Saturday, 24 August 2013

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror

Director: Stefan Hutchinson
Writers: Stefan Hutchinson, Sean Clark, Anthony Masi
Producers: Stefan Hutchinson, Anthony Masi
Cast: almost everyone who has ever worked on a Halloween film
Country: USA
Year of release: 2006
Reviewed from: UK DVD screener (Starz/Anchor Bay)

There have been plenty of horror movie documentaries over the years - especially since the advent of DVD - but they often fall into one of two traps. There are those, such as David Gregory’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth, which pull no punches in revealing the truth about what went on behind the scenes but must, by virtue of their unofficial status, illustrate their points with non-copyright images such as trailers and press stills. And then there are official documentaries which, though they have all the clips they want, skim over some of the more controversial aspects of film-making.

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror successfully ploughs a middle furrow between these two subgenres. Executive produced by Malek Akkad, son of Moustapha Akkad, there is no shortage of clips and access to pretty much all the relevant cast and crew, with only a few notable exceptions. But at the same time the film does not shy away from controversy, especially regarding the tortured production of the aptly named Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers - even to the extent of including dodgy nth generation bootleg clips from the unreleased (but widely available on eBay) ‘producer’s cut’ of that film.

While ‘25 Years of Terror’ is a great subtitle it’s somewhat inaccurate as the eight films were produced over a period of 23 years and this documentary feature was released five years after Halloween: Resurrection, ie. 28 years after the first film. The ‘twenty five’ bit comes from a silver anniversary convention in 2003 where much of this material was filmed, either as single interviews to camera or as group discussions on stage. This was a fan-run but officially sanctioned event with an amazingly comprehensive roster of guests.

It should be stressed that, although this documentary was released in the UK in October 2007 to coincide with Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween, that film was too far away from the 2003 convention to be discussed here. The only mention - and strictly speaking it’s the putative Halloween IX they’re talking about - is when one convention member wins a chance to appear in the film (I understand that she did have a scene in Zombie’s film but it was cut). Zombie appears several times in the documentary but only as a celebrity fan, a status also accorded to Clive Barker and Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright.

I have only ever seen Halloweens I, III and VII so I found this a helpful reminder of those films and an interesting and informative introduction to the other five. I’m sure it won’t tell the hardcore fans anything they don’t already know, but it is certainly aimed at horror fans rather than just casual browsers. The narration, read by PJ Soles, seems pitched at those, like me, who know something of the films but are not experts. (And yes, if you’re wondering, the Michael Myers-free third film does get more than a passing mention.)

Obviously, scooting through eight motion pictures in 83 minutes means that each gets only a few minutes of screen time. Similarly, the number of people interviewed means that many only get one or two brief comments. John Carpenter and Debra Hill crop up briefly but that must be existing footage from elsewhere. Jamie Lee Curtis is nowhere to be seen, not unexpectedly, but a brief clip of Donald Pleasence interviewed on the set of Halloween 5 is a nice surprise. Most of the directors are interviewed but Steve Miner (Halloween H20) and Joe Chappelle (Halloween VI) are notable by their absence. Producer Akkad, who died in 2005, appears several times, both on stage at the convention and interviewed in his office. As the one linking factor between all eight films and the main driving force between the franchise, this seems only fair. He has some good stories to tell too.

So much for the pros, what about the fans? The footage of the convention itself, I must say, is truly scary, much more frightening than a bloke in a boiler suit and a William Shatner mask. Maybe they only filmed the more extreme fans. I hope so because the ones in this documentary are just terrifyingly weird and disturbing fanboys (and fangirls). There’s the the one who seems to value the films for their level of violence and nothing else, there are several with Halloween tattoos and there are the ones who submitted short videos of themselves to the ‘Win a role in Halloween IX’ competition. These are the scariest of all, especially the overweight white woman rapping about how she’s the biggest Halloween fan in the world. Run, run for the hills! These people have the vote and the right to bear arms!

The young lady who played the little girl (Laurie Strode’s niece) in the middle part of the film series explains how she has been stalked and she is worried that the loony might approach her at a convention. And you just find yourself thinking: gee, how would you pick him out from the crowd? Oh, these are scary, scary people. I’ll never criticise Trekkies again.

So anyway, on the whole Halloween: 25 Years of Terror is a decent documentary. But don’t you sometimes find, when you watch something like this, that it’s frustrating seeing only 45 seconds of an interview knowing that the whole thing probably lasts 20-30 minutes? Well, Halloween 25YOT comes as a two-disc package which partially alleviates that problem by including extended versions of interviews and convention panels.

I originally reviewed this film for Death Ray magazine but was only able to give a very, very brief rundown of the extras because of the available wordcount. As there seemed to be nowhere on the web actually listing the contents in detail, here’s an expanded version of what would have been in Death Ray if I had twice the space.

‘Horror’s Hallowed Grounds’ (18m) is a Horror Channel show visiting locations from the first film, with PJ Soles and relevant clips from the movie. ‘Halloween Interviews’ (36m, listed on the menu as ‘Extended celebrity interviews’) and ‘Halloween 2 & 3 Interviews’ (24m) are full versions of interviews extracted in the feature but were not available on the review disc which had an authoring error. However I am indebted to ‘Red Gargon’, a poster on the Classic Horror Film Board, who provided me with the basis of the following.

‘Halloween extended interviews’ includes: Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Brackett in H1/H2), PJ Soles (Lynda in H1), Dick Warlock (stunt co-ordinator on H2/H3, Michael Myers in H2), Alan Howarth (composer on H2-5), John Carl Buechler (make up effects on H4/H6), Greg Nicotero (special effects on H5), Brian Andrews (Tommy Doyle in H1/H2), Nicholas Grabowsky (writer of H4 novelisation), Larry Brand (writer of H8), Rick Rosenthal (director of H2/H8), Kathleen Kinmont (Kelly Meeker in H4), Danielle Harris (Jamie Lloyd in H4/H5), John Ottman (composer on H7), Moustapha Akkad (executive producer of H1-8), Sasha Jenson (Brady in H4), Bianca Kajlich (Sara Moyer in H8), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (Sarah Wainthrope in H7), Chris Durand (Michael Myers in H7), Dean Cundey (cinematographer on H1-3), Don Shanks (Michael Myers in H5), Ellie Cornell (Rachel Carruthers in H4/H5), JC Brandy (Jamie Lloyd in H6), Nancy Loomis (Annie Brackett in H1/H2, Linda Challis in H3) and Thomas Ian Nicholas (Bill Woodlake in H8). That works out an average of just under 90 seconds per person so these ‘extended interviews’ are probably not extended very far.

Halloween II extended interviews’ includes: Gloria Gifford (Mrs Alves), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Franco), Rick Rosenthal (director), Tommy Lee Wallace (initially approached to direct) and Dick Warlock (shown and credited but not actually interviewed in this segment). ‘Halloween III extended interviews’ includes: Brad Schacter (Little Buddy Kupfer), Tom Atkins (Dan Challis), Garn Stephens (Marge Guttman) and Tommy Lee Wallace (director).

Halloween 5 on-set footage’ (7m) is a montage of un-narrated behind-the-scenes clips plus ultra-brief interviews with Wendy Kaplan (Tina Williams) and Donald Pleasence. This is a different clip from the Pleasence interview in the main documentary, frustratingly suggesting that a longer interview exists somewhere. ‘Halloween Returns to Haddonfield - 25th Anniversary Convention’ (4m) is a montage of scary fans and brave guests, while ‘The Fans of Halloween’ (10m) is described as “collections of props and memorabillia” (sic) but is actually a montage of clips from fan videos submitted to the win-a-role-in-Halloween-9 contest. As mentioned, some of these are scary (oh, that rapping white chick!) and some are sad but a few show genuine creativity including some stop-motion animations and a Reduced Shakespeare Company-style run through all eight films in two minutes by two actors.

The second disc in this two-disc package has seven panel discussions from the 2003 convention. The fanboy questions are typically bland, even asinine on occasions, and mostly consist of, “What was so-and-so like to work with?” and “Can you say such-and-such a line?” but despite this there are a few good stories in the answers. However, this is all appallingly amateur-looking footage which suffers from being shot single-camera, so that speakers are sometimes off-screen (and people occasionally walk through the shot). Considering how much was obviously spent on the con, on getting all the guests there and printing up banners and suchlike, it’s a real shame nobody thought to spring for a professional video team who could have filmed these with two or three cameras and edited the footage together properly.

The panels are: ‘Halloween’ (23m) with executive producer Joseph Wolf and actors PJ Soles, Charles Cyphers and Brian Andrews; ‘Halloween II’ (24m) with actors Pamela Susan Shoop, Tawny Moyer, Cliff Emmich (Mr Garrett) and Gloria Gifford; ‘Halloween 6’ (19m) with writer Daniel Farrands, producer Paul Freeman and actors Marianne Hagan (Kara Strode), Janice Knickrehm (Mrs Blankenship), Bradford English (John Strode) and Kim Darby (Debra Strode); ‘Michael Myers’ (28m) with stuntmen Jim Wiburn, Dick Warlock, George P Wilbur, Tom Morga, Don Shanks, Chris Durand and Brad Loree, who have all played the lead character; and ‘Halloween Producers’ (??m) with Moustapha Akkad and Irwin Yablans.

There are also solo stage sessions for H4/H5 actress Ellie Cornell (15m) and H1-3 cinematographer Dean Cundey (24m). In addition, the disc has 33 uncaptioned present-day ‘location stills’ from around South Pasadena, 86 uncaptioned photos of guests, props and crowds at the convention and 40 pieces of often frighteningly poor fan art. These last two seem frankly self-indulgent and don’t make up for the lack of a poster/video sleeve gallery.

Now here’s where things get really complicated. Because there are differences between the US and UK releases. The US release includes ‘Halloween IX Contest Drawing’ (3m) which is self-explanatory, self-indulgent and briefly shown in the main film anyway, plus trailers for H1, H4, H5 and John Carpenter’s episode of Masters of Horror. The package also includes a small Halloween comic-book.

In the UK, we don’t have the contest drawing, the trailers or the comic but we do have... Halloween. That’s right, the entire original film is included as an extra on the DVD of a documentary about it and its sequels. That just makes my head spin. This was not on the screener disc so I don’t know what the quality, ratio etc are like but it is apparently the digitally remastered version.

But that’s not all! As well as the standard two-disc version, Anchor Bay UK (or Starz Home Entertainment as they now call themselves) are releasing a four-disc version exclusively through HMV, combining these two discs with two more that seem to feature some or all of the material from the 2001 two-disc release and/or the 2003 single-disc 25th Anniversary Edition. This has the original Halloween with a soundtrack in 2.0, 5.1 or mono (so presumably it doesn’t have the film on the other two discs like the two-disc version). Does anybody ever listen to these things, by the way? “Ooh, I know - tonight I’ll watch Halloween in mono for a change!” I don’t know what screen ratio this version is and we must assume, since its not mentioned in the publicity, that this omits the Carpenter/Hill/Curtis commentary from the 2003 release (originally recorded for a Criterion laserdisc in the early 1990s), making it slightly less ultimate than “the ultimate Halloween companion” that the publicity claims.

Also included is Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest, an 87m documentary produced for the 2003 release (so that’s a feature-length documentary about Halloween included as an extra on a feature-length documentary about Halloween). The only four participants not also featured in Halloween 25YOT are Joseph Wolf (executive producer of H2/H3), Nick Castle (Michael Myers in H1), Fangoria editor Tony Timpone and crucially, Lady Haden-Guest herself. Presumably the others (Carpenter, Hill, Akkad, Cundey, Cyphers, Soles, Wallace and Yablans) get more time to discuss things and for all I know this could be where the Carpenter and Hill interview clips in the other film originate. The film is narrated by Rino Romano who has no connection with Halloween but does voice the lead character in The Batman.

If you still don’t have your fill of Halloween documentaries there is also Halloween Unmasked 2000, a half-hour effort from the 2001 release featuring comments from Carpenter, Hill, Akkad, Yablans, Curtis, Cundey, Soles, Castle, Wolfe, Wallace and Brian Andrews, narrated by Twisted Sister singer/Strangeland director Dee Snider. The publicity I have says that the feature disc of this package will include ‘Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots, Talent Bios, Still Galleries and Trivia’ while the documentary disc will have ‘On Location: 25 Years Later’ in which PJ Soles revisit the film’s locations a quarter century later (presumably this is different to ‘Horror’s Hallowed Grounds’ in which, um, PJ Soles revisit the film’s locations a quarter century later) plus ‘Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Radio Spots, Poster & Stills Gallery, Talent Bios, DVD-ROM Screenplay and DVD-ROM Screensavers’. Are these the same radio and TV spots and talent bios on both discs? Who knows?

Jesus, will you look at that lot? No wonder I couldn’t fit that all into 350 words for Death Ray! Despite all the above (which I include as a public service because I searched for it and could not find it anywhere), what I’m reviewing here is Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, which is a good, solid, reliable if perforce swift run through all the incarnations (except the latest) of one of the more respected horror franchises (I can’t imagine anyone ever doing this for the Leprechaun films).

MJS rating: B+
review originally posted 15th October 2007

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