To conclude our “slasher trilogy” of sorts, let’s play with imagination for a minute: the year is 1963, and the night: Halloween. Police Officers are called to 43 Lampkin Lane only to discover that 15 year old Judith Myers has been stabbed to death – by her 6 year-old brother – Michael. After being placed in a psychiatric ward for 15 years, Myers breaks out on the night before Halloween. No one knows, or wants to find out, what will happen on October 31st, 1978 besides Myers‘ psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis. He knows Michael is planning to head back to his home town of Haddonfield, but by the time the town realizes it, it’ll be much too late for many of it’s people.
For today’s movie we look at a staple in horror cinema. One that feels so important, that many tried to imitate it’s stylistic atmosphere, music, and even it’s killer! It’s presence in the horror genre today still makes it something that has fear in people’s eyes when they hear the name Michael Myers. Today, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to review that only makes sense to review on Halloween:
The story line is perfectly simple, Michael stalks and kills babysitters. Nothing else, just the basic man kills people. But, it’s Carpenter‘s almost over-powering atmosphere of dread that generates the tension we feel as we’re watching. Like any other great horror film, events are telegraphed long in advance, yet they still seem to occur when we aren’t expecting it, therefore never allowing us as the audience the chance to second guess what the film is about to do. With it’s dark lighting, the long steady-cam shots, and [most importantly] that damn eerie music, gives it the ability to create one of the most claustrophobic and uncomfortable scenes in horror film history. There is a body count, but compared to the slashers that came after this it’s actually not that many people who get killed. One of the interesting thing is that Michael‘s murders are nearly bloodless: The fear is not the kill itself, but in knowing that it happened. That he does it without a second thought.
If you really think about it, John Carpenter made a low budget film and ended up scaring a generation of movie goers. He proved that you don’t need budgets in the 8 or 9 figures to produce fear in an audience. Because, as he shows us in Halloween, sometimes the best element of fear is not what actually is going on, but what is about to happen.. He makes the movie watchers worried, almost to ask themselves: what was that shadow? Or, What was that noise upstairs? He knows that these are some of the best ways to scare someone and he uses every element of textbook horror that you can use. Unlike movies that have come out in recent years, we’re numb to giant special effect monsters that makes loud noises and jumps out of a wall. It’s when we have moments when the killer is lurking, somewhere, and you don’t know where that is, that can truly scare you. Halloween succeeds like no other film because of this.
What makes Myers so effective is that we get the very briefest of introductions to who [or what] he is, just showing him as some kid who killed his sister, without ever saying why, just made it “work”. Even without any explanation, when he does escape, you know right then and there that someone is going to get hurt. The teens he stalks come off as normal and have the look of everyday people. People that you could know, in a town that you could live in. Only on this night, Halloween, Evil has come home. I mean, yes – It’s simple, but it’s the simplicity of is what makes it so scary. Would this have been as frightening if say, there was some giant monster with four arms running around killing people? Not as much. Because Michael is just a regular person in a mask, [although the “very face of evil”] this story feels like something that could actually happen.
The best way to look at it is Michael ceased to be a person once he first killed. He is not a serial killer, a human being or even a psychopath: He is an unstoppable force. The bleached-white Shatner mask, and lack of any dialog other then some breathing, helps to dehumanize and complete Michael‘s loss of humanity. This comes off as the source of all his power: He is faceless, speechless and unremarkable in any way other than as a source of unrelenting chaos. The over the top performance and uneasiness sells Michael as a character. This is helped by Carpenter‘s cinematography and the lack of information/motivation/explanation given to us by Doctor Loomis. This is also the first film performance by Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the innocent girl who tries to stop chaos in the face of overwhelming odds [at least for a little bit]
Ultimately though, this is John Carpenter‘s movie: He Directed it, co-wrote it, co-produced it, and wrote the chilling score for it! This is a man of brilliance, and his later movie The Thing supports this. [I did a review on The Thing over here!] The famous opening scene is disturbing, but not very scary by today’s standards; and not many of the scares work for the first part of the movie. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, it’s just that there’s reason to fear “The Shape” anymore. Luckily, Carpenter mostly uses this time to set up a relationship between the characters and the audience. We grow to get to know the characters, but not so much that we feel like absolute garbage when they get killed. But once the film gets to Halloween night, that’s when Carpenter kicks things into high gear, proving that this is the movie He came home!
Halloween still holds up as one of the most important films in the horror genre; especially because it helped redefine the term “slasher”. As for Michael Myers, while he too got many sequels and a remake, [and a sequel to that remake] He still stands as an important character – because without him, we wouldn’t have gotten characters like Jason and Freddy. How do you like your slasher villain? Are you a fan of the silent, stalk-y types like Jason and Michael? Or do you prefer wise cracking killers, like Freddy? As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve always considered myself a Krueger fan boy, because they’re the ones I grew up with. Which do you prefer? Let me know in a comment or two!
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