When I started buying my favorite movies (as opposed to settling for taped off TV versions) in the early '90s, I was crushed to discover that Halloween was not in print, forcing me to settle for a bootleg I got at a collector's show. It was well transferred and had a high quality reprinting of the Media VHS case, but I felt guilty that my favorite movie was an illegitimate copy, and vowed to replace it once I got the chance*. Thankfully, Anchor Bay provided one in 1997, a widescreen release in a clamshell case that would perfectly replace the bootleg one (which I held on to for years for sentimental reasons), and every few years - sometimes only one year later - they re-released the film in various formats. Sometimes it's just new extras, marking this or that anniversary of the film's release, sometimes it comes with a snowglobe for some reason, and then other times it's just to take advantage of a new format. Hitting stores today is the film's first release in 4K UHD (from Lionsgate, which has absorbed the bulk of the Anchor Bay library), and with this film, no one really cares about new bonus features anymore - all they want to know is "What color timing does it have?"
Let me explain for the uninitiated. In 1999, Anchor Bay released their third incarnation of the film, and the second on DVD (an earlier one, released not long after the format's debut, was barebones and poorly compressed. We do not speak of it), which touted a new THX-certified transfer supervised by Dean Cundey and some bonus features, including for the first time ever, a widescreen presentation of the film's television version, which had newly shot (not previously deleted) scenes that were added to the film to make it more easily pair up with Halloween II. But it was lacking in extras, and that was sort of Anchor Bay's claim to fame, so there was a lot of reason to be excited when in 2003 they put out a "Divimax" 25th anniversary release, which had a commentary (the one from Criterion's long out of print laserdisc) and a new full length retrospective documentary, plus the TV scenes and promotional material. We could toss that 1999 one, right? Nope! They also created a new transfer without Cundey or John Carpenter's supervision, one that many fans hated. It gave the film a drearier look during the daytime scenes, and removed the bluish tone to the night scenes. However, detail and contrast was improved on the previous transfer, so in my house it wasn't "bad", just "different".
And ever since, they can't seem to decide how to present the film, going back and forth between the two versions. The 2007 Blu-ray - its debut on the format - more or less restored the more orange-tinted color scheme, looking more like the 1999 DVD, but in 2013 they got Cundey back for a 35th anniversary edition release, and he apparently rethought his approach from 1999 - this time it kind of split the difference between the two looks, while also looking the best it ever has with regards to detail and contrast. The boxed set from Scream Factory included both Blu-rays just to make everyone happy, but now that we're in 4K times (and, as I'm sure you've heard, there's a new movie coming out), here we are again, and they thankfully went with the 35th anniversary look, which is the one I prefer. The oranges for the outdoor scenes aren't as vibrant, but that's fine to me - I care more about detail in the image than the color, and it while I know next to nothing about the process for these things, it seems that the less colorful the image, the more detail we can spot.
I wish I could do proper screenshots to illustrate my point, but I'm not equipped for that (the images accompanying this article are just existing stills; if you poke around the high def sites I'm sure you can find watermarked comparisons). But thanks to my refusal to part with any release that had a bonus feature not available on the others, I was able to look at four releases with my own two eyes: the 1999 DVD, the 2007 and 2013 Blu-rays, and the new 4K, and - accounting for obvious improvements that the format itself allows - it seems that as they reduced those orange and blue tones, more detail showed up in the image. For example, in the scene where the three girls walk home from school, they pass a rock wall with numerous fine shades of grey and black, and those shades blend together on the more colorful 2007 releas. If you've ever tweaked the settings on your TV, you'd know that the image falls apart the more you turn up the color, which is why most folks tend to leave it at or around default and focus on brightness/contrast instead. Same deal here. The image itself is as clear and rich with detail you could ever ask for - it just might have different color than you remember.
But I get why people prefer the older, more orange look: it's called Halloween! It should look like it has a pumpkin lens on it! There's really no right or wrong; Cundey and Carpenter have both signed off on this transfer, but they're also 40 years removed from it. If you've ever listened to JC on a commentary for an older movie (including this one, on a track he recorded with Jamie Lee Curtis in 2013), he frequently sighs that things should be going by faster or whatever, so clearly his opinions change over time - thus the guy signing off on a transfer today might have scoffed at it as a younger man. And Cundey supervised the 1999 transfer, let's not forget, and then changed it again later, so there's no reason to believe he won't ever change his mind and tweak it yet again down the road. The only way to know for sure how it originally looked is to check it against a 1978 film print that hasn't faded, and I doubt you'll find one of those (that'd be a fun twist - they should release a pink version to show how it often looks at your local repertory house).
Then there's the sound mix. At some point, Alan Howarth supervised a 5.1 mix of the (originally mono) film and added some sound effects to fill out the soundscape, most notably some thunderclaps during the scene where Loomis and the nurse drive up to Smith's Grove. At this point I'm so used to hearing them I'd probably think something was off if they *weren't* there, but purists (rightfully) want the original mono mix. Unfortunately, most releases include a "mono" mix that's actually just the revised track mixed back down to one channel. The only way to get that proper mono mix was on Scream Factory's boxed set, which I think is pretty lame - I assume there's a lot of crossover between the sort of people who'd want the mono mix and the people who could give two shits about the sequels, and they shouldn't have to buy the likes of Resurrection just to hear the film the way it originally sounded. The 4K release promised mono, but it's again the faked downmix version, so maybe we can expect another edition down the road that corrects it if enough people complain.
As for the bonus features, that's another sore point. The limited edition boxed set (fifteen discs instead of ten) had, as far as my research tells me, everything**; the set's copy of Halloween was basically the 2007 and 2013 Blu-rays, but with an extra commentary track by Cundey, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Nick Castle that is unavailable elsewhere, and the television cut and some other legacy bonus features were available on the 15th bonus disc. So they're spread out, but they're all there for those who ponied up for the now out-of-print limited set - everyone else has to hold on to multiple releases to keep all extras. This new release (thankfully?) doesn't have anything new - it's identical to the 2013 Blu-ray albeit with the 4K transfer. Strangely, as with most 4K releases, it includes a standard Blu-ray, but the one Lionsgate included is the 2007 disc, complete with the Anchor Bay logo and a trailer for their other Blu-rays, some of which are no longer even in print. So it has more extras (the Criterion commentary and the "Cut Above The Rest" doc) that aren't advertised on the packaging anywhere!
So is it worth the upgrade? Depends on how you feel about the color timing and how sold you are on 4K, I guess. If you prefer the older, more vibrant look from the 2007 release (or 1999 DVD), then it's probably not worth buying the movie for the dozenth time, especially if you have a previous Blu-ray After all, the jump from Blu to 4K is not as noticeable as that from DVD to Blu unless you have a giant (60 inches or more) display or are sitting within a few feet of it, which no one does. But if you're a 4K enthusiast and not too concerned with the color (or, like me, prefer the more muted look anyway) then by all means - it's a gorgeous transfer in all the ways that count, and if you skipped the 2013 release you'll want those then-new extras (the commentary with Carpenter and Curtis is pretty fun; they're recorded together this time, allowing for some back-and-forth that the Criterion track lacked). Ultimately, it's a good release of a film that's probably been released - and reworked - too many times by now, and I sincerely hope the next release is some kind of ultimate edition with everything (and both transfers on 4K), or they just leave it the hell alone... at least until the inevitable 50th anniversary.
* We didn't have a Blockbuster around us, so I didn't even know about their 1995 release until years later.
** Some releases have booklets/essays included - those are not carried over, so make sure you keep them if you decide to part with any older disc itself!
This article is part ofB.M.D. Guide To: Halloween