|Halloween (25th Anniversary Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 05 August 2003|
“Halloween” has so thoroughly achieved classic stature since its 1978 debut – in a discussion of the horror slasher subgenre, people practically genuflect – that it’s in the curious position of being misremembered. Everybody is so familiar with what followed in “Halloween’s” wake that a lot of people are actually a bit hazy on the original film.
Newly re-released in a two-disc 25th anniversary edition (right before its eponymous holiday), “Halloween” is ripe for reinspection, and guess what? It’s probably even better than you remember. Director John Carpenter, who co-wrote the screenplay with producing (and, at the time, romantic) partner Debra Hill, came up with a framework that was at once totally simple and archetypal, a slow build to utter primal fear about something horrible and oh-so-unstoppable lurking in the shadows.
The set-up: on Halloween night, 1963, little Michael Myers, for reasons no one ever understands, stabs his teenaged sister to death. 15 years later, Michael escapes from the mental institution where he’s been held ever since and heads back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. Three teenaged friends, virginal and studious Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), happy cheerleader Linda (P.J. Soles) and boyfriend-besotted Annie (Nancy Loomis), plan to spend their Halloween babysitting in separate houses …
The above sounds so straightforward that anybody who hasn’t seen “Halloween” could be forgiven for thinking that the only way to stretch it to a 91-minute running time is to fill it with wall-to-wall splatter. However, “Halloween” is almost gore-free – Carpenter is all about building and hinting. The kinetic violence that the movie is famous for is confined largely to the intense 15-minute climax, when Michael – aka the Shape – squares off against the terrified but enormously resourceful Laurie. What makes the film so terrifying throughout are the little suggestions that glimmer through every scene – Michael gliding behind a hedge or staring up at a window through billowing laundry, only to be gone on a second glance, children wondering about the boogeyman and the expressionless pallor of the mask the adult Michael wears that emerges slowly from the shadows like the maw of a shark in deep water. Curtis also projects a fierce intelligence, and Pleasence is wonderfully skilled at delivering some potentially screwy speeches so that they sound matter-of-fact and even borderline profound.
Sonically, of course, Carpenter as the film’s composer created one of the all-time great horror musical riffs, with the insistent, jangling piano notes setting up an apprehensive theme that surrounds a profoundly ominous bass line. It’s a literally unforgettable piece of cinematic scoring that is well-served by the DVD transfer.
The Anchor Bay release offers a choice of three sound formats (not counting the audio commentary): 5.1, stereo or the original mono. The 5.1 mix is actually very credible (even before one compares it to the sometimes messy results of mixing pre-5.1 soundtracks into today’s prevailing home theatre sound format). Chapter 3 has an especially nice effect as thunder rumbles in the rears, and Chapter 10 gives us a likewise persuasive surround effect with chirping crickets behind us. Chapter 9 also wittily utilizes Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which is mixed to sound as though it’s emanating unobtrusively from a car stereo. Screams in Chapter 18 are a bit congestive, which seems a problem unique to the scene, as higher-pitched screams in Chapter 20 are clean and clear.
One consistent sonic dilemma for home viewers employing the 5.1 track is that “Halloween” is a very quiet horror film – people mostly speak quietly and there are many shots that simply have ambient sound rather than any dialogue or music, allowing the naturalistic dread to build. There is nothing wrong with this, except that the music in the 5.1 mix is a whole lot louder than the dialogue/ambient effects, which means that you have to choose between very loud music, very quiet dialogue or adjusting the volume throughout the film. Visually, the print is wonderfully clean and most of the images are very clear, though the blacks are a bit grainy.
The first disc also comes with a full-length audio commentary track by Carpenter, Hill and Curtis, who have lots of good stories about how individual shots were achieved. Carpenter refutes the suggestion that the film is punishing sexual activity with murdering those who indulge, saying instead that Laurie is being rewarded for her alertness. (Given the rather sexualized presentation of the killings, it seems unlikely that Carpenter’s word will be the last in this ongoing debate.) On my system, at least, the player seemed disinclined to relinquish the DVD commentary track once it was initially engaged – the DVD refused to return to any version of the non-commentary soundtrack even after the menu was instructed to do so, and even turning the player off and on again didn’t alter the situation. Actually removing and re-inserting the disc finally did the trick.
Disc 2 comes with a retrospective making-of documentary that, at 87 minutes long, is only four minutes shorter than the feature. The documentary features interviews with most of the principals, including financier Moustapha Akkad, who gives a perspective we rarely hear in the supplemental materials. While the narration is a little unnecessary (it sounds like something we’d hear over a ‘70s trailer), the documentary itself is a valuable addition for serious “Halloween” fans – or, thanks to Akkad, anybody who’d like to hear someone explain what could possibly induce anybody to put up money for a movie. The disc also has a 10-minute tour of the film’s locations hosted by Hill and Soles, which is fine, although the information it contains overlaps with some of the other supplemental features.
“Halloween” is essential horror film history viewing – and just plain as gripping today as it was on its release. This edition is a fine way to experience it