6.30.2010

Halloween (1978)

Halloween opens with a point of view sequence, where we follow a young woman up into her bedroom and then stab her to death. We run outside and there are the girl's parents, who unmask us... the camera pulls away and the murderer is a little kid, named Michael Myers! The murder victim: his big sister, Judith!

Years later we find that the kid has been institutionalized, under supervision of Dr. Loomis, who is desperate to not let Michael out onto the streets. According to Loomis Michael has spent the last fifteen years in a catatonic state so I don't even understand why he is concerned... do they routinely let psycho killers out who have spent the last fifteen years staring at a wall ("looking past the wall" as Loomis dramatically explains to anyone who will listen)? Anyway, Michael obviously manages to escape, or there wouldn't really be a movie would there? So Michael goes home on Halloween night, as prophesied in the movie poster, and he just really has this urge to kill a bunch of babysitters.

Everyone who knows anything about horror movies knows about this movie and realizes that this is a classic of the genre. I've watched it many times, and this last time I decided to try to figure out why this movie in particular is lauded, while something like Friday the 13th or Nailgun Massacre is seen as exploitative trash.

It's a difficult question to answer. Halloween is a formulaic slasher, but it basically created the sub genre so we can't hold that against it. But the fact of the matter is I have probably seen Halloween six times in my life, and the sixth time I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time, perhaps even more. Whereas with something like A Nightmare on Elm Street, every time I watch it I hate it a little more.

Slashers are generally slow movies, with lots of suspense building, jump scares, false starts, red herrings, and what have you. The suspense works because you don't know what to expect... so your second time through the movie, the suspense building is just kind of annoying. But Halloween works because it has so much to show you. The photography is fantastic and whereas with lesser slashers you would be fast forwarding through all the slow parts, with Halloween no matter how many times you watch this thing the wonderful photography, the masterful direction, it all draws your interest. The sixth time I watched this movie I had a book with me assuming that I would want something to do during the slow parts, but I could not tear my eyes away from the screen.

The characters are all interesting and likable, and the dialog (for the most part) sounds natural and you have to wonder how much of it was written beforehand (apparently all of it), and how much was made up on the spot (apparently none of it). The girls all give you the impression that they are friends, and it almost doesn't matter that they are all 20 year olds pretending to be high school girls. Unfortunately there aren't just 20 year old high school girls in this movie. Dr. Loomis and the sheriff have some outrageously corny lines to deliver, and no matter how talented they are there is no way to say, "DEATH... has come to your little town, sheriff" and not sound ridiculous.

But the good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad, and I would happily watch this movie a seventh time.

2 comments:

Andy said...

I think if anyone can say the line "Death has come to your little town, Sheriff" it's Donald Pleasance.

The opening sequence in this with Myers escaping the Asylum is one of the greatest most subtle horror scenes ever filmed-- and that's the magic of this movie-- it's shot like Hitchcock did it-- understated and with no gore.

Movies like Friday the 13th go for the cheap thrills, this one aims higher. Except for the cheerleaders "Totally!" dialogue-- which I'm working on editing out in an edition I will call TOTALLY HALLOWEEN, this is a perfect suspense film.

As for cheesy dialogue-- I love when the sheriff goes to the hardware store after it's been robbed of ropes and KNIVES and says it must have just been some kids planning some Halloween pranks! Dick Tracy this guy ain't!

newtmonkey said...

I should have mentioned that scene! That's my favorite part of this movie, with the escaped lunatics just standing there in the dark on the lawn.

One other thing I appreciated about this movie is that Carpenter knows exactly how long to hold a shot so that it's suspenseful but not boring. Like when young Michael is unmasked and you get that long shot where the camera slowly pulls back.

It's a great movie (I would definitely watch your TOTALLY HALLOWEEN). The sequel is pretty lousy though.