Darkest Hour stands apart from more routine historical dramas.
How would the world be different without John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”? Would we all sleep a little better? Would film history be the same? Would countless visions of horror have come into existence without Michael Myers and Leatherface as their spiritual ancestors? So many imaginations and nightmares have been spawned by these two essential works that they have become part of the cinematic fabric of our shared history. There are very few films that I can historically trace in my own life but I remember the first time I saw “Halloween” (I even remember the dream it produced that night) and the first time I saw “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” And I’m sure I’m not alone. Both films have received marvelous Blu-ray treatments in the last week, timed both to Halloween, of course, and the upcoming gift-giving season. It’s an amazing Blu-ray season for horror nuts with Criterion’s release of “The Innocents,” Twilight Time’s take on “The Blob,” Shout Factory releasing the long-anticipated director’s cut of “Nightbreed,” and more, but these are the two—a massive collector’s edition set for one of the most discussed and dissected horror films of all time, and a set dedicated to an entire franchise. You’ll want to get them both.
The more expansive and impressive set of the two (although they’re both required wish list additions for any horror nut’s holiday season) is the breathtakingly complete “Halloween: The Complete Collection”. Anchor Bay and Scream Factory have joined forces to produce a 15-disc box set that includes all ten films, multiple versions of a few of them, various commentaries (including new ones), in-depth special features (again, including some new ones) and every bit of artwork and fan service you could expect. It is a comprehensive set. One could hardly imagine a question unanswered by it for fans of Carpenter’s original film through Rob Zombie’s remakes. The only possible complaint would be how much of this material is repurposed. “Halloween,” in particular, has been released so many times that it’s hard to believe a true fan of the film doesn’t already own it on Blu-ray. So what’s the draw here? What’s different enough to justify re-gifting your used version of the film already on your shelf?
For me, believe it or not, the biggest draw of the “Halloween” set are the alternate versions. I’ve seen “Halloween” more times than I can count, and probably shouldn’t admit to how often I even watched the lackluster sequels like “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” in my teenage years. And so seeing something cut together differently to such a degree that the final product that has been so etched in my memory is altered is a unique experience. Take the “Producer’s Cut” of “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” a film notorious both for “Starring and Introducing Paul Rudd” and for going through absolute Hell in post-production. The film was clearly designed as a complete reboot of the franchise, turning Michael Myers and even Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) into pawns in an existential, supernatural game. The Shape wasn’t just a slasher. He was something more. And so the original version of “Curse” shares more in common with films about the occult than “Friday the 13th.”
Somewhere along the line, a power struggle about that decision began, and the final version of “Halloween 6” is a cluttered mess. You can see that it was heavily chopped and twisted along the way. Years ago, fans started bootlegging and passing around a radically different version of the film known as the “Producer’s Cut.” Through Blu-ray magic, it’s now available in surprisingly strong HD, and really plays like a completely different movie. It’s still not a great one, but I like the idea of taking a franchise that had grown stale and shaking it up instead of just delivering another boring bite.
On the same note, there are interesting TV versions of both “Halloween” and “Halloween II” available in this set. For the former, Carpenter even went back and shot new scenes that are now reincorporated into the final product on a standalone disc. As I said, this is a release for completists. Other rare items include a lot of behind-the-scenes archival stuff on “Halloween 4” and “Halloween 5” on the 15th bonus disc. The final disc in the set is a bit of a catch-all, including old DVD/VHS special features, interviews, radio spots, TV spots, etc. It’s something to zone out to after 14 discs of “Halloween”.
But what about the movies? Few horror films have held up as well as “Halloween” has 35 years after its release. It’s a perfect exercise in tension and terror, and commonly my choice for the best horror film ever made. Director of photography Dean Cundey and John Carpenter worked in perfect conjunction to shape the way an entire genre would develop its use of perspective. The always-lurking, always-there madman outside your door, in your hallway, right behind you—“Halloween” is a film that’s still scaring viewers new to it every single day. Its force is undeniable. And the Blu-ray is a beauty, with an HD transfer supervised and approved by Cundey, who also appears on a new commentary track with editor Tommy Lee Wallace and The Shape himself Nick Castle. An older commentary with Carpenter & Jamie Lee Curtis is also included, along with two featurettes and marketing material. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track is phenomenal. Turn it up.
There’s no point in going over the dozens of special features but a few highlights are worth mentioning. The “Producer’s Cut” of “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” gets a wide swath of new material since it’s new to Blu-ray, including a commentary track by screenwriter Daniel Farrands and composer Alan Howarth, both of whom are remarkably candid about how this version still doesn’t quite fix everything wrong with the final product. Interviews, a tribute to Donald Pleasance, archival behind-the-scenes footage, only Anchor Bay would devote this much Blu-ray space to a film like “Halloween 6.”
The follow-up, “H20: 20 Years Later,” which was the highest grossing film in the series until Zombie’s absolutely horrendous remake, gets some nice new supplemental material as well, including a commentary by director Steve Miner and Curtis herself, who also appears on a great making-of featurette with co-stars Josh Hartnett, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, and much of the technical team. LL Cool J must have been busy. There are some fascinating production anecdotes shared here, including how John Ottman’s score had to be nearly entirely redone at the very last minute, and some nice jabs at how so much of what worked here was destroyed in the follow-up, “Halloween: Resurrection.”
Dozens of commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, and alternate versions of films in the franchise—“Halloween: The Complete Collection” really does live up to its title. Even though one could very convincingly argue that there’s only one good movie in the entire set, it’s still worth seeing and loving just for how completely it captures a franchise that became more than a series of sequels. They were game-changing.
One of the few single films that could be argued as having even more game-changing influence on the industry than the “Halloween” franchise is Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Instead of going the franchise-capturing route (which I would embrace, by the way, as some of the films that followed the original “TCM” deserve a reappraisal), Dark Sky and MPI have brought all their firepower to bear on the 1974 original, a film that completely altered the landscape. To mark the film’s 40th anniversary release (after a theatrical re-release earlier this year covered here by Simon Abrams), Dark Sky has created three versions of the film’s Blu-ray release, including a standard Blu-ray Special Edition, a Blu-ray/DVD 4-disc combo back, and a Limited Deluxe “Black Maria” Edition of the film.
What’s the hook of “Black Maria”? It’s mostly packaging. And I don’t necessarily mean that derogatorily. Horror nuts are collectors. And having items like the “Black Maria” truck on their shelf has collectible value outside of the fact that there’s not much to justify the Limited Edition price tag in the actual set outside of a Leatherface apron you can wear this Halloween and a pretty neat special feature in which William Friedkin interviews Tobe Hooper in front of an adoring crowd. The two talk about art, process, “The Safe Dark” and what made “TCM” stand out. As Friedkin says, “You didn’t just waste a night to come and see another fucking horror movie.”
Most of the essential supplemental material comes on the actual Blu-ray, which includes three previously available commentaries and a new one by Hooper himself. The transfer is a remarkable one, 4K Digital with a 7.1 Surround Audio track. And there are new deleted scenes and TONS of archival featurettes on the bonus disc. I wish I could say Hooper’s audio track was a bit more revelatory but with excellent mini-docs like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth” already answering most of the production questions anyone could even imagine, a fourth audio commentary seems superfluous. Then again, for films like “Halloween” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” there’s no such thing as too much.
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