By Ray Schwetz
Anchor Bay Entertainment
As a kid growing up in the slasher craze of the eighties, you were defined as a Michael Myers fan, a Jason Voorhees fan, a Leatherface fan, or a Freddy Krueger fan.
Jason looked cool in the hockey mask, and there was definitely more nudity and gore in the Friday flicks. Leatherface was kind of a blithering idiot. Freddy was scary in the first Nightmare, but after that he became a self parody. I was always kinda partial to Michael.
Michael Myers was forbidden fruit. My parents told me that, at only thirteen years old, the "Halloween" films were too violent for me. "Halloween II" was on cable that month. I had already seen the first one on TV. I saw "The Fog" on the Sunday Night Movie and "Assault on Precinct 13" on the WOR-TV channel 9 Million Dollar Movie. I had also seen Dark Star on the Late, Late, Late Show on ABC. I even saw "Escape From New York" at my friend's 12th birthday party. At thirteen, I was a huge John Carpenter fan. He was probably, if memory serves, the first director (outside of maybe George Lucas) whose name and filmography I knew by heart. I just had to see "Halloween 2!" So, I snuck downstairs to watch it in the basement at 3:00am one night (something he did often-editor), with the sound turned real low. I was entranced. Michael stalked his victims without breaking a sweat. He was so cool that he just walked after them. Whoa.
Anyway, I think that was what made Michael so special to me. At the time, it was like choosing your favorite Universal horror character. Who would win if it was Jason Vs. Freddy? They were the new Godzillas and King Kongs.
As I matured (and I use the term loosely), I realized that "Halloween" was much more than just a gory showcase for a maniac slasher. I realized that "Halloween" does what all horror movies should do. It makes you look in the back seat of you car. It makes you leave the night light on. It makes you close the closet door.
"Friday the 13th" never did that to me. Yeah, Jason looked scary. The "Friday" films all made me jump and scream like I was on a rollercoaster. "Nightmare on Elm Street" definitely creeped me out. I love the visual imagery in those films and Robert Englund is great as Freddy, but "Halloween" is the film that still scares me. I think it's the end. That classic ending. I won't ruin it for newbees, but the end is scary. The film is one of those horror movies that builds, and builds, and builds until, well, you know.
One Halloween night, a disturbed young Michael Myers kills his sister. He stabs her repeatedly with a large butcher knife. Years later, he escapes a mental insitution and comes home (as the ads so effectively stated for this film) to Haddonfield. He seems particularly focused on one babysitter named Laurie Strode. As he stalks Laurie and her hapless sex-crazed teenaged friends, Michael is hunted by the only man who might stop him: Dr. Sam Loomis. Loomis has tried to get Michael locked away forever. He knows Michael is not human. He is pure evil.
Carpenter builds this overwhelming sense of dread, as the action folds over the course of one day. Using sweeping, gliding camera work and layered keyboard music, Carpenter gives us the feeling that someone is always watching the characters on screen. No one is safe. Michael could be anywhere.
Jamie Lee Curtis defines the term "Scream Queen." As Laurie Strode, she proves to be Michael's true equal. She is terrified, but willing to fight back to save herself and the kids she?itting for. The late Donald Pleasance began a long and fruitful artistic relationship with Carpenter as Loomis. It's hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. However, Carpenter initially offered the role to Christopher Lee, who politely turned him down. Pleasance's performance gives the film credibility. He re-teamed with Carpenter for "Escape From New York" and "Prince of Darkness" and played Loomis in the subsequent sequels. The supporting cast, especially P.J. Soles and Nick Castle (who played the Shape best here, are also uniformly good.
Anchor Bay's long awaited limited edition double DVD set is a godsend to the film's fans. It is the best way to currently view Halloween at home. Even if you already own the excellent Criterion laserdisc, this DVD is a must purchase.
The DVD includes both the theatrical version and the TV version. For those unfamiliar, the TV version edits some nudity and violence and inserts incidental scenes shot just for TV (12 minutes of footage). One of the scenes was shot to bridge "Halloween 1" and "H2." On the Criterion laserdisc, there was a feature where you could program the player to insert these scenes by jumping to the necessary chapters. Now with the DVD set, you simply choose which version you want to watch, no programming is necessary. Oh, and there's also a pan and scan version for those of you who are ignorant.
The DVD also includes the 30 minute documentary entitled "Halloween Unmasked 2000." It includes interviews with cast and crew that are exclusive, so it is a must for fans. There are also trailers, TV spots, and even trivia. This disc set also includes a stills section containing some never-before-seen photos.
Remember the feeling you had when you first saw the "Night of the Living Dead" laser from Elite? That's the same feeling I had when I watched this. Wow. That's all I can say. This transfer was made from a newly discovered print and the result is astounding. The color palatte is much improved over all previous transfers. The DVD is so sharp, you'll forget the film is 20+ years old. I'd heard this sort of criticism regarding restored films before, but this really applies to "Halloween." Anchor Bay's new DVD blows all previous home video versions out of the water. You can take the old movie only edition and use it to play frisbee with Fido (or sell it to some poor, unknowing schmuck on ebay for $2).
The audio is equally astounding. This new 5.1 mix spatializes existing dialogue, sound effects, and music, while integrating new sound effects. Purists will be happy to note that the old mono soundtrack is also included on the DVD. I haven't yet listened to the mono soundtrack, since I'd already heard it countless times before on video, so I won't other reviewing it here. However, it's nice to know that Anchor Bay respects this film enough to bother including it. The newly mixed Dolby digital 5.1 track is reference quality. It really shows you just how much an old soundtrack can be improved with current technology. Bravo, Anchor Bay!
All in all, if you're a horror fan, you simply must own this disc. The only thing that's missing is the cast and crew commentary from the Criterion laserdisc. That's certainly not a knock against Anchor Bay. My understanding is that the rights to the commentary were not available. So, if you have this laserdisc, don't replace it. Just think of this DVD set as the perfect improved companion. Others, what are you waiting for? After all, this is a limited edition. This DVD is just getting harder to find as we speak!