Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween (1978)

Get ready for a marathon.

Director:  John Carpenter
Studio:  Compass International Pictures
Starring:  Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis
Tagline:  The Night He Came Home; Everyone Is Entitled to One Good Scare
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B
Rating:  A

Plot overview:  In this original, first installment of the Halloween franchise, we see a 6 year old Michael Myers stab his sister Judith to death on Halloween night, 1963.  Following this act, he is institutionalized and put under the watch of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Pleasence), who believes he is far more dangerous than anyone else realizes.  15 years later on Halloween Eve, 1978, Michael escapes from his hospital.  Dr. Loomis is convinced that Michael is heading back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to continue wreaking havoc.  Meanwhile in Haddonfield, the shy and innocent teenager Laurie Strode (Curtis) is preparing for an uneventful night of babysitting.  Little does she know that her uneventful night will soon turn into a struggle for her life once Michael - called "The Shape" - begins to stalk her and her friends.

I love Halloween, I love Halloween, and I love Halloween.  Whether we're talking about a holiday, a movie, or a franchise, I am a huge fan.  Having already rated this film's relatively successful remake, I decided to dedicate this final weekend before Halloween to a Halloween marathon.  Have you ever seen the word Halloween written so many times in one paragraph?  Tis the season.

First off, I like this movie more than the remake not only out of respect, but also because it is shorter and more simple.  Yes, yes, we know how important Psycho is for its progress in the slasher genre, but the original Halloween is the mother of the modern stalker/ slasher bit.  This is a movie I find myself constantly looking forward to watching, especially during this time of year, and also a movie I find myself enjoying every minute of while watching.  It's just such an easy and sweet example of what a horror film is and should be like, more or less.

Plot is straightforward with a small surprise that duller audience members may not have picked up on yet.  I imagine that in the '70s this movie could only have been more thrilling, though for modern audiences it might be reaching a point of distance (station wagons? pants that flare out?).  Still because the movie focuses on the plight of Laurie, the concern of Loomis, and the driven evil of Michael, we aren't distracted by unnecessary details.  Can't say the same for some of the other films in this franchise. What we know for sure is that Michael has come home, and for some relatively unknown reason he is out to get the innocent Laurie.

Onto acting.  I am a big fan of Jamie Lee Curtis, one of the first "Scream Queens" in American horror cinema following her successes in this franchise.  I've read that while filming this first installment, she thought she was going to lose her job because of poor acting, but on the contrary John Carpenter hailed her work.  While I think that Scout Taylor-Compton makes a modernized Laurie a lot more realistic in the remake, I can't help but like Curtis in this original.  Laurie is your average, shy, smart high school girl.  Imagine a smart quiet girl from your high school being thrown into a mess like this with some unstoppable serial killer - as far as I'm concerned Laurie stands out from other potential victims.  I love Laurie's group of friends, especially Lynda (P.J. Soles), and aside from comic relief they are important in that they present the contrast needed to make Laurie more likable.  Both Annie (Nancy Kyes) and especially Lynda are louder, cruder girls who are depicted as more popular with boys, using drugs, drinking, and having premarital sex (...and breaking my cardinal rules).  Laurie on the other hand is quiet, hardworking in school, dedicated to her babysitting jobs, and too shy to talk to the boy she has a crush on.

Once the horror starts, Curtis does a nice job balancing between freaking out in a quiet, withdrawn manner and giving us our fill of screams.  Perhaps it comes as no surprise that she was ultimately the right choice for this role as her mother is Janet Leigh of the timeless Psycho.  I'm a bit critical of how brave she is because I know that I, for one, would run as fast as I could out of any room where I had just impaled a masked killer with my knitting needle (or drawn out hanger, or other phallic items).  Still, her dedication to the "babies" (I love when she calls them that), AKA ~11 year olds Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) and Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards ... er, Kyle?), is admirable as she protects them at all costs from "the Boogeyman."

I like Donald Pleasence in this movie.  He grows a little more annoying in later films, but we'll get to that later in the marathon.  He's a good protagonist for us to follow as he helplessly tries to warn everyone else ("society") about the true danger of Michael.  Hopefully they'll listen now that three teenagers and a dog are dead.  Not to mention the countless dollars in broken windows, potted plants, and closet doors.

Isn't Michael (Tony Moran, Nick Castle, and Tommy Lee Wallace) great in this movie?  I always like coming back to this film in order to compare how much Michael grows during the franchise.  In this film, which chooses dim lighting and scary music over gore and blood, Michael's debut as a masked murderer is much more calm and, again, simple.  A good strangle followed by a classic, large kitchen knife (his weapon of choice) is the killing pattern from which he really doesn't stray, unlike in later films where murders start becoming overly creative.  Michael is simply animalistic in this film, doing what he needs to survive and carry out the murder of his intended victim Laurie.  He walks slowly, breaths heavily, and is stopped by nothing.  I especially like that we don't even really see him until over an hour into the film, at which point is still takes some time for us to see the mask.  Lastly, it always surprises me when we see his face in this movie when Laurie pulls it off during a struggle.  It's important that she is the character to do it, but otherwise it's almost like sacrilege, except that I guess Michael is the embodiment of evil and all.

The way in which this movie is filmed adds plenty of terror and suspense.  I really enjoy any scene where we are put behind Michael's mask and forced to see what he sees and he watches and waits.  Furthermore, the unsteady camera movement in chase scenes make us feel uneasy, as though we, too, are running away from certain death.  The film is wonderfully dark (just enough so that I can still see), making extreme gore unnecessary (how times have changed).  I have to admit that while watching the movie last night my power went out, and I couldn't say I was too happy about it.  Added effects, I guess.

Also, I have a confession to make.  I have probably seen this movie a million times.  While that is an overstatement, that is not my confession.  What I realized while watching the movie last night is that I had never seen the extended version before.  I was so used to seeing this film on TV that I found myself watching a handful of scenes I never knew existed, shame on me.  Now I can happily report I love the whole thing.

Fun facts:  The iconic mask was made by director John Carpenter from a Captain Kirk mask he modified only a little bit.  Honestly, Google "Captain Kirk"and you'll never look at him the same way again.
Kyle Richards, the young girl who plays Lindsay Wallace, is the aunt of Paris and Nicky Hilton.

Final critique:  This is a must see horror film.  If you can only watch one horror film in your entire life (what a boring life that would be), make it this one.  Michael Myers is the ultimate evil, and in his debut here he is untouched by over the top killings and poorly created masks.  Jamie Lee Curtis presents us with a scream queen who is not only a lovely leading leading, but an admirable "final girl."  John Carpenter's hauntingly iconic theme and well-placed scares make a wonderful balance of suspense and shocking delivery, which in 1978 is untainted by modern splatter fests.  Lastly, in honor of next year's 35th anniversary since the film's release, Halloween has been rereleased into theaters starting TODAY. Go see it.  That is all.

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