John Carpenter: The Collection: Halloween Review
It is Halloween night the small town of Haddonfield in 1963 and Michael Myers is arrested following his killing of his sister Judith. Judith was only seventeen and was babysitting her brother while their parents attended a party. His mother and father arrive home mere moments after the murder, finding their son dazed, still in his Halloween costume and holding a bloody knife. Myers, only six years old, is immediately sent to Smith's Grove, a mental hospital, where he is placed under the care of psychiatrist Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Myers will never be released. Fifteen years later, Loomis is visiting Smith's Grove once again. As he arrives, patients dressed in gowns are free in the grounds. As the nurse he is with stops the car and he leaves to investigate what might have happened, a figure enters the car and, frightening the nurse away, drives off. It is Myers and he is returning to Haddonfield.
That day, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is preparing for Halloween with her friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (PJ Soles). Walking home, they see a strange car drive past, one that stops not far from where they stand before driving off. Later, Laurie sees a strange figure standing in a garden watching her. Elsewhere, the headstone belonging to Judith Myers goes missing from the graveyard. That night, as everyone gets ready for Halloween parties, Laurie and Annie go to separate houses to begin babysitting, Annie to Lindsey (Kyle Richards) and Laurie to Tommy (Brian Andrews). Looking out of his window, Tommy says that he can see the Boogeyman across the street. Laurie tells him that it's only Halloween. But Tommy is right. The Boogeyman has come back to Haddonfield.
Beginning life as The Babysitter Murders, a film dreamt up by producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad, who has been involved with Halloweens since, Halloween wasn't wholly original. The idea of young girls in a house alone, or effective alone given that young children would offer little or no protection, was one that had a certain appeal in horror. I Saw What You Did and Fright both used the story of a babysitter in peril, in 1965 and 1971, respectively, with Fright seeing Susan George threatened by Ian Bannen. No end of urban legends - including that of a babysitter receiving a telephone call...from inside the same house! - have seen these stories continue to the present day. Halloween, however, is the most famous of the lot, its setting on the night of the 31 October ensuring that it would be a perfect seasonal favourite of television schedulers.
However, that's not to dull Halloween's impact any. This is rather a personal anecdote as regards the film. Though not a particular fan of the horror genre, she normally copes reasonably well but it would be an exaggeration to say that my wife watched this film. Instead, from Michael Myers's first appearance on the lawn outside the house where Annie is babysitting, she only listened to Halloween, hiding behind her hands for the rest of its running time, refusing to emerge even when Myers was off the screen. I'm sure she's not alone when it comes to Halloween.
What Carpenter does brilliantly is, like his Assault On Precinct 13, to pare Halloween down to its basics. Like the gang members in his earlier film, Myers is unstoppable but, unlike their revenge attacks, there is no reason for what Myers does. He attacks, as Tommy so memorably puts it, because he is the Boogeyman. Scaring and killing is what he does. Early in the film, he spooks Laurie, Annie and Lynda by slowing his car as he passes and, later, by popping out from behind a hedge. As the audience, we are also aware of his presence where the cast are not, peering out from the door of the Myers house as Laurie Strode steps onto the porch. Later, he simply stands on the lawn of the house opposite Tommy's, staring as menacingly as he can. It's only when Myers kills Annie that the fun and games take a nastier turn, made all the better from Carpenter cranking up the tension up until it reaches this point. When Myers finally gets to murdering, it comes as something of a release and in a short space of time, he's killed two more, the most memorable of which comes with Myers turning his head to admire his handiwork. Then he comes after Laurie.
Perhaps this viewer is alone in this but I'm not convinced by the moral undertones that others see in the film. Laurie Strode may survive the film but it's not for Myers not wanting her dead. Instead of using Halloween to preach to his audience about the risks of premarital sex, Carpenter gets down to scaring it. Making full use of his widescreen frame and his Panaglide camera, Carpenter has fun hiding his killer in the background and having him jump out to say, "Boo!", the same as others might throw a cat into a scene. It's typical of Halloween, but no less effective because of it, when Laurie is hurrying Lindsay and Tommy upstairs and Myers emerges from the shadows behind her. It's because of these moments that Halloween is, for the most part, fun. There are few actual moments of nastiness. This fun continues up to the very end in which Laurie Strode fights back and Dr Loomis pumps six bullets into Myers before he finally falls back over a balcony and onto the ground below, where they believe that he's dead. Of course he isn't. Like he's done throughout the film, Myers jumps up again and as Halloween ends, he's off. What he eventually ran into is a rash of slasher movies that rejected Halloween's sense of fun for outright horror, including Prom Night, Silent Night, Deadly Night and the many Friday The 13th films. Not one of them, though, is a patch on Halloween.
This looks to be exactly the same release as issued through Anchor Bay in 2001, down to the same extras, audio options and menu design, albeit that it loses the second disc that originally offered the network television cut of the film. Inasmuch as that version was THX certified, more recent releases have shown that THX really doesn't mean that much and this is one of the less impressive releases in this John Carpenter box. It's watchable but the picture is much softer than it ought to be while it also looks a little washed out of colour, with everything more muted than one would expect of America in autumn. And this was set in the seventies so I did expect retina-singeing oranges and reds. Too dark, a bit too fuzzy and too pale is a quick summation of the picture.
There are three audio options, the original mono (presented here as dual mono), a DD2.0 surround track and a DD5.1 remix. Of the three, this viewer preferred the first of these, largely on account of it sounding warmer and without any remixing to make something of the rear channels but all three are fine. The sound effects are clear throughout, as is the dialogue, and there's little to complain about as regards any of these three audio tracks. Finally, there are no subtitles.
Halloween Unmasked 2000 (27m14s): Choosing not to go with the longer and much better Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest documentary, Optimum have included this one, which details some of the production and the background to the film but is rather light on detail. All of the main production crew are interviewed but with the odd exception, the cast are not, leaving it feeling very incomplete as though, somewhere out there, there's a much bigger story to be told on the making of Halloween and how well it was received. And, unfortunately for this disc, that's Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest.
There are also two Trailers (5m13s), three TV Spots (1m15s), three Radio Spots (1m23s) and a Stills Gallery. Finally, there are Biographies for the main cast and crew and ten pages of Trivia.