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HALLOWEEN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P. J. Soles, Nancy Loomis
Director:  John Carpenter
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  91 Minutes
Release Date:  August 14, 2007

“Death has come to your little town, Sheriff…”

Film ***1/2

Halloween is a true classic.  Not only did it establish the vocabulary and pattern by which many less successful “slasher” flicks that followed would use, not only did it give us one of the most eerie and easily recognizable music scores in horror history, it was also the film that brought a young actress named Jamie Lee Curtis to the big screen, and she’s never been off of it since.  Ironically, though her career has been long lasting and successful, I would wager this, her first movie, is still the one she’s most remembered for.

Director John Carpenter created a memorable and suspenseful film on a budget of only $300,000…$20,000 of which went to his one established star, Donald Pleasence.  But he proved then what we see over and over again today, in the age of the independent film…you don’t need a lot of money if you have talent, faith, and a clear vision.  His film has become as much a staple of the holiday it’s named after as costumes and candy.

The film opens on Halloween night with a terrific POV shot, where the villain creeps around and into a house, stopping to pick up a knife and a clown mask (where the shot switches to show an eye hole view).  The villain then proceeds upstairs to brutally murder his sister, who cries out his name, Michael.  Then back down the stairs he goes, and out of the house, where the arriving parents pull off the mask, revealing the killer.  He is a little boy.

Jump forward fifteen years, and Michael Myers has escaped from the hospital that has been holding him all the while.  Though no one else is so sure, his doctor, Loomis (Pleasence) is convinced that Michael is returning home.  He has lain silent and still all those years, he explains, as though waiting for some alarm clock to tell him it was time.  Now, Laurie (Curtis) and some of her high school friends are in for a Halloween night they’ll never forget.

There are a few factors that make the movie work as well as it does.  One is the constant exposition by the doctor.  You never hear a psychologist admit that there are things he can’t explain.  Even Father Karras from The Exorcist is convinced the explanation for the possession is scientific, and not supernatural, despite some overwhelming evidence. 

We don’t get that here.  Loomis explains that there is no mental condition at work here…he believes that Myers is simply and truly evil personified.  He spent eight years trying to reach him, and then seven more trying to insure he would never be set free.  This also gives us a character in Michael Myers that is decidedly wicked.  There is no explanation a la Norman Bates as to why he kills.  There are no reasons.

The second is the way Carpenter films and photographs Michael.  For the most part, we get only glimpses of him, usually in the background where his ghostly white mask illuminates from the blackness around him, then as quickly as he appears, he vanishes.  Carpenter also wisely chooses to wait until a good length into his picture to show us the adult Myers in the act of murder.  During the build up time, he continues to make his character a looming, distant, voyeuristic presence.  It is effectively unnerving.

And lastly, though it may be overshadowed by some of the gorier sequels, Halloween was relatively tame in terms of showing blood and graphic violence on screen.  Like Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it seems to have garnered a reputation for being bloodier than it actually is.  Carpenter achieves his sense of horror through suspense. 

And by using Halloween night as his setting, he creates situations where the victims believably go outside their homes to investigate strange noises.  After all, it’s a night when they’re expecting their friends to play tricks on them.  It services the suspense well, by allowing the characters to approach dangerous situations in an offhand and unprepared way, unlike the ridiculous way they tend to behave in most slasher movies:  “The killer is picking us off one by one…let’s split up and search for him!”  Those are the kind of horror movies where you don’t necessarily hope to see survivors.

All of Carpenter’s instincts were right on the money.  Halloween became the most profitable independent film of all time (a record that lasted until The Blair Witch Project), and almost 30 years later, it’s still a fan favorite and a holiday ritual.  There have been sequels and imitators, but even in the new millennium, there’s only one Halloween.

Video ****

This is an amazing looking anamorphic transfer, particularly considering that one, the film is now 29 years old, and two, most of the settings are at night.  I remember my old VHS copy, how poorly defined the night scenes were…muddy, bad coloring, and soft.  There are no problems like that here.  Certain night scenes are deliberately indistinct, and Carpenter uses selected bits of lighting to make certain images and objects appear through the darkness.  In these scenes, there is no grain, no compression, no loss of clarity, and even well defined colors.  Check the scene were Jamie Lee Curtis goes to the neighboring house to investigate.  She’s wearing a blue blouse, blue jeans, and the house is filmed with a cool blue nighttime tint to it.  All three shades of blue are distinct.  The daytime scenes are even more impressive, with striking clarity and color composition, and hardly any nicks or scars visible on the print.  Anchor Bay has always been known for delivering high quality DVDs of classic and cult horror films, but with this title, they’ve outdone themselves.

Audio ****

The 5.1 remix is quite remarkable.  The best aspect is John Carpenter’s legendary score, which sounds better than ever thanks to the crispness of digital and the extra boom of the subwoofer.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and windy or breathy sounds open up across the front and rear stages for extra dimension.

Features **

The main feature on the disc is the documentary Halloween Unmasked 2000.  Apart from that, there is the original trailer, two TV spots, two radio spots, talent files, and a poster and stills gallery.

Summary: 

Halloween is a landmark horror film…unabashedly recommended.

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