Blu-Ray Review: Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition

Published on October 31st, 2013 in: Blu-Ray, Current Faves, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Halloween, Horror, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

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As one of the most iconic horror movies ever—and certainly the most iconic Halloween horror movie ever—it’s hard to believe that there are still those (of a tender age) who haven’t seen the original Halloween, only seen it edited for TV, or via clips on YouTube. The new 35th Anniversary Edition, now on Blu-Ray from Anchor Bay, means, however, that there is no longer any excuse.

Horror aficionados will argue about what was the first slasher film longer than music fans will attempt to nail down the first punk band. One thing is certain, though: Halloween has influenced the last 35 years of not only horror, but also slasher films, in numerous ways.

Compared to some of the more recent entries into the horror canon that rely on rapid-fire editing and digital effects to create scares, Halloween might seem almost somnambulist in its pacing. Yet the languid long takes and tracking shots are just a way to lull the viewer into a sense of false security and create an almost nightmarish state of being. For this we not only have Carpenter to thank, but DP Dean Cundey (whose resume will blow your mind).

For example, there is a marvelous shot of Halloween costume-clad grade school kids pouring out of their classrooms as the bell rings. Their unbridled joy at heading home to a night of trick-or-treating is undercut by the fact that the scene is filmed through a chain link fence and at an achingly slow clip. It’s Michael Myers who is watching them and we know that this isn’t going to end well.

In a unique transition from Michael’s P.O.V. to the camera’s, his face is cut out of the next sequence entirely. We’ve already seen Michael’s masked visage, so it’s somehow more frightening to witness only the reaction of Tommy Doyle’s bully to it.

Carpenter and Cundey play around with P.O.V. a lot. In the beginning of the film, the camera transforms into a young Michael Myers’s eyes: peeking through the window, peering through a clown mask. Although there are a lot of scenes from Michael’s perspective, even some where part of his figure (“The Shape”) is in the corner of the frame, there are also those from Laurie Strode’s perspective: watching Michael watching her, seeing him unexpectedly, or expecting to see him when he is no longer there.

To make things more disturbing, we also see Michael looking at Laurie and other characters when they cannot see him, for example, when his face appears in the doorway to the laundry room, but from a perspective that Annie cannot see, or when the stolen car shows up in the background of a scene where Doctor Loomis is looking for it, only to drive away just as Loomis turns his head in its direction. Halloween, then, becomes not just a film about looking but also one about not seeing. If ever anyone could hide in plain sight, it would be Michael Myers.

The scares in Halloween begin as the kind that could easily occur—someone staring at you, a car stopping abruptly after you shout at the speeding driver—before delving into the more horrific set pieces of your murdered friends arranged in various death tableaux. This gradual descent into terror is also accomplished not only through Carpenter’s amazing score (dominating the film with the exception of the tonally appropriate “Don’t Fear The Reaper” that plays on a car radio) but his incredible use of lighting, or in many cases, lack thereof.

There are several daytime scenes that are lit naturalistically, but it’s also the way that nighttime scenes stay dark that has an even more startling effect. When Loomis and Nurse Chambers are approaching Smith’s Grove Hospital, it’s the clichéd “dark and stormy night.” In this case, we see the road ahead from a dashboard view that is so dim we can hardly see anything. When the escaped patients show up outside the grounds of the hospital, their figures appear as ghostly shapes, with only one brief flash of lightning to illuminate them for a second. The red light that surrounds the patient who leaps onto the back of the car is from the taillights and not a special effect.

Tommy Doyle’s living room is only lit by the TV and a lamp. The Wallaces’ laundry room is dark because the lights don’t work. In both cases, there are no fill lights to destroy the illusion. The empty Wallace house is dark enough that it’s difficult to make out Laurie’s features as she calls out to her friends, which makes it that much more effective when she discovers them dead. Rather than being lit from behind as he descends the stairs at the Doyle’s house, Michael appears like a gathering darkness in the shadows.

This gathering darkness is a thread throughout the entire movie, both literally and figuratively. There are no extraneous characters in Halloween; everyone has a part to play and the emphasis on the small-scale, almost mundane normalcy makes it that much more terrifying in the end. How awful to have convinced a little kid that the boogeyman isn’t real only to discover that he is.

The reestablishing shots of the stairwell and the house exteriors at the end of Halloween emphasize that this kind of thing could happen to anyone, anywhere, and for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After 35 years, this is still scary.

Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition was released by Anchor Bay on September 24. In addition, to a trailer and TV and radio spots, there are also several scenes that were included only in the TV version of the film. All I can say is that I’m glad they were not included in the theatrical release.

There are also two featurettes. “On Location: 25 Years Later” was shot in 2003 for the 25th anniversary reissue of the film and includes interviews with actress P.J. Soles and writer/producer Debra Hill (sadly, Hill would die of cancer in 2005).

The new featurette is “The Night She Came Home!!” which follows Jamie Lee Curtis at the HorrorHound Weekend convention in November 2012. After 35 years of avoiding fan conventions, Curtis was convinced by horror writer/fan/artist rep Sean Clark to attend both days of this event; she donated all the money raised to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. She is genuine, charming, positive, and energetic throughout, and as someone who has attended my share of fan conventions, this is no easy task. Other members of the cast and crew are also in attendance.

There is also a new commentary track from Curtis and John Carpenter, which is an absolute delight to hear. Curtis’s memory for details is staggering and from someone who isn’t a Halloween obsessive, I found it extremely informative. The two playfully bicker about edits and camera shadows and Curtis explains why the movie is so great as she keeps repeating, “I’m sorry, but that is effing scary!” about a dozen times. Out of all the great quips, my favorite might be Carpenter saying, “Let’s talk a little bit more about your hair.”

The transfer, supervised by Cundey himself, is stunning, capturing the meticulous lighting of the film perfectly, and with the added featurette and commentary track, makes this 35th Anniversary Edition is a must-own. The initial printing also contains 20 pages of archival photos and an essay by Halloween historian Stef Hutchinson. And if the Jay Shaw cover art is available in poster form, I’d love to have one framed.

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