Halloween: 25 Years of Terror Review
To tie in quite nicely with the forthcoming Blu-ray release of John Carpenter's all-out classic Halloween, which will be covered in-depth soon - we won't talk too much about Rob Zombie's remake/re-imagining just yet, eh? - I thought I would check out this celebratory double-disc examining the cultural phenomenon surrounding the prestige and long-standing admiration that the seminal stalk 'n' slasher still commands to this day. The main feature of this package is the 83-minute documentary Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror, which is set and based around the Halloween Returns To Haddonfield convention that was held in Pasadena in October 2003. In many ways, this celebration is akin to the enormously popular Jaws retrospective entitled The Shark Still Works (which will, hopefully, see a DVD release soon) that was held in Martha's Vineyard (Amity) in that cast, crew, fans, historians and all-out geeks are absolutely invited to participate. But, thankfully, the documentary doesn't just look at the fame and fortune of the film, itself. It also makes an incisive examination of the climate that brought such a saga into being and just how it became so enormously successful that it spawned numerous sequels, a remake, books and comic series and entered the public consciousness with scalpel-sharp accuracy and totally embedded itself as a pop-cultural icon.
As will be seen in my forthcoming review for Halloween on Blu-ray, I am already a massive fan of the original and still regularly enjoy its mould-shattering atmosphere and sheer visual panache. But beyond my own enthusiasm for the production, John Carpenter's Halloween broke a lot of new ground, both in the horror genre and in cinematic methodology and its influence simply cannot be overestimated. So, it is commendable and worthy that such an exhaustive package revelling in the franchise's horrific verve be put together.
Really speaking, the overall package is just a huge amalgamation of special features but, as such, it is the perfect companion to any edition of the original film and its slice 'n' dice spawned sequels. The main feature, itself, Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror is obviously the major draw, but how well does it compare with the oft-seen Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest documentary which has adorned many of the original landmark movie's disc releases?
Well, for starters, this is a much bigger retrospective and takes in the entire series of films, well up until the swiftly-arriving remake that is. The main players are all here. The filmmakers and producers - the ghostly-looking John Carpenter, Debra Hill, the late Moustafa Akkad, Tommy Lee Wallace, Rick Rosenthal, etc - and the many actors who have been stalked and slashed over the years - Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, Donald Pleasance in some nice archive footage, Tom Atkins, Danielle Harris and on and on - and, of course, many critics, horror historians and directors who have felt the influence of Carpenter's textbook masterclass in suspense and terror. It is always nice to see the likes of Kim Newman and Edgar Wright cropping up, but some of the American critics are utterly clueless mouthpieces who either spout the most obvious of points or seem to quantify a horror film's quality by the amount of naked breasts it contains. Mind you, we do, at least, have horror guru Clive Barker pontificating on all Myers-matters in his transatlantic drawl - I think I've finally gotten used to it now - and upon on the cultural and psychological genesis of fright films and impact of the initial story and the legacy started by a blank-faced, six-year-old, sister-slayer called Michael. He even gets to extol the virtues of the failed Hellraiser crossover that had once been mooted, although I find that prospect altogether too dubious for words. The meeting of terror-titans is something that should have died out with the Universal monster-mashes, which I've discussed often on this site and there really is no integrity in pitting The Shape against Pinhead. Rob Zombie also gets to air his views on the film and it should be noted that this documentary was filmed before his version of the original was even being mooted. He makes some valid points and comes across as a true admirer of it - but then we already knew that, didn't we? At this moment in time I can't fully discuss his remake, sufficed to say that, even if it does have Big John's blessing, I can only view his interpretation as a re-imaging, a la Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes. Having read the script and heard some infamous comments about the notorious “workprint”, his film does appear to be removed just enough from the original so as not to tarnish its hallowed name. Hallowed - do you see what I did there?
Narrated by P.J. Soles, who was, of course, Linda in the first film, the documentary whistle-stops its way through the franchise, giving cursory asides to the rip-off films and copycat serial killers that it created along the way. Mass-murderers like Jason and Freddy get their faces plastered amongst the many talking heads, but one specific personality doesn't get anywhere near enough airtime. The big J.C. has distanced him from the films after the legal wrangles behind the scenes of Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers - which I actually quite like because of that terrific scene when all of a sudden a street is seemingly filled with multiple Myers - and has retained a low-profile regarding the matter of the franchise ever since, despite being the Man Who Created Michael Myers. Consequently, we only have a few tiny moments when the cult filmmaker dishes any dirt. Debra Hill, long-time business partner of, and producer for Carpenter has plenty to say though. And there is some intriguing insight into the feverish mindset of some of the more enthusiastic fans who attended the celebration. Hats off to the young lady who happily raises her top whilst quoting P.J. Soles' immortal line, “See anything you like?” Damn it, now I sound like that dough-headed Yankee critic! Still, in answer to her question, hell, yes!
You have got to hand it to the Americans, though. Those guys certainly know how to put on a festival. The town of Pasadena, where the original Halloween was filmed, gets in on the act, with performers recreating various scenes from the film for the benefit of bus-loads of sight-seers. Images such as Laurie and Annie ambling down the tree-lined road as Michael Myers steps back behind the bushes ahead of them, for example, are pure nectar for nerds. It's cool stuff and the type of infectious fun that you just don't get on this side of the Pond, unless it involves The Beatles.
Although I am not much of a fan of the later entries in the series, the stories supplied by Danielle Harris and others about the negative side of meeting fans - stalkers, threats etc - are important and even reckless considering that the now-gorgeous Harris even declares her fears that her own twisted shadow might even be at the convention and could possibly even follow her to her car afterwards! But perhaps the most telling aspect of the documentary is the piece that discusses the effect these films have on the more susceptible-minded individuals out there. Really, this topic is much too comprehensive and fascinating to be covered in any detail by the feature but it is a relevant point and good to see that it wasn't neglected amid all the serial-killer hero-worship that dominates it. On a slightly weird note, it is mildly disturbing to see the young Danielle Harris larking about on the set of Halloween 4, in a Myers mask and carrying a knife, butchering a crew-member and even rendering a “mercy-kill” to the man's family jewels to the loud amusement of all onlookers. Something of an irony there methinks. Other interesting snippets explore the bizarre plot-pitches surrounding Michael in space and the possible collaboration between Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter for what turned out to be a doomed instalment. The mask-madness that swept through the production of Halloween: H20, leading to no less than six different versions of the mask being worn by Myers is quite amusing, too.
Personally, I would have liked more coverage of the first two sequels. Halloween III: Season Of The Witch is a terrific little movie and is historically very significant in that it uses the original concepts from a script by the great Nigel Kneale, the man behind Quatermass. It would have been great to have heard a little more about the screenplay that he came up with before John Carpenter and the film's eventual director Tommy Lee Wallace revamped it and added some more gore. As it stands, it is still nice to see Tom Atkins wax lyrical about the project - even if everybody at the time of the film's release seemed determined to lambaste it for its complete deviation from its predecessors and lack of Michael Myers' bogeyman.. But, perhaps, inevitably, as the documentary gathers momentum, you kind of pine for more detailed and less slavering examinations of each of the films. That said, there is plenty of candid talk about what entries weren't so hot, even by the people who made them. Behind-the-scenes squabbles are tantalisingly mentioned but never divulged enough to satisfy, leading to a progression of quick-cut anecdotes and critical overview. The original documentary on the Halloween 25th Anniversary Edition, lasting 87 minutes, was naturally a much more engrossing and focussed dissection, but this is still a deliciously entertaining slice of fond reminiscence that definitely whets the appetite for more Michael Myers mayhem.
Ultimately, it is inarguable that this movie transformed the feelings and the approach to the horror movie genre in general and also shaped the admiration for the independent director toiling away without the backing of studio money and fashioning a production that benefits from single-minded drive and an unchecked imagination. That John Carpenter's nightmarishly simple creation could inspire such adulation and longevity is miraculous and a real testament to the iconic stature that such taboo-breaking movies have over pop-culture.
There is also an exclusive 4-disc edition of this release that features SD editions of the full-length original movie and all the extras that adorned the previous double-disc Divimax release from Anchor Bay. So, if you are in the unlikely position of not actually owning a copy of Halloween at all, then that would obviously be a terrific option, killing quite a few teens with no knife, so to speak.