Halloween: The Documentaries - It's Time To Really See What's What

Naturally, there have been multiple documentaries on John Carpenter's horror classic Halloween over the years. But actually, not as many as I was expecting, given the number of times it's been released and re-released on DVD and blu-ray over the years. A couple keep getting reissued with nearly every disc, and one or two are only available as separate releases on their own. So this Halloween, I thought I'd break down each one of them, and see what's out there and what's really worth stalking down.

Essentially, I guess you'd say there are three full-length documentaries, and two to three shorter ones, plus a couple featurettes that might be worth mentioning. But you could really nerd out and haggle on what counts as what, because it's obscure. Now, depending on your degree of Halloween fanhood, your take-away could be pretty different here. If you're one of those people with a Michael Myers tattoo and a Halloween bedspread, you might just want to make sure you haven't missed any little thing for your collection. But for the rest of us, it might be worth getting into what each of them have to offer and picking & choosing. Even if you're not particularly a fan and just mildly interested in cinema, Halloween's legacy is interesting enough that it's worth figuring out which is a good one and seeing one of these docs.
Perhaps the best known is Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest, which debuted on Anchor Bay's 25th Anniversary edition in 2003.  This is a fairly good one, interviewing a collection of key personnel, including John Carpenter, Dean Cundey, Fangoria's Tony Timpone, producers Debra Hill, Joseph Wolf (executive producer of Halloween 2 and 3), Irwin Yablans and producer of the entire Halloween franchise, Moustapha Akkad, stars Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles, Nick Castle and Charles Cypher, plus assistant director Tommy Lee Wallace. It's a solid history of the film, covering the score, the debut of the Panavision camera, a unique anecdote about how Carpenter met a kid in a mental hospital whose thousand yard stare inspired Michael Myers and tons more.
One of its biggest drawbacks, however, is its heavy use of clips from the film rather than new content. Especially since most of us watching the film got it as part of a DVD package, and thus had just watched the film, it gets tiresome and obviously takes away from time they could've used to show us more interview footage, etc. And the other drawback was that for most fans, there wasn't much new here. In 2003, this was a lot of covered ground and well-worn anecdotes. Now, you have to expect that to a certain degree - after all, how much can the same people say about the same film... and there's a lot of core facts you just can't really leave out of a stand-alone documentary. But one does hope for some new stuff amid the standard, and while Charles Cypher was a nice inclusion, it does feel pretty basic. Especially since some of the interviews consist of literally the exact same footage we'd seen before.
Most Halloween DVDs prior to the 25th Anniversary had Halloween Unmasked as its primary extra. It's a twenty+ minute short documentary narrated by Dee Snider that interviews many of the same people and who have a lot of the same things to say. It has John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad, Dean Cundey, Tommy Lee Wallace at the Myers' house, Brian Andrews (who played Tommy Doyle), Jamie Lee Curtis (same "gave me a film career" clip in 25 Years of Terror), PJ Soles, Nick Castle and Joseph Wolf. So you'll notice it has a couple exclusive interviews, and even its much shorter running time covers a lot of ground because it doesn't waste so much of it on film clips. It's maybe not quite as thorough as Cut Above, but it comes closer than you'd think based on the running time and moves at a much brisker pace.
The 25th Anniversary also debut a short, 10 minute featurette called On Location: 25 Years Of Terror, which interviews only Debra Hill and PJ Soles. Like it's title suggests, it focuses a lot on the film's locations, showing how the infamous Myers house is now a chiropractor's office and the like. But diverges a lot, for example PJ Soles talks about how impressed she was with Debra Hill, how a woman could command so much power on a movie set. Soles doesn't have much to say about the films locations at all, really. Anyway, I wouldn't really count this as even one of the short documentaries, but it is an interesting featurette that's worth the watch.
Speaking of Halloween's 25th Anniversary, we had another Halloween documentary, a feature called Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, released in... 2006. So I'm not sure which three years they're saying don't count, but whatever. This one's narrated by PJ Soles and focuses on the entire Halloween series - i.e. all the films in the series, including the remake. It's a lot like Never Sleep Again or Crystal Lake Memories, except it's only 83 minutes long. So I guess it's more like His Name Was Jason. In fact, one of its producers, Anthony Masi, also produced His Name. So, naturally, 25 Years starts out on the first film, and covers almost all of the same ground, including repeating footage.
Does this interview look familiar?
It interviews a ton of exclusive people, and even though they're mainly from the sequels, there are a one or two from the first film that are only in this. The full line-up is: Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad, John Carpenter, Dean Cundey, Bianca Kajlich (H8), Mark Shapiro (critic), Debra Hill, Nick Castle, Jim Winburn (stuntman from the original), Clive Barker, Chris Durand (Myers in H20), Dennis Etchison (writer of an unfilmed Halloween sequel), Brian Andrews, Sasha Jensen (Brody), a guy who lives near the actual Halloween house, Dick Warlock (Myers in H2), Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, Nancy Loomis (Annie, and Tommy Lee Wallace's ex), Greg Nicotero, Don Shanks (Myers in H5), British critic Kim Newman, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Jeff Burr, Tom Atkins, executive producer Joseph Wolf, Lance Warlock ("boombox boy" in H2 and son of Dick Warlock), Alan Howarth (composer for H2-6), John Ottman (composer for H20), John Fallon (critic who says things like "I get more excited, frightened, what not if I see some hot chick being chased by a killer than if I see some, like, fat dude running around, 'cause, um, she's a hot chick!"), Jeff Katz (New Line guy), Pamela Susan Shoop (nurse in H2), Cliff Emmich (Mr Garrett in H2), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Albves in H2), Tommy Lee Wallace, Rick Rosenthal, Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill in H2), Garn Stephens (Marge in Halloween 3), Brad Schacter (Little Buddy Kupfer in H3), Jason Paul Collum (critic), fans, Ellie Cornell (Rachel in H4), John Carl Buechler (special effects on H4), Danielle Harris (Jamie in H4), Kathleen Kimmont (Kelly in H4), Julie King (critic), Paul Freeman (producer of H20), Beau Starr (Sheriff Meeker in H5),  Dominque Othenin-Girard (director of H5), Jeffrey Landman (Billy in H5), Wendy Kaplan (Tina in H5), Marianne Hagan (Kara Strode in H6), Daniel Harrands (writer of H6), JC Brandy (Jamie in H6), Nick Phillips (Dimension Films guy), Thomas Ian Nicholas (Bill Woodlake in H8), Brad Hardin (effects artist on H7), Chris Durand (Myers in H7), Larry Brand (writer of H8), Brad Loree (Myers in H8), Mark Ward of Anchor Bay, a guy who organizes a regular Halloween convention, the mayor of South Pasadena, a lot of fans and Anthony Masi himself.
It's a fun, very fast paced documentary.  But as you can imagine, trying to fit all of the above people into a movie that runs less than 90 minutes, a lot of those contributions wind up being little more than quick soundbites. Plus, a lot of these interviews are lower quality grabs at a convention, or even taken directly from convention panel discussions, rather than direct interviews. And another similarity to His Name: 25 Years has a ton more content that makes the proceedings much richer and more rewarding for fans on the second disc. There are lots of extended interviews and complete panels. So while it was also included in Anchor Bay's 30th anniversary blu-ray boxed set; I highly recommend tracking down the DVD for the over four hours of extras.

By the way, Masi also filmed another little short doc called Halloween: The Shape of Horror in 2006.  It features Rob Zombie, Alan Howarth, Malek Akkad (Moustapha's son), Nancy Loomis, PJ Soles and John Ottman, Again, you'll hear that the film was originally to be titled The Babysitter Murders, that the budget was $300,000, and mostly the same info you hear in all of these documentaries.  I don't believe it's been released on DVD at all yet, but I thought I'd throw it a mention.
And I wouldn't really include this as a documentary about Halloween, but since I'm being thorough, there was a 2013 short documentary called The Night She Came Home, which debuted on Anchor Bay's 2013 blu-ray. It's really not about the film, except tangentially, instead covering Jamie Lee Curtis's first horror convention, because she's never done them. She's being lead around by the Horror's Hallowed Grounds guy, and it's really self-indulgent and lacking substance. It's co-directed by Curtis's sister, and mostly consists of shots of her walking and driving to and from places. There's also a lot of soundbites from fans saying how excited they are to meet her. Only around the 38 minute mark, when we hear snippets of her actually speak at the convention, do we find any compelling content.  That lasts for two minutes, and then the last 12 minutes is her driving again, leaving the convention.  The footage of her actual talk would've been great, but I'd say skip this documentary. Or, if you've got the disc anyway, skip to minute 38 and watch for two minutes, then turn it off. It's 95% just convention footage, and we're almost never even let in on the conversations we see them having.
But that still leaves one more feature-length documentary. One that's not available in ultimate Scream boxed set or packaged with any other DVD or blu-ray release of the film. Halloween: The Inside Story. It's a 2-hour television movie that's all about the original; and while it naturally cover a lot of the same territory as A Cut Above and the others; it's got some exclusive interviews and tackles some individual scenes and other elements that aren't in any of the others. The line-up here is: Moustaphah Akkad, Tommy Lee Wallace, Dean Cundey, John Graham (Bob), John Carpenter, Tony Moran (the guy they show when Myers' is unmasked), Nick Castle, Irwin Yablans, Rob Zombie, Carrie Rickey, Anthony Masi, John Kenneth Muir (author of The Films of John Carpenter), Jeffrey Lions (critic), PJ Soles, Debra Hill, Brian Collins (critic), Nancy Loomis, Charles Cypher, Kyle Richards (Lindsey), Brian Andrews, Devin Faraci (critic) and Will Sandin (Michael Myers as a kid).  So even ignoring the critics and stuff, that's several original cast members debuting in this doc. It does admittedly feel a little stiff, like TV documentaries tend to; but I think it's got the best overall coverage, including the most unique bits... everything from brief glimpses of Carpenter's student films to a CGI 3D model of the Halloween house to demonstrate how the famous opening tracking shot was done. It also ends with a bit on the remakes, if that's a plus for anyone. Two of the interviews are archival footage from Halloween: Unmasked, most of them are all new... they even got an all new one with Jamie Lee Curtis! She's finally gotten an all new background and all new anecdotes; and she says more about the film here than in The Night She Came Home.
The documentaries that come packaged with Halloween sets naturally vary in quality and extras depending on which set you've got. But for the solo discs, 25 Years Of Terror is a 4:3 film (with some widescreen footage included), so it's naturally full-frame. It looks fine for standard def, and has standard Dolby 2.0 audio. I already mentioned the heaps of extras that exceed the film itself, but it also has a fold-out insert with notes by Masi and includes a cheesy, full-color comic book called Halloween Autopsis. Inside Story, which is a UK PAL disc by the way, is anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with Dolby 2.0 audio. It has no extras at all, not even the Halloween trailer; but it does come in a neat-looking slipcover.
There are of course other extras on different Halloween discs... a couple audio commentaries, a Horror's Hallowed Ground episode, TV footage, a few interviews. If you've got the discs, you should definitely check those out, too. But in terms of documentaries on Halloween, now that I've sat down and watched them all beginning to end, I'm surprised to find myself recommending Inside Story for the "if you only watch one" slot. I was expecting to like it the least, a stodgy TV movie some random British narrator... But it's really got it all. 25 Years of Terror is great for its coverage of the sequels, especially if get the 2-disc set; but for coverage of the first film, it falls behind most of the others. So get whichever Halloween DVDs or blus you like - The Scream box set is of course pretty sweet and includes most of the stuff covered above - but I recommend you snag these DVDs as well. They're worth it.

2 comments:

  1. Reading this article makes me wonder what became of the gal who won the convention contest to be in HALLOWEEN 9(before it was abandoned for Rob Zombie's two films),as well as flashed her bare breasts in front of the cameras(while they chatted backstage).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, big surprise who wound up winning the contest after that moment - ha! I wonder if she made it into Zombie's film as an extra somewhere, since Malek Akkad was still on board as a producer with those.

      Delete