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Halloween: 35th Anniversary Collector's Edition

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis

(US DVD: 24 Sep 2013)

The unstoppable and vaguely supernatural killer. The knife and the teenage babysitter in danger. The “final girl” who fights the monster to the death… but then we learn the monster isn’t actually dead.


All these elements are familiar to movie audiences and have been for almost 40 years. But they wouldn’t be if not for John Carpenter’s Halloween, the independent film that started the golden age of the slasher.


Carpenter had already made the dark tale Precinct 13, a cult film that melded the western with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  Carpenter’s Halloween, shot on a limited budget but with the capital of having actor Donald Pleasence in for a few scenes, gave horror fans a story not only of a group of babysitter’s in danger, but of the quiet suburbs under threat. Using the perfect framing device of America’s dark carnival holiday, Michael Myers (called “the Shape” in the script) transformed American horror movies. Otherworldly evil… and stalking the streets of your own neighborhood.


Halloween likely found the audience it did because of a number of cultural anxieties, or rather, obsessions, of the ‘70s. The holiday had become a source of parental concern beginning in the late ‘60s as October 31st seemed to have gone back to its rather dangerous roots from early in the century, a time when tricks were much more common than treats.


The late ‘70s also proved ground zero for the birth of modern urban legends, many of them issuing directly from the worries about the dramatic, indeed revolutionary changes, brought about in the previous decade. Worries about the “younger generation” took the form of stories about Halloween treats turned into deadly weapons. Razors would appear in apples. What you thought was powdered sugar was actually lye. The culture itself had become fertile ground for exactly the kind of horror story Carpenter wanted to tell.


The 35th anniversary edition Blu-ray of Halloween gives us a gorgeous transfer of the terrifying experience. If you have only seen DVD prints or the earlier Blu-ray version, you’ll be delighted with this newest transfer. The film’s original cinematographer, Dean Cundey, oversaw this new HD release with new TrueHD 7.1 audio. It looks and sounds fantastic.


The most notable new special feature is an all-new commentary track with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Although Carpenter goes over some of the same ground you’ve heard before (especially about the origins of the idea of Michael Myers as the Shape), the interaction between the director and his star has the charm of old friends talking.


One of the most surprising things about their conversation is how much Carpenter has forgotten about the filming of his masterpiece, including the actual locations for a many of the shots. Fans should be forgiving about this, since not only are these almost 40 year old memories, but the film had an incredibly short shooting schedule. And certainly there was no reason to imagine that this little independent horror film would become the cultural force in the way that it did.


A short documentary, done by John Marsh and Kelly Curtis, explores Curtis’ relationship to the Halloween franchise. Called “The Night She Came Home”, this featurette follows her as she attends a HorrorHound sponsored signing in 2012 meant to raise money for charity. It’s an especially notable event to document, given that Curtis has generally avoided fan-related event for the last 35 years.


There are some special treats in this featurette, including an appearance by the actors who played “the Shape”. But there are also some off-putting elements. Curtis makes her disdain for the horror genre fairly clear. This is a peculiar attitude, given that Halloween has been far from her only foray into horror, including her return to the franchise.


On the other hand, Curtis is more than generous with the fans and this makes up for her general disparagement of their devotion to the genre. In fact, she sticks around an extra few hours to sign Halloween memorabilia for the hundreds who wait in line to see her. Curtis also makes a very good point that, after several runs as various “finals girls” of horror flicks, she had to make the decision to, in her words, “break-up” with horror in order to pursue her varied career in comedy and action films.


One drawback is the length of this featurette that runs for almost 50 minutes. This is a bit lengthy for a bonus that mostly shows us Curtis signing things.


My favorite bonus feature is one you may have seen in an earlier DVD release. Extra footage from a television release of the film includes a five-minute scene in which Donald Pleasence argues that Michael Myers should be kept in a super max prison rather than at the minimum security institution the film has him escaping from. This gives us more Donald Pleasance, but also an intriguing scene of his interaction with a young, allegedly catatonic Myers


The packaging itself offers fans of Halloween a bonus. The single Blu-ray disc comes sheathed in a booklet with original artwork that contains 18 pages of pictures and commentary. There are lots of still shots here of Carpenter, Curtis and Pleasence. The highlight of the book is an image of Carpenter holding a knife over the famous staircase as the Shape stands behind him, an actor in a spraypainted William Shatner Halloween mask about to lumber into horror history.


The quality of this transfer, plus the great big bundle of extras, will make it feel like “The night he came home” all over again, even if you’ve already seen this flick 20 times.

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W. Scott Poole is a writer and an associate professor of history at the College of Charleston. He's the author of Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror (Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press), a book about the life and strange times of America's first horror host. He is also the author of the award-winning Monsters in America (2011). Follow him on twitter @monstersamerica.


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