Films / Horror

Halloween

Halloween was not the first slasher movie – before its release in 1978, there was Hitchcock’s Psycho, which generated some of the tropes, and in 1974, there was Black Christmas and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the latter two in particularly coming up with the teen focus, masked killers, and concepts such as the final girl. But Halloween is widely considered the first true slasher movie; John Carpenter’s eerie movie took previously explored ideas and solidified them – the movie formed the template which would lead the genre flourishing in the 80s, with franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, before Wes Craven ultimately took the format to its logical post-modern conclusion in 1996′s Scream. Halloween‘s vast influence highlights how strong it was as a movie. Made by a young and inexperienced crew on a shoe-string budget, the film caused a huge stir upon its release, generating vast amounts of money through simple word of mouth. Halloween scared audiences. It’s a remarkably competent little horror movie and remains a genre high point to this day.halloween haddonfieldThe film begins with a young boy, Michael Myers, randomly murdering his older sister. Michael is incarcerated for his crimes, but escapes years later on October 30th to return to his home town of Haddonfield. Once in town, Michael begins stalking a group of babysitters, including bookish Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and once night falls on Halloween, the escaped maniac begins working his way through the girls, picking them off one by one. Michael’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) rushes to stop the killer before its too late, believing Michael to be the personification of pure evil.halloween jamie lee curtisHalloween is a remarkably simple movie. It has very little plot, and what plot it does have doesn’t really matter. This is essentially an exercise in tension and suspense, this perhaps best illustrated in the opening moments. Halloween has one of the most iconic openings in horror history. Taking influence from Touch of Evil and Peeping Tom, the film opens with an extended killer’s POV shot. It’s a tense and uncomfortable scene, made all the more powerful by a surprising final reveal, and of course John Carpenter’s creepy score. Music is hugely important in Halloween – the iconic piano beat instantly recognisable to this day, it creates and unsettling autumnal atmosphere, which is backed by a series of sharp stings whenever anything scary happens. Music in the movie is a great signifier of both unease and shock. The movie begins slowly, with Michael stalking the girls, and becomes increasingly intense as night falls, with the final scenes some of the best the genre has to offer. In terms of atmosphere and mood, Halloween is amazing, and it generates a great autumnal tone, making it the perfect movie to watch on actual Halloween. This is more impressive when you consider that the film was shot in spring, with fake leaves on the ground.halloween 1978Carpenter knows how to frame a shot and how to keep things hidden. There are glimpses of things in the corners and in the background; monsters lurking in the shadows, and when darkness falls, the film is purposefully difficult to visually comprehend. Very few movies are this utterly black – there’s a void of light which really adds to the atmosphere, with the audience scanning the frame waiting for the killer to appear. Unlike its imitators, Halloween is refreshingly free of blood and gore, and the kills are not over the top – Carpenter, like Hitchcock, understands that the horror comes from the build up; it’s not the kill that we’re scared of, it’s the waiting. Some of the stalking scenes – particularly Nancy Kyes’s final moments – are agonisingly drawn out, which builds a great deal of tension. Yet the film remains remarkably well paced, with each scare greater than the last, and the movie becomes increasingly aggressive and frightening as it progresses. halloween sam loomisWhat separates Halloween from what came before it is its setting. Haddonfield is free of gothic heritage and is a fairly standard, suburban town. Prior to Halloween, horror had been restricted to isolated and distant locations; Halloween brought the terror home, the film subversively playing on parent’s beliefs of the safety in suburbia. This element is reinforced by the urban legend style story – essentially, the film is about a boogie man murdering babysitters, and the plot reflects many slumber party tales and camp fire stories, which ties nicely in with the setting. Michael Myers is the perfect villain for this story too – credited as simply The Shape here, Michael is a force of nature, an impossibly powerful and incomprehensible killing machine which is impossible to reason with. He’s not a person, and has no motivation – he just comes to town and starts stalking – he is the ultimate on screen representation of the boogie man, something the film even confirms. Carpenter directed Nick Castle (who played The Shape) with minimal instruction, explaining that the actor’s entire motivation was to walk from one location to another. Michael’s mask is not worn for reasons of identity, but as a means of blocking his humanity, his white expressionless visage an extension of his personality, or lack of. His supernatural elements, confirmed by his vanishing back into the night at the climax, work within the story, as Michael is unexplainable and random. Later movies hurt this idea. Halloween II introduced the notion of Laurie being Michael’s sister, a retcon which really doesn’t work, and takes away a lot of the character’s appeal. When watching Halloween, try and ignore the sister motivation, as it actually hampers the original story and was a huge misstep on Carpenter’s part.halloween 1978Whilst the film was not the first slasher, it was the first to really define the genre, and many of the ideas presented here became future clichés. The POV shots, seemingly aligning us with the killer, became standard after this, as did the idea of themed killers (try and work out which holidays haven’t been turned into horror franchises) and the way slasher killers work in general. Michael Myers, with his slow pace, kitchen knife and apparent teleportation abilities, became a template for all future genre killers, primarily inspiring Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees. The structure and set up became oft-imitated, and primarily, the film’s notions of sex and morality became standard. Critics have talked at length how the final girl survives because she’s innocent; she doesn’t have sex or do drugs (ignoring Laurie’s sneaky joint) like her friends, who it seems, are actively punished for their sordid interests. Slasher movies can be seen as a representation of America’s uncomfortable puritanisms, though Carpenter has denied that Halloween was made with those themes in mind, claiming, honestly, that he simply set out to make a scary movie. The way slashers have taken off in popular, particularly American culture, can not be ignored however. halloween michael myersThe cast is small but iconic and strong. Donald Pleasence was the movie’s biggest star and plays his demented Dr. Loomis with an over the top relish. This is a man who has seen evil and is terrified, and his eerie rants about Michael’s eyes and lack of motivation are powerful, hanging over the film like a shadow. Great credit has to be given to Jamie Lee Curtis – an unknown at the time, Carpenter cast her based on family ties – Curtis being the daughter of Janet Leigh – and she does a remarkably good job. Fear actresses have channelled fear like this and Curtis can really scream, a fact which tied into her filmography and garnered her the title of ‘scream queen.’ Laurie Strode is likeable and we care about her, feeling her terror towards the climax, where she proves able to hold her own against the knife wielding monster. She’s the ultimate final girl, and sparked a trend which continued into later slashers, with the likes of Heather Langenkamp and Neve Campbell taking great influence from her.halloweenHalloween is noticeable in that it sparked a huge multi movie franchise which plagued the 80s. It’s a sad sign that the creators and audiences couldn’t leave the first film alone – perhaps that open ending was just too ambiguous – and generally, all of the Halloween sequels should be ignored, though they all possess a certain slasher cult charm which makes them fun to watch with friends. Halloween II isn’t bad, but it answers too many questions, and is a considerable step down from the first movie; the tied on conclusion is really unnecessary. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, is interesting in that it doesn’t star Michael Myers. Originally, Carpenter conceived the franchise as a series of creepshow style anthologies, which a movie released on Halloween each year, staring new characters and dealing with different threats. This is a novel idea, and would have worked if Hallowen II hadn’t established Myers as the villain, or if Halloween III had actually been any good. The rest of the franchise basically repeated itself with Michael Myers until a recent Rob Zombie remake came out which frankly, didn’t understand the material and made a complete mess of things by explaining every element of Michael’s motivation. The last thing you’re supposed to take away from the original is a sense of humanity in Michael Myers, and Zombie’s take is such a misstep it’s almost comical, akin to remaking Jaws in the style of Blackfish.jamie lee curtisHalloween is an important horror movie and a very well constructed frightfest. It’s remained hugely influential since its release and will stand the test of time as one of the finest films of the genre. It is the ultimate slasher film, and ever since Halloween, the genre has basically been repeating itself.

5/5

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5 thoughts on “Halloween

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