Sunday, September 2, 2007

Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Who would have guessed that a bloody knife and a worrisome babysitter would transform the multiplexes into amusement parks? John Carpenter for one. His low-budget, genre-defining, eardrum-shattering masterpiece gave futile hope to hack filmmakers who went to the theaters and slyly jotted down in their notepads things like “knife”, "blood", "teen", “girls”, “breasts”, “sex”, “unstoppable killer”, “screaming”, and “Donald Pleasence” without realizing a true mouthwatering horror treat depends more on its chef than on its ingredients.

Jamie Lee Curtis is known as the “Scream Queen” among fright fans, probably not for the amount of screams, but for the sheer volume of them. Curtis plays Laurie Strode. Laurie’s a naive, goodie-good teen who’s being stalked by a masked figure. That figure is, of course, Michael Myers. Michael is an escaped mental patient who heads home to continue his mass murdering tradition he began so many years ago. The appeal and fun of Halloween is its simplicity(even its title is simple and to the point). Even as a kid, when I would see it on TV, I knew exactly what point in the story it was at. If Laurie was happy, it was the beginning. If Laurie gave worrying glances, it was the middle. If the teens were having sex, the killing was imminent. And if that bald guy was talking, it’s time to go get a snack. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you could probably guess what it’s about. A killer stalks a babysitter. So then, if it sounds so average, why is it so damn good? First off, it was the first of its kind. So, on a historically significant level, it’s revolutionary. But I want to focus more on the film itself. I enjoy Halloween every time I see it, and not in a comically cheesy sort of way either (at least not ENTIRELY on that level). It’s just fun, plain and simple. Laurie’s so naive, you’ll expect her to walk up to Michael and politely ask him to please stop trying to murder her. The claustrophobic and atmospheric canvas adds a great deal. It’s Halloween time in the film and it evokes that season perfectly with its hollow and crisp starkness as well as evoking that classic "urban legend" feeling that taps into your subconscious just when you thought you were too old to have a subconscious. Every neighborhood had that house everyone was afraid to go near. The story of a very young boy walled up in an insane asylum after slaying his babysitting older sister is not entirely ridiculous, but just unsettling enough to be genuinely effective and familiar. You’re not really scared, but you desperately want to see what will happen next. Even though, as I pointed out earlier, the formula is so simple that it shouldn’t raise this much interest on its own.

Another thing that helps the film greatly is the killer himself. Michael Myers is a ridiculously simple but effective menace – a masked man who wants to stab anyone in his immediate vicinity. He’ll at times stand outside Laurie’s house in the middle of the day like he forgot his keys and got locked out. Michael never says a word in the film. He exists only to kill. His omnipresence stretches the bounds of relative believability, but never leads the film down a disappointing path. In the end, that’s what makes Michael so intimidating. You can’t reason with him. You can’t find his weakness. You can only try to get out of his way. Halloween needs no explanation. Take it for what it is and it’s a hell of a ride.

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