Halloween (1978) [35th Anniversary Edition]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-09-24 20:34
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Halloween (1978)
Studio: Anchor Bay/Starz
Release date: September 24th, 2013

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman




The movie:

Between my desire to get around to movies I havenít seen a dozen times and the fact that I simply donít have enough time to watch many movies anyway, itís rare for me to revisit titles these days. However, thereís at least one movie thatís etched in stone on the calendar each year: Halloween, which has been something of a sacred ritual for the past fifteen years or so since the holiday itself has become synonymous with John Carpenterís immortal classic. While the film obviously doesnít need to lean on nostalgia to be effective, itís hard to deny that it serves as a bag of comfort candy these days, even if itís always personally acted as a gateway to the sort of Rockwellian Halloween I never actually experienced.

Growing up in rural South Carolina, October 31st never involved trick or treating in the traditional senseóif I was lucky, Iíd get to dress up and walk next door to my grandparentsí house, but strolling down suburban streets and soaking in the atmosphere was a totally foreign concept. As such, Carpenterís depiction of the holiday has always stood as the ideal, and thatís the sort of stuff I gravitate towards these days. Just about anyone can make a cheap slasher movie thatís entertaining once the slashing actually begins, but it takes the talent of a John Carpenter to craft a fully-formed vibe and a world thatís worth inhabiting before Michael Myers starts butchering teenagers.

Some films are so perfect that they even put my loquacious ass at a loss for words and has me fumbling to make the same, semi-academic observations that have been made for over thirty years now. I could talk about the magnificence of the opening tracking shot, Donald Pleasenceís pitch-perfect ability to straddle hysteria and comfort, the precision of Dean Cundeyís lighting and framing, Nick Castleís so-natural-that-itís-almost-unnatural gait, the subtle, lived-in quality of the actressesí performances, and Carpenterís haunting synth score, but none of this really relays the distinct feeling the film evokes in its smaller, quieter moments: a gaggle of trick-or-treaters begging for candy, Tommy Doyle lugging a huge pumpkin, a monster movie marathon droning on in the backgroundóall this stuff perfectly captures an autumnal slice of Americana.

Carpenterís film is Halloween in every sense of the word: it transplants the centuries-old boogeyman from its rugged, pagan origins to the sheen of 20th century suburbia, where the signposts of Samhain have been codified into harmless rituals until he comes home. Tommy Lee Wallace would explore this more explicitly in Halloween III, but itís hard not to feel those rumblings here. In many ways, itís the ultimate prank, as the innocuous holiday treat is turned into a savage, bloody trick. When unchained from its sequels, the original Halloween is an elegant exercise in illuminating pure, inexplicable evil; itís arguable that Myers represents a force thatís even more bewildering than his ancient predecessorsówhen the pagans engaged in their blood rituals, it was at least in the service of appeasing gods. Myers is beyond appeasementófor all the psychosexual readings the film has engendered, itís difficult to even see him as an unchained libido out to satisfy some displaced urge. Such an attribute is far too human, and Myers is too ghastly and enigmatic to be written off as such.

If thereís anything remotely human about The Shape, itís his playfulness, but even that is difficult to comprehend, especially since his indifferent visage masks any sense of pleasure he might get from his deadly pranks. Itís a subtly unnerving elementódeep down, it might be comforting to consider Myers as the ultimate form of arrested development, a manchild whose synapses simply went haywire and trapped him in a cocoon of psychosis, but thatís too easy and obvious. Carpenterís debt to Psycho is obvious, but Halloween isnít so much a homage as it is the taking up of the thread that unspooled in Hitchcockís 1960 classic; where that film waited until the final frame to confirm Norman Batesís unfathomable evil, Halloween immediately dispenses with any notion that modern psychology can explain Myers. Heís pure, unadulterated evil that clashes with our codified rituals; indeed, Carpenter only builds up the idyllic Halloween only to tear it down in thrilling, terrifying fashion.

The disc:

With the release of a new 35th anniversary Blu-ray, itís easy to get snarky and assume that Anchor Bay has conjured up an excuse to release yet another home video release for Halloween (it only feels like there have been a dozenóin reality, Anchor Bay has released about half that many). However, that assumption would be incorrect, as Anchor Bay has finally addressed some long-standing issues with the filmís presentation. Ardent fans are well-versed, but hereís the rundown in a nutshell (take a deep breath): the original 1997 DVD was atrocious and all copies have hopefully died in a fire, while the 1999 remaster was much-improved.

Not content to let that release stand, Anchor Bay issued a 25th Anniversary Divimax release that drained the film of its signature color, and, while all of those copies presumably did not perish in a fire, they were swiftly replaced with a ďremasteredĒ version a few years later (which was really just the old í99 version repackagedónot altogether a bad thing, but it was getting a little long in the tooth at that point). When the film made its Blu-ray debut back in 2007, the transfer featured a not-so-happy medium between the í99 version and the Divimax remaster, so it was still just a little off (I wonít get into the various releases that also feature the inferior TV cut, so feel free to exhale now).

That brings us to this latest offering, which finally (finally!) restores the film as both God and Dean Cundey would have it, as Anchor Bay brought in the legendary cinematographer to supervise the latest pass. In short, this release absolutely nails it: all of the exterior daytime shots look appropriately autumnal, while the night scenes are bathed in Cundeyís signature hues. If that werenít enough, the colors are more vibrant, and the details have improvedófinally, Iím not left wanting for anything as far as the picture quality goes.

The same can almost be said about the sound; to its credit, Anchor Bay has included the original mono track alongside a newly commissioned 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track, but itís still a lossy, compressed track that isnít as robust as it could be. Of course, the 7.1 track is much more engaging and actually sounds quite natural (Carpenterís score has never sounded better), but some purists might bemoan how the original track has become an afterthought.

As far as special features go, this 35th Anniversary isnít quite the definitive release that gathers every special feature, but Anchor Bay did produce a new commentary track with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Furthermore, Curtis is the subject of an hour-long retrospective documentary that reconfirms the actressís genuine love for the franchise (I know a lot of peopleómyself includedósort of balked at her decision to return 20 years later and railroad the series continuity, but itís hard not to give her some props for sticking around and embracing the slasher that birthed her career). The on-location feature from the 25th anniversary also returns here, as does the various promo material (trailer, TV spots, radio spots). Finally, the disc also presents the TV scenes exactly as they should be: as bonus features that serve as interesting curiosities (as every frame of Halloween is perfect, thereís no need to add so much as a second to it, let alone ten minutes).

The 35th Anniversary is housed in a sleek Digibook packaging that features a nice essay from Stef Hutchinson that deftly tells us what we already know: Halloween is a masterful work of pure cinema. Even if it doesnít hold a nostalgic spell over you, it remains potent because it finds a master craftsman at the height of his powers, and itís nice to finally have a definitive presentation for an annual viewing. Unless 35mm presentations start to crop up in theaters on a yearly basis, this is the best way to enjoy Carpenterís masterpiece.
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