Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween

Honestly, 1978's HALLOWEEN is the only slasher film you need to see.  Horror fans will balk at such a statement, but unless your bag is watching, ad nauseum, teenagers getting knifed, axed, drowned, burned, etc. after a roll in the hay in movie after movie I stand by my opening line.  John Carpenter's low budgeter was not the first film of its kind, far from it, but it was likely the first genuine American cultural phenom to feature some of the above elements.  This film was mega/uber successful, spawning years of imitators that took the basic ideas and maybe shifted things a few degrees but retained the formula.  Soon, it became all about the gore, how grisly the murders were.

Some films exhibited creativity.  TERROR TRAIN and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME had novelty.  But most in HALLOWEEN's wake (including many of its sequels) were just unimaginative and depressing.  No joy in their filmmaking.  Carpenter follows in the great tradition of Hitchcock and others as he tells the simple story of Michael Myers, a sanitarium escapee (locked up at age six for murdering his sister) returns years later to Haddonfield, Illinois to stalk and kill.  He targets high schooler Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends as he stakes out his old house, which is about to be sold.  Myers' shrink Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) arrives in town to warn everyone that Michael has come home.  In fact, Myers' sister's tombstone is missing from the local cemetery.

What happens in HALLOWEEN is pure cat and mouse.  Shy Laurie warns her horny friends to cool it.  As we learn from this and many later films, doing it will get you killed.  Virgins tend to survive. Carpenter designs his scenes for maximum suspense, even in daylight.  He uses jump in frame shocks, point of view, and various diopters to catch viewers off guard.  When Laurie barricades herself in a closet, the terror becomes unbearable as the masked killer pushes and slashes his long knife through the wooden lattice.   That sequence's brilliance begins a few moments earlier, as Carpenter's score marches in dread as Laurie slowly realizes her safe zone is anything but.  The director's music has become quite iconic, and is as eerie and classic as that of JAWS.

Yes, there is violence but nothing that will make you reach for the Compazine, unless you're extremely sensitive.  HALLOWEEN was heavily criticized for its seemingly reactionary messages and misogyny but is quite simply a beautifully orchestrated piece of horror.  It truly is essential viewing.  Years of bad genre pics and Rob Zombie's ill-advised reboots can't tarnish that.

Happy Halloween.

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