Production Diary: Halloween

The Beginning

PumpkinSmallTheBeginning“Halloween” was the first DVD release by Anchor Bay Entertainment in November 1997, marking the company’s foray into the fledgling DVD format. The format was still rather new and at the time everyone was going through a learning process to manage this new technology, that turned out to be so much harder to manage than previous, linear formats. In an effort to make sure their releases live up to the quality of other publishers, Anchor Bay seeked help from outside contractors, but unfortunately ended up with the wrong people. The result was a disastrous release of “Halloween”, cult director John Carpenter’s most acclaimed Jamielongfilm. The disc was flawed from the beginning to the end, quickly turning into a showcase product how not to digitally compress a movie. The film’s black-level was off, resulting in a flat image with little contrast, blacks were gray as a result, and even the letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the screen exhibited serious compression artifacts. In an effort to remove dust and stains from the transfer digital noise reduction was applied, but once again was exaggerated to the point that you could literally see edges fuzzing out. To make things worse, the image was compressed at a bitrate that did not do the film justice and left clearly visible artifacts all over.

The fans were disappointed and in agony, but little could they do. However, time should be on their side, as we are about to see. During last year’s VSDA convention we had the chance to sit down with Anchor Bay to discuss a number of issues in length. It was there that for the first time the company admitted to the mistakes that were made in previous releases, and especially in the case of “Halloween”. As a response, Anchor Bay’s Jay Douglas promised that a Special Edition Michaellong1of Halloween would be coming in 1999 to make up for the earlier sub-par release. A release, that should make every fan of the film very happy. We had no idea back then what that should mean, other than that we were confident they would get it right this time around, but as it turned out, neither did Jay.

Months passed and little was heard about the “Halloween Special Edition” until we received a call from Jay Douglas in November last year, telling us that Anchor Bay had finally begun work on the promised release! Jay lined out plans about the content of the disc and back then it was already very exciting. It was obvious from the enthusiasm on the other end of the line that Jay’s whole heart was in this release—but this was only the beginning.

And so, we waited. More time should pass until we talked to Jay once again. In January of this year, Jay had some exciting news. Exciting—no, mesmerizing! Steve Tannen at “Four Media” had discovered an original negative of “Halloween!” To understand the importance of this announcement, it is essential to understand that as long as there has been home video, there has been only ONE negative of the film, and that one was worn and deteriorated to the point that it became almost unwatchable. Chances for a new transfer of the film have always been zero, because of the lack of a good source print. Immediately, a new Wetgate Interpositive was struck for the transfer and later, a first DVD test master was created.

Pumpkin4aAt the same time Jay Douglas met with Bill Lustig, a veteran producer for European home video releases in the US, and longtime supplier of films for Anchor Bay. Every horror aficionado will be able to tell you that Bill has been responsible for some of the best restoration jobs in the horror film industry. Almost every European horror film went through his hands at least once before it made its stateside debut on Laserdisc, VHS or DVD.

Jay asked Bill in passing if he would mind going to Detroit to take a look at this new “Halloween” transfer. Bill agreed and went to the authoring facility to take a look—and it was a disaster! 

“It was as bad as the old version,” Bill recalls, “and then Jay calls me while I am at these guys’ facility, and asks me what I think of it.” Politely, Lustig tried to say it was a ‘professional job’, but as soon as he had left the building he called Jay and told him his true feelings.

“The menus looked like the ‘Wheel Of Fortune’, the compression had artifacts and the audio was a catastrophe. They had created a 5.1 channel mix with the subwoofer on. There was dialog coming out of the sub, and dialog was bouncing all over the place. It was—in a word—the worst 5.1 mix you could imagine.” Bill explains. However, Bill Lustig had enough titles on his own slate and was not really interested in “Halloween” and only tried to help out. He told Anchor Bay that this version would be without a doubt, scrutinized by the fans. The attempt to restore the company’s reputation with this release would not work out and only make things worse. “I told Jay, this is not going to do it!” Bill adds. Then in a surprising move—one that has hardly been seen in the industry—Jay took a step back from the project and re-evaluated the situation. A substantial amount of money had already been spent at the time, but thanks to Jay’s clear vision, Anchor Bay decided to go back and start all over again to create the ultimate “Halloween Special Edition”—this time with the immediate help of Bill Lustig. “Jay wanted the film to look REALLY good!” Bill fondly remembers.

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