Blu-ray Review: Anchor Bay’s ‘Halloween’ 35th Anniversary Edition

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Just when you thought Anchor Bay Entertainment had released the last edition of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” on DVD or Blu-ray, another one emerges to taunt the movie’s die-hard fans with the possibility of purchasing it. Now we have the “Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition” which was released on Blu-ray and contains an all-new high definition transfer supervised and approved by the film’s cinematographer, Dean Cundey. With a couple of new special features combined with a few from previous editions, is it worth paying a few more bucks to own another version of this horror classic? Well, let’s find out…

Anchor Bay has released just about as many special editions of “Halloween” as they have of “Evil Dead” and “Army of Darkness,” so it’s hard to see what the point was of putting out yet another. But after watching this one, I can certainly see why. The colors on this high definition transfer look very balanced, and the movie looks far more vividly frightening as a result. It is a huge improvement over the 25th anniversary DVD Anchor Bay released as part of their Divimax Series as it proved to be hard on the eyes due to certain colors being far brighter than they needed to be. Seriously, this particular Blu-ray edition makes me want to watch “Halloween” over and over again as it made me feel like I had never watched it before, and I have seen this horror classic over a hundred times.

Among the brand new special features, the one I was surprised to see most was a brand-new commentary with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. That Carpenter would even consent to doing another commentary on “Halloween,” which he has long since answered every conceivable question about, is astonishing, but he sounds very enthusiastic here as he talks with Curtis about what went down during this movie’s making. It’s also great to hear Curtis’ thoughts on “Halloween” as we haven’t heard her talk too much about it in a long time. Carpenter’s commentaries are always more fun when he has someone to converse with, and he and Curtis share a lot of great memories here.

The other new special feature is the documentary “The Night She Came Home” which follows Curtis as she attends her first ever horror convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. Curtis talks about how she has stayed away from her past in horror movies because she was working on other things or being a mom, but now she feels the need to honor the fans who love “Halloween” so much because she now realizes just how strong the horror fan base is. It’s fun watching her sign autographs for fans who waited hours in line, and her generosity to them is genuinely sweet. The convention also proves to be a reunion of sorts as Curtis meets up with Charles Cyphers who played Sheriff Leigh Brackett, Brian Andrews who played the young Tommy Doyle, Production Designer Tommy Lee Wallace who would later go on to direct “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and filmmaker Nick Castle who was the first person to play Michael Myers.

As for the other special features, they are recycled from other previous editions. There’s the featurette “On Location: 25 Years Later” which looks at where “Halloween” was shot. Also included are the movie’s trailer, some TV and radio spots, and footage specifically shot for the television version. You’d figure Anchor Bay would make this another ultimate edition that would be jam packed with extras, but since this the umpteenth edition of this horror classic, I guess they didn’t want to make the previous editions seem altogether disposable. So for those who still own those editions, you should hang onto them as they contain a lot of extras and commentaries not to be found here.

Is it worth it to buy the “Halloween 35th Anniversary Edition” from Anchor Bay Entertainment? Well, it may depend on how much you love this movie. The remastered high definition transfer makes it look like it was filmed not too long ago, and watching it can quickly remind you of how frightening this horror classic is. You also get a nice booklet with interesting behind the scenes photos of the production and an essay by Stef Hutchinson which details why this movie still has a powerful impact on people years after its release.

The fact is none of the sequels or shameless imitators of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” can ever take away from the suspense and uneasiness it generated upon its release. I find myself revisiting this classic quite often, and this 35th anniversary edition makes me want to revisit it more and more. If you are happy with the “Halloween” special edition you currently own, then you probably won’t need this one, but you should at least check out how it looks here. For those who are still committed to buying every single incarnation of this movie Anchor Bay releases, then this one is definitely worth your money.

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Blu-ray Review: Shout Factory’s ‘Phantasm II’ Special Edition

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Over the years, “Phantasm II” has been treated like the illegitimate child of the “Phantasm” franchise. While Anchor Bay was able to secure the rights to the other three films in the series, they could never come to an agreement with Universal Pictures over this one. Eventually “Phantasm,” “Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead” and “Phantasm IV: Oblivion” got special editions filled with commentaries and special features, and yet “Phantasm II” still hadn’t seen the light of day on DVD. When Universal finally relented and released the sequel on DVD, all the fans got in terms of bonus features was the theatrical trailer. It looked like we would see “Phantasm V” long before any “Phantasm II” special edition became a reality, and the last “Phantasm” movie came out 15 years ago.

Well “Phantasm” fans can now rejoice because the good people at Shout Factory have come through for you with their “Phantasm II” special edition which proves to be well worth the wait. This cult sequel now looks and sounds better than ever, and we also get an audio commentary, various featurettes, a making of documentary, the theatrical trailer and a host of other goodies which fans can take their sweet time watching.

For many people including myself, “Phantasm II” was our introduction to the work of Don Coscarelli’s franchise, the Tall Man (played by Angus Scrimm) and those killer spheres which look like they’re designed to make forced deposits to your local blood bank. Even if you’re not able to understand most of what’s going on here, it was still loads of fun as “Phantasm II” proved to be far more imaginative than your average slasher movie. Watching it all those years ago made me want to check out the first film, and I became very eager to see the story continue on with a third movie which eventually came out (albeit straight to video) in 1994, six years after this one.

Unsurprisingly, “Phantasm II” looks wonderful in its Blu-ray incarnation. At the same time, I do have to point out there is a little of white noise at the top of the screen which comes and goes throughout the movie. I didn’t notice it right away, but it does become a bit of annoyance at times. This seems like a very rare error for the folks at Shout Factory to make as their previous special editions have more often than not given us pristine prints of various cult classics, and I wonder if this was something which happened on their end or if Universal Studios did something wrong. Still, the movie looks fantastic.

There is also a commentary track with Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister who plays Reggie. It’s a terrific track which starts with Scrimm speaking as the Tall Man, wondering why this guy Scrimm keeps impersonating him in the “Phantasm” movies. From there, the participants talk non-stop about the making of “Phantasm II” and what they managed to accomplish on a budget of $3 million (the highest of any “Phantasm” movie). There’s also talk of why A. Michael Baldwin, who played Michael in the original, was replaced by James LeGros. The reasons why aren’t fully explained here, but everyone says they had a great time working with LeGros who back then was known for appearing in independent movies.

For more information on why LeGros replaced Baldwin, check out the documentary “The Ball is Back!” which gives you just about all the information you ever need to know about the production of “Phantasm II.” It turns out Universal wanted to get rid of both Bannister and Baldwin as they had not acted much since “Phantasm” came out. Coscarelli, however, managed to make a deal with Universal to where he could keep one of the actors, so while Bannister got to stay on, Baldwin had to go as the studio wanted someone who was “hunkier.”

The documentary also features other actors like Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar and Samantha Phillips who played the bald man-loving Alchemy. Phillips is especially fun to listen to as she talks about how she got the role of Alchemy and of how she almost talked Coscarelli out of casting her in the movie. She even talks about the sex scene she did with Bannister and of how his wife was on set that day (as if she didn’t have enough pressure to deal with).

We also get to see why, despite it making a profit, “Phantasm II” was initially considered a box office flop. It turns out Universal Pictures decided to release the sequel during the summer movie season where it faced off against “Die Hard” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” As to why Universal thought it was good idea to release “Phantasm II” during this time, no one seems to have an answer.

There’s also an old featurette called “The Gory Days with Greg Nicotero” where he explains how he got involved in the world of movie makeup. These days, Nicotero is one of the best known people for doing makeup effects in film, and it’s great to see how he got his start. There’s also some vintage behind the scenes footage of makeup tests the crew performed as well as some on the set footage where they blow up a house. Seeing all the preparation the crew took in making sure the explosion, which they filmed with what seemed like a dozen cameras, anything but small makes me miss practical special effects which have since been overrun by CGI.

To round things out, there are movie trailers for the first three “Phantasm” movies, original TV spots, still galleries, additional scenes which were taken from the work print, deleted scenes from Coscarelli’s archive, and a rare short film which has Scrimm playing Abraham Lincoln.

This special edition of “Phantasm II” has been a long time coming, and despite some minor technical flaws, fans of the series should be very pleased with what Shout Factory has come up with. The cult of “Phantasm” remains strong to this day, and they are served well by this release which is evidence of this series’ enduring popularity. If things keep up, maybe we will see a “Phantasm V” in the future. Some say that’s wishful thinking, but anything is possible!

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2013 when “Phantasm II” was released by Shout Factory on Blu-ray. “Phantasm V,” titled “Phantasm: Ravager,” is finally about to be released in theaters after a long wait.

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