Who could have imagined in the gory-glory days of 1979 that "The night He came home" would see the birth of an entirely new approach to the horror film? No one! Fortunately, hindsight allows for re-examination, and Anchor Bay gives us plenty of opportunities for that by opening up its Trick-or-Treat bag early this year. Directed by Stefan Hutchinson, who also co-wrote with Anthony Masi, Halloween: 25 Years of Terror is both a trick and a treat! While certainly not the first attempt to study the low budget horror phenomenon, its cultural subtext, and the talents both behind and in front of the camera, this documentary IS perhaps the most comprehensive. The last word on the Halloween franchise and its influence on film and popular culture, 25 Years of Terror attacks its subject with the enthusiasm of a fan and the critical introspection of a historian, combining an atmosphere of celebration with hard-edged analysis.

This love letter to Michael Myers and his creators is worth every penny for series fanatics. Dressed in funeral finery, this horrific multi-media scrapbook is a 'thank you' to fans while also serving as a comprehensive retrospective of the entire Halloween series, examining through interviews, convention footage, panel discussions, stills, and montages various elements of the franchise. Just about everything you could think of is covered in this 2 disc collection, from the initial inspiration of the premise and the aesthetic evolution of the series to the public response and continuing misfires/innovations. Of course the most satisfying feature of both the documentary and extras are the insightful interviews, which come across as both intimate and frank. These, along with a general air of discovery, instil knowledge without lecturing, helping the entire production feel more like an informal discussion than a scholarly dissection.

Lending intelligence, atmosphere, and relentless energy to an aesthetic form in danger of losing its primal emotional effectiveness, Halloween inspired dread not so much through the art of violence as by the evocation of suspense through an interwoven tapestry of carefully depicted characterization and atmosphere. The film would, in fact, become the prototype for a new sub-genre in a field traditionally seeking expressions for terrors in the supernatural themes and imagery of the Gothic. 25 Years Of Terror explores not simply the various social, economical, and aesthetic dimensions of the film (and its creators), it also establishes an immediate cultural and cinematic context with which to better appreciate the movie itself. The documentary begins with an appropriately moody voice introducing the holiday, seeping us in its primal essence of terror and awe amidst shots of wind-swept leaves, carved pumpkins, and Michael Myers-related paraphernalia. Having us in its grip, the piece moves on to discuss the cultural confusion and angst of the 60s and 70s, suggesting that the darker side of the failing 'flower power' generation was mirrored in such horror movies as Night of the Living Dead, which focused on the terror in our neighborhoods and private homes rather than in far removed gothic or supernatural settings. Fantastical nightmares were being replaced by realistic, psychologically based suspense motifs, making the horror more intimate because it was more recognizable. Add to this mix the decision of such classics as Black Christmas to set their blood-feasts on holidays, and the time was ripe for such a concept as Halloween to emerge.

From this wonderful setup, the documentary discusses the importance of both Irwin Yablans and Moustepha Akkad as both the financial backbone of the film and as creators of the general premise. Both gentleman speak in convention footage, and sound justifiably proud of their legacy. The style and story of the original Halloween is then studied from various critical viewpoints, including writers and actors, all of which describe their admiration for the movie's suspense and its faceless killer. Clive Barker is the most articulate speaker, remarking on the cosmic power of the Boogieman to frighten, followed by an intriguing analysis of Myers as an archetype. While the textual elements of the story and its atmospheric superiority are spoken of in depth, technological characteristics are also explored, such as the unique combination of camera, lighting, and location. Most welcome is a classy remembrance of Donald Pleasance, followed by some discussion with Jamie Lee Curtis. The importance that the press played in shaping the popularity of the film -- an aspect usually ignored -- is also discussed. And what remembrance of Carpenter's film would be complete without a discussion of the music that so thoroughly embodies the simplistic if universally appreciable menace of the story? Of further interest is a brief look at the various imitations that came after 1978 in attempts to capitalize off the financial success of Halloween -- many of which failed because what they offered in gore they lacked in suspense. As you may have guessed by now, 25 Years Of Terror, the documentary, focuses primarily (and not without reason) on the original film. But, just like Michael himself, this introspective glimpse into the Halloween universe is a hardy costumer, and, for perhaps the first time in one study, this featurette gives the sequels their due.

Leaving part one behind, such figures as Rick Rosenthall, director of Halloween (2), and various cast members discuss their motives for making this sequel, and we're made privy to the numerous conflicts that reputedly occurred between Rosenthall and Carpenter regarding the story. Of further interest is Tommy Lee Wallace's remarks on why he passed up the opportunity to direct the second installment, not enjoying the 'body count' mentality of Carpenter's screenplay. Personalities share their views about Carpenter's decision to make Laurie Strode Michael's sister, thereby allowing for a mythology to grow at the expense of the original story's primal simplicity. Part three, Season of the Witch, is covered by actor Tom Watkins and director Wallace (among others), discussing various elements of the inspiration, story evolution, production, and why the film failed at the Box Office. A powerful story hampered by uneven pacing and a title that set up false expectations, Season of the Witch deserved a better fate, and it is rewarding to hear gossip concerning its filming. Danielle Harris and company weigh in with their memories and criticisms about Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, which fared better at theaters than previous sequels. This is a particularly revealing portion, featuring several personal interviews that suggest the true nature of the actors. Halloween (5): The Revenge of Michael Myers, is perhaps the most controversial of the series, and to hear the cast and crew speak of the rumored battles that occurred, it is small wonder why the film itself is so very fragmented. Some rare on-set footage is offered up as well, along with humorous scenes of Danielle Harris simply being a kid. One of the enjoyable aspects of a production such as this is the intimacy that merges with the aesthetic elements, allowing for audiences to see cast and crew not only as technicians and artisans but as human beings with lives outside of their cult status. Two alarming examples of fans living a bit too closely within the Meyers world are discussed by actresses Kathleen Kinmont and Danielle Harris, each of which relate their experiences with stalkers.

Of course the debate over the mishaps of Halloween (6): The Curse of Michael Myers prove entertaining, focusing, for a refreshing change, on the writer (remember the writer, folks? Without him, there wouldn't be a movie!), Danniel Farrands, whose evocative script was butchered by folks who thought more with their billfold than their imaginations. The 'Producer's Cut,' if released officially, would reveal to what was perhaps one of the greatest sequels of the franchise . . . But I won't hold my breath. The sad loss of hypnotic-eyed Donald Pleasance is focused on next, leading to a look at H20. Halloween (7), while injecting popularity into the franchise, was incredibly arrogant in its assumption that the last four films hadn't existed. This segment is both hilarious and informative, covering such debacles as the dispute over the musical score and the three or so masks that pop up in the film. A quick look at Halloween 8: Resurrection completes individual analysis of the sequels, leading to the convention that allowed this documentary to be made. This is perhaps the most spirited segments, covering frolicking fans, recreations of the film, and an entire community who, at the time of the convention, were simply in love with Michael Myers.

As fun as this documentary is, don't think for a moment that it isn't professionally made. On the contrary, an incredible amount of time, labor, and craftsmanship obviously went into the production, and its polished result speaks well for its creators. Inventively shot, the various segments are well paced, the themes carefully structured, with transitions between the subjects under discussion smooth and involving.

This informative and entertaining chronicles not only the creative forces and aesthetic elements that made the first entry so memorable, but also investigates with unapologetic fervor less known elements of the films and the talent involved. Narrated by P.J. Soles, 25 Years of Terror features introspective interviews from more than 80 filmmakers and actors, each of which weighs in what worked (and just as often did not!) in this granddaddy of dread. Besides the above, such expected luminaries as Rob Zombie and John Carl Buechler weigh in. Also included are such familiar faces as Nick Castle, Ellie Cornell, Dean Cundey, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Alan Howarth, and too many others to count.

Of course the fans themselves focus primarily on Michael Myers. While part of Myer's undeniable appeal is the simplistic grace with which he stalks and mercilessly dispatches victims we've been made to know and care about (thanks to wonderful screen writing which says more in a few lines of dialogue than most films can say in pages), he is just as much an enigmatic figure of the unknown. An embodiment of violent death, he is an unstoppable 'power' more than a human being. One is tempted to think that, like the mask he wears to hide his face, his human skin is simply a disguise to conceal (and bring mobility) to an archetypal power of death -- a living symbol of the unknown that both frightens and fascinates us. Certainly as much an archetype as he is a single character (who, we must recall, in the original film didn't require the complex, convoluted back-story later attributed to him to be effective), Michael is neither man nor force; he is, in fact, a walking geography of nightmare complete unto himself.

Focusing on a typically 'average' neighborhood in Everywhere USA, finding human monsters not in some far-removed Carpathian crypt but across the street, Carpenter and company lent a deceivingly simplistic story both believability and intimacy. In this burnt-leaf and pumpkin-glow nightmare of sudden, violent death, the monsters come from where you live, attack in those physical/emotional places where we're taught to feel most comfortable. Directed with poetic simplicity and subtle grace by Carpenter's prowling camera, Halloween was also graced by a cast whose actors fit their respective roles with uncanny effectiveness. Donald Pleasance as Sam Loomis and pre-scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis come principally to mind as thespians who breathed life and realism into their fictional personas, making this portrait of a young woman on the verge of sexual discovery, and the this near homicidal fanatical doctor (who is in many ways simply another shadow of Michael's murder frenzy) degrees of pathos normally denied the crass caricatures of low budget exploitation. Of course the biggest star of the film was a shadowy figure whose enigmatic appearance and destructive behaviors made him a dangerous force of nature.

Masked in much the same way human society attempts to disguise its basic animalistic desires and destructive impulses beneath polite rules, laws, and social graces, Michael is the flesh made mythos -- a walking nightmare of symbol representing both literally and figuratively our shared cultural fear not simply of death and violence but, more importantly, our very species' terror of the unknown. This is what makes him such a long-lasting, enduring figure. And this is the very subconscious element that his imitators are unable to capture in their homages and spin-offs. It is no secret why Carpenter and the lamented late Debra Hill chose to dowse his face behind a mask, nor can the script's continual hints and references to him as an archetypal children's 'Boogieman' be misinterpreted. In this adult's Faerie Tale of shadowy gingerbread houses, winding night lanes, sexual experience, and confrontation with guilt and unreasoning terror, the Boogieman is indeed real, Loomis agrees with Laurie at movie's end, and, of course, the Boogieman never dies . . .

This thoughtfully conceived interviews, collages, fan art, and convention footage promises to keep Meyers and his creators alive and well for some time. Coming on the fringe of the turning year, this bag of treats brings the chill of Halloween before the frost is on the pumpkin. Besides special extended celebrity interviews this special DVD package also includes a RIDICULOUS amount of extras. These supplements, included over both discs, consist of fan interviews, extended cast and crew interviews, outtakes from the documentary, artwork, and much more. Many of these, I suspect, were culled directly from the convention itself, including extended interviews pertaining to Halloween (2) and Halloween (3), Set footage for Halloween (5): The Revenge of Michael Myers, "Convention Montage," and Behind-the- Scenes galleries. While this release certainly won't appeal to everyone, designed primarily for die-hard fans of the film and its sequels, an undeniable amount of dedication bleeds through. Of especial interest are the mini-features "Horror's Hallowed Grounds" and "Fans of Halloween," the later of which is especially fun -- and further proof (as if any were needed!) of the fan's commitment, appreciation, and knowledge of these films.

What?! Did you think we were done? Certainly not! You see, there are more extras on this disc than there were white hairs in Dr. Loomis's beard! The fearsome festivities continue with "A Convention Panel Discussion," yet more footage from various Halloween films, a visit to the various locations utilized, and original artwork. Taking since 2003 to compile, initially inspired by the official "Halloween Returns To Haddonfield 25th Anniversary Contest," this meaty stew covers not only the successes of the film and its imitations but, in addition, has the courage to examine the missteps and controversies. Devoted to detailing the 'story behind the story' of each of eight films, this documentary features (besides the afore-mentioned 84 minute featurette) rare behind-the-scenes clips, rare on-set footage, a "Fans of Halloween" featurette, cast and producer panel discussions, Halloween 2 and Halloween 6 panel discussions, special talks with Ellie Cornell and cinematographer Dean Cundey, etc. Lastly, an original 24 page comic book is offered exclusively in this set. The story is engrossing, wonderfully written for this medium, and the artwork effectively captures the atmosphere of the films.

Whereas the 'Slasher' films that came after Carpenter's attack against expectation would depend on copious bloodshed, special FX wizardry, and increasingly ridiculous gimmicks, Halloween operated on the very simple premise that less is more. This essence of primal simplicity is shared by fan's artifacts celebrating the series, for the most part suggesting violence while paying more attention to individual characters, primarily Michael, continuing to embody for our culture the enigmatic archetype of the 'Boogieman.' Carpenter provoked the audience into helping tell the story, forcing us, along with his characters, into emotionally terrifying situations of incident and effect where we then had to help imagine the result. This celebratory offering, equal parts documentary and cultural artifact, is a continuation of this principle, inviting fans and artists to lend their perspective, talent, and outlook on the Halloween phenomena. A wonderful accomplishment for an innovative film series whose surface images and subtext have became a culturally shared myth!

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Anchor Bay USA
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review