Halloween 35th Anniversary review (Blu-ray)

It may be 35 years old, but Halloween still has the power to terrify. You want proof? An anecdote. A woman saw the film at the age of 15, and had to sleep with the light on for the next month. And even today, in her late 40s, she cannot hear the theme music without getting the heebie jeebies.

Psycho may be considered the original slasher film, but it was Halloween that really set the tone for this horror sub-genre. And it's still considered by many to be the best slasher film ever made. This simple tale of a group of suburban babysitters being stalked and murdered by the maniac Michael Myers - evil personified - was made on a shoestring, with a budget of just $320,000, but has been one of the most successful independent films ever, making more than $150m so far.

On Halloween night in 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers takes a butcher knife and stabs to death his 15-year-old sister. Michael spends the next 15 years in a high-security mental institution, under the care of child psychiatrist Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) – who comes to the conclusion that Michael is nothing but pure evil. On the eve of Halloween 1978, Michael escapes and heads back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois ...

Could there possibly be a better film to watch on Halloween night? Halloween has been much imitated (and poorly remade) but never bettered. It's also a darling of the critics – on its release, Tom Allen in The Village Voice wrote: "John Carpenter's Halloween alone in the last decade stands with George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead and, before that, with Psycho..."

OK, so the acting is pretty average from the mainly unknown cast (it was Curtis's first film role), with the more experienced Pleasance stealing every scene he's in. The direction is tight, with Carpenter cleverly keeping his "monster" in the shadows for much of the film. What really gives Halloween its atmosphere, though, is the score – once heard, that "tinkly-piano" theme music is never forgotten. And for a slasher movie, Halloween has suprisingly little blood and gore. It relies more on suspense, shocks and the building of tension to scare its audience. There have been many, many sequels, and a couple of remakes, but none of them works as well as this original. Halloween sits high on most people's lists of favourite horror films. Watch it – preferably alone, and with the lights out.

EXTRAS ★★★★ The Blu-ray is a new HD transfer of the film (supervised by Halloween director of photography Dean Cundey) and it looks absolutely smashing – crisp and sharp, with muted autumnal tones and well-defined shadows. It's also got a new Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack. The selection of bonus material itself is rather good. For a start, there's a brand new, and very candid, audio commentary with writer-director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis that's REALLY worth a listen. Some of the things we learn: Curtis hates horror movies (she finds them way too scary); Curtis doesn't like working with child actors; Curtis is a pretty dab hand at house painting; and there are a few continuity errors in the film (camera shadows, moving doorknobs) which they both delight in pointing out. Then there is the documentary The Night She Came Home (59:43), in which Curtis reflects on Halloween's place in her career – and her place in the Halloween universe – as she attends a convention to raise money for charity; the featurette On Location: 25 Years Later (10:25); TV Version Footage (10:46), a collection of scenes that played in the film's television cut; the theatrical trailer; and TV and Radio Spots. There's also a 20-page booklet featuring behind-the-scenes photos and an essay on the film by Stef Hutchinson. Missing is the 90-minute documentary Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest, from the 2007 Blu-ray release.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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