Starring P. J. Soles, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Kathleen Kinmont, Nancy Loomis, Dick Warlock, Rick Rosenthal, Pamela Susan Shoop, Tawny Moyer, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Moustapha Akkad, and devoted Halloween fans everywhere
Directed by Stefan Hutchinson
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
When it comes to the Holy Trinity of horror icons — Michael, Jason, and Freddy — #1 in this woman’s heart is, and will always be, the overall-wearing, knife-wielding man in a Shatner mask known as Michael Myers. He’s just got that indescribable something that makes me weak in the knees. And apparently I’m not the only one considering that 25+ years later Halloween is still being honored and remembered with conventions, collectibles, and now, thanks to Anchor Bay, its very own documentary. Halloween: 25 Years of Terror is a jam-packed two-disc love letter to the series and its followers that contains enough facts, figures, and trivia in its four-plus hours of features to satisfy even the most hardcore fans among us.
To get things going, upon inserting Disc 1, you’ll be treated to a six-minute montage of clips from the original Halloween, Part 4, and Part 5 along with some promos for Masters of Horror. From there, the documentary begins with the alternate (and in this reviewer’s opinion, superior) opening from Halloween: Resurrection. The feature is narrated by P. J. Soles, whose enthusiasm for the project shows through not only here but also in every extra in which she is involved. As you’d expect, the documentary tracks the series in order and is chock full of reminiscences and behind-the-scenes tidbits from the actors, directors, producers, and effects artists of all eight films. It’s a fascinating look back, but it’s tinged with a bit of melancholy as well. So many of those who were so integral to the films’ success are gone now: Debra Hill, Donald Pleasence, and most recently Moustapha Akkad. It’s bittersweet to hear Akkad especially talk about his love for Halloween and how protective of it he always had been in the past and hoped to be in the future.
Also included are comments from critics and other directors who were influenced and inspired by Halloween such as Clive Barker, Rob Zombie, and Edgar Wright. Tribute is paid to the films that paved the way for the original Halloween like Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and of course Black Christmas; and in one of the most intriguing analogies I’ve heard regarding the film, Michael is compared to Frankenstein’s monster. But instead of being comprised of body parts, our modern-day killing machine is made up of cinematic parts. Additionally, Loomis is likened to Van Helsing searching for Dracula and Ahab on his quest for Moby Dick. Heady talk indeed! No doubt many of the series’ fans couldn’t care less about such hyperbole; they just want to see nubile teens being hacked and slashed. However one chooses to look at it, Halloween definitely symbolized a huge shift in horror cinema away from the Gothic stylings of the Hammer films and their ilk toward a more contemporary, realistic approach that would be imitated time and time again over the next 25 years. But never was it done so well; the knock-offs simply didn’t have the combined talents of John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Donald Pleasence on their side — nor that catchy theme song that has become so deeply ingrained in our collective subconscious.
Following the success of Halloween, a sequel was inevitable even if, as some of the parties involved now claim, it was an unusual occurrence back in those days. (I guess they’ve forgotten about the multiple installments of the Mummy, King Kong, and Creature stories to name just a few.) The disputes between Carpenter, who elected to handle only the writing duties for Part II, and new director Rick Rosenthal over how much gore to include are legendary and discussed at some length in the documentary. As one might assume, this would prove to be an ongoing debate throughout the course of the series with the producers, directors, writers, and FX people often being at odds over the issue. For the majority of the fans, however, it’s always been the bloodier, the better.
Interspersed between the segments about the various films are vignettes looking at some of the social commentary type aspects of the films — for instance, sex and death and the way the females were killed versus the males. One explanation was that promiscuous women are simply richer, more complex characters and therefore more deserving of elaborate, drawn-out deaths. Makes perfect sense to me.
The focus then turns to the one non-Michael Myers related entry in the series, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Everyone knows it never should have been tagged with the Halloween label; it’s unfortunate they can’t just drop it and let the film stand on its own. This homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers had a nice idea of replacing Michael with the ubiquitous monster known as TV, but at the time the fans weren’t having any of it. They showed up at the theatre expecting to see their favorite freak wreaking havoc, not tricked-out Halloween masks obliterating a bunch of people’s faces.
Pretty much everyone interviewed for Halloween: 25 Years of Terror agreed that films 4, 5, and beyond were all about the cash-in and various legal battles. Dennis Etichson, who wrote novelizations of Halloween II and III under the pseudonym Jack Martin, had penned quite an interesting sounding script for Halloween 4 — the terms “dark” and “repressive” were used to describe it — but by that time Carpenter and Hill had sold off their interests in the franchise, and unfortunately Etichson’s script wasn’t part of the package. Those in control elected to return to a more typical scenario for Part 4 — open ending and all. Part 5 was then rushed out onto the market, resulting in, as Rob Zombie so eloquently put it, “faceless victims, faceless kills, faceless movie.”
And with that, we reach the halfway point of the documentary. There’s a short piece about when fans become fanatics and some psychoanalysis behind Halloween‘s appeal, and before you know it, five years have passed and we’re being subjected to Part 6 aka Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. I doubt there’s a Halloween follower anywhere who doesn’t know the sad tale behind this debacle. Whether you watch the theatrical release or the infamous producer’s cut, it’s all pretty bad. As far as I’m concerned, this installment is notable only for the fact that it marks Donald Pleasence’s final onscreen performance. RIP, Dr. Loomis; may the cinema gods ensure that no fresh-faced WB star attempts to fill your shoes in the inevitable remake.
The incredible growth of the Internet in the late 90’s, along with the surprise popularity of another little franchise known as Scream, resulted in a huge resurgence of interest in Halloween. The fans took over and dissected the plot and characters ad nauseum on websites and in chat rooms. They wrote scripts and made films revolving around the exploits of Michael Myers (some of which are included on the DVD and are a real treat, ranging from silly to downright inspired). Jamie Lee Curtis, obviously sensing the time was right, approached Carpenter with an idea to reunite Laurie and her belligerent brother. He didn’t bite, but the studio did, and in 1995 Halloween H20: 20 Years Later was released to somewhat mixed reviews. It was marred by two problems: a dispute over the score and an inability to get the mask right. On the positive side, it served as a pretty good springboard for launching newcomer Josh Hartnett’s career. Even though H2O did provide some nice closure for the series, the plain and simple truth is that it’s just too damn popular to die. Forget MTV. We want our Halloween! And so it was inevitable that we’d get a hip, hip-hop version in the next chapter. To hear those involved tell it, the main problem with Halloween: Resurrection wasn’t Busta Rhymes but studio meddling. I’m inclined to agree. Resurrection gave us some good kills and a Shape who seemed comfortably familiar (kudos to Brad Loree for bringing back that lovin’ feeling that somehow got lost in the middle years), but the overly tinkered with script left most viewers dissatisfied and still wanting more.
If you’re one of them, this DVD set should more than sate your appetite. The first extra on the disc is an episode of Dread Central’s own Sean Clark’s Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, in which he revisits many of the locations used in the original Halloween, in some instances accompanied by the delightful P. J. Soles. Sean is extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter, and his personable nature provides an easy interaction with Ms. Soles that the viewer should enjoy along with the thrill of being so completely “behind the scenes” of the film. HHG is informative, high energy, and immensely entertaining. The same can be said for the extended interviews on the disc. They provide a wealth of tidbits and factoids about the films. The actors discuss how great it was to work with each other, some of their most missed deleted scenes, and what their characters were like. It is truly a plethora of information; and there’s even a tiny injection of politics by Garn Stephens (Halloween III), which I appreciated since our views appear to be similar. The Halloween 5 on-set footage is your typical behind-the-scenes stuff, but the presence of Donald Pleasance raises the level a bit, especially when he jokes about hanging around until Halloween 27. Add in a montage from the Return to Haddonfield Convention and a look at the memorabilia collections of some diehard fans and, finally, we’re done with Disc 1.
The bulk of the material on Disc 2 was culled from panel discussions held at the 2003 Return to Haddonfield Convention in South Pasadena. Each averages around 20-25 minutes and provides great insight into how the various actors and actresses obtained their roles, what their first days on-set were like, how they shot their death scenes, and so on and so forth. A common thread of all of them is how complimentary everyone is toward John Carpenter, Irwin Yablans, and Moustapha Akkad for creating and continuing the franchise; how much they respect each other’s talents; and how appreciative they are of the fans. If I have one complaint regarding this disc, it’s the way these panels were filmed. They are beyond dull with some of the worst camera work I’ve ever seen. There are virtually no shots of the moderators or audience members asking the questions. Midway through the second discussion this single-camera style was becoming positively annoying. By the time the Halloween 6 panel came on, I was praying for something, anything, to reignite my interest. I didn’t have to wait long. Befitting the troubled Part 6 production itself, this panel was definitely the most awkward with the least effective moderator and several of the participants seeming rather uncomfortable, almost as if they would rather be doing just about anything else. It was turning into a train wreck, but fortunately, Brad English, Janice Knickrehm, and writer Daniel Farrands added some liveliness to the proceedings, and by the end everyone seemed a lot more relaxed.
The next two panels — one with Ellie Cornell and the other with seven of the guys who have played Michael Myers — are definitely among my favorite features in the set. Ellie proved herself to be very sweet, funny, and, most important to fans, respectful of the series. All seven Shapes were quite humble and gracious to each other and the fans. They reminisced about their favorite kills and provided the best photo op of the Convention: giving the much beloved head tilt while standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Awesome!
The panels wrap up with Dean Cundey, the Director of Photography on Halloweens 1-3, and a producers forum with Yablans and Akkad. I did enjoy Cundey’s discussion of the artistic merits of the films and the original’s rightful designation as a “classic,” but on the whole its subject matter seemed more geared toward budding filmmakers than casual viewers, and I found myself tuning in and out. Yablans and Akkad more than made it up for it though as, among other things, they continued the explicit vs. suggested gore debate that has continually cropped up throughout the history of the series. This segment was especially poignant in light of Mr. Akkad’s recent passing.
Lastly, we have galleries with location stills, convention photos, and original artwork. Do yourselves a favor, and don’t miss the Artwork Gallery; it has some outstanding pieces. And speaking of art, two bonus features are the Halloween Autopsis comic by Stefan Hutchinson and the song “Pure Evil” by Vicious Disorder, which incorporates the unforgettable theme from Halloween. The latter is pure crap (even so, some metal heads might enjoy it), but the comic hits a home run. Although disappointed at first in the outcome — I was hoping for further adventures with Carter — the promise of a second issue with Sam is actually even better. The drawings are well done and just graphic enough to fit in with the overall Halloween mythos.
So there you have it. 25 Years of Terror on two discs. Short of having Jamie Lee Curtis come to their house and watch the movie with them, I honestly cannot think of anything else my fellow Halloween devotees could want from such a package. Putting this documentary together was obviously a labor of love for all the parties involved, and every fan of the series — or even just parts of it — owes it him or herself to pick up a copy. As Clive Barker says, “The desire to be frightened is as universal as the desire to be loved,” and I can’t think of anyone whom I’ve loved to be frightened by more than Michael Myers and his creators.
Halloween Autopsis comic
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds — An Exclusive Tour of the Halloween Series Filming Locations
Halloween II and III Extended Interviews
Extended Celebrity Interviews
Halloween 5 On-Set Footage
Halloween Convention Montage
Fans of Halloween — Collections of Props and Memorabilia
Halloween Panel Discussion
Halloween II Panel Discussion
Halloween 6 Panel Discussion
Ellie Cornell Panel Discussion
Michael Myers Panel Discussion
Dean Cundey Panel Discussion
Halloween Producers Panel Discussion
Halloween Location Stills Gallery
Halloween Convention Behind-the-Scenes Gallery
Original Artwork Gallery
“Pure Evil” by Vicious Disorder
5 out of 5