It’s gotten to the point where I’ve lost count of the versions of John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher, Halloween, I own on home video. With a several different VHS releases, at least a dozen DVD variants, and Blu-rays both foreign and domestic, I know it’s more than any one man should have, but it’s Halloween, dammit, and it’s my all-time favorite movie. So while others may groan at the arrival of yet another version of the film being released, I always embrace it so long as there’s something that sets it apart from all of the other releases I’ve got in my collection.
Here in the U.S., Anchor Bay released a somewhat controversial Blu-ray of the film back in 2007, which many videophiles slammed for a transfer that wasn’t exactly faithful to the film’s theatrical look. At the time, I wasn’t all that bothered by it, as, to me, the slightly more saturated blues hues didn’t really detract from anything, and the transfer’s wonderful clarity and detail (it was the first HD release of Halloween I’d laid eyes upon) blew my socks off.
Since then, I’ve come around to more fully appreciate the naysayer’s argument in regards to Anchor Bay’s inaugural Blu-ray release of the film, but it hasn’t prevented me from watching it every year (as is my October tradition) since its release. That, however, will change now that I’ve gotten my grubby mitts on Anchor Bay’s new 35th Anniversary Blu-ray release that, in addition to a host of great new features, sports an amazing new transfer (overseen by cinematographer, Dean Cundey, no less) that will surely stand as the definitive version of the film.
Well, at least until the 40th anniversary rolls around!
The first thing I noticed when I popped this new disc into my player was the image’s much cooler color palette during the opening scene. That blue, “moonlit” look of the 2007 release was gone, replaced by a much more natural looking white/gold hue. It’s an aesthete that carries through the entire film, with the once-subdued exterior houselights having a more appropriate harsh white glare to them, while daylight sequences balance color and temperature quite nicely, lending a fitting October chill to the film’s otherwise warm Southern-California-in-April shooting locations.
It’s a bit difficult to fully appreciate the detail and clarity of the new transfer “through” the eyeslits of young Michael’s clown mask, but, when the image opens up to the big reveal of the boy standing on his lawn, bloody knife in hand, you will immediately see how crisp and detailed the image is. Note the lettering on the Rabbit in Red matchbook on the dashboard of Loomis and Nurse Chambers’ car, or the knit in Laurie’s pullover sweater. It’s a scrumptious amount of detail that really makes this transfer pop!
In terms of audio, Anchor Bay has given fans two options – the original 2.0 Dolby Digital lossy track and a really amazing 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio track. Regular readers know I’m a purist and usually gravitate toward the closest thing to the original source, but, in this instance, the 7.1 track really won me over. The scene in which Loomis and Chambers arrive at the sanitarium to pick up Michael is just a taste of the sonic power and clarity of this track, with an incredibly rich and immersive recreation of rain hitting the pavement, the squeak of windshield wipers, and the gut-rumbling bass of Carpenter’s synth-laden score. I do wish dialogue was a bit more up front and center, as it tends to sound a touch distant at times, but, otherwise, the 7.1 track really nails it.
While the new transfer and audio tracks will be what lures in the videophiles who felt slighted by Anchor Bay’s release nearly seven years ago, it’s the all-new set of extras that will be bringing Halloween fans back for a double dip.
Save for a brief bit of promotion for her return to the franchise in Halloweens H20 and Resurrection, the notoriously private Jamie Lee Curtis has been exceptionally averse to discussing her time as America’s proto Scream Queen. Over the past couple of years, however, Curtis has discovered that she could monetize her popularity with fans and use that money to benefit her favorite charities. With this newfound access to Curtis, Anchor Bay has put together an assortment of Laurie Strode-centric extras that make this 35th Anniversary Blu-ray an absolute must-buy for fans who’ve waited far too long for Curtis’ take on the Halloween phenomenon.
First up, we get an all-new commentary track with Curtis and director, John Carpenter, that’s an absolute blast to listen to. The pair have instant chemistry forged over decades of friendship, so it’s akin to listening to two old friends reliving their glory years, with lots of gentle ribbing, mutual admiration, and even a few playful spats and disagreements about shot order, locations, and Jamie Lee’s hair (Curtis has a memory like a steel trap, while Carpenter seems to have forgotten more about Halloween than he actually remembers!). For someone who’s always been so reticent to talk about this period of her career, Curtis proves not only to be an authority on all things Halloween, but a very gifted observer of cinematic tricks and techniques, making one wonder why she’s never stepped behind the camera herself (and, no, an episode of “Anything But Love” doesn’t count!)! Imagine an old-school reinvention of Halloween helmed by the original Laurie Strode? She’d certainly have my $14 bucks!
Other goodies include a fantastic and lengthy look at Curtis’ first (and, according to her, last) convention appearance at 2012’s Horrorhound convention. Directed by her sister Kelly (who enlists her own husband as cameraman), this fly-on-the-wall style documentary features a warts-and-all look at Curtis who, despite suffering from what appears to be a serious case of OCD and nerves, takes center stage at the event put together by Horrorhound head-honcho and Horror’s Hallowed Grounds host, Sean Clark , which sees Curtis interacting with fans and friends from the franchise (including Nick Castle, Tommy Lee Wallace, and her The Fog co-star, Tom Atkins). Curtis is charming, dutiful, and incredibly gracious to her fans, but I appreciated the fact that the piece also showcased the actress’s less appealing characteristics, painting her as a bit of a control freak/diva, albeit no more so than your average middle-aged movie star (and, to be fair, during her interactions with fans, she seems nothing less than genuinely happy to oblige them).
Another great bonus feature has Carpenter and Curtis returning to the original shooting locations where the pair discusses the production with the same sort of enthusiasm and sense of nostalgia as they displayed in the commentary track.
Rounding out the extras are more than ten minutes of alternate/additional scenes shot for the NBC broadcast version of the film (in HD), as well as a collection of trailers, TV, and radio spots. The whole enchilada is packaged in an attractive digi-book with gorgeous watercolor art on its cover, and a booklet featuring an essay and assorted behind-the-scenes photos.
While I’m sure most everybody reading this review already owns Halloween in one form or another, this 35th Anniversary Edition should be considered an essential purchase for the hardcore Halloween fan. The new transfer is simply amazing, and the collection of extras featuring Jamie Lee Curtis makes this one a no brainer. The only thing that keeps this from being the “definitive” release of the film is the fact that Anchor Bay opted not to include the great supplements from the 2007 release, here, but, even without them, this set is still more than worth a double-dip and gets my highest recommendations!