Terror Tuesday: Debating What’s Worse For HALLOWEEN - Rob Zombie Or The DVDs?

Why has the HALLOWEEN series been so massively disrespected on home video?

What makes this even more depressing is that I am dissatisfied with most of the discs in the original series.  You can’t ask for more from Rob Zombie’s two films’ DVD presentations; both are available in theatrical or director’s cut form with copious extras afforded on each, including a massive four hour “making of” on the original.  Hell, Rob even recorded unique commentary for each version of the 2nd film over the scenes that were altered, which is pretty rare and very much appreciated.  But the first eight films can each be improved, and considering that all of them have been released multiple times, it seems a bit silly that they haven’t gotten them right.

1. Halloween (1978)
Apart from maybe the Evil Dead movies, Anchor Bay has probably released this title more than any other in its long history, with at LEAST six different releases starting with their first VHS in 1997.  An early DVD was marred by a poor conversion, but in 1999 Dean Cundey supervised an all-new transfer that was supposedly approved by John Carpenter himself.  However, this was before the days of high definition remastering, and thus another transfer was done in 2003 for the 25th anniversary, without Cundey’s supervision.  While the level of detail was improved, the color timing was quite different, reducing Cundey’s rich colors for a more bland, slightly washed out look, particularly in the nighttime scenes, which no longer had the deep blue look of earlier editions (see examples below).  Sadly, it was this transfer that was used for the 2007 Blu-ray; even though Anchor Bay made some tweaks to address earlier complaints, it was still “off” from the color that its makers (and its fans) had approved.

In addition, there exists a wealth of behind the scenes material that was uncovered a couple years ago, but has yet to appear on any disc.  And with all of the living principals regularly appearing at conventions and such (with the exception of Ms. Curtis), not to mention the film’s well-regarded critical status (it’s been added to the National Film Registry), I think it’s time a new track with some of the other folks (Cundey, PJ Soles, Tommy Lee Wallace, etc) gets put together, and/or one that takes a look at it from a critical perspective.  The existing track (Carpenter, Debra Hill, Jamie Lee Curtis) is fine, but kind of boring and not very screen specific, and the participants are recorded separately.  So how about it, AB – new Blu-ray, with a new commentary track, the behind the scenes stuff, and more importantly, you bring Cundey back to do a definitive high-def transfer that finally gets it right!

2. Halloween II (1981)
Rick Rosenthal’s “same night” sequel is considered by some fans to be the best sequel, others (like myself) find it a largely typical entry in the early 80s slasher boom, saved by a few of the performances (it’s Donald Pleasence’s most restrained in the series) and a terrific chase finale.  However, I would love to reappraise the film with a widescreen version of the oft-discussed “Rosenthal Cut”, which has some of the gore removed and a few character bits re-inserted, plus a different ending.  As the story goes, the producers wanted a more “action packed” movie and Carpenter sided with them, re-editing and reshooting some scenes without Rosenthal.  Whether he made the right call or not, I don’t know – I’ve never actually seen Rosenthal’s, as I’d rather not buy a bootleg or watch it on Youtube or whatever.  Yet the film has never been released with any real extras whatsoever; even though this version of the movie exists (it occasionally airs, albeit pan & scanned, on cable), Universal hasn’t even bothered to put the alternate footage as a separate extra on one of their two or three releases to date.

3. Halloween III (1982)

The most controversial entry in the series is also one of the best; once you get past the whole “There’s no Michael Myers” aspect (if we need to explain again, fine – Carpenter didn’t want to do a bunch of Myers movies, but an anthology series where Halloween itself was the only recurring “character”) you are left with a wonderfully creepy and fun take on a Body Snatchers type scenario, with the always awesome Tom Atkins seeking to bring down a demented toy-maker who plans to destroy the world with some Halloween masks equipped with the power of Stonehenge.  Look, it makes a lot more sense than Halloween 6, OK?

Anyway, if there’s one film in the series that could use a commentary track or some “Hey this is actually pretty good” bonus material (stuff that may help change some minds) it’s this one, but sadly Universal isn’t interested.  As with Halloween II, they plan to release the films on Blu-ray for the first time later this year, but their plan is to “carry over existing extra features” instead of creating new ones.  Well that would be fine – IF THERE WERE ANY!  Both films have always been released in bare-bones editions (they weren’t even anamorphic at first; they’ve at least corrected that much).  Making this even more depressing, Phil Nobile had put together a pretty extensive collection of interviews specifically on the two films while he was making the documentary Halloween: The Inside Story, which covered the first film in great detail, but due to time constraints didn’t get to go into the sequels too much.  So he had brand new interviews with Carpenter, Rosenthal, Curtis, Wallace, and Cundey all talking specifically about the two films, some for the first time ever since the films’ respective theatrical releases, but Universal said “no thanks”.  And there was even more for Halloween III – Nobile and his crew shot a lengthy Q&A session with Wallace that occurred at the New Beverly in Los Angeles this past fall (moderated by yours truly – no bias here!), and he was set to record a commentary as well.  Hopefully Universal will change their mind, but if not, the decision to release these two films once again without brand new, already completed bonus material is just a giant slap in the face to fans.

4. Halloween 4 (1988)/5. Halloween 5 (1989)
No real complaints about these, though I don’t know why Anchor Bay hasn’t put them out on Blu-ray yet.  Luckily the existing DVDs aren’t too shabby; both have commentary tracks and brief retrospective pieces by some of the cast and crew, including Danielle Harris, who is just as prolific in the series as Curtis at this point (four films each).  But come on Anchor Bay, give us Bucky the power station employee in glorious 1080p!

6. Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers (1995)
Oh boy.  Seemingly from the day after it was released in theaters, fans have been trading a copy of the infamous “Producer’s Cut” of this badly mangled entry, which saw most of its plot (and Donald Pleasence’s final turn as Dr. Sam Loomis) edited out of the theatrical version.  The entire third act was reshot, a major character who was supposed to stick around in a hospital for a good chunk of the movie was re-edited into dying in the first reel (resulting in a hilarious continuity error where Loomis is at the hospital now for no reason whatsoever), and it rushes through the very things the film existed to explain in the first place, i.e. the mysterious Man in Black and the reasons Michael is hell-bent on killing his family.  The Producer’s cut is also far from perfect (a lot of important scenes were never even shot in the first place), but it’s still very much sought after by fans, and thus it baffles me that Dimension never saw fit to release this version on disc.  After all, they had done it with some of the other films that they had interfered with (Impostor, Highlander: Endgame), and there was even strong support from the film’s writer, Dan Farrands, who has tried several times over the years to convince Dimension to release a special edition with BOTH versions so that fans could see the differences for themselves, and presumably provide commentary or other bells and whistles.  Hell, Paul Rudd, who was “introduced” in the film (it was actually his second after Clueless) and is now a major star, recently bemoaned that no one ever asks him to contribute to these sort of things – seems to me having even a five minute interview with him would be enough to justify a double-dip.

Sadly, the distribution rights to the film are now in the hands of Echo Bridge, and based on their first wave of Blu-ray releases, they can barely get the movies themselves right, let alone any sort of supplemental material.  But at least the Blu is anamorphic, unlike Dimension’s bare-bones, letterboxed disc that retailed for 29.99 (!) for most of its shelf life.

7. Halloween: H20 (1998)
The Halloween series was reinvigorated (financially, if not creatively) by this 7th film in the summer of 1998 (yep, starting with this movie, all Halloween films were released in the summer), bringing back Jamie Lee and ditching the continuity and characters of the last three entries; goodbye Paul Rudd, hello Josh Hartnett (making HIS debut in this movie as Laurie Strode’s son).  Despite the hands down worst mask in the series, it was a major hit, grossing 50 million in the crowded summer multiplexes and helping to prolong the slasher revival (brought on by Scream) for another couple years.  But you’d never know it from its DVD releases, which resemble the sort of half-assed discs you’d expect from a movie that sat on one of Miramax’s dusty shelves for five years before being sent straight to video.  Not only was the transfer non anamorphic and never corrected (for over 10 years!), but it didn’t even have an audio commentary or one of the making of featurettes that were promised on the back of the disc!  Instead it had a clunky trivia game and a Creed video.  Yeah, thanks.

And Echo Bridge’s recent Blu-ray actually managed to be MORE insulting; in addition to the lack of extras (OK, I guess I can’t complain about the *lack* of a Creed video), it’s not even at the right aspect ratio!  This article is long enough, so I don’t want to get too much into the technical details, but basically the movie was shot full frame on the Super 35 format, which is basically a square image (standard TV dimensions).  Per director Steve Miner and DP Daryn Okada, the film was to be framed at 2.35:1, so it would match the widescreen image of the original film (since H20 copied everything else from the original, why not its screen size?).  That’s the way it was shown in theaters, and how it was presented on its DVD (albeit non-anamorphic).  However the Blu-ray from Echo Bridge has been “opened up” to 1.78:1, the standard dimensions of your HDTV.  Technically you’re actually seeing more of the image than you would have on the previous releases, with more information on the top and bottom, but this means that certain shots are framed awkwardly, with too much headroom and possibly the brief appearance of a boom mike (I haven’t watched the whole disc yet).  To me, that’s barely any different than cutting off the sides – a director and/or a DP’s framing should be preserved for what is supposed to be the “best way to watch movies at home”.

8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The movie was released with bonus features and a commentary, but none explained why it was such a terrible movie, rendering these things worthless.

Hilariously, Echo Bridge didn’t even bother porting this one to Blu like they did with the others they had acquired.  However, as with H20, the aspect ratio on the DVD they released is incorrect, and since it lacks the bonus material as well, there is literally no reason in the world to buy this disc.

But really, the saddest thing of all is that the series is spread across three different distributors (four if you count the Zombie remakes), making a boxed set impossible.  We horror fans all have our Freddy, Exorcist, and Omen sets courtesy of New Line, Warner, and Fox respectively, but a Halloween set with even just the original series is probably never going to happen, nor can there be a potentially fun “Laurie Strode Saga” edition with 1, 2, 7, and 8.  This is actually pretty rare for such a relatively major franchise; if you look on Boxofficemojo’s chart of the various series (not just horror) over the years, you won’t see a single one with as many different distributors as Halloween (five different theatrical companies for 10 films).

I only bring it up because that may possibly be a factor in why the discs tend to be such toss-offs.  Anchor Bay, being a company that specializes in these sort of movies and the collector’s market, unsurprisingly has provided the best discs, whereas Universal might feel “Hey, the franchise is nothing to us now – why put in the effort to release spiffy special editions when our efforts can be used in doing the same for something that we still control?”  Uni can gauge interest in a long dormant franchise with new discs (Jaws, perhaps?), but a Halloween III special edition, while probably profitable, just won’t help them in the long run.  And Dimension/Weinstein simply doesn’t give a shit about fans, so there’s no sense contemplating any other reasons for why they show so little interest in doing right by them with their discs.  Worse, with on-demand and Netflix Instant becoming such a powerhouse in the home video market, these might be the versions we’re stuck with forever.

But at least there’s THIS:

Read about all of the non-Halloween films Brian watches every single day at Horror Movie A Day.