Michael Myers, Alice Cooper & The Devil

October brings us Jack O’Lanterns, Trick-Or-Treaters, a deluge of pumpkin spiced everything and, in 2013, yet another home-video release of John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. Arguably the scariest horror movie ever made, the 1978 thriller is the granddaddy of the entire slasher film genre— while movies like Friday The 13th borrowed liberally from movies like Mario Bava’s Bay Of Blood, they wouldn’t have been made in the first place if not for the incredible success of Halloween — and, until 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, the most successful independent film ever made, earning over $70 million worldwide on a $325,000 budget.

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We’ve talked about Halloween here at Geekweek before (see here) and the film is still as terrifying now as it was 35 (!) years ago — and, with Anchor Bay’s new “Anniversary Edition” of the film just released on Blu-Ray, it looks better than ever. The film has had nearly as many home video releases as it has had sequels, starting with the pan-and-scan Media Entertainment version in the 1980s and culminating with this new Blu-Ray edition, personally supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey. This release is the best the film has ever looked — the sharp transfer is full of deep blacks, accurate film grain and detailed textures — but it’s not without controversy.

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There have been so many different variations of Halloween released — including Criterion’s 1994 laserdisc edition, Anchor Bay’s THX-certified 1999 version signed off by Cundey and a 2007 Blu-Ray that drained the deep blues from the night-time scenes — that it’s hard to know what’s accurate; any of the very few film prints of Halloween still floating around have been projected to death and faded even worse. The trouble with the film is that, while it’s set in Illinois in October, it was actually filmed in South Pasadena and West Hollywood, California in springtime; prop dead leaves were brought in to make it look properly autumnal, but the lawns and trees look pretty healthy for fall. The 1999 DVD seems to have been digitally tweaked to allow for the trees to look more autumnal and plays up the blue nighttime photography, while the 2007 Blu-Ray looks brighter and more washed-out throughout. The new “35th Anniversary Edition” is darker, with richer contrast, and the color timing is such that the film looks more time-appropriate if not exactly October, more cold and gray, which suits the carefully-composed widescreen image well, particularly when the white visage of iconic killer Michael Myers appears out of the darkness in the corner of the frame.

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While a newly-mixed lossless 7.1 Dolby True HD soundtrack is fantastic (alongside the original mono track), the extras are a mixed bag. There’s a newly recorded commentary between Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis which is amiable and friendly — though the two have grown a little more jaundiced about the industry and their careers in the horror field as time has marched on —  and the hour-long “The Night She Came Home” documentary which details Curtis’ first and last convention appearance at the “HorrorHound Fest” in Indianapolis last November. It’s interesting enough and Curtis seems genuinely engaged by reuniting with the cast and crew of Halloween and the sequel, not to mention meeting her (sometimes over-) enthusiastic fans. But the piece drags on too long and ultimately wears out its welcome. The “On Location: 25 Years Later” featurette is recycled from an earlier DVD edition and contains interviews with the film’s late co-writer/producer Debra Hill and it’s perplexing why, if Anchor Bay (and rights holders Trancas Films) would add this, why wouldn’t they include the myriad other featurettes and documentaries (including the excellent 90-minute “A Cut Above The Rest” documentary from the 2007 Blu-Ray) and the commentary between Carpenter, Hill and Curtis from the Criterion laserdisc? Why not piece together a hi-def version of the TV version — padded out with new scenes for the 1981 NBC airing — which was included in the 1999 DVD set?  DVD producer Don May is in possession of hours of test footage and dailies from the films, but Trancas was too cheap to license any of this from him. Halloween fans are going to be happy with the way the film looks and sounds this go-around, but those waiting for a definitive package (and want to replace the multiple versions they already own) are going to be disappointed. And what's with that hideous cover? 

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Disappointment, however, is not the word to apply to Scream Factory’s new Blu-Ray release of Carpenters 1987’s Satanic opus Prince Of Darkness. The second in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” following 1982’s The Thing and 1995’s In The Mouth Of Madness (out next week on a very no-frills Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video), the film wrestles with an out-there premise — that the son of the Devil (the “Anti-God”) exists in the form of a container full of “pre-biotic fluid” found in an old church in downtown Los Angeles — and takes it surprisingly seriously, with scientists, theoreticians and theologists fighting the menace instead of your average stalwart action hero. Carpenter suffuses the piece with a real sense of dread — the homicidal homeless people (led by Alice Cooper, whose manager Shep Gordon executive-produced the film) and insects outside pale in comparison to the evil Donald Pleasance, Jameson Parker, Big Trouble In Little China’s Victor Wong and Dennis Dun and the rest of the cast face inside the church as the piece turns into a supernatural take on the siege genre, a la Carpenter’s own Assault On Precinct 13.

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Previously released in muddy, smeary bare-bones DVD editions by Image and Universal (the Image disc was the first DVD I ever owned, even before I had a DVD player!), Scream Factory’s new Blu-Ray is a revelation— sharp, rich and colorful, with Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s pulsing soundtrack in booming 5.1 DTS. The picture is so detailed that you can see how the spherical wide-angle lenses used by cinematographer Gary Kibbe creates distortion around the sides of the frame— and the concealer used to cover-up a pimple on the cheek of actress Lisa Blount. The commentary from Carpenter and character actor Peter Jason (who’d later turn up in nearly all of Carpenter’s later films) is left-over from a UK DVD release, but Scream Factory has compiled otherwise all-new extras, including interviews with Carpenter, Cooper (who details how he reused a stage gag involving a deadly microphone stand to kill off one character), Howarth and visual effects supervisor Robert Grasmere, who details how he was lassoed into double-duty to play doomed cynical biologist Wyndham. An alternate opening from the movie’s TV version — awkwardly cut to make us think that the entire story is a dream — and a new episode of Sean Clark’s “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds,” where he visits the film’s locations (the church is now the David Henry Hwang Theater in Downtown LA’s Little Tokyo) wrap up a superlative package of one of Carpenter’s scariest, most underrated films.

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You can purchase Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition from Amazon

You can purchase Prince Of Darkness directly from Shout Factory or from Amazon.

 

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