DVD Review: Happy Haunting of America

The DVD case for the 10th Anniversary Edition of HALLOWEEN: THE HAPPY HAUNTING OF AMERICA proudly proclaims “A Must-See For All Halloween Fans,” and I think I’d have to agree. Though by extension I’d also have to say that it’s probably only for true Halloween fans.

I’m not sure exactly how to categorize HAPPY HAUNTING. It’s technically a documentary I suppose, but it feels more like an episode of a cable infotainment series – kind of a Wild On: Halloween, sans the boozing and bikinis of course.

Our genial host is actor and horror aficionado Daniel Roebuck – who I’ll always remember from RIVER’S EDGE, but many readers might recall as the doomed-to-explode Arzt from TV’s “LOST” – who takes us on a journey across America to visit various popular haunted attractions.

These walk-through segments are buffered with some talking-head bits from Halloween experts and also some horror icons like Robert Englund, Alice Cooper and Tom Savini. This is actually the area of the movie I was most surprised by, as I’d cynically expected it to just be a lame gimmick to get some familiar names on the slipcase. But all involved actually relate some really fun personal Halloween stories, with Englund even divulging the origins of the jack-o-lantern.

With its pre-DV video and old-school Toaster effects, HALLOWEEN does unfortunately feel a bit dated. But while its low-rent production values and pacing could turn off some, I think the target audience will find it endearing. Plus, clocking in at under an hour, the “feature” is really only part of what this set has to offer.

The two disc set is jam-packed with enough extras to make your purchase or rental worthwhile. For example, on disk two we’ve got a nice 10th Anniversary update of the feature – again hosted by Roebuck – that’s just as long as the original, furthering the TV episode feeling; and you can tell that Roebuck and his partner in crime, producer/director Chuck Williams, would be more than happy if this were a TV series.

This entire DVD set drips with the filmmakers’ blood, and I mean that in a good way; it reeks with love. This was clearly something they decided to do as much for our benefit as their own amusement, and that’s what allows it to transcend its low-tech production. What’s more, the film and extras are populated with other like-minded peeps, all more than happy to talk about their respective trades and Halloween memories.

For me the highlight of the set was the old home movies showing Bob Burns fabled Halloween extravaganzas. Burns was just an ordinary Joe who loved all things monsters and along with his long suffering (and supportive) wife, transformed his suburban Burbank residence into an increasingly elaborate and astounding haunted house every Halloween, eventually attracting the support of such FX champions as Rick Baker and Dennis Muren. I’d read about Burns before and had wished I could at least see footage of his shows, considering I’d yet to be born during his heyday. Burns also serves as sidekick to Roebuck through much of the original HAPPY HAUNTING feature, at one point wearing his gorilla suit from the 70’s TV show “THE GHOST BUSTERS.” Yup. There was a previous show about those who “bust” ghosts, featuring a gorilla.

There’s also a fairly interesting TV pilot for a show hosted by Williams and Roebuck, which is basically Jon Favreau’s “Dinner For Five,” only with members of the horror community. Another minor highlight is a pretty silly and surprisingly enjoyable music video for a song called “Comin’ To Kill Ya.”

For anyone looking for a dark, violent or gory Halloween, look elsewhere. This isn’t necessarily for the SAW generation. This is your father’s Halloween, where Frankenstein and Dracula were dudes you wanted to party with Monster-Mash-style, versus triumphantly decapitate at the end of the movie, if you get me.

So too-cool-for-school teens may not love this set, but kids will, as will those for whom trick r treating has become a smile enducing bit of nostalgia.