‘Halloween’ (1978) 40th Anniversary 4K/Blu-Ray Review: A Seminal Scare
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho laid out the groundwork for slasher films, but it was John Carpenter’s Halloween that gave this variety of horror a mainstream push. His low-budget flick was an unprecedented success, inspiring a wealth of copycats and a myriad of sequels.
In commemoration of Halloween’s fortieth anniversary, a new installment in the series will hit theaters this month, positioning itself as a direct sequel to its 1978 progenitor. Moreover, the original Halloween was re-released in a combo pack recently that includes the movie on 4K Ultra HD and standard Blu-rays, allowing newcomers and fans alike to (re)experience a genre-defining classic.
Halloween opens with a young Michael Myers groundlessly stabbing his sister on Halloween night, setting its tone. We soon flash forward into the film’s present day, exactly 15 years later, learning that Myers — informally known as “the Shape” in the script — was locked in a sanitarium as he breaks out of it. The mute killer heads home to the suburban town of Haddonfield, ready to stalk our heroine and end her promiscuous classmates.
One of our two leads is Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her first major role. Laurie is an intelligent, if naive, high schooler who babysits part-time. She is without question the most observant and mature individual in her social circle, noticing Myers looming throughout the day but unable to discern if he’s real or if it’s her imagination. Halloween’s deuteragonist is the anxious Dr. Sam Loomis, Myers’ withered psychologist who’s nevertheless the only person with an understanding of the danger his patient poses. Although Halloween’s energetic actors and actresses were otherwise relative newcomers to Hollywood, Dr. Sam Loomis was elegantly portrayed by the late Donald Pleasence.
Subsequent Halloween films adversely altered Michael’s character by trying to humanize him or by explaining how a magic cult is to be credited for his supernatural tendencies, but Carpenter’s vision remains the Shape’s gold standard. Is he merely an unwieldy strong man in a mask, or is there something more to him? Loomis sits firmly in the latter camp, yet Halloween never concretely answers this question and it’s stronger for it.
Nick Castle’s movements behind the mask augment Myers’ presence with a calculating undertone, and his assaults are excellently paced. We, the audience, know Myers is lurking around town, but we’re left in suspense regarding when he’ll finally attack his victims. Furthermore, Myers alternates between taking his time (which in turn means a few false alarms) and doing his deeds quickly, and Halloween‘s morbid sequences are balanced by interspersing them with comedic, lighthearted scenes. Halloween never moves too fast or too slow, and every scene has a purpose.
Carpenter’s classic is also indebted to its camera and sound work, both of which elevate the tension immeasurably. Camera angles may be from Michael’s perspective, show the characters looking vulnerable and isolated in relation to their surroundings, or both, reinforcing their dearth of safety. Carpenter’s soundtrack, meanwhile, adds a foreboding sense of dread.
The greatest bonus feature on the standard Blu-ray is its “Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest” making-of featurette. At nearly one and a half hours, it shows Carpenter, Curtis, producer Debra Hill and others who were involved in Halloween’s creation discuss the movie that cemented their careers. It’s a comprehensive piece, covering fun anecdotes about the creative process behind Halloween to its impact, closing by admitting the original Halloween remains the definitive one. A commentary track that alternates between Carpenter and Curtis is included as well, likewise giving insight into the filming of and reception to Halloween. Other bonuses include a few trailers for the movie (and a few otherwise unrelated movies) as well as the additional footage that was shot for Halloween’s television broadcast.