Friday, October 21, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Halloween (1978)

Halloween (1978)
Written
by

John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Original Music
by

John Carpenter
Directed
by

John Carpenter
Starring
Donald Pleasance     Jamie Lee Curtis
Nancy Loomis     P.J. Soles
Charles Cypers      Kyle Richards
Brian Andrews     Nancy Stephens

Nick Castle    Will Sandin  Tony Moran
as
Michael Myers

It can be very difficult to review a classic film held in high esteem by just about everybody. If it’s a film you really love, you may have a tendency to go on and on like a gushing school boy declaring your love as if you’re Vili Fualaau longing for Mary Kay Letourneau.


On the other hand, maybe you don’t quite see what the big deal is and decide to offer up maybe just a teensy weensy little speck of criticism, thus handing your own ass over on a silver platter to all the fan boys out there just waiting to burn you at the stake.

What does all this have to do with John Carpenter’s Halloween? Maybe something, maybe nothing. It’s just that there are some movies where every thing that can be said about them has already been said, in a book, in a documentary, or written as commentary on every film discussion board worth its salt that proliferates the internet. The original Halloween is no exception.

In case you’re one of the ½ or 1 percent of the population who doesn’t know the story here’s the gist of it.

A very young boy, Michael Myers, (Will Sandin) comes home on Halloween just as his teenage sister (Sandy Johnson) is preparing to do the bump and grind with her boyfriend (David Kyle). (How young is Michael? We’ll get to that, just bear with me.) Or maybe he was always at home just hiding in the shadows until the pumpkin credits finally fade out.

In the amount of time it takes for sis and her sex starved young lover to go upstairs, hop into the bed, then hop out of the bed, and for the boyfriend to kiss and run, Young Mr. Myers takes a knife from the kitchen cabinet, heads upstairs, slips on his clown mask and lovingly greets sis by stabbing the shit out of her. (How long was it before he went upstairs and how old was he that he was able to overpower his sister so easily? We’ll get to that, just bear with me.)

He then heads back downstairs to greet Mom Myers and Pop Myers, who rip his mask off so we can see his blank cold deadly stare as the camera pulls backwards until we fade out. (What is Ma and Pa Kettle’s reaction to their son standing there with a bloody kitchen knife? We’ll get to that, just bear with me.)

Flash forward fifteen years minus one day later. Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) are headed to the State Hospital to pick up Michael for a hearing required by law that will determine if he’s now sane enough to be set free. But Mikey, being of not so sound mind and inhabited by the spirits of Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer, knows his chances of being set free to walk the streets of Illinois are roughly equivalent to that of having angels fly out of his ass. So he decides to head out on his own in the same automobile that Loomis and the nurse had arrived in.

Having been locked up for fifteen years, how did Michael learn to drive? Well, funny you should ask because someone else asks Loomis the same question. And although he has no explanation it’s a pretty good come back just the same:

Dr. Terence Wynn: Now, for God's sake, he can't even drive a car!
Dr. Sam Loomis: He was doing very well last night! Maybe someone around here gave him lessons!

Dr. Loomis, having taken care of The Honorable Michael Myers for the past 15 years, is pretty damn sure he’s headed back to Haddonfield, the All-American City that spawned him in the first place, to practice his craft a little further. Understandable when you consider the fact that he has so little other skills beyond stealing state issued automobiles.

He commences to stalking the babysitter’s club, whose members are a Laurie Strode (
Jamie Lee Curtis), Annie Brackett (Nancy Kyes (Loomis), and Lynda van der Klok (P.J. Soles).  Technically only two of them are doing any babysitting on this particular night, but who knows what Lynda is up to the rest of the week. What skills other skills could she possibly have besides drinking beer, making out with her boyfriend, drinking more beer, and making out with here boyfriend some more. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t hire her as a babysitter either.  I guess Laurie is our go to girl.

While Mikey is stealthily sneaking around his old neighborhood haunts by driving the stolen state vehicle up and down the streets as if he’s just back from Daytona, Dr. Loomis heads to Haddonfield to track him down, hopefully before Michael has a chance to brush up on his jack-o.lantern carving skills using Laurie, Annie, and Lynda as models.

And that’s about it. If you’ve seen the film, you know the rest of the story. If you haven’t you wouldn’t want me going into the rest of the gory details. So if you haven’t watched,  you may want to stop reading right now and then come back later for our group discussion, consisting of me, more me, and mostly me, when you have something not so worthwhile to add.

I was watching the film for the umpteenth time a couple of nights ago, and it was a struggle to make it through the first twenty minutes or so. Maybe I was just tired. Perhaps I had seen it so many times that the thrill was long gone. I’m not sure. So while I watched, in between dozing off, I began to become irritated with some of the havoc caused by Mr. Michael Myer’s reunion with his Hometown of Haddonfield.

For instance, my recent review of The Best Little Whorehouse came to mind and the lyrics of the Charles Durning song stuck in my head:

“Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don't-
I've come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
Cut a little swathe and lead the people on”

The above verse would pop into my head every time Sir Michael Myers would step in and out of the shadows. Look! He’s outside the school window! Oh crap, no he’s not. Look! He’s behind the shrubbery! Oh damn, no he’s not. Look! He’s mingling with my bed sheets! Oh hell, no he’s not. Look! The bogeyman is standing next to the baby-sitter's house! Oh heck, no he’s not.

It would seem Myers can move pretty damn fast when he has a mind to be. He only seems to slow down when he’s getting ready to stick a butcher knife into your gut or cut an extra airway into your windpipe. In that case he comes at his victims with all the speed, subtlety, and grace of Boris Karloff running from the villagers in Frankenstein.  And you know how that ended. Yep, you guessed it: endless Frankenstein sequels, remakes and rip offs, just like it did with this film. But then again, you could just blame the whole mess on Mary Shelley.

And then there’s this. At 3 minutes and 15 seconds into the movie, Judith Myers (Michael sister. She does have a name lest we forget) heads upstairs with her unnamed boyfriend (who doesn’t have a name lest we forget) to do the nasty. At 4 minutes and and 30 seconds, with no cuts and the camera never straying from young Michael’s point of view, the boyfriend is already coming down the stairs putting his shirt on. That’s what I call a quickie! Hell, why even bother with the trip upstairs to the bedroom when you’re that fast? This lad was so fast he must be an embarrassment to teenage boys all over the planet! This guy is so fast, he makes Roadrunner look like he’s standing stationary. This guy is so fast, that if he had run against Secretariat in the Belmont, Secretariat would have been looking at this boy’s ass fifty lengths from the finish line. This guy is.....oh never mind. You get my point.

 

Then there’s the fact that Michael is only six years old when he carves up dear old sis. We know this to be true because later in the movie Dr. Loomis talks about him having been six when he started treating him.

Now I don’t know about you but even at sixteen years old, if some six year old pint sized little shit comes at me with a knife, he may get one whack at it and then that little fucker is going to be flying across the room and out a second story window. And I don’t care if Judith is just a horny teenage girl with a fast boyfriend. Look how many stabs it took Norman Bates to put the hammer down on Marion Crane.

Yeah I know, easy for me to say. I’m not the one being hacked and maybe that first whack was right on target severing her spinal chord, thus incapacitating her. You know, the proverbial lucky shot. Anything’s possible. Frankly, I just think he was pissed because the boyfriend did some nasty things with that clown mask in the 1 minute and 15 seconds he was up in the bedroom. I’d be pissed too but I still wouldn’t hack my sister up.

And what was the deal with those parents? I mean, they see the bloody knife in his hands and the look on his face and all they can do is say, “Michael!” and then stand there like a couple of clueless dolts waiting for the scene to fade out. I mean, I half expected them to say, “What do you have to say for yourself Beaver and what did you do with Wally?”

And if you’re like me and have seen this movie endless times, don’t you get just the least bit irritated when a certain someone drops that knife towards the end of the movie? I know you do. Don’t lie.

And then the dumb ass turns around and does it again.

I originally saw Halloween at a drive-in with my girlfriend, soon to be wife, soon to be ex-wife in South Point Ohio many summers ago. And the fact that I’ve seen it so many times since and know the details as well as I do is actually a testament to it’s staying power. I’m no longer scared when I watch it, and I’m sure much of today’s audiences are so jaded by the torture porn of films like Hostel and Saw that they would hardly understand what the fuss is all about especially considering how bloodless Halloween is by comparison.

But yet, I viewed it with my youngest son last Halloween, and many of the scenes made him jump, so I guess having the bogeyman come out when you least expect it and say boo still gets the job done, and this film did it better than most films, especially when you consider it’s miniscule budget of $300,000 which even in 1978 dollars was a mere pittance. The film went on to gross over fifty million dollars upon it’s release.

Ebert and Siskel explain the difference between a good horror movie like Halloween, and the endless bad number of imitators and rip offs.


The reason the film works is not because we watch a serial killer on a prowl, it’s because director/writer John Carpenter and co-writer producer Debra Hill puts us in the house and makes us the victim as much as his cast of hapless teenagers. Is Michael in the kitchen or isn’t he? Is he behind the bushes or isn’t he? Is he mingling with the drying clothes or isn’t he? Just as Laurie is unsure of her own senses, we become doubtful of ours as well. Is what we are seeing in her imagination, or is it the Boogeyman, able to fade in and out as he pleases?

There is one scene in this film that I am in awe of to this day. At one point Laurie is standing next to a darkened room. Michael seems to appear out nothingness in the darkness and we begin to question whether or not we had seen him there all along, or even if he had been there all along. But our attention is so focused on Laurie that we can never be sure. And it happens every time I watch this movie.

Likewise, when in the living room of the house across the street, we know just as Laurie does that Michael has gotten in through an open window. We can hear him breathing, somewhere nearby, but like Laurie, we never know exactly where he is lurking. And remember, before Halloween, indestructible human killers were a rare thing unless they were man made monsters stitched together in a laboratory.

The casting of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie was either a stroke of luck or genius, depending on how you look at this. She’s young, fresh, and brings just the right feel to a character that is supposed to be naive and innocent, unlike Lynda and Annie who are as horny as Michael’s sister was years ago. Or if you insist, a goody two shoe. Come to think of it, I think Lynda’s boyfriend was almost as fast on the draw. It would have been a helluva shoot out to see how can....never mind that

.


Donald Pleasence brings a certain amount of over the top scenery chewing gravitas to the character of Dr. Loomis, making the character unforgettable in an odd sort of way. I guess. If you mention Donald Pleasence to someone they’ll always think of his role in the Halloween Movies, or in my case, I think of him as Dr. Loomis this film, as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, or as Dr. Michaels in Fantastic Voyage where he was unceremoniously devoured by a white corpuscle.

There is another actor in this film that I haven’t mentioned. Much in the way that Jaws would have been a different film without John Williams menacing shark theme, Carpenter’s score for this film works to perfection in it’s ominous simplicity. It’s serves to enhance the relentlessness of Michael Myers, much in the same way that William’s shark score let us know someone was about to become fish bait.

John Carpenters Music adds another dimension to Halloween. This suite though, is from the sequel but uses the same cinematic themes from the first film.

Both Carpenter and Debra Hill would go on to do many more films. In Carpenter’s case, at least three of his films are on my list of favorites, those being Escape from New York,   The Thing,  and Starman,  proving that he was more than capable of extending himself beyond one single genre.

Hill would serve as a producer and writer on many films, and work with Carpenter on several more of his. At the time of her death from cancer in 2005 she was working with Oliver Stone on the film World Trade Center.  She would not live to see Halloween inducted into the National Film Registry in 2006, and that makes me sad. One of Debra’s other films that she worked on as a producer, Adventures in Babysitting is certainly a candidate for a review on this blog.

It was easy for me to have a little fun at the expense of Halloween, but there is no denying it’s impact on horror films and the craftsmanship that went into it. And sure, some of the things in the initial twenty minutes don’t stand up to scrutiny but who cares. It’s a horror film, it’s not suppose to, and when it finally gets down to business it succeeds on every level leaving me no choice but to grant it a Clyde score of an A.. This closing moment, one of the greatest and most memorable two lines ever spoken in any horror film, is worth the A by itself. Not to mention that it’s the best possible way to close out this review. Happy Halloween, y’all. Stay safe.

2 comments:

  1. THAT A GOOD MOVIE ALL OF THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hoe do you know they even had sex?

    ReplyDelete