 7.1 track. It obviously wasn't handled with much love or care. There was a massive uproar over this, but to my recollection, the studio never issued a replacement program (and they totally should have). The only way to get the original mono track today is to get Shout Factory's Halloween boxed set or import the film from another country. Sadly, this release has the uncorrected mono track. Why the studio would so willingly drop the ball when a corrected version exists is beyond me.
That's all some of you will need to hear.
But the default on this release is the remixed 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track, and while it's certainly not my preferred version, I've heard it enough over the years to simply shrug and say, "Eh, it's fine."
I've certainly heard worse remixes, but I still scratch my head as to why this even exists. Halloween isn't a film that demands a complete surround stage. The largest benefit is having the Halloween theme song and the musical ‘stings' attack from every angle, and there's some good environmental work when it's raining, for example. The dialogue is as good as the source elements allow it to be (it can sometimes sound thin), and the sound effects from Michael's attacks are extremely effective. Still, I'd trade in the handful of ‘improvements' for what the original theatrical experience sounded like… but it's not here, so, I guess the lesser of two evils here is the 7.1.
For me personally, I'm pleased enough with the video to not revert back to the Scream Factory disc, but I do sorely wish this release didn't flub the original mono.
The 4K disc is unsurprisingly equipped with the same features that the 35th Anniversary Edition had. The included Blu-ray features similar art to the 35th Anniversary Edition, but is actually the 2007 release. It's difficult to understand why they did this, but it does come with a couple of supplements that the 2013 release didn't have.
-Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Carpenter, Actor Jamie Lee Curtis, and Producer Debra Hill (Blu-ray)
-The Night She Came Home!!
-On Location: 25 Years Later
-TV Version Footage
-Film Fast Facts (Blu-ray)
-Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest (Blu-ray)
John Carpenter's Halloween is a seminal classic in every perceivable way. Its villain is iconic, the protagonist is one of the genre's original scream queens, and no matter how many times it's been copied, this film has rarely, if ever, been outdone. If you're a newcomer, you're in for quite a treat. For everyone else, the picture quality on the 4K disc is pretty darn good, as are the supplements. The 7.1 audio is decent for what it is, but the lack of a true mono track is extremely disappointing. It's the sole reason why I can't give this release higher than a recommended rating. The film and picture quality are worthy of more, but Halloween's a film that's seen countless rereleases over the years. That means a 4K disc with the true theatrical mono track could see the light of day sooner rather than later, and the studio would undoubtedly ask us to dip into our piggy banks for the privilege of getting it. Still, for the price this disc is available for at retail, it's worth adding to your collection.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!