Happy October and welcome! All 31 days this month, I will be reviewing all the films I watch in the month of October. They’re mostly a selection of horror or suspense films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.
Please enjoy and leave a comment!
And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:
The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Haunting (1963)
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
The Other (1972)
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Our next film is…
WATCHING: Halloween (1978)
DIRECTED BY: John Carpenter, director of Big Trouble in Little China, Escape From New York, Vampires, and In the Mouth of Madness.
WHAT IS IT?: A milestone in the horror genre, putting together one of the most spectacular ghost stories ever committed to film. When you hear the word, “Bogeyman”, Michael Myers immediately comes to mind.
THE PLOT: The night before Halloween in 1978, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) attempts to visit one of his most notorious and evil patients in Michael Myers who, 15 years prior, murdered his sister in cold blood for giving more attention to her boyfriend than she did him. However, upon arriving, he and his nurse find that the gates to the asylum where he resides have been opened and that many of the patients are walking free outside the hospital’s borders. It’s here that Myers escapes and vanishes.
Loomis tracks Myers to Haddonfield, Illinois where Myers, still blinded by the same rage and hatred for his sister, begins to stalk a group of young high school girls, while seeming to focus on the most mature and virtuous one of the group: Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).
WHAT CRITICS THOUGHT: Not surprisingly, a majority of critics hated the film or dismissed as cheap schlock. Pauline Kael of the New Yorker said that it was derivative and a copy of DePalma and Hitchcock while the Los Angeles Times dubbed it “morbid”. To be expected, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert adored the film and said it was great because Carpenter knew how to shock and scare his audience and did it in a masterful way.
Today, the film is thought of a masterpiece of horror — though some critics still believe that it’s too heavily praised and that it ushered in the “slasher” genre which went off the rails and into tedium far into the 1980’s, while also promoting heavy misogyny.
WHAT I THOUGHT: One might look at “Halloween” and think, “This is a cheap slasher flick,” and then move on to something else.
That’s a grave mistake.
“Halloween” is deeper than that, sitting its audience down and telling them a chilling ghost story — but with style and flair and smarts. How often do you see a slasher movie which takes its sweet time getting to the bloodshed because it’s busy spending the first half of the film showing Myers following his victims around from a distance, building up the suspense, slowly setting up its audience for the tumultuous events to come? How many slasher flicks allow you to get to know the main characters intimately? Even the evil, intimidating Michael Myers gets a fairly detailed backstory.
The movie mostly takes place over the course of Halloween night and most of it is shot in the darkness, in the shadows, with cruel kids teasing and taunting younger kids about “The Bogeyman” and how he’ll come for you when you least expect it, playing on one’s childhood fears of the dark and what lurks there. Myers is referred to, in the credits, as “The Shape”, something which is directly related to this idea: Myers is a pure evil and evil resides in darkness and shadows and silence, waiting to grab at you. While his body is the same color as those shadows, the white mask is the only real visible shape in the darkness.
Indeed, the movie revels in this mentality, springing all its tightly-wound traps — but with hardly any blood to be had, relying solely on the creep factor, something which further differentiates it from most of the other films of its type.
It’s helped along by a now-famous musical score and theme (by director John Carpenter) and anchored by performances from veteran actor Donald Pleasence who plays Dr. Loomis as a man who has been driven to near-madness in his almost religious quest to stop an evil he has no hope of defeating, and a then-unknown Jamie Lee Curtis who plays Laurie Strode as street-smart and tough which runs in juxtaposition with her innocent and unjaded nature.
This film is still beautiful, one that I could watch over and over and sill find something new. Like “Psycho” before it, the original “Halloween” is not just a great horror film, it’s a milestone in the genre, one which was inspired by the greats and one that has inspired the greats which came after it.