A Fresh Stab At Code Red's Just Before Dawn

One of Code Red's earlier forays into blu-ray, from their second batch after Redeemer and Voices From Beyond), we have the eerie man vs. nature vs. slasher film Just Before Dawn. The film not only makes its HD debut here, but also includes a second, extended cut that runs about ten minutes longer. We're still on the single-layer disc stage at this point in Code Red's blu-ray legacy, unfortunately, but now we've proper menus with selectable options. It's tempting to say you can throw away any previous editions once you've got this one in your mitts, but unfortunately it's missing all the great extras from Shriek Show's previous 2-disc special edition.

Update 3/9/15 - 5/16/19: Four years later, and Code Red has come out with a new special edition of Just Before Dawn.  We've moved on from the single- to the dual-layer disc stage, which is nice since there are two versions of the movie on these discs, with promised clean-up on the extended cut, plus all new special features.  Sounds good; let's see.
This is another in a short line of compelling Deliverance-inspired slasher movies, a la The Final Terror, Rituals or more recently the Wrong Turn films, where they essentially say, "what if we made the first half of Deliverance the whole movie?" Maybe that sounds hacky, but it's a damned effective idea and has resulted in some quite compelling horror films, including this one. A large part of what works about this film as well as the others I've named is that beautiful, exotic locations become an integral and dangerous part of the story. Being way out in the forests somewhere, they've got amazing, natural production values.

So an idyllic location and a haunting theme by Brad Fiedel (Terminator), effectively raise up what is otherwise a fairly generic slasher film to greater heights. A group of typical horror movie kids go off to camp and explore a very remote area of land one of them has inherited. George Kennedy stars as the film's bankable name and also a ranger who tries to warn them off, and must later try to find them while there's any left to rescue. Most of his scenes are by himself and the plot could probably be told just as well without his character, but he does help to keep the plates spinning. What he knows and the campers slowly discover, is that the woods is also inhabited by a family that's gone a little weird in their isolation; and one of them seems to have grown homicidal.
So like I said, the film's got the location and the music as definite pros. In the cons, you've got some slightly hokey acting, although everybody's fine for the most part, and the difficulty of trying to represent a group of people who live outside of society without them coming off as just silly. Most movies fail, and while this film makes a pretty earnest attempt, I'm not sure they succeed either. However, they make the wise choice of giving them as little screen time as possible, instead spending it with the much more relatable and plausible campers.

The last thing to really tip the scale in the right direction is some really effective scare scenes. Clever moments with lighting and camera angles really make scenes work much better than similar scenes in other slashers. I won't spoil the ending, but it's a real crowd pleaser for horror fans, no question. So overall, while I don't see this pulling in mainstream audiences even if you did convince them to give Just Before Dawn a shot, anyone who has a predilection for 80s slasher films will definitely enjoy this a lot.
And which version of the film is the one to watch? Well, there have been multiple cuts of this film, actually, and it's been pretty confusing for fans to keep track of. You basically had two VHS versions, one which was cut and one which was generally considered to be uncut that ran 91 minutes. Then you had the Shriek Show DVD, which was almost uncut at 90 minutes, but had a few brief trims, and a German disc, which restored the biggest trim to the Shriek Show disc (but not the others). And finally a UK DVD which was more heavy cut but also featured a bunch of footage not seen in any previous version, even the original "uncut" VHS, running about 100 minutes. Well, Code Red has thankfully cut through all of that excess and made our decision much easier by giving us the two best cuts, including one never before released.
I think it's safe to say nobody watching a serious horror movie wants to watch it with any of the violence censored, so Code Red gives both "uncut" versions. We have the version everybody used to consider uncut from that old VHS, and we have a super extended version with everything in it, all the trimmed gore and all the extra scenes from that UK release, that runs 103 minutes. And for my money, that latter version really is the definitive version to watch. While the extra footage doesn't include anymore scary or shocking moments, it does contain bits that really should just never have been cut in the first place. The main arc of the film is Deborah Benson's slow transformation throughout this film, and the extended dialogue really fleshes that out. Perhaps even more importantly, or at least less subtly: the cuts, which were clearly designed to just speed up the pace, make the film awkward and less sensible.

For example, there's one scene where the campers follow the sound of singing to find a girl in the distance and call out to her, "hello down there!"  And one of the guy shouts. "I say: do you live around here!" Now, when I originally saw the film, the non-extended version, I always chalked it up to a little moment of bad acting, just a weird unnatural way to say the line. But now having seen the 103 minute version, there's a couple lines between the ones I quoted. The guy asks "do you live around here?" and another camper shouts, "you sing beautifully!" The girl looks at them but doesn't respond, and NOW, with the subject having been changed and the girl not responding, it makes sense that he says the line, "I say: do you live around here" like that. So on it's own, you wouldn't look at that deleted scene and think, "gee, I'm sure sorry I missed that moment where the guy repeats himself and his friend shouts 'you sing beautifully!'" But what it does is turn a slight, jarring flaw in the film into a smooth, natural moment. And the six or seven seconds you shave off the running time definitely isn't worth that awkward hiccup in the movie, that just makes you think less of it. Maybe if you have a short attention span you'd disagree, but even in its longest incarnation, the film really doesn't drag. If anything, the whole film works as a bit of a slow burn no matter which version you're watching, and the longer cut makes that the most effective.
1) 2005 SS DVD; 2) 2015 CR BD extended; 3) 2015 CR BD edited;
4) 2019 CD BD extended; 5) 2019 CR BD edited.
Unfortunately, the longest version of the film is not the best looking, transfer-wise. Code Red's new blu-ray of the "uncut" 91 minute version was absolutely the best this film has ever looked. But they had to use a more beat up print to get the fully uncut 103 minute version. So if you want to see the film looking its best, you've got to watch the 91 minute version, though at least that cut's still an improvement over Shriek Show's 90 minute version. But the best cut looks noticeably poorer. It has the inherent advantage of being in HD, but that's about it. It's the softest, probably in part because it's clearly zoomed in and lacking information on the bottom and right side compared to the other cuts, despite all four of Code Red's transfers being exactly 1.78:1 (Shriek Show's is slightly window-boxed to closer to 1.85:1). The extended cut is also worn, with flecks and scratches on it. It's not as bad as some of Code Red's most infamous "grindhouse prints" they've released, but it's a lot worse than the other versions.

If Shriek Show's transfer were in HD, it might give Code Red's a real run for its money, certainly trampling the extended cut. But it's not, so Code Red's 91 minute cut is handily the best the film has ever looked, with the smoothest, most lifelike image. Look at the clearing in the trees over Deborah (the standing blonde)'s shoulder. In both the Shriek Show DVD and the 103 minute cut, it's a burst of bright light. But in the 91 minute cut, you can see all the leaves in branches that've been flared out of the other two. Shriek Show and Code Red also have a bit of a difference in coloring, but that's more open to personal preference. Grain is natural on both of Code Red's transfers, though, because the issue with the extended cut is the source material, not the scan.  So you could say the extended cut is a fine presentation of a print that just happens to be in substantially lower quality than the internegative they used for the shorter edit.
1) 2005 SS DVD; 2) 2015 CR BD extended; 3) 2015 CR BD edited;
4) 2019 CD BD extended; 5) 2019 CR BD edited.
So how is the new and improved extended cut in 2019?  Well, some clean-up has definitely been done, but it's still the same rough source.  Looking at the gang setting up camp here, we're still zoomed in with the colors washed and contrast blown out, and that same green chemical line is still running up through Jamie Rose.  But look at the additional chemical damage around Ralph Seymour's head - it's gone.  Similar flecks and spots in the upper left-hand corner of the first set of shots have also clearly been swept up.  And yes, the extra dual-layer space does smarten up the compression.  So hey, progress has been made; it's a step in the right direction.  I don't know if it's a substantial enough restoration to really alter the viewer's experience, though.  You're still watching a rough print.  But given the choice between the two, yeah, hey, I'll take the new one, thanks.

Also, the shorter edit's been tweaked a bit - this time in the color department.  Look up at the first set of shots again and you'll notice Mike Kellin's skin tones are a little less red, and a bit more on the orange side.  The grass is a shade darker while the brights are lighter on his sleeve.  And in the second set, the pinks, reds and oranges are all a bit brighter.  It's not an obvious change, but it does give a little more pop and separation of the characters from their backgrounds.  It's a pretty subjective call, but I think it's a smidgen better on the 2019 than the 2015.

All versions preserve the original mono track, uncompressed on the blus, though a bit noisy on the extended version.  The DVD also throws in a 5.1 mix.  One nice advantage of Code Red's new 2019 edition is that they've added subtitles (albeit to the shorter version only) that neither of the previous discs had.
But now let's get to what was a real shortcoming on Code Red's initial disc: the extras. The Code Red blu gives you two theatrical trailers for the film, which is at least better than nothing. But the Shriek Show set has not only those two trailers but an audio commentary by director Jeff Lieberman, and it's a pretty good one. And what's more, there's a 67 minute long documentary which interviews a whole bunch of the people involved, including Lieberman, producer David Sheldon, the writer Mark Arywitz, and stars Chris Lemmon (yes, Jack Lemmon's son), Jamie Rose and John Hunsacker who played the killer. Oh, and there's also a really interesting section where they talk to Brad Fiedel. So it's really a fantastic special edition that's worth holding onto - or going out of your way to pick up - just for the extras. There's also a photo gallery and a bunch of bonus Shriek Show trailers.
But now Code Red's come back with a special edition of its own.  First of all, they carry over the documentary from the Shriek Show DVD, though it's somewhat shorter here, clocking in at just over 50 minutes, because for whatever reason (at a guess, licensing fee?), they've cut all of Lieberman's interview segments.  And unfortunately, in that hasty editing process, they did threw off the sync.  This isn't the first time Code Red's had a syncing problem recently, which makes me wonder if anybody's bothering to watch their releases for QC before selling them.  But anyway, it gets a bit out of sync pretty quick, and then slowly gets more out of sync as the feature progresses, eventually getting to the point where we're not even hearing the same sentence the people are speaking.  So if you've got your old Shriek Show DVD, don't throw it out.

You'd want to hang onto it anyway, since the audio commentary has not been carried over.  But the better news is that Code Red has created a bunch of new special features, and the syncing and everything is all good with those.  We get four new, on-camera interviews which roughly follow a consistent formula of talking about the film for the first half, and going over the rest of their career in the second.  We already heard from David Sheldon, Chris Lemmon and Jamie Rose in the Shriek Show doc, but there's definitely some new content to be found in the fresh interviews.  Sheldon and Lemmon's interviews are roughly a half hour each.  Then we also get an on-camera interview with star Gregg Henry, who's never been on a Just Before Dawn disc before, so that's a real treat.  There's also an amusing intro to the film, where Henry and Rose meet The Banana Man, plus a bunch of Code Red bonus trailers.  This edition also comes in (one hell of an ugly) slipcover, with reversible artwork.  The official JBD trailers, despite being listed on the box and having been on the previous Code Red blu, have been dropped - another little reason to keep your Shriek Show discs.
So at the end of the day, a lot has changed and very little has changed.  The ideal JBD experience is still the Shriek Show DVD for the extras, and the Code Red blu for the film itself.  The 91 minute cut's transfer still looks the best, while the 103 minute cut still has the best version of the content.  And by including both cuts, Code Red still gives fans both options.  What's changed is that we've added some fun new extras to the pot and some slightly improved transfers with this 2019 edition.  Code Red 2019 is definitely now the best edition even with its botched presentation of the Shriek Show doc.  Whether it's enough of a step forward to warrant paying for a double-dip is up to you, but the new blu pretty well renders the old one obsolete, even if it doesn't manage to take the old DVD down with it.

Which VVitch is Which?

So here's a re-release that's come around the bend pretty fast: 2015's The VVitchThe VVitch is a very stylish, somewhat mainstream horror film that came out on DVD and blu-ray in 2016.  4k Ultra HD discs were the brand new thing at the time, and we all said this should've come out on UHD.  It was a new release from a major studio (Lions Gate) with a heavy emphasis on its look and atmosphere - perfect for UHD.  But no, just the DVD and BD.  But I guess enough of us kvetched about it that LG has brought it back to stores as one of their attractively-priced horror UHDs, in line with Halloween, American Psycho and Evil Dead 1 & 2.  This definitely would've been the sweet way to go in 2016, but since we were all forced to grumble and buy the BD then, is it worth double-dipping already now?
The VVitch (double v's to tip us off to the film's old English trappings) is an immediately impressive horror film: an atmospheric slow burn.  Subtitled on-screen as A New England Folk-Tale, the film follows a family of early American settlers who separate from their puritan community and attempt to make their way on their own.  And almost immediately they are set upon by a seemingly endless succession of signs and effects of witchcraft.  It's a real potpourri of classic early American folklore and earnest reports of witches out of New England history.  This gives us a wonderful combination of authenticity - helped immensely by the cast and production design's ability to capture the period - and an entertaining kind of hellzapoppin' madness where anything can happen next and you never know what's around the next corner.  And despite centering around a nuclear family, The VVitch isn't precious about keeping the unit whole or elevating children and animals out of harm's way.  It's a rare horror film where you genuinely don't know who, if anyone, will be alive by the end of the film.  And yet the characters are flush enough that it winds up satisfying on a dramatic level as well.
1) 2016 LG DVD; 2) 2016 LG BD; 3) 2019 LG UHD.
The VVitch is a dark film, where you'll be struggling to make out imagery in the low contrast, candlelit footage from start to finish.  And the naturally subtle, darker tones of HDR actually increases that.  But when you do lean forward and really peer into the darkness, you can see there actually is more detail to be deciphered in those patches.  But we're really talking about subtle shades of gray here, and I'm not saying that just because this film is by its nature hugely under-saturated.  But it's one of those situations where casual viewers may have a hard time seeing the differences, apart from the dimmer highlights.  The colors generally are a little richer when you can make them out, however (like the mother's green shirt in the second set of shots).  The 4k resolution is easier to demarcate, however.  The blu looks distinctly grainier than the UHD; but remember, this film was shot on digital, so we're not talking about capturing grain the way we usually are with catalog titles.  On the UHD, that's peeled back giving an almost softer look, but when you get in close, it's obvious that the UHD is smooth and photo realistic well into the point where the blu-ray is breaking down into jagged, pixelated edges (for example, look at the boy's eyes).  Also, curiously, the 1.66:1 aspect ratio of the DVD and blu shifts ever so slightly to 1.67:1 on the UHD.

All three discs give you just the one, official 5.1 mix, lossy on the DVD but in DTS-HD on the blu and UHD (yes, it's the same DTS-HD track on both).  And they all include optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Extras are also good but the same across all editions, except for the one minor advantage that the UHD doesn't have an over ten minute stretch of on-startup bonus trailers you have to skip like the DVD and blu.  But they've all got a fairly engaging, if not super enlightening, audio commentary by the director, a roughly half hour Q&A with the director, star & two authors on Salem witches who dominate a little too much of the conversation, a nice but brief featurette that finally lets us hear from the rest of the cast, and a neat little stills gallery of design sketches.  All three editions also each come in slick slipcovers.  Oh and yes, the BD in the UHD combo-pack is the exact same BD that was sold in 2016, including the outer label.
So, is it worth double-dipping?  It depends how dedicated you are to the Ultra HD.  This is a solid 4k UHD that honors the uptick in format, but you're not getting a massively improved transfer or any new special features or anything.  This is really a disc we should've gotten in 2016, but at least the price is alright, so a double-dip won't sting too badly.  And hey, better late than never.  But I imagine a lot of fans who would've bought the UHD version in 2016 will now just stick with the BDs they were stuck buying at the time.  But if you've gotta have that UHD, it's finally here and it's as good as it should be.

Two Children. Two Adults. No Ghosts? The Nightcomers

Here's a premise I never would've thought the world needed to see realized: a prequel to Henry James' The Turn Of the Screw.  If you're familiar with the story, sure, it makes some sense.  The Turn Of the Screw is one of those stories where two children are haunted... whether by literal ghosts or just the lasting effects of their trauma is for both the protagonist and the readers to determine.  But it means we enter the story after a major piece of drama has occurred, which, if you think about it, is typical of ghost stories.  You know, like a young couple buys a house and someone tells them, hey, the previous owner killed his whole family, and some say they still walk the halls at night.  The plot follows the young couple, with the murderer and his family just serving as the back story.  So here, somebody said, let's make that backstory the story.  But that's actually kind of weird, since you're adding another chapter to a ghost story, but one with no ghosts in it, because these events predate all that.  Imagine screening a prequel to Friday the 13th and watching the audience as they slowly realize there's going to be no murderer because the story ends with Jason in the lake, so the whole movie is just about Mrs. Vorhees getting to know, and being perfectly friendly with, the camp counselors.  Tough sell, right?
Tougher still, you're not writing an add-on to an independent little horror film but a world-renowned classic English novel.  I know it's been done plenty of times before, since those characters are generally safely in the public domain.  So instead of trying to sell audiences on your own characters, you can try to hook existing fans of Jane Austen or whoever by writing Mansfield Park 2, where Mr. Darcy arrives to seduce Fanny away from Edward.  Actually, that's a great idea.  I'm claiming that copyright now if no one's done it already!  But seriously, I've seen stuff like that in bookstores before and it's usually a big red flag that the author is hack.  Nobody takes them seriously, and nowadays they're more properly relegated to online fanfic forums.  But 1971's Nightcomers shows you can make real, worthwhile artistic pieces in this manner as well.
Marlon Brando stars (which is either a promising hallmark or another big red flag; I'm not sure) as Quint, the infamous groundskeeper who had already passed at the start of Turn Of the Screw.  In Turn, a new governess is hired to take care of a wealthy businessman's two wards, who turn out to be deeply troubled by their former governess and Quint, who'd had some kind of dark, mysterious relationship.  So this film explores that relationship.  Yeah, nothing supernatural here.  It's dark, but I really don't think you could call this a horror story, except in the loosest possible definitions.  It's a drama, but a smart and honest one.  You could definitely watch this never having heard of Turn and get everything out of it, though of course you'll find more little nods and connections to appreciate if you are familiar.  This film does have a bit have a lurid reputation, which is not entirely undeserved.  But now that it's so old and plays downright quaint, with most of the racy notions left to subtext and discussed ideas rather than on-display exploitation, I think we can more easily take the content for what it is without being distracted by the adult elements.  The cast is uniformly excellent, including Thora Hird as Mrs. Grose and the two child actors, who can often be the weak link in films with minors in leading roles.
The Nightcomers is a British film, so it's not too surprising they got it on DVD first.  But when Lions Gate finally put it out here in 2007, it blew all the overseas editions out of the water by way of being a special edition.  Then the UK beat us to the punch again in 2015, with Network being the first to release this film on blu.  But they pulled a bit of a Christine, releasing it without the DVD extras, making us choose between an HD transfer or special features, or else buy multiple editions.  Of course, it's a bit of an unfair analogy, as Christine was a new film egregiously released on DVD-only by Sony, while here we're talking about a catalog title.  Totally different situation, but it's still a bummer for fans when it happens.  But thankfully this week Kino has stepped in to, like Lions Gate in the DVD age, bring The Nightcomers back to the US with a new special edition.  It's got all the original extras and more new stuff, plus of course the updated HD transfer.  ((Rocky theme))
2007 Lions Gate DVD top; 2019 Kino BD bottom.
So, okay, we're clearly looking at the same root master, with the exact same 1.85:1 framing and color timing.  But up close, it's a huge boost in clarity, with the DVD displaying an unfortunate amount of smudginess, even for SD compression.  That's thankfully completely cleared up on the blu.  Still, it's not exactly a cutting edge master on Kino's disc.  Grain is there but light and inconsistent.  If you look at the wall in the second set, for instance, the grain is there in patches, with other patches smoothing it away.  This is definitely not a 4k capture.  I guess they're using the same scan.  But still, getting this film in HD is a substantial step forward from the DVD, with no signs of DNR, edge enhancement or other unwelcome tinkering.

The audio is a clean DTS-HD presentation of the original mono soundtrack, and optional English subtitles are included.  The DVD only had Spanish subs.
So, like I said, all foreign editions were barebones, apart from a teaser and the trailer, until Lions Gate got their hands on it.  Now, Lions Gate didn't add a ton of stuff, but they added something pretty major: an audio commentary by director Michael Winner.  This is a delightful commentary; he's full of charming stories of working with Brando and the rest of the cast (fun fact: Vanessa Redgrave was originally hired to play the female lead), but Brando most of all.  Lions Gate also filmed a brief on-camera introduction by Winner.  Though if we want to wag our finger a little bit, it could be pointed out that they lost the trailer and teaser.  Well, Kino brought them back, and more importantly, carries over Winner's commentary and introduction.  That plus the HD was enough to sell me on this release already, but they've also produced a new audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger.  Here, she's without her Daughters of Darkness partner Samm Deighan, which nixes the conversational quality of their Who Can Kill a Child commentary.  But she's more than capable on her own, thoroughly prepared, having listened to Winner's commentary not to use it as a source of anecdotes to repeat to us like some other commentaries I could name, but to note what not to say to avoid redundancy.  Refreshing, enthusiastic and highly informative!
Alright, so I said you don't need to be a Turn Of the Screw scholar to enjoy The Nightcomers, but still, it is a richer viewing when you know where it's all headed.  So I thought I'd share with you guys my favorite, fairly un-recognized adaptation from 1999, and I do include versions that don't share the title like The Innocents (which I'd rank a strong second place, but falls a little short due to an emphasis on style losing sight of the substance) in that.  I once made an effort to see every version of The Turn Of the Screw I could lay my eyes on, including the latest BBC version with all the Downton Abbey alumni, the Dan Curtis version with Lynn Redgrave, the Valerie Bertinelli version and of course that goofy 90s one with Patsy Kensit and Julian Sands as the master of a rather bizarrely art deco house.  And yet I've settled on this one as the ideal, definitive version to date.
This version is the Masterpiece Theater version, starring Jodhi May, who's never stopped working but seemed on the verge of taking a real star turn around this time.  And Colin Firth has the small but showy role of the master.  It expertly captures the period and the cast finds layers to their characters other versions miss.  Admittedly, this aims more towards the human drama than spooky ghost story atmosphere, so I can understand why a lot of fans might still prefer The Innocents.  If you're looking for something like The Haunting to make you cower under the covers on Halloween night, this ain't it.  But as that's also the tact that The Nightcomers takes, it makes 1999's Turn an all the more ideal companion piece.  The only thing I haven't been able to decide is if it's better to watch the original, and then go watch the backstory of Nightcomers and let it inform what you'd just watched as they were written, or to watch them in chronological order and watch the expanded story unfold.  I guess it's a pretty equally rewarding experience either way.
2004 WGBH DVD.
Unfortunately, this Turn Of the Screw's WGBH DVD is sorely lacking.  The back of the case describes this film as 4x3, but that's only because the opening Masterpiece Theater titles are fullscreen.  That leaves the film itself stuck in a non-anamorphic widescreen, floating in a sea of dead space.  And framed at the very unusual ratio of 1.59:1, I strongly suspect this is not the correct framing.  Being non-anamorphic means it's extra compressed into a smaller space as well, so the resolution is unattractively low even for a DVD.  Oh, and before I forget, it's heavily interlaced as well, adding up to a decidedly overall low quality video feel.  I would have loved, loved, loved for WGBH to go back and restore it for blu-ray like they did with Northanger Abbey, but now in 2019, I fear that ship has sailed and this, and a fairly identical import disc, is all we'll ever get.

For slight silver linings, this disc does include optional English subtitles.  And it features minor extras by virtue of including the TV spot and Alistair Cooke's Masterpiece introduction, which gives you a minimal briefing on James' novel for the uninitiated.  But boy, does this film need restorative rescuing.
So, as you've probably gathered by now, I'm pretty chuffed about this new Nightcomers.  Solid presentation and all the extras.  It helps that the price is always nice with these Kino discs; if we were being asked to pay limited edition Arrow prices, I'd say, come on, give us a fresh 4k scan.  But as it is, I'm quite pleased.  Except about The Turn Of the Screw.  That's such a bummer, it almost qualifies as an M.I.A.

Watching Halloween Shouldn't Be This Complicated!

I've got a bunch of new releases and updates to cover this month, but before I do that, I'd like to squeeze in just one more post where I get fairly definitive about an important horror classic.  This one's been a long time coming, and as you read on, you'll see why.  Today I'd like to look at the dueling blus, the controversially color-timed DVDs, the MIA mono track and of course the latest 4K UHD of John Carpenter's original masterpiece: 1978's Halloween, surely the second the greatest horror flick ever written about the most frightening of holidays.
No, but really.  Halloween is interesting, because of course it's the original, trend-defining slasher film that defined the horror genre for at least the next decade.  ...And yeah I know, the same case could pretty much be made for Psycho, which came well before it; and the slasher film could be argued to date at least as far back as 1932's Thirteen Women.  It's complicated if you really want to clarify historic firsts and lock down specific precursors.  But there's no question that Halloween introduced a massive sea change into the horror genre and specifically spawned a horde imitators and sequels, which are still continuing on to this day.
But the interesting point I was getting at is what's not interesting about it.  Essentially, it's a very basic, unenlightening color-by-number plot.  A flat, faceless character walks around and kills a bunch of horny teenagers until he's stopped by the virginal one.  Okay, Halloween came "first" (again; it's complicated).  But apart from having staked that little flag in the ground, what makes Halloween better than the bajillion and one other slasher films that tell nearly the exact same story in the exact same way?  Okay, Donald Pleasance's character provided an exciting and original twist to the formula: a hero character who's almost as mad as the villain.  But still, lots of knock offs were able to replicate that to one degree or another.  So what makes Halloween better than, say, Halloween 4 that tells virtually the identical story including the returning Loomis character and everything?  It has updated special effects, so that one should be even be, like, .5 percent better than the original, right?
Of course it's not.  And Halloween can certainly point to a lot of positive points it has going in its favor: the performances are universally strong across the board (a real sinking point for a gross number of slasher clones), Dean Cundy's 'scope panagliding is positively haunting and Carpenter's iconic score is absolutely perfect.  But really, I think it comes down to Carpenter's clever direction; each new scare is like a fresh pull from a Hitchcockian bag of tricks, like: 1) the killer's infamous POV tracking shot as he stalks his victims, 2) the moment where he's clearly standing there in an open shot then vanishes after a quick cut, 3) having a character in the foreground move to reveal the killer had been in the background all along, or 4) slowly dialing up a soft light to reveal the killer had been hidden in the darkness of a single shot all along.  Sure, films have done these things before and particularly since; but even to this day, I can't think of a more slickly performed collection of inventive suspense moments in such an expert, single package.
I should pause to point out, by the way, that we're only really looking at the proper, theatrical version of the film, but there is also an extended TV cut.  In features some of the usual censorship for network television, but it's noteworthy because it also includes several unique, and fairly long scenes, adding roughly twelve minutes to the total running time.  These were never part of the original artistic intention, and weren't even filmed until the shooting of Halloween 2, so I feel confident in saying there's only one definitive cut of the film and the TV version ain't it.  But they do include Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis and PJ Soles; so while they might detract more than they add to the pacing and thrust of the picture, they should certainly still be of at least some nominal interest to serious fans who're already intimately familiar with the proper theatrical cut.
So, Anchor Bay released it as part of a "limited edition" 2-disc set with the THX version (more on that in a minute) in 1999, and as a stand-alone DVD in 2001 [left].  I put limited edition in quotes because they released 40,000 copies of that set, so even today, it's not exactly super rare.  Anchor Bay UK also put out a version of the 2-disc set in 2001, and it was included as a standard def bonus in AB's original, 2008 blu-ray boxed set of the franchise.  Scream Factory has given it the best edition to date as part of their massive, 2014 15-BD boxed set.  But even there, while the bulk of the TV cut is in HD for the first time, it's still a composite cut with all the added TV footage in SD.  Nobody's gone back and restored that footage in HD as of this writing, and I wouldn't hold my breath.  Even in the big box, it's basically just one of many extras on the final, bonus disc, and they didn't bother to create subtitles for it or anything.  Rather than pushing the entire alternate cut, the 35th Anniversary blu-ray and Lions Gate's UHD now just include the TV footage as an extra, like deleted scenes, and honestly, I'm perfectly happy with that.
Now, the four DVD cases along the top of this post may seem like I'm coming up a little shy of "definitive;" but actually, except for the oldest, 1997 Anchor Bay DVD - which wasn't even anamorphic - I believe I'm about to represent every significant transfer on the market.  And I'm showing the first two a little out of order here, because the first DVD in my collection is a repressing.  I'll get into all big debate of the alternate color timings in a bit, but in brief, Anchor Bay's 1999 DVD (a.k.a. the THX edition) featured a new transfer, timed and supervised by Dean Cundy himself.  Then, in 2003, they made a new version for their 25th Anniversary edition (a.k.a. the Divimax edition) with different timing that a lot of people objected to.  Therefore, in 2007, they re-issued the 1999 THX version.  So first up we've got the 1999/ 2007 DVD, which includes both full and widescreen versions, then the 2003 DVD.  Then we've got Anchor Bay's first blu-ray, also from 2007, which essentially doubled down on the 2003 DVD's timing, followed by the 35th Anniversary blu (also supervised by Cundy), which was released separately in 2013, and slightly adjusted for Scream Factory's big Halloween collection boxed sets.  I've got the boxed set version (and specifically, I have the 10 box set, not the 15), but all 35th Anniversary editions feature the same transfer... it's just the special features that are different.  Then finally, of course, we've got the latest Lions Gate UHD, which also includes the 2007 Anchor Bay blu-ray in the pack.  It has a new, Lions Gate label on it, but the actual disc contents are exactly the same, right down to the opening Anchor Bay logo and Starz autoplay ad.

Confused?  Don't worry, things should hopefully get clearer as you read on.
1) 2007 AB full DVD; 2) 2007 AB wide DVD; 3) 2003 AB DVD;
4) 2018 AB/LG BD; 5) 2013 AB/SF BD 6) 2018 LG UHD.

Where to begin?  Okay, well, the 1.31:1 version is a pan and scan travesty that chops off the sides and only reveals a thin patch of additional vertical information.  Thankfully, the days of having to take transfers like this seriously are far behind us.  Then, the 2.31:1 widescreen version of that same disc is far better framing wise, despite still being slightly off and a bit window-boxed.  It's still pretty heavily artifact-laden and over-compressed, though, even for a DVD.  Putting aside the question of color-timing for a moment, the 2003 DVD was a definite improvement, ditching the window-boxing, correcting the AR a bit more to 2.37:1 (pulling in a smidgen more picture info in the process) and cleaning up detail.  It's still a little smudgy, but perfectly fine for SD.

And that takes us to HD.  Every version from now on is an even 2.35:1.  The 2007/ 2018 blu-ray is definitely a boost in clarity compared to the DVD, but by blu-ray standards, it's pretty lackluster.  There's no film grain and fine detail seems washed out, while edges look nastily pixelated.  When the camera pans, the image jerks as if the image were 1080i.  This image was definitely tampered with, presumably because the master they were using was sub-par, but what they did to it only made it worse, like they DNR'd it (even the grass looks like a smooth, flat plane) and then put sharpening on top of that.  So the 35th Anniversary is the first one that really starts to look like a decent HD presentation of a film.  Grain is light, but it's definitely, finally there; and now the camera can pan without stuttering the picture.  But the grain is really well captured on the UHD.  Now it looks properly filmic, and fine detail is much more natural in the new, maximum resolution.  The 2013 blu was quite nice for its time, but it still wasn't a contemporary 2 or 4k scan, which left a lot of room for Lions Gate to step forward.  In other words, compared to new releases with same day BD and UHD releases, where you might need to work to really spot the difference in the UHD resolution, here you can easily see and appreciate the difference, which will be rewarding for fans who've already purchased and re-purchased this film a half dozen times or more over the years.
1) 2007 AB full DVD; 2) 2007 AB wide DVD; 3) 2003 AB DVD;
4) 2018 AB/LG BD; 5) 2013 AB/SF BD 6) 2018 LG UHD.
Okay, so I took some extra comparison shots, specifically selected for the color issues.  Of course, the varying color timings affect every single frame of each transfer, but the two biggest points of contention seem to be how sometimes the grass and leaves could be said to be too green, and the heavy blues of the nighttime scenes being stripped away.  Now, Cundy is credited with supervising two of different versions: the 1999 THX DVD, and the 2013 35th Anniversary blu-ray.  And looking at the nighttime scenes feels like an easy call.  The versions he didn't supervise work hard to bring out the reds and skintones, stripping away is cool, blue shading.  The 2003 DVD took the most flack, but that shot of the 2007 BD looks even worse.  I mean, yeah, the characters stand boldly out and the colors really pop (also check out the kid's red coat in the earlier set of shots... it's almost like the little girl from Schindler's List), which is clearly the effect AB was going for; but it's a very different effect.  One that Cundy obviously switched right back from on his next pass.  And happily, the UHD sticks with this look for the latest version.
1) 2007 AB full DVD; 2) 2007 AB wide DVD; 3) 2003 AB DVD;
4) 2018 AB/LG BD; 5) 2013 AB/SF BD 6) 2018 LG UHD.
But now onto the daytime footage, where it gets a little stickier.  It's interesting that Cundy seems to have changed his mind this time around, giving us the orange leaves in 1999, but going back to green in 2013.  I know it's supposed to take place in the Fall, and plenty of reviewers before me have made a case for the leaves appearing appropriately orange on the THX DVD.  The Divimax DVD got a lot of heat for showing them so bright and green.  But those don't look like aging leaves about to drop in the THX version; they look like healthy green leaves being presented in an unnaturally yellowish hue.  It's just a minor but inherent flaw in the film... they filmed in California when the grass and leaves were fresh.  Trying to change it in post just made all the colors look weird (i.e. the flesh tones got all flattened out and the street looks red).  It's also inconsistent.  Here's one more shot from the 1999/2007 THX version...
...where the leaves don't look yellowed at all.  So even if the autumn effect works for you, it comes and goes in the versions that attempt it.  Plus the sky looks yellow and the whole shot seems a little washed in a single, overly heavy lean towards one color.  Here's the same shot from the 2013 35th Anniversary blu - the only other transfer Cundy directly approved...
...where everything looks more vibrant and photo-realistic.  Now, to be fair, the second shot has the advantage of being HD, while the DVD is of course crushed to SD.  But ignoring the extra detail, the colors just feel more honest.  The previous shot looks like it has one of those old Instagram filters nobody uses anymore.  I imagine, in 1999, still the early days of DVD, AB and Cundy may've gotten a little over-ambitious with the way you can "fix everything digitally," and his 2013 pass is a more mature, refined pass.  And okay, maybe I'm starting to overreach, but bottom line: I think maybe the THX version has become a tad romanticized over the years, and I prefer Newer Cundy's vision.  And thankfully, that's more or less what we get with the UHD.  Sure, the colors are a bit darker and more subtle, which seems to be the trend in HDR, but essentially we get the bluer nights and cooler tones that do suggest the season, even if nature doesn't want to play along.
And the audio?  Oh yeah, that's complicated, too.  There's a lot more to report than just the BDs having lossless versions of the mixes from the DVDs (and, by the way, all of the BDs and the UHD have optional English subtitles, but none of the DVDs do).  Halloween has a recurring issue on home video, where the original track seems to get lost, and we're only given the updated, remixed 5.1 mix.  Now, I don't have anything against releases taking advantage of modern sound systems, but the problem is, with older films like this one, that were only mixed in mono, liberties have to be taken.  In this case, because modern sound-mixers can't separate audio elements that are "burned" into the same track, in order to create separation (i.e. sounds that only come out of the left or right speaker), they have to replace them with brand new sounds that weren't part of the original film.  Ideally, they pick ones that sound very similar, but not to get off too much further on a tangent, I'll say that with Halloween, the new audio and the original sound distinctly, noticeably quite different.
There are changes throughout the entire movie of course, but if you want a quick, easily identifiable way to tell which version you're listening to, go to 9:08 in the film, with the nurse driving Loomis and asking, "you mean you actually never want him to get out?"  When Loomis replies, "never.  Never.  Never," there's a subtle rumble of thunder in the background of the original mono track.  In the remixes, that sound has been replaced by a loud thunder crack (though you can still hear the original mix in the background of the audio commentaries)!  The 1999 and 2007 DVDs have that mono track (on both the full and widescreen versions).  Several subsequent versions, like the Lions Gate UHD, have a mono track, but it's still the 5.1 remix, just "folded down" to a mono track.  So, in other words, it has all the new sounds, like the thunder crack, just crushed back into mono (2.0) audio.  The 7.1 mixes use the new sounds, too.

The only versions that restore the original mono are the 2007 the 35th Anniversary blus.  And now I should clarify, that there are really two 35th Anniversary blus: the one sold separately in 2013 and the one included in the 2014 boxed sets.  I've been referring to them interchangeably, because they use the same transfer, but they're actually different discs.  The solo disc features two audio tracks: a new (at the time) 7.1 lossless mix, and the mono.  The boxed set version features four: the 7.1, a lossy 5.1, and two versions of the mono.  See, the mono version on the first two blu-rays, unfortunately, is lossy, essentially a direct port from the DVD.  Only the boxed set version also includes a lossless version.  But hey, okay, took a while but we finally got it!  Now everything should be all set for Lions Gate.  All they have to do is take what's already been created and slap it on their disc.  However, again - a problem horror fans thought we'd solved! - the LG UHD brings back that remixed, folded down mono track.  Sure, you can hear the (lossy) mono on the blu-ray included in the combo pack; but who buys a UHD just to watch the movie on blu anyway?  And the worse looking blu at that?  This mono issue is the biggest let-down of the UHD, really.
Oh boy!  We've gone this long and we're just starting on the extras now?  Well, actually for such an popular and critically acclaimed, unchallenged horror classic, things aren't all that flush.  Much smaller flicks have had lusher special editions.  I guess that's partially because some of the most definitive, full-length documentaries like Halloween: The Inside Story and 25 Years of Terror have been sold on their own, as opposed to being bundled with the film.  So let's look at what has been included.

The 1999/ 2007 DVD kept it pretty light, with basically just the 20+ minute featurette Halloween Unmasked.  By the way, I've already covered all the Halloween docs in my post dedicated to them, so if you want detailed coverage of those, just click the links.  Anyway, besides that, you just got the trailer, some radio and TV spots, and a couple galleries.  Plus the extended cut if you bought the 2-disc version, or a cool holographic cover if you bought the 1999 edition.  The 2007 repress had a slipcover.  Then the 25th Anniversary DVD from 2003 added a bunch more: the audio commentary with Carpenter, Curtis and producer Debra Hill from the Criterion laserdisc, the feature-length documentary A Cut Above the Rest, and a ten minute featurette called On Location where Hill and Soles visit the old Myers house.  They lost Unmasked, though.
The first blu from 2007, matched the 2003 DVD.  Then the solo 35th Anniversary blu lost Cut Above the Rest, but added the hour long Curtis doc, The Night She Came Home, and the TV footage presented as deleted scenes.  It also came packaged in a nice digibook with notes by Stef Hutchinson.  The boxed set version of the 35th blu also included an all new, second audio commentary by Cundy, Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle.  It's pretty breezy, but doesn't really tell you anything you haven't heard in the all the previous extras.  Plus, if you got the 15-disc set, the bonus disc includes the Horror's Hallowed Grounds episode, a bus tour featurette and the extended cut again... not to mention all the stuff related to the sequels, of course!  You can also find that Horror's Hallowed Grounds episode on the 25 Years of Terror DVD, by the way.

And the UHD?  It has most of the stuff: the original audio commentary, The Night She Came Home, On Location, the TV deleted scenes, plus all the trailers & spots.  And because it's a combo pack with the old blu-ray, you also get A Cut Above the Rest.  So, just that one affordable release lets some of the odds and ends slide, but nets you pretty much all the major essentials.  It also comes in a slick slipcover.
A large part of what makes Halloween so effective is how straight-forward and simple a tale it.  Unfortunately, it's life on home video disc has been anything but.  Still, for your average layperson, the UHD should be enough; they can leave it to us purists to stress out over the myriad of little short comings and distinctions.  That, or if you're not that fussed over the 4k resolution, you might just want to stick with the boxed set blu-ray, the only one to pretty much have it all: lossless mono, all the extras including that second commentary, and at least one of the Cundy-approved transfers.  You don't even need to cop the 15-disc set; the key Halloween 1 disc is in the 10-disc version, too.  That's probably your best bet, actually.  Though if you're not a fan of the sequels/reboots, the UHD is a nice, cheap way to just get a respectable stand-alone version of the 1978 original by itself.