1978

October 3, 2014

Yet Another 31 Nights of Halloween: Halloween (1978) Redux

MAGIC

 Halloween – Magic

Kicking off this year’s edition of the “31 Nights of Halloween” I only felt it appropriate to re-review a film that we reviewed a long time ago, and really needs no introduction. It’s the 1978 touchstone for horror; John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” This will also mark the first in a series of reviews all about the “Halloween” franchise, even the abysmal “Halloween: Resurrection.” So away we go from Smith’s Grove to Haddonfield.

“Halloween” starts with the murder of a young girl named Judith Myers by her 6-year old brother, Michael. After being institutionalized for 15 years under the watchful eye of Dr. Samuel Loomis, Michael is able to escape the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and Loomis knows there is only one place where he can be headed; the scene of his original crime in Haddonfield, Illinois.

Meanwhile we meet Laurie Strode and her friends Annie and Linda, just three girls looking to hook-up, smoke weed, and have a good time on Halloween, well, at least Annie and Linda are. Laurie is more the straight arrow type, looking forward to babysitting Tommy Doyle, watching “The Thing” and carving jack-o-lanterns. However, a dark presence has invaded the small town of Haddonfield and is looking to kill horny, weed smoking, babysitting teens.

As day turns into night, Dr. Loomis warns the local Sheriff, Leigh Brackett, that evil is coming to his little town and officers need to be on alert looking for Myers. Ever the skeptic, Brackett agrees to Loomis’ demands, but tells him he’s got until tonight to track down Myers.

Needless to say, Myers murder spree goes off without a hitch, victims including Annie and Linda, not to mention a dog, a horny boyfriend, and some stranger while on the road to Haddonfield. With only Laurie remaining, she is able to fight him off with a knitting needle, a wire hanger, and finally Michael’s own knife. But you can’t keep a good “unstoppable force” down as Michael moves in to finish off Laurie. However, putting the pieces together with the help of some screaming kids, Dr. Loomis comes to the rescue and empties his revolver into the chest of Michael and the nightmare is finally over as Myers falls over the balcony to his death.

As Loomis comforts Laurie and tells her that Michael was the boogeyman, the doctor leans over the balcony to observe his kill, but is shocked to see that Myers is gone, nowhere to be found.

There isn’t much to say about “Halloween” that hasn’t been said before; it’s one of the best proto-slasher films ever made, outside of possibly “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The different between Michael Myers and Leatherface, however, is where Leatherface is a hulking caricature of serial killers like Ed Gein, Myers is simply the silent force that cannot be stopped and there is no rhyme or reason. That makes the film so much scarier; you can’t rationalize with something that you can’t understand.

What makes “Halloween” stand apart from the rest of the crop of slasher fare that exploded in the 1980s was the sense of dread and the play on the fear of Halloween itself. This is more apparent in “Halloween 2” but you can still see how Halloween affects the town. The streets are empty, people lock themselves in the house, they don’t open doors, and it’s way easier to scare people, as Loomis does to a group of kids playing around the old Myers house. It’s interesting to see moments of levity in a horror film. It’s also interesting to look back at “Halloween” after seeing it the numerous sequels, that perhaps Haddonfield has always been that type of town that has harbored the terrible secret of the Myers murders and it’s legacy. Despite the fact that “Halloween” and “Halloween 2” are supposed to be standalone films and the Myers arc is supposed to end, it makes a little more sense why the streets are empty in Haddonfield after dark and people are reluctant to open the doors to screams of terror, or at least that is the way that I look at it.

Getting away from the subtext of “Halloween” and more into the actual substance, there are numerous things that I simply love about this film. The biggest, and most long-lasting effect “Halloween” has made on the public, is the music, which for my money is nearly as recognizable as the “Star Wars” theme, “Jaws” theme, or any other soundtrack theme ever. It still can raise the hair on the back of your neck, and just hearing the opening piano notes, people will automatically say “Oh, Michael Myers.” And while “Halloween” is a great film on it’s own, it wouldn’t be half the film it is without John Carpenter’s score.

The characters and actors are top notch as well. I’m not a child of the 70s, shoot, I’m barely a child of the 80s, but if I was to venture a guess, I would assume that Annie, Laurie, and Linda, are pretty typical kids of the 1970s. The talk about guys, do drugs, and get into trouble. My one gripe would be the overuse of the word “Totally” by Linda. If my count is correct, I heard “Totally” 13 times; probably close to the amount of screen time Linda gets, so you get a “Totally” a minute. There is also a lot of name dropping in this film, which I guess is a thing. The most famous of them all is Ben Tramer, who has a pseudo-important role in the sequel. These, again, are just minor quibbles.

The last thing that really stands up is the actual creation and depiction of Michael Myers. Pure and simple, there is no rhyme or reason behind Myers, he just is. In later sequels it’s explained, sort of, that he worships Samhain and his reason for killing is that he is the curse of his family name, so he mist kill all members of his family? That stuff is just weird, but if you just take the first film into account, the fact that there really isn’t a reason for the murder of his sister and the senseless murder of everyone else, is pretty scary. Even in our daily lives, we constantly search for the what if’s and why’s when something awful happens. From mass shootings, to serial killings, to everything in-between, we want to know why. In the case of Michael Myers, there is no why, the only explanation is that he is pure evil, which when you think about a doctor saying that (Loomis) is pretty silly, but it’s also understandable. Sometimes there is no reason for bad things that happen, which is both frustrating, and terribly frightening.

For a film being close to 40 years old, “Halloween” has aged very well. The scares are timeless, the music adds to the never-ending sense of dread, and the characters are still pretty relatable. You can go into the film deeper and talk about how it either exploits women, empowers women, or is a morality tale that punishes the evil people who do drugs and have sex out of wedlock, but that’s for another review, and I’m looking at this from a pure horror film aspect, and the film still plays very well. While there might be scarier films out there, “Halloween” for my money, can still scare someone who hasn’t seen it and is a milestone for not only horror, but film in general.

Fun Fact: It took John Carpenter four days to complete the score for “Halloween.”

October 25, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween, Halloween (1978)

Halloween (1978) – Classic

Thinking about the history of horror films there have been five distinct eras that I can think of; The early 1900s brought us the classic monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein.  Post World War II films brought us atomic age monsters that ranged from giant ants to komodo dragons.  The Vietnam War introduced zombies and class war horror.  The late 1970s started the slasher trend, and most recently (from about 1999 to now) we’ve had an epidemic of remakes, torture porn, and found footage.  While I appreciate all eras for what they’ve done for the genre, the most lasting of impressions on me were the 1970s and 80s slasher genre, and the cornerstone of that era was John Carpenter’s 1978 classic “Halloween.”

For my money, if you re-released “Halloween” right now, it would still bank, which theaters are actually doing this year.  It’s a simple concept; a young boy, named Michael Myers, brutally murders his sister on Halloween night and is locked away in a sanitarium.  On one fateful Halloween Eve, during a routine prison transfer, Myers escapes Smith’s Grove Warren County Sanitarium.  Myers’ doctor, Sam Loomis (sound familiar) pushes the panic alarm as he fears that Myers will be heading back to his hometown, Haddonfield, also the scene of his original crime.  We meet three teenagers, including a very young Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays Laurie Strode, looking forward to a fun Halloween night, which of course turns into “The Night He Comes Home.”  I’ll try not to give too much away, but considering “Halloween” is 35 years old, it might be time for you to get off your ass and finally watch the most influential horror movie in the past 50 years.

“Halloween” is what really kicked off the modern slasher genre in the early 1980s, and created the so-called “formula.” However, if you watch the movie now, it’s surprisingly tame, with very little blood, just a little bit of boob-age  and a relatively low body count.  The blood and gore is more implied than splashed all over the screen.  Take this for an example; “Halloween” was rated R in 1978, but a movie like “Tourist Trap” from 1979, a year after “Halloween” was only rated PG, and I find “Tourist Trap”, while very cheesy, extremely creepy, and at times, harrowing.  If “Halloween” was put out today the same way it was shot by John Carpenter 35 years ago, it wouldn’t be anymore then a PG-13 film.

Enough politics of course, and we’ll continue with this question; What’s so good about “Halloween?”  Damn near everything!  From the opening theme and titles, to the camera work, to the acting, which isn’t perfect, but when you have teenagers talking about bullshit it will have to do.  Everyone in the film is believable, with Sam Loomis, played by the late Donald Pleasence, the stand-out.  What I credit Pleasence for the most is that fact that he stuck around for four sequels, and while he got hammier and hammier, he always added a touch of class.

What makes this film a classic is what it inspired.  While I would credit both “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with jump-starting the independent horror movie movement, “Halloween” made the most with what it didn’t have; money. For a movie made for less then $350,000 it looks great, has a good cast, and considering the fact that getting Pleasence to appear in the film was a decent part of the budget ($20,000) it doesn’t take away from the mood the film conveyed or compromise the quality.  “Halloween,” along with it’s predecessors proved that you didn’t need a ton of money to make a suspenseful and wildly entertaining film.

As far as Rob Zombie’s remake, or re-imagining, of “Halloween” in 2007 goes, while it’s not perfect, the more I think about it, its it’s own movie and can act as a stand alone film.  I almost take it as the “Henry:  Portrait of a Serial Killer” version of “Halloween.” What makes Michael Myers so scary is the fact that you really don’t know what drove him to kill his sister when he was a boy, or why he insists on always returning to Haddonfield to kill.  You find out later that he dabbles in the occult and celebrates Samhain, but in Zombie’s version he shows you Myers’ bad home environment and gives reason.  Once you do that the “magic” of Michael Myers is gone and he just becomes another John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy.  Once the mystery behind his actions are revealed he just becomes another serial murderer and it takes the luster off what you thought was just an unstoppable killing machine with no motive, which I find more frightening.

There really isn’t anything else to say about “Halloween” that hasn’t been said.  It’s a classic film, not just in the horror genre, but film in general.  It not only set a standard for the genre, but single-handedly created a sub-genre that is often duplicated, but never really reaches the standard of its predecessor.  It’s October people, pop “Halloween” into your DVD, Blu-Ray, VHS, Betamax, Laser Disc, or Reel-to-Reel and enjoy greatness.

Fun Fact:  An inside-out William Shatner mask was used for the iconic mask that the Michael Myers wore.

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