HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Monday, September 23, 2013


Back in '78, a buddy and I went to see "Halloween" in its heyday.  I remember sitting in the middle of a giddy audience that was wound tight with collective tension, not knowing what would happen next and jumping every time something did.  It was the kind of shared experience that can make going to the movies a pleasure.  And  it was scary, too.  REALLY scary. 

Anchor Bay's new 35th anniversary Blu-ray edition of HALLOWEEN lets us relive that experience, or at least see the film in its original pristine condition just like back in the olden days when it was the next big thing in screen horror.  I'm sure some sharp-eyed Blu-Ray experts will detect various imperfections in the picture and/or sound quality of this new disc, but I used to record VHS tapes on SLP so I'm not all that nitpicky about such things.  Anyway, it looks great to me.

What impresses me most about rewatching the film now is how good it looks for such a low-budget independent effort.  Some reasons for this are the steadiness and freedom of movement that the new Panaglide camera gives cinematographer Dean Cundey--the camera becomes a part of the action in a way rarely seen before, as in the famous extended opening shot--in addition to beautifully-lit night exteriors in which the suburban houses and windblown trees have a ghostly look that manages to capture the way "nighttime" looked to me as a kid. 

But the main reason, of course, is the fact that the young John Carpenter was such a talented filmmaker.  "Halloween" is beautifully and imaginatively directed from start to finish,  filled with both dialogue and action scenes that are designed with economy and efficiency, but with a consistently eye-pleasing aesthetic. 

Carpenter's style isn't always slick (it never really would be, not completely) due to the fact that almost everything he's done has the air of an independent, homegrown effort without Hollywood's handprints all over it.  The story--babysitters menaced by an escaped psycho-killer--is as old and derivative as campfire tales, yet he and partner Debra Hill seem to be brimming with creativity in all other areas of the production.

Since the slasher-stalker film as a genre unto itself was just beginning to take off, there's both a newness and a disarming sort of immaturity to "Halloween" (including some dumb dialogue and awkward acting) that works in its favor.   At times it resembles a likable student film transcending itself thanks to its imaginative direction and sharp editing and cinematography, and hitting on just the right subject matter at just the right time and in just the right way.

Interestingly, there's almost no gore whatsoever, and the violence is hardly stronger than what Hitchcock subjected us to in "Psycho" eighteen years earlier.   Where other slasher flicks such as "Friday the 13th" would simply prolong the lead-up to each kill in tedious ways and then rely on graphic gore as a payoff, Carpenter is able to build and sustain actual old-fashioned suspense (along with audience empathy for his characters rather than merely the desire to see them die) of a kind that is much more effective and fear-inducing. 

Indeed,  the "kill" scenes here are almost cursory, coming after long periods of teasing buildup with a deceptively lighthearted air.   Annie (Nancy Loomis), whom shy Laurie admires for being so "with it", is secretly a klutz, while sexy Lynda (cult fave P.J. Soles of "Carrie" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School" fame) is a comical airhead.  Their deaths are shocking, but hardly the sort of gratuitous, makeup-effects-heavy moments that would come to define the genre.  Just as the almost childlike Michael Myers enjoys toying with his victims, director Carpenter would rather play around with an audience's expectations than bombard them with graphic violence.

It isn't until Laurie (appealing newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis) enters the house in which Annie, Lynda, and Lynda's goofy boyfriend Bob have been killed by "boogeyman" Michael that the film really kicks into high gear, with Carpenter pulling out all the stops to generate nerve-wracking suspense.  Curtis, while not yet a polished actress, really sells it too, screaming and fleeing in panic with the inexorable and seemingly indestructible Michael always a few steps behind her. 

Their classic showdown in a darkened house is the blueprint for many lesser films to come, especially when the apparently-dead Michael, like the Energizer Bunny, keeps coming back to menace the frazzled Laurie anew.  ("Child's Play" villain Chucky would later attain new heights of unkillability.)  Film  veteran Donald Pleasance ("The Great Escape",  "You Only Live Twice") adds his talent and stature to the proceedings as Dr. Loomis, a frantic psychiatrist bent on capturing or killing the escaped lunatic before he can unleash his evil on the world.  He arrives just in time to save the day--or does he?  At the film's blackout ending,  Carpenter's famous percussive musical score will leave you wondering. 

Anchor Bay's special 35th anniversary Blu-Ray edition of "Halloween" comes in a cool Digibook cover with new artwork and a colorfully illustrated making-of booklet.  The film is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby sound (7.1 and original mono) and subtitles in English and Spanish.  In addition to the usual "TV-version" extra footage (which I consider pretty dispensable),  trailers, and TV/ radio spots, there are two  featurettes--"On Location: 25 Years Later" and the all-new "The Night SHE Came Home."  The latter, which runs for a full hour, is a delightful look at Jamie Lee Curtis' only convention appearance (for charity) and how diligently she worked to make the experience a special one for each and every fan.

My favorite bonus feature, though, is the new commentary track featuring Carpenter and Curtis during a relaxed, chatty viewing of the film.  Carpenter, for the most part, yields the floor to his star, who gushes non-stop about it after not having seen it for several years.  While not fond of horror films in general, she's still this particular one's most  enthusiastic fan and, with sometimes surprising perception, explains in detail why each scene is so noteworthy and well-done.  Listening to Jamie Lee talk about HALLOWEEN has given me a renewed appreciation for it, one which enhances each viewing of John Carpenter's timeless horror classic as much as this new HD transfer itself.

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