Halloween (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)1978 (September 25, 2018)
Studio(s)Falcon International/Compass International/Aquarius Releasing (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review is by Dr. Adam Jahnke, edited from his review of the 2013 35th Anniversary Blu-ray release. The disc portion is by Bits editor Bill Hunt.]
The original Halloween remains something of an anomaly. By most any definition, it’s a slasher movie. Escaped lunatic hunts down and kills randy teens. End of story. But the whole point of the film is that Michael Myers has no personality. He’s the boogeyman. The Shape. The thing that just keeps coming for you no matter what you throw at him. Halloween may be the only time that a filmmaker of talent and imagination took seriously the idea that yes, a masked, unstoppable guy with a knife coming after a group of teenagers would actually be frightening.
At his best, there is no one better at executing simple but good ideas on film than John Carpenter. He realizes something that most directors don’t. If you’re a character in the movie then sure, being attacked would be terrifying. But the audience isn’t a character in the movie. For us, the scariest part of the movie is knowing something the characters don’t. It’s the anticipation of what could happen. After the remarkable opening sequence (wherein young Michael Myers kills his sister in one continuous POV shot), there isn’t another death in Halloween for almost an hour. But The Shape is always there. Watching. Lurking around corners and just out of sight. That kind of restraint is almost unimaginable today.
Carpenter is one of those rare filmmakers who understands that the scariest part of the roller coaster ride isn’t the hairpin turns and insane loops. It’s that long, slow climb up that first impossibly high hill. Halloween has one of the best long, slow climbs of any horror movie ever made. Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey find every possible way of revealing The Shape... emerging from the shadows, glimpsed in the distance, seen from behind. Their skill combined with that iconic mask and blank slate costume create a threatening symbol of death that retains its power to this day. This is great filmmaking at work.
Halloween was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex cameras and anamorphic lenses. For this release, an interpositive element was scanned in full native 4K, given an HDR grade (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available), and it’s presented here in the proper 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. To start with, it must be said that there’s never been more subtle detail visible in film’s image on disc than there is here. Considering that this is a film shot in 1978, there’s also a bit more grain, which is as it should be. Some shots are optically soft as filmed, and there’s the usual optical softness around the edges of the frame that results from the use of anamorphic lenses, but that is as its always been. The HDR grade is subtle, deepening the blacks a bit and also adding more natural brightness to the highlights. You see this in subtle things, like the glint of light off a knife blade or the shimmer of young Michael’s halloween costume in the film’s opening scene. But you also see it in lightning, lamps and car headlights, the warm glow of sunset as Laurie and her friend are driving on Halloween eve, and especially the oppressively bright overcast sky as Laurie is walking to school. Better still, the color timing retains its proper cool autumn look in the daytime Haddonfield scenes, as well as the cool blue tint of the nighttime sequences. And yet there’s still more natural nuance in skin tones, lamp light, and candle light glowing from the eyes of jack-o’-lanterns. It’s hard to imagine that this film could look better than it does here, but this film has been released so many times, one never knows. [Editor’s Note: We’ve confirmed with Lionsgate that both director John Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundy approved this new 4K transfer and HDR grade.]
When the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray was released (see our review here), there was some controversy as to whether the disc included the original mono audio or not. Investigation confirmed that it was, in fact, not the original audio, but a faux mono downmix (the correct mono audio was later included on the Halloween: The Complete Collection BD box set from Scream Factory – see our review here). Unfortunately, that 35th Anniversary BD mono audio is what’s included on this 4K release in Dolby Digital format. You can tell the difference in a few ways, but one of them is that the opening credits music is slightly different and the scene where Dr. Loomis and the nurse drive up to the sanitarium has a few more thunderclaps that were added later. So if you want original mono audio, the Scream Factory disc is still the only place you can find it on Blu-ray. Of course, the 4K disc also includes the newer English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, which was introduced on the 35th Anniversary BD. Its sound is fuller and more engrossing, while still retaining the ominous silences of the original mono. Sound effects cues have more impact and a more natural linger and decay. Bass is subtle, but welcome. Carpenter’s iconic score is presented with terrific fidelity and depth.
The actual 4K disc in this case offers some extras, a rarity for the format but something that Lionsgate prides itself in. Included are:
- Audio commentary with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis
- The Night She Came Home!! (HD – 59:43)
- On Location: 25 Years Later (SD – 11:03)
- TV Version Footage (SD – 10:41)
- Trailer (SD – 2:33)
- TV Spots (SD – 3 spots)
- Radio Spots (HD – 3 spots)
Note that these are the exact same extras that were included on the 2013 35th Anniversary Blu-ray release. The package also includes the film on Blu-ray, but it’s the 2007 Blu-ray, not the 2013 disc. Some fans will take issue with this, because it means that the transfer is the compromised HD version with improper color timing (it’s too warm and also too bright). But I’m going to make the case that this is actually a good thing, and the reason for it is this: You get the extras that were on that disc, which include:
- Audio commentary with John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Debra Hill
- Fast Film Facts (a subtitle trivia track option)
- Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest (SD – 87:07)
- Trailer (SD – 2:42)
- TV Spots (SD – 3 spots)
- Radio Spots (HD – 3 spots)
As a result, between the two discs, you get a more complete batch of special features in one package. Yes, it would have been nice if Lionsgate had authored a new Blu-ray with these extras and the new 4K scan, but it is what it is. The truth is, most of you who are Halloween fans already have multiple versions on disc – more on that in a minute – and you’re not likely to part with any of them. If you choose to buy this new edition, it’s for the new 4K scan and color timing. The rest is gravy, but at least that gravy is more comprehensive extras-wise.
Note that there’s no Digital Copy in this package, probably due to rights issues.
So is this the ultimate end-all and be-all in Halloween releases? No. That would be the extraordinary Halloween: The Complete Collection Blu-ray box set from Scream Factory. But if you add this 4K disc to that set, you have everything you could ever possibly need or want. And let’s face it… if you’re seriously interested in this release, you almost certainly already have that box set. Lionsgate’s 4K UHD release is mostly for diehards and completists… but the film has never looked better and it’s only $18 on Amazon at the time of this review. For that reason, it’s conditionally recommended (the caveat being that the mono audio is not original).
- Bill Hunt and Adam Jahnke
(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. You can find Adam at his Jahnke’s Electric Theater page on Facebook.)