Halloween – Collector’s Edition
Anchor Bay Entertainment – 1978
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Jamie Lee Curtis
I had to take a step back and collect my thoughts before tackling this masterpiece. It’s one of my two favorite films, so I hope my words can do it justice. In 1978, this film was released upon the unexpecting world. It was originally panned by the critics, until the Village Voice saw it for what it is, 90 minutes of unrelenting suspense. That review critically turned the tide for the entire country and HALLOWEEN started picking up steam to eventually become the most successful independent film ever made.
I remember the first time I ever came across anything to do with the film. I was thirteen years old, flipping through the Seattle Times newspaper and I saw the poster ad with the horrifying image of a pumpkin holding a large butcher knife. It was so scary I remember not wanting to look at it very long. There was something frightening about seeing an image we associated with trick or treating now looking like death. It clearly represented the film and is a brilliant movie poster. Simple yet completely effective, the same can be said of the film.
For those of you who don’t know, HALLOWEEN is about a six year old boy named Michael Myers, who kills his sister with a butcher knife on Halloween night 1963. He’s put away into Smith Grove-Warren County Sanitarium where Michael waits patiently for the right moment to break free. October 30, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, Michael Myers makes his escape. He steals a car and heads straight for home, Haddonfield, Illinois.
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the kind of good girl every parent would hope to have. Straight laced, focused on school, she excels at what most consider boring and not fun. Laurie’s father is a real estate agent and on Halloween morning, he asks Laurie to drop off a key at the old Myers house. He says someone wants to see it. Laurie does the favor for her father, but little does she know someone is already in the house. As Laurie puts the key under the front door mat, a dark shadowed man with heavy breathing puts his head into frame to look at her. It’s Michael. This is the first of many instances where John Carpenter uses the foreground and background with impact. As Laurie walks away down a sidewalk, Michael takes the opportunity to step into frame into the rest of her life.
Later that day, as Laurie is sitting in class, she looks out the school room to see a pasty faced man staring at her from across the street. The man doesn’t move as he stands fixated on her. Laurie gets asked a question, which she answers. When she looks book to the window, the man and his car are gone. This begins a string of situations where the white faced man follows Laurie around, always making himself seen and then disappearing. This cat and mouse game makes Michael Myers seem almost supernatural, which works tremendously well because it’s not hard to think of him as the Boogeyman.
Laurie agrees to babysit Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) that night and her friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (PJ Soles) hook up with their boyfriends. Amazingly in the second half of the film, the three girls are placed across the street from each other, but unfortunately Mr. Myers is there too. Carpenter shrinks the distance down to two neighboring houses which is one of his trademark moves. Carpenter likes to confine his characters to tight spaces and put them under attack. You’ll see this if you look at any one of his films. It’s a stroke of genius, because it puts the film crew in one location (no wasted time traveling) and all of the characters are in immediate danger.
The other character heavily involved in the story is Michael’s doctor, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Dr. Loomis, who carries a gun, pursues Myers the entire film and is the only one who understands what Michael is capable of doing. He has been watching Michael for fifteen years and he knows what is inside Michael is “purely and simply, evil.” Donald Pleasence is very important to HALLOWEEN‘s success. He is the voice of experience and wisdom. Donald Pleasence will always be remembered playing this character.
John Carpenter made a huge mark in the industry with HALLOWEEN. Carpenter gets honest performances from each of his actors and he can thank Debra Hill for selecting Jamie Lee Curtis for the lead role. Carpenter’s visual approach is awe-inspiring. The visual precision is so economical, yet ambitious at the same time, it’s a blue print for any aspiring director. The lenses Carpenter picks make full use of the widescreen format and show off Dean Cundey’s stellar lighting. There are many visual moments in the film that will burn right into your head and you will never forget them; Annie on the phone in foreground, while Michael stands behind her, Annie stuck in the window of the laundry house with Michael staring into the window behind her, Tommy Doyle’s POV seeing “The Boogeyman” standing in front of the Wallace house across the street, Michael’s long walk across the street coming right at us, Michael smashing into the closet, Michael sitting straight up behind Laurie as she sits in the doorway at the end. The one that really got me when I first saw the film was when Michael’s white mask slowly appears out of the dark closet, right before he slices Laurie’s shoulder with the butcher knife. I still can’t fully shake that nightmarish image.
Carpenter also made an unforgettable music score. His music conjures up the atmosphere of a small Midwestern town, during the autumn season. The main HALLOWEEN theme is so identifiable that the minute you hear it, you can’t help but think of Michael Myers.
Nick Castle’s performance as Michael Myers or “The Shape” is very special. It’s not often that an actor wearing a mask will make such an impression. You would think just about anyone could throw that white mask on and become Michael Myers. But if you look at the sequels, nobody has come close to recreating the William Shatner mask and no other actor moves like Nick Castle. Castle gave The Shape a touch a grace. All of the other actors playing Michael are clunky and stiff.
I understand that Anchor Bay’s first DVD release of HALLOWEEN was not well received. With this you can rest assured that you will be completely satisfied. Anchor Bay with the supervision of Lucasfilm has struck a new 35mm interpositive (made from the original camera negative) transfer that is THX-Certified and brings HALLOWEEN to DVD with startling visual power. The picture is super clean without scratches. The colors are practically life like and black runs deep.
Anchor Bay put a nice effort into the supplement section. Halloween Unmasked is a new 26 minute documentary that chronicles how HALLOWEEN was made. Most important cast and crew speak out (except the late Donald Pleasence) about how they went about making HALLOWEEN. There are neat details exposed and they show you how some of the film locations look today. Most fans will want to have this just for this documentary.
The still gallery is packed with photos, advertising material and more. The audio commentary which was on the Criterion laser disc is missing, but that would be my only complaint.
I wouldn’t go another day without this DVD.