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John Carpenter’s Halloween: 35th Anniversary (1978) - Blu-ray Review

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Halloween 35th Anniversary - Blu-ray Review

5 stars

The bookish virgin.  Two selfish friends.  The obsessed psychiatrist.  A babysitting job on October 31st.  And The Shape.  Halloween, masterfully directed by John Carpenter, is considered – some 35 years after its release – a classic film of sound and vision.  It is the film that I have watched more times than any other film.  It and its low budget magic introduced me to the mystical art of storytelling.  To this day, it is the only film that consistently terrifies me with its unsettling examination of evil.  Ask anyone who knows a thing or two about film and its history and they will confirm that this unassuming independent film stands proudly next to the likes of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Spielberg’s Jaws.

Written by Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, Halloween is a minimalist’s wet dream.  The dialogue is natural, the storyline is simple, and the evil that threatens a small town on Halloween night is an abstract.  With no humanity, Michael Myers becomes an unstoppable force without rhyme or reason; the how and why – developed ad infinitum in seven sequels (subtracting Halloween 3) – is, here, irrelevant.  The Shape simply is because The Shape always has been.

The infamous and expressionistic beginning act – a POV steadicam sequence shot by cinematographer Dean Cundey – depicts the first horrific episode in Myers’ demented career.  He’s just a boy and the reveal – a removal of a mask by a parent – is shocking and elegant and effective in introducing the horror that returns fifteen years later.

Naive high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her two friends, Annie (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda (P. J. Soles), are being stalked as they walk home and excitedly plan out their activities for the evening.  It is Halloween and Haddonfield, Illinois – with its leaf-lined sidewalks and fall-is-in-the-air attitude – is the safest town to be in.  Or so they think.

The Shape (Nick Castle) stalking them is dressed in blue coveralls and a bleached-out Captain Kirk mask and it will change everything for every Halloween night to come for the girls; for the town.  He’s escaped from a mental hospital in Smith’s Grove – a place he was never to be released from.

Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), obsessed with tending to the evil that Myers possesses, is hot on the trail of mutilated bodies Myers leaves behind.  He knows this type of evil – while unstoppable – must be contained and, tracking him back to his home, has a sneaking suspicion that all is not as it seems.

The rich tone for Halloween is established in its first frame.  Much has been written about the piano-based melody and electronic rhythmic ticking of its synthetic beat.  It’s certainly one of the film’s assets, but it’s what happens on the screen that really establishes mood.  Be mindful of that as we peer straight into the eye of a jack-o-lantern.

The opening title sequence – a very slow movement of the camera toward that lit jack-o-lantern sitting against a deep black backdrop – tells you everything that Carpenter is concerned with: perception.  The terror from the film comes from what you don’t see.  Alongside Carpenter’s work with foregrounds as he turns suburbia into Terror Town, USA, this slow burn approach to horror extends into a grand arc of minimalism and manipulation.

Cundey effectively manipulates viewers with highly expressionistic uses of huge anamorphic-widescreen frames.  Every moment he films adds grandeur to simple locations like those previously mentioned leaf-littered suburban streets and the messy interiors of teenagers’ bedrooms.  He also allows lighting and the natural hues of the day to create the terror of the picture, not the use of blood and guts.  While his days are flooded with natural light and big open spaces, his nights are suffocating; full of high contrasts and rich shadows.

Carpenter – already “owning” his minimalist approach to filmmaking with only two films under his belt – challenges our perception (and shakes us to the core) with his masterful skill of soft-focus backgrounds.  Almost every moment feels as if The Shape has entered the frame.  Never before has a concentration on what we think we see been so important.  It is these simple tools (something Hollywood has forgotten the art of) that give Halloween its disquieting atmosphere.

Simply put, there are few films as effectively chilling as John Carpenter’s Halloween.  It is a film so in-tune with its naturalistic tendencies that the camera itself becomes a main character.  Call it the first film of butcher knives.  Call it ‘The Little Film that Could’ due to its juggernaut success.  Ebert called it “the cult discovery of 1978” in his favorable review.  You can call it what you will.  I simply call it my favorite film of all time.

Mythological and deeply metaphysical, Halloween will have you believing in the boogeyman for the rest of your life.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Halloween - 35th Anniversary - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 91
mins
Director
: John Carpenter
Writer
: John Carpenter
Cast:
Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
Genre: Horror
Tagline:
The Night HE Came Home!
Memorable Movie Quote: "You've got to believe me, Officer, he is coming to Haddonfield... Because I know him! I'm his doctor! You must be ready for him... If you don't, it's your funeral."
Theatrical Distributor:
Compass International Pictures
Official Site: www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/pages/themovies/hw/hw.html
Release Date: October 25, 1978
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
September 24, 2013

Synopsis: A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood for the murder of his sister, escapes and stalks a bookish teenage girl and her friends while his doctor chases him through the streets.

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Halloween 35th Anniversary - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

DigiBook / 35th Anniversary Edition

Available on Blu-ray - September 24, 2013
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); English: Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kbps)
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

For this release, Dean Cundey supervises a new high-definition transfer that – unlike any print before – recaptures the glory of his camerawork.  The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer provides a wonderfully film-like presentation. Cundey's new transfer significantly tweaks the color timing of Anchor Bay’s previous release of the film (which was far too bright).  The results are significant and much closer to Carpenter's vision.  The skin tones are more natural and, as a whole, there is a much better color saturation present. Detail is very impressive and the image is beautifully crisp and deep.  Textures and shadow detail are both outstanding.  The impressive and new 7.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless mix is the way to go.  However, the original 2.0 Dolby Digital mono mix is also provided.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • For this release, John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis have recorded a new commentary track.  They were recorded while sitting in the same room and it shows.  This is an excellent track and it's great to hear the pair's relaxed banter.  It is a lively recording that is important and refreshing as the two discuss the film, their memories of the shoot, and its lasting appeal.

Special Features:

What an awesome anniversary release!  Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release arrives in a thin, but attractive digibook package. The cover is lightly textured and, inside, the book contains a detailed, well-written essay on the film.  There are various black-and-white photographs throughout.  The disc is housed inside the back cover in a cardboard sleeve at the very back of the book.  The new special features are incredibly rich.  You get the all-new high definition transfer by Cundey, the new commentary track by Carpenter and Curtis as well as a new 7.1 audio mix, and the original mono audio mix.  Plus there is a fantastic new featurette with Curtis titled "The Night She Came Home" that traces the authentic journey to her first (and last) horror convention, an older featurette is included called "On-Location" featurette documenting the locations as they look when it was recorded, the original trailer, television and radio spots and, as a bonus, all the additional scenes from the extended television version are included.

  • The Night She Came Home!! (60 min)
  • On Location: 25 Years Later (10 min)
  • TV Version Footage (11 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer (3 min)
  • TV Spots (1 min)
  • Radio Spots (1 min)

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