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It's a great time to be a Halloween fan. All eight films of the franchise have found their way to DVD with four of them getting due treatment. On top of that, it's recently been announced that audiences will be getting a Rob Zombie written and directed re-imagining of the original, good news to this reviewer. Amid all the excitement, Anchor Bay Entertainment is releasing what I'd call the Halloween fan's wet dream: an extensive documentary covering the entire series coupled with a disc of bonus materials totalling over six hours of content.

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
Feature
In 1978, filmmaker John Carpenter made a landmark motion picture that brought forth an entirely new sub-genre of (often really bad) horror film: the slasher flick. The film was Halloween, and not only was it the first of it's kind, it was the best. The crucial element that has kept the film terrifying audiences even still today is that the villain wasn't a fictitious monster, but rather a man as mortal as the victims he would claim. Another smart move was setting the story in a quiet suburban town, a community too peaceful for evil to rear its ugly head, right? Halloween went on to spawn seven sequels, a number of novels, and a line of comic books. 25 Years of Terror examines the production of each film in the series and their subsequent public responses. It also tackles an issue that's plagued these films; do violent films inspire violence in audience members?

When I look at 25 Years of Terror, I don't see a documentary per se, but rather a massive collection of segments that tell the story of the franchise. The entire release is, in a word, exhaustive, in terms of information given. It is in two words, wonderfully exhaustive, in that fans can't ask for much more*. This is the ultimate companion piece to the series. The backdrop for 25 Years of Terror was the 'Halloween Returns to Haddonfield' convention held in Pasadena, California back in October, 2003. The event boasted a massive gathering of series alumni, and a hefty amount of the interviews seen here are from this convention. Narrated by actress P.J. Soles of the original, this is an absolute treat for any fan of the first great horror movie slasher.

Leaving no stone unturned (even giving the much under-appreciated Season of the Witch due love), 25 Years of Terror begins by discussing the cinematic climate that the original was birthed into and then follows each sequel up until the most recent flop Halloween Resurrection. Heck, it even covers the Hellraiser crossover that nearly went down with an enthusiastic Clive Barker giving viewers the story. The cover artwork boasts the set to be a revealing look at the series, and that it is.

The greatest strength of the documentary is that it knows who its audience is, much unlike the eighty-seven minute documentary Anchor Bay produced for the original's 25h Anniversary Divimax release. Instead of telling us what we already know and padding it together with long film clips, we're given a fast-paced product, chock full of new information. No doubt, this documentary is made for the fan who thinks they know it all. Even so, it doesn't assume it's viewer knows anything about Halloween, which means anyone can follow it. Be warned however, the endings to every film are revealed as are many of the death scenes.

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
I have to applaud any documentary based on a film franchise that isn't afraid to say which entries sucked and which entries didn't. The filmmakers are far from hesitant to tell the camera why each subsequent instalment succeeded or didn't, bringing to light several backstage issues that before now, were unclear to fans. Find out why John Carpenter left and never returned from the man himself, among other seldom-spoken of behind the scenes disputes. It all comes down to a product that's brutally honest with its audience, something I very much appreciated.

Horror auteurs Rob Zombie and Clive Barker are interviewed for the set and have several fascinating viewpoints to share. It's no surprise that Barker brings great insight to the documentary; the man is very knowledgeable on horror as we've seen in several other documentaries. Zombie's thoughts on why the original worked (and the sequels didn't) should ease the fan's minds weary of his upcoming film. The man knows his Halloween well, and this interview is supposedly before he signed on.

As a sign that I'm not just a rabid fan obligatorily praising a two-disc set devoted to his favourite franchise (even though, I am), there was at least one thing that I didn't care for.  Numerous works of fan-art are thrown into the documentary in-between footage and interviews where they have no place. Don't show me a 2006 artist's rendering of a scene from Halloween III: Season of the Witch during that segment because the flick was made in 1982; making it irrelevant. Let's leave the fan-art in the gallery on disc two where it belongs.

For this fan, the most enjoyable moments of 25 Years of Terror were those in which new or rare footage was shown. Seeing the late great Donald Pleasence discussing his role on the set of the original (below screenshot) is a delight, the man is a fantastic actor. We get to watch little Danielle Harris terrorize Halloween 5's crew while wearing her uncle's mask, and are even treated to several costume tests done for part seven (below). In this way, the documentary is a treasure trove of home video moments from the past twenty-five years of Halloween.

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
That's all I can say for the feature presentation itself as this type of documentary doesn't lend itself easily to plot description. Bottom line, it's a highly detailed look at a great horror franchise nearly thirty years old. Likewise, it's somewhat immune to the level of critique I usually hit DVDs with because it's made for a very specific audience; and to that purpose, it's highly satisfying. It's also worth mentioning that almost every feature on this two-disc features closed-captioning, something I really have come to appreciate on DVD releases and I'm sure others will too.

*Sure you could ask for your ultimate cut of II, producer's cut of Curse and extended editions of both H20 and Resurrection, but those decisions are in the hands of Universal and Miramax, not Anchor Bay. While you're asking for those, go ahead and ask for decent theatrical editions of parts two, three, six and seven because little ole Anchor Bay is seriously upstaging the other, much larger distributors.

Video
25 Years of Terror is presented in it's native 1:33:1 full screen ratio, although many clips and interviews are presented in letterboxed widescreen format. Since the documentary contains footage gathered from a variety of sources, the quality is understandably varied. Footage of screen tests are very poor, but considering the source, we can't blame anyone. On-set video from the later films is somewhat better, although clearly still shot on VHS tape. Interviews and convention material look the best, appearing to have been shot digitally. Chances are, you won't much care about the inconsistent quality as things probably look as good as they possibly can.

Audio
The disc is outfitted with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and we can't reasonably ask for anything more. It should go without saying that the audio of older clips and interviews isn't nearly as pleasing as those taken at the convention, so again quality varies, although not as much as video. If anyone goes into this set hinging their opinion of it around the disc's technical presentation, they're going into it all wrong. I can easily hear what's being said on-screen, and that's enough to satisfy me.

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
Extras
First things first, as I open the case I find a comic book titled Halloween Autopsis. I haven't followed the Halloween comic series too closely, but if they're anything like Autopsis then they're worth checking out. Also included is a fold-out insert, host to a chapter listing and heart-felt message from set producer Anthony Masi about the convention, documentary, and tragic loss of series producer (more like father) Moustapha Akkad.

'Horror's Hallowed Grounds' is a seventeen minute look at locations used throughout the first film, hosted by Sean Clark of Dread Central. Clark has really done his homework with some great archival coverage of the Myers house done here. Actress P.J. Soles puts in an appearance, adding to this 'totally' great feature. I'd be very interested to see more of this show, if only I got the Horror Channel.

Next up are extended interviews for films two and three, which collectively feature ten people spread over twenty-five minutes of interview time. These are all fun thanks to participant enthusiasm, but were all a little too specific to be featured in the documentary. Extended celebrity interviews run thirty-six minutes and feature Charles Cyphers, Dick Warlock, P.J. Soles, Alan Howarth, Greg Nicotero, John Carl Buechler and a slew of other folks. Very enjoyable, these extended interviews almost feel like an excised portion of the documentary itself. Almost...

' Halloween 5 On-Set Footage' contains seven minutes of promotional material for those who didn't give their part five fix from the main feature. You can also find this footage of Anchor Bay's Halloween 5 Divimax Special Edition DVD. Following that is a three minute bit ' Halloween 9 Contest', which awards one lucky fan a cameo in the next Halloween. Moving along, we have a four minute convention montage set to a very fast-pace. If you didn't get to attend the celebration, this feature will make you hate yourself. Rounding out disc one is an eight minute 'Fans of Halloween segment, which is scarier than all eight films combined. I found myself pausing and rewinding this feature quite a bit, as I frequently laughed too hard to catch it all on the first run.

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
Starting off disc two, we have panel discussions for films one, two, and six. I dare not use the word 'family' in describing the filmmaker/fan relationship of the series, but it's something like that and these discussions show it. If fans are too rabid on a franchise, it can scare away the people who made it ( Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.) but there's a fine balance here. On top of the informative nature of these discussions, they had me howling with laughter. Convention attendees ask some great questions and occasionally request the performers to recite lines/monologues, something to make any fan squeal with joy. Together, they run an hour and some change.

What could be next? More discussion panels, of course! Actress Ellie Cornell has a fifteen minute panel where she speaks of her involvement in films four and five. The lovely Ms. Cornell is both easy on the eyes and ears making her panel a treat. The next is nearly half an hour in length and features the actors who played Michael Myers from all eight films together on one stage, an awesome sight. Sadly absent is Nick Castle who did most of the Myers part in the original. Taking his place is Jim Winburn, responsible for the balcony stunt in part one, so it's not so bad. Do I really need to evaluate this feature? A must-watch, period.

A panel of particular interest to me (and all of these are) is the twenty-five minute discussion with cinematographer Dean Cundey.  The man is a legend of cinema and he gives a great account of his involvement in telling the visual story of the original. This is something any fan of filmmaking can appreciate. The final panel is a twenty-two minute chat with original producer Irwin Yablans and series producer Moustapha Akkad. Akkad is a gentle soul and loves his fan-base, something clearly evidenced here. This would have been one of his final public appearances (if not his last), making this a special segment. There you have it; over two and a half hours of panel discussion footage on disc two alone.

Next up is a large location stills gallery showcasing areas filmed in the first, third, and seventh entries of the series. Following that is an original artwork gallery filled with fantastic pieces, some serious, some spoof. The final and largest gallery on the disc is a convention behind the scenes gallery, which further fuels my self-hatred for not attending the convention. Concluding the extras on disc two is a song 'Pure Evil' by Vicious Disorder, a rock and roll version of Carpenter's classic theme. It's not half bad...

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
Overall
For casual and hardcore fans, this set is a must-own and it's because of this that I'm beginning to question why I'm reviewing it at all. Won't everyone prone to buy this documentary already have done so or made plans to? Regardless, I'm willing to claim that 25 Years of Terror may be the most extensive look at any film franchise outside of those containing the word Star in their title. You did good, Anchor Bay... very good.


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