Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Halloween (1978)

Righto, Halloween then. Yes, I know that Halloween is over 6 months away however Slasher movies are some of my favourites so it seemed like a good place to start. *Deep breaths*

Released in 1978, John Carpenter’s Halloween was the first Slasher film to be a box office hit on its release. Paving the way for many sequels and similar films such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street.
It is set in Haddonfield, Illinois; a fictional town in Mid-West America that represents stereotypical suburbia. Long, quiet streets filled with almost identical white houses; with plenty of bushes and corners for a masked killer to hide behind.
Starring Jamie-Lee Curtis (in her first film role) as the heroine Laurie Strode, and Donald Pleasance as Dr Loomis, the psychiatrist turned ‘monster hunter’.
The basic plot is as follows. On Halloween night, 1963; police are called to 43 Lampkin Lane to find Judith Myers stabbed to death by her 6 year old brother Michael.
After 15 years in a psychiatric institution Myers breaks out the night before Halloween. No one knows what he is capable of besides Dr Loomis, Myer’s psychiatrist.
Mike Myers is coming back to Haddonfield.

The film opens with John Carpenter’s iconic theme music and a very simple introduction sequence. Interestingly as you read the opening credits the Jack O-Lantern enlarges slowly until it almost fills the screen, creating the weird feeling that something is happening behind your back that continues through the film. The music throughout (all composed by Carpenter) sets the tone of the film brilliantly. It isn’t a dramatic, jarring score that often comes with modern horror, but eerily quiet until Myers appears. This reflects the general quietness of the film, symbolic of Myers’s own silence?
The camera angles are all spookily voyeuristic. Quite often the action is viewed from across a street, or through a window lending a very eerie, stalking presence; perfect for Myers himself. Although sometimes the camera is shaky, (Unintentionally, this is not one of the travel-sick inducing “hand-held camera” movies. Thank God.) this doesn’t ever take anything away from the atmosphere and does also feel a little like you are watching through the eyes of Myers as he stalks his victims. It is also important to note that much of the film takes place in the background of many shots. Myers appears in windows and small alleyways, unnoticed by characters.
Donald Pleasance is excellent as Dr Loomis. Rather than the gun-slinging macho hero that is often seen, Loomis is a shabbily dressed psychiatrist determined to atone for his guilt of letting Myers loose. His fear of Michael is palpable, even when Myers is only a young boy. This fear lets us identify with him, and respect him all the more as he tracks down his errant, dangerous patient.
Similarly, Jamie-Lee Curtis is brilliant as a female lead. She is not the typical squealing, hysterical blonde but is in fact a strong character, protecting the two children in her care from Myers’s knife. Even managing to fight him off, twice! Unfortunately, this strength and likeablilty doesn't stretch to her two friends. The relationship between the group of three ‘friends’ seems forced. Also, ‘Lynda’ the other blonde in the groups uses the word “totally” in what seems like every other sentence; a habit that becomes grating rather quickly. And yes, she has sex. And yes, she becomes a victim.
This film is not perfect though. The plot feels a little contrived at times, with Laurie Strode studying the concept of “fate” in school. A piece of foreshadowing that jars a little in the film. The deliberate symbolism of the children referring to Myers as “the boogyman” also feels a little hamfisted. However, this film was released in the seventies; a decade not well known for its subtlety. Plus, this film is not intended to be an intellectual one, it is ended to spook so this obvious symbolism can be forgiven.
 Myer’s escape also feels a little staged, conveniently the warden supposed to be looking after him has not appeared and somehow a patient who is supposed to be have been barely more than a vegetable for 15 years can drive; explained only with the throw-away line “maybe someone around here gave him lessons”. The death acting is over-done to say the least, with the female victims writhing and gasping in a display that would put porn films to shame. It has become a tradition that the more sexual members (no pun intended) are the ones to be killed off first, but this is too far. The expressions on the dead teens’ faces are child’s play levels of comical, completely killing the atmosphere. Fortunately, Curtis pulls it back with her completely believable reaction.
There are also a few filming goofs. Myers’s mask during the murder of his sister appears to attach to his face through magnetism, rather than sliding on as a mask should. Most goofs however come mainly from the film being set in late October, whilst being filmed in the summer. To the casual viewer the absence of leaves in some shots is barely noticeable.
A little addition is the program the children watch. It is called "The Thing" I don't know if this is a hint towards Carpenter's next film, (The Thing released in 1983.) or an interesting coincidence. If not, Carpenter was on to Pixar's game over a decade before.
To modern viewers it may appear that Halloween is just all the Slasher stereotypes in one film. The promiscuous, rebellious teens that smoke and drink are killed off, leaving the clean-cut virginal heroine as the lone survivor. However, Halloween was the film that created these stereotypes. Halloween is also tame compared to modern horror films. With a body count of only five, it is left in the dust murder-wise by modern films that aren’t even considered horror. The gore is at a minimum with only one killing showing any blood at all. Yet despite this lack of visceral horror, Halloween is still one of the best horror films I have seen. Rather than the bloody, loud jump-scares of modern “torture-porn” horror which evoke a scream but are quickly dismissed and acclimatised to; Halloween creates a horror that stays with you.
Even though the sight of Mike Myers on screen doesn’t seem scary, when walking back from the shops at night you will find yourself double checking the street behind you, just in case you’re being followed by a hulking, silent killer.
Overall, this film is definitely one that has stood the test of time. Still enjoyable 30 years or so later it is a must see for horror film fans. After all, it’s good to know where your roots are.

You can expect my next review to appear some time over the weekend. I don't know what film yet, why not recommend me some?

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