Debra Hill, The Unsung Hero of the Carpenter Classic — a HALLOWEEN Essay/4K UHD Review

The first of four weekly explorations in conjuction with Scream Factory’s 4K UHD HALLOWEEN franchise releases

This week Scream Factory is re-releasing Halloween 1–5 on 4K UHDs in brand new 4K scans. Given the month, and my fondness for this series I thought rather than do a single post encompassing all of the films, I would do four weekly reviews, each focusing on an entry or entries, digging into a bit of the background of this series as a fan.

The first Halloween (1978) is such an iconic and well dissected masterwork, it’s really hard to bring something new to the table discussion-wise, but being the fan I am, I am going to try. While the film didn’t invent the Slasher genre, thanks to its box office, making 70 million on a $325,000 budget, it turned the genre into its own cottage industry with countless knock offs and copycats – one of those being at little franchise featuring another unstoppable killer with a hockey mask. It catapulted Carpenter into his then career trajectory and entered the ghostly visage of the ghostly white Willam Shatner mask wearing Michael Myers into the pop culture lexicon. As much as Carpenter was to thank for this, I would argue so was Haddonfield, New Jersey native Debra Hill, his producing partner and co-writer of the script.

It’s hard to imagine someone reading Cinapse who hasn’t seen this horror classic, but for those that possibly have yet to visit Haddonfield, the first film starts off on Halloween night with that iconic POV kill as six year old Micheal Myers kills his sister, still in his Halloween clown costume. Hill was actually the hand stand-in for that infamous scene as young Michael and her involvement didn’t end there. The film then jumps 15 years later when Michael escapes the mental institution he’s called home since that night. His psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis, (Donald Pleasence) is the only one who understands the threat that Michael poses to those around him, referring to him as “it” and “Evil” much to everyone’s dismay, that is until his trail of carnage eventually proves him right. As far as slashers go Halloween is shockingly conservative in its body count, instead focusing on suspense and atmosphere, which would explain why the film was once in the Criterion Collection.

I wouldn’t be exaggerating by saying Halloween is a masterpiece of horror. The film’s use of score to ramp up the audience’s heart rate as Carpenter keeps the killer just out of sight upping the tension until it can’t be fanned any further has made it the bible for horror directors looking to attempt to cash in on its low budget secret formula. This is also no doubt thanks to Donald Pleasence who would become a series regular and young Jamie Lee Curtis, who was cast as a bit of an homage to her mother Janet Leigh and who has since become one of the most iconic scream queens in horror. While the film’s legacy in correlation to Carpenter is unquestionable, there’s one piece of this legacy I think gets overlooked time and time again when writing about this film, and being the Philly guy I have to call it out.

While Carpenter’s filmography oozes machismo, Halloween stands alone with its strikingly independent and capable female protagonist Laurie Strode, that producer and co-writer Debra Hill no doubt imbued with her own perspective. Hill was very vocal about having given the character a bit of her own DNA having been a teenage girl that no doubt heard the old urban legend about the babysitter, who gets threatening calls one night, only to find the calls were coming from inside the house. Laurie has an authenticity that invests you as an audience in her survival that is well earned and she is essentially the perfect final girl.

Born on Nov. 10, 1950, in Philadelphia, PA and later settling in Haddonfield, NJ, Debra Gaye Hill graduated from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Looking to see the world, she became a flight attendant and somehow settled in Jamaica for a bit, where she met a Jazz Musician that would change the trajectory of her life forever. What began as gigs writing liner notes for Jazz albums evolved into more diverse writing assignments, eventually taking her to California working as Production Assistant or a “script girl”. Gig after gig, she eventually worked her way up to working as a producer on low budget features, which is where she met Carpenter working on Assault on Precinct 13 — and the rest as they say, was history. Hill reportedly wrote Halloween in three weeks with then boyfriend Carpenter and changed the face of horror forever.

This feminism and determination was no doubt infused in Laurie by her co-creator and that’s part of what makes her stand out in a genre populated by female characters usually treated as objects or plot devices. Thanks to not only Hill’s script but Curtis’ take, Strode as a character, has stood the test of time as not only a fan favorite, but one of the better performances by a final girl in a slasher, period. Revisiting the film now has only made it even more apparent since the shy teenager radiates an understated confidence onscreen, that is a strange amalgam for a protagonist in a horror film and set the bar for the genre going forward. Even Laurie’s circle of friends are afforded the kinds of nuance and depth severely lacking in horror when the boys aren’t around.

The Release:

The film here is presented with a brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative, approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey. While the quality feels somewhat comparable to the previous Lionsgate release, which was a solid release, but here the film’s color has been slightly tweaked and is a bit richer than the previous release. The big sell however, other than the scan is the inclusion of a newly mixed Dolby Atmos track.This works to not only spread Carpenter’s score across the sound stage, but makes the in mask breathing of Myers a more pronounced sign of impending doom. It’s used to great effect in certain scenes where Myers is offscreen, in a corner, but you can most definitely hear that faint sound coming faintly from the right channel. It’s something that most definitely added to my experience, which was easily the best presentation of the film I’ve seen.

This also keeps in mind most 35mm prints of Halloween have since turned pink or are damaged from 40 plus years screenings.

While the original Lionsgate 4K lacked almost any of the bonus content from Scream Factory’s deluxe 15 disc release set, the inclusion here make this hopefully the last time any of us will have to pick this film up.

The UHD is enclosed in a hard box slipcase, that honestly gives the whole package a bit more heft, weight and substance.

Here’s a full rundown of bonus features on the 3 Disc set.

DISC 1: 4K Ultra HD

  • Audio: DTS-HD Original Mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Atmos — English SDH
  • NEW 4K scan of the original camera negative, approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey
  • Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis
  • Audio Commentary with Dean Cundey, Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle

DISC 2: Blu-Ray

  • Audio: DTS-HD Original Mono, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Atmos — English SDH
  • NEW 4K scan of the original camera negative, approved by cinematographer Dean Cundey
  • Audio Commentary with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis
  • Audio Commentary with Dean Cundey, Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle
  • The Night She Came Home featurette
  • Halloween Unmasked 2000 featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Trailers from Hell — Adam Rifkin on HALLOWEEN
  • TV Spots
  • Radio Spots
  • Additional Scenes shot for the network version
  • NBC Broadcast TV Promo
  • NEW Newspaper Ad Still Gallery by Drive-In Asylum
  • Still Gallery

DISC 3: Blu-Ray

  • Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, 5.1 — English SDH
  • Original Blu-Ray Release Color Timing
  • Vintage interview with producer/filmmaker Moustapha Akka
  • HALLOWEEN: The Extended Version (in HD with standard definition inserts)
  • NEW The Broadcast Television Cut (in standard definition 1.33:1)
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds — a look at the original film locations
  • Horror’s Hallowed Grounds Bus Tour from the HALLOWEEN convention
  • Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest featurette

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