Halloween Blu-ray Review
PictureWell, by now, many of you will have already heard about the colour timing issues regarding this new transfer - and possibly even seen it too. For a while it seemed as though Halloween was going to court the same controversy as 300 did a little time ago in relation to how the film was meant to look, expected to look etc. Now, before I address the new 1080p image in detail, let me just state that having owned no less than thirteen different versions of this movie - including the original Pal and NTSC VHS and Beta cassettes - and also having seen the highly praised Criterion LaserDisc, I can safely say, with hand on my heart (even while I type, in fact) that this is best looking picture I have ever witnessed for Halloween. All the good things that you have heard are true. It is nigh on impossible to believe that this film harks from 1978 and Starz and Anchor Bay deserve a lot of credit for the glorious job they have done here.
For a start, the source print is immaculate, with only a faint trace of grain and a snifter of noise flitting about in some of the darker portions - Loomis loitering outside the Myers House. Of scratches, nicks, dirt or other damage there is none. A slight wobble of the frame during the credits and that's about it. Transferred into 1080p via MPEG-4, the film looks absolutely pristine with a level of detail that I honestly doubt you'll have seen before. The bark on the trees, their leaves and the blades of grass wavering in the breeze, the cracks in the tarmac and the rubble-filled foliage that Loomis scampers across by the train tracks, patterns in clothes, distant shop signs and car number plates, and even the blood glistening on the end of the knitting needle that Michael has plucked from his neck - all presented here with an ultra-clarity that is distinct and sharp as a razor. You can now quite plainly see the wrench taped to Nick Castle's palm when he smashes the window behind nurse Marion Chambers' head.
Those colours that seem to trouble some people may not be the Dean Cundey-approved ones but, to my eyes, they are spectacular. The primaries are incredibly vibrant, with reds and greens in particular leaping from the screen. For the reds, look at Marion's little matchbook - seen again when Loomis finds the abandoned pickup truck - or the alarming sight of Myers leaping up onto the roof of the car, illuminated by its tail-lights. How about the red blood splashed on the chest of the body that Loomis doesn't see by the train tracks, or the bright red of little Lindsay's jumper. The greens of the lawns and trees and the police jackets are of varied hues, but all splendidly realised and without a single trace of smearing or ill-saturation. Yes, the colours have been altered from how they looked originally, but the film benefits enormously from these changes, because it now has a more naturalistic veneer that may be less stylistic but is certainly no less evocative or moody.
Then there is the depth of field that this new transfer brings into play. At the risk of a sly pun, folks ... check out the scene when Laurie “strode” down the suburban sidewalk as Myers stands beside the camera - us - watching her. Look at the distant shop fronts top left and the traffic going past through the trees. Look at the hedgerows and the leaves tossed by the wind (actually the big fans that the crew had to use to make the place look suitably autumnal). This and many more scenes and shots give Carpenter's tremendous widescreen framing a lush and satisfying depth that certainly comes close to the three-dimensionality of a lot of the higher end of more recent high-definition transfers.
And the black levels? In a word - stunning. Even if they had botched the colours and the clarity, Halloween on Blu-ray would coast by on the phenomenal depth and integrity of its blacks. Shadow-play is exquisite and betrays no fall-off to grey. Detail is never lost amid the gloom and, when called for, the shadows are menacingly impenetrable. The obvious shots to exploit this are when Michael gradually appears top right of the screen behind Laurie - a pale visage sliding gently and malevolently into view - or when Laurie sits on the floor nervously toying with the kitting needle and lit by a gash of light amidst a room threateningly filled with angular shadows. But check out Annie's to-ing and fro-ing to the little wash-house out back for some immaculate black swathes bisected by perfectly contrasted avenues of light and colour. So, to put it into Loomis' terminology, this transfer has “the blackest blacks ... the Devil's blacks.”
All images used here are taken from the Divimax 25th Anniversary Edition.
SoundDespite the length and detail I could run to with the image, there simply isn't as much material to discuss with the audio side of things as, even with PCM added to the DD 5.1 and original mono tracks, there is only so much that could be done.
The Chase Studios DD 5.1 mix that was engineered for Halloween a few years back hardly rocked the world of full surround sound but, as far as remixed mono tracks from the seventies go, I thought it was a bold and respectful piece of design that opened the film out and created a more dynamic atmosphere without sacrificing any of the original sound. The score and the many “stingers” are what benefit the most from the new mixes, though. Dialogue is still firmly centre-routed and, although always clear, can sound slightly subdued and less involving. The stereo spread across the front is quite wide, however, with a nice open feel that does its best to draw you in.
Naturally, the thunder-storm during which Michael Myers makes his escape is the thing that delivers the most acoustic immersion. The rainfall is pretty good - though I have heard much, much better realism and enveloping than evidenced here - and the thunder definitely has more aggression and crackling intensity than the mono track could ever hope to achieve. Loomis at the train tracks almost has a moment when the mix could really shine. In the left hand side of the screen a train roars towards us but, just when a delicious front-to-back sweep could have been effected, the camera cuts to the other direction, denying us the chance to appreciate what the mix could achieve. Effects on the whole, though, are reasonably well delivered. The sound of the knife plunging into poor Bob's chest is tipped off with the slight crunch of the woodwork behind him being penetrated as well. Michael's hand shattering the window on Marion's car, or the kitchen door, or especially the innocent wardrobe that he decimates have a decent sense of impact ... and certainly his ragged breathing as he gropes for Laurie as she sits there constructing a weapon out of a coat-hanger emanates menacingly and effectively from the speakers. Loomis' gunshots, sadly, don't pack enough of a wallop in the surround mixes in my opinion and can, in actual fact punch more aggressively out of the mono track.
Still, I prefer the added width and depth of the PCM because it just sounds more alive and active. But purists can't complain with that original mono track still in place.
ExtrasAlthough still excellent, the commentary from John Carpenter, the late Debra Hill and Jamie Lee Curtis suffers from the participants not being together at the recording. Thus, we get some occasional overlap of detail or anecdote, an overall lack of spontaneity and the knowledge that this would have been a whole lot more fun if they been able to chat together. You only have to listen to the tracks made by Carpenter and regular on-screen alter-ego Kurt Russell on The Thing and Escape From New York to know what I mean. But still, this is a tremendously informative and frank of the production of the film. The track is moderated and each speaker is introduced throughout.
The real meat of the matter is the documentary feature “Cut Above The Rest”, which has appeared before, too. But this 87-minute examination of the film's conception, production and impact is well-worth retaining. Naturally, all the fans of the film will have already seen this, but for those who haven't, this is an excellent dissection of the Halloween phenomenon. Practically everybody involved with the film gets to have to say, with Carpenter, Hill, Yablans Curtis taking the lion's share. Anecdotes and trivia are thrown around with nostalgic abandon and there is some absolutely precious footage and stills of Donald Pleasance on set and posing for publicity. We even get to hear the great man speak about the part. Perhaps the only downside to this doc is the sheer volume of clips taken from the film. Sometimes they are spliced in for comedic effect, or to illustrate a point being made, but, for the most part, there are just too many of them. It is interesting to note that some footage from the extended TV version is also incorporated, though this BD thankfully omits that full version from the disc. Overall, this is a great retrospective feature that is as entertaining as it is informative and it is nice to see it relocated to Blu-ray.
The Fun Facts option enables you to see little trivia titbits pop up onscreen. To be honest, you'll learn nothing here that isn't already covered in either the commentary or the documentary and occasionally a fact will actually be repeated at another moment. But, at least the option is there if you want it.
Then we get some TV and Radio spots as well as the original theatrical trailer. Oh, and let's not forget the Blu-ray trailer montage for some of the other horrors that Starz have brought into the age of higher resolution.
Compared to the Divimax 25th Anniversary Edition, this release is still a little underfed but the major point here is to obtain a dynamic transfer of the film, and in that respect, the disc still wins.
VerdictAn unparalleled classic gets a tremendous hi-def makeover. Starz are churning these out at the moment and, out of all of them, Halloween is positively the most lustrous to look at. There's no question regarding the quality and importance of this movie and it definitely belongs on any self-respecting horror fan's shelf. Carpenter was entering his most fondly recalled and most imaginative phase and it is remarkable to see just how vibrant and adept the techniques he employed on Halloween still look today. He may have been terrified and in awe of working with Donald Pleasance but the assuredness and sheer bravura style that he brought to the screen with this “little exploitation quickie” is still mimicked and emulated by up and coming filmmakers who rightly use Halloween as a textbook example of suspense-building and streamlined narrative.
The bottom line is this - Halloween on BD is simply excellent value and indispensable for the film's fans. We all know how often we've had to buy into this particular gem (and I've no doubt that we'll be adding even more versions to the shelf before we're through), but this BD release is just too good to ignore. Colour timing be damned, those blue filters gave the film a ropey, TV look that may still have a unique place in our nostalgic hearts but delivered an image that is thoroughly trounced by this richly detailed and vivid transfer. Overall, this package gets a resoundingly solid 9 out of 10.
The bogeyman is coming and in 1080p “he's gonna getcha, he's gonna getcha, he's gonna getcha!”
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.59
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