Blu-Ray Review: Halloween (1978)

SEPTEMBER 26, 2013


I often joke to my superiors at BadassDigest that all I write are Halloween-related articles - between this site and theirs (plus my time at Bloody D) I've probably amassed enough for a small book on the series (and that's not counting my appearances in things like Halloween: The Inside Story). But the funny thing is, I've never actually reviewed the original Halloween in a serious manner - I did the April Fool's joke review a couple years back, and my running commentary take for the first batch of "October Extras" in 2007, but never once have I given it the proper review treatment (I may have even said I never would, now that I think about it).

But it's been a couple years since the film was last re-released on disc with new bonus features (for a movie that was made before the idea of "special editions", it sure has enough of them), and so here we are with a new release of the film from Anchor Bay for its 35th (!) anniversary. Sure, one could make the not-that-big-of-a-stretch joke that it's also the 35th release of the film from AB, and what I'm about to say isn't the first time you've heard it, but I stress - THIS is the edition you want to have in your collection. Throw the previous Blu-ray away if you own it, this one blows it out of the water with its new, Dean Cundey supervised transfer, and apart from the occasional defect (the shot of Loomis outside of the Myers house, right before discovering his own car across the street, is noticeably blurred), is the best home video presentation of the film yet. You know I've seen this movie a lot and scrutinize it more carefully than any other, so I assure you you can take my word for it.

The biggest improvement is the color timing, which was the source of much controversy and aggravation for a decade now. Beginning with the 2003 (25th anniversary!) release, a new transfer has always been used, one that was done WITHOUT Cundey and given a much brighter, "oranger" look. I know on paper that sounds fine and even appropriate (orange = Halloween, no?), but what it actually did was have the rather ironic side effect of making the film look exactly like the setting it was shot: spring in sunny Southern California. The orange tinted look on those wonderful daytime scenes and reduced blues for the nighttime scenes looked "great" to the untrained eye who wasn't considering the source material, but the flatter, colder look is what it's SUPPOSED to look like - it may be shot in California, but it's supposed to be Illinois on October 31st, when it is indeed cold and drab outside. Cundey and Carpenter weren't trying to make their film look "ugly" - they were trying to make it look REAL, and hide the Los Angeles-ness of the image (save for the occasional palm tree). If my memory serves, the last release to look correct was the 1999 one (which originally came with the TV cut on a second disc), which was anamorphic but not high def, obviously - so this is the first time we've gotten a release that resembles how wonderful the film looks on a proper 35mm print.

But detail is also improved over the previous Blu-ray; again, this is a movie I've pored over several times, and the new transfer was sharp and clear enough for me to make out new, completely superfluous things (like a fingerprint on the windshield in front of Laurie during the "I'd rather go out with Ben Tramer" scene, or a few more signs in the background that can now be read). Of course, no one buys a movie to look at the backgrounds, but if the new image is good enough for me to spot things I never noticed before despite 50+ viewings, then it's pretty obvious how great the actual IMPORTANT stuff looks. And again, with the proper color timing, it combines to make a spectacular image that you'd have to be a goon to look down upon (I've seen a few complaints that the new color is "wrong", it's sad).

Of course, a new transfer wouldn't be enough to get folks to shell out another 30 bucks when they probably all have at least two copies by now (I believe this is my 6th, and that's with me recently parting ways with one of my VHS copies), so Anchor Bay has put together some nice supplements to sweeten the deal. The most extensive is an hour-long documentary about Jamie Lee Curtis' first (and last, she says) appearance at a convention. Put together by Sean Clark for a Horrorhound convention, the goal was for her to make this one-time appearance and raise money for the Los Angeles Children's Hospital by donating some portion of the proceeds (the specifics aren't mentioned) from her autograph and photo op fees. Of course, at the time of the 25th anniversary release, this would have been a bit weird, since paying stars for their autograph or for a photo at these things was rather unusual (I know, because I've never paid for one in my life but I have several Fangorias and DVDs that would seem to suggest otherwise), but I guess that's just the reality now. Sad, but at least it was going to charity, and while the photo sessions seem pretty rushed, we see plenty of video footage of her engaging with the fans who had stuff for her to sign, even posing for a few candid shots and leading at least two renditions of "Happy Birthday" for fans who were celebrating more than just meeting Laurie Strode. It's a bit long overall, and poorly edited (Tom Atkins' appearance is completely left to our imagination) with a lot of unnecessary "reel change" type graphics thrown around (to show the passage of time I guess) and truly terrible titles, but it's great to see Ms. Curtis interacting with fans and being so candid (a shame only a snippet of her hour long Q&A is shown, as it's more exciting than seeing her sign the 406th Halloween poster).

The other big "get" is a new commentary by Carpenter and Curtis - this time recorded together, unlike the previous commentary (featuring Debra Hill as well) where the they were recorded separately. As you know, ANY Carpenter commentary is much more fun when he's bouncing off someone, and it's clear that the two still have great affection for each other. Plus, Carpenter doesn't exactly jump to talk about this movie much anymore (like me, he's pretty much talked out about it), but he's having fun reminiscing with Jamie and thus doesn't come across as a grump like he might in an interview or Q&A (though he seems to (rightfully) get a bit exasperated with Curtis' constant narration of the plot and fixation on the film's continuity errors). Of course, some of their comments mirror the ones they made on the last track, but it's vastly more interesting to hear them share such anecdotes and laugh about them, so it's not a big deal. And it's not "new" of course since she died in 2005, but there's a little piece on Debra Hill where she talks about the film and its locations (with some extra input from PJ Soles) that I've never seen before, so if I'm not mistaken it's "new" to an Anchor Bay DVD (UPDATE - I was mistaken - this featurette was on the 2003 Divimax DVD). The TV footage is also present; I guess we will have to wait for the 40th anniversary set (or some unceremonious one in between) for a Blu-ray version of the TV version in its entirety. An essay by Stef Hutchison is also packaged inside the digibook case, which will stick out on your shelf (OCD alert!) but is otherwise quite lovely.

And then the usual trailers and TV spots are there; they might be different than the last one, they might not - I honestly can't tell anymore. Someone on Twitter was bemoaning the lack of the old commentary track, and the various other retrospective pieces (and that behind the scenes material) that appeared on previous releases are also MIA. Anchor Bay seemingly has a real phobia of doing any sort of "ultimate" release with this film - every time around they seemingly create new stuff but port almost nothing over from the last one (unlike Scream Factory's "Everything you had and more!" approach). I don't particularly care about the old commentary since it's not like I listen to them multiple times anyway (in fact I think I HAVE listened to that one twice, so I almost assuredly won't be doing so again), but it would be nice to reclaim some shelf space as I'd like to have the other making of/retrospective material. But you can definitely ditch the 2007 Blu-ray if you have the 2003 Divimax DVD (of which it was basically a port), as it doesn't have anything else on it you won't have elsewhere beyond an incorrectly colored high def image.

(Heh. Still didn't review the movie itself.)

(What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review, was wondering if I should buy this, as I've got every other format and version known to man.


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