Wednesday, October 2, 2013

John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978) - Part I

Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Stephens
Rated: R

Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts, covens of witches with all of their hosts. You may think they scare me, You're probably right.  Black cats and goblins on Halloween night.  Trick or treat!

Well, this is it, eh?   I circled the calendar for this retrospective series ever since I was working on the James Bond retrospective for Mendelson's Memos.  This series and I have a long loving history.  Be prepared maybe for some more personal essays than film critiquing this time around.  I'll try to keep any dashes of fanboy out of it (although, I think I've gone past that stage in my life when it comes to film anymore).  I make no secret that this is my favorite film of all time.  Sorry if that spoils the rankings at the end for you, but the fun part of that will be seeing how I place the sequels.  It's an odd choice (that I do share with many), so let's take a journey on how this all happened and why its my favorite.
In my youth, when the door and opportunity to check out horror movie opened, I jumped at the opportunity to soak as much in as humanly possible.  However, being kinda OCD in this fashion, I would take things steps at a time.  If you read my Friday The 13th - The Complete Collection review over at Why So Blu?, you'll know that Jason was my first.  I watched them all up and down.  Those films scared me at the time and gave me a rush.  After I was done with Jason, I moved on to Freddy Krueger.  The Nightmare On Elm Street films took the horror to new heights for me.  And they were my new favorite.  I started also watching other select horror films and such.
Then, one day, my parents and I were at a drug store and I went into their video rental section.  There, they had all these films in a series entitled Halloween.  There were 5 of them.  And for some crazy damn reason...I had NEVER heard of Halloween or Michael Myers.  Yeah, I know, weird, right?  None of the video stores we rented at carried any of the Halloween movies.  And Video Stores back in my day served kind of as my education in film.  So I inquired to my uncle Mark, who was my go-to horror expert at the time.  I looked up to him in my youth as we weren't that far in age, plus he took me to the "cool" movies in the theater and had seen all the cool horror movies I was just learning about.  He gets a lot of of credit to making me who I've become today.  Anyway, I asked him and he said "those are the best".  I was like "huh...really?  Better than Freddy? Jason?  Nah, no way." 

So, I found the first one to rent at a grocery store of all places.  Like with all my rentals, I waited that night for everyone in my house to go to bed and i went to the basement and watched it in the darkest of dark.  All the lights off, the blinds closed...the only sign of life being the illumination coming from our wood paneled television.  Okay, Halloween, show me what you've got.
There were no trailers on this VHS tape.  Just the FBI warning and straight to the movie.  It helped keep me in this zone and focused solely on Halloween.   From the moment the first few notes of the theme played and the pumpkin lighting up, I was A) starting to get chills and B) GLUED.  I don't know what it was, but that damn theme music managed to get under my skin and haunt me like no other.  Crazy enough, I'd never heard it before either.  This movie had me on edge and not a damn thing had happened yet.  They were just telling me who was responsible for the next 90 minutes.
At this point you may ask how this movie was able to strike a chord with me at this point considering all I had seen before.  While I had seen all the Friday and Elm St movies before, I had never seen anything like this.  The film was really in a league of its own.  I didn't see those movies as "all the same" back then.  They were all distinct to me, and their own thing.  Not just a different flavor, a completely different world.  The movies and themes were nothing alike.  These guys were all just different monsters.  They were my generation's Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, etc.  Everyone ate those guys up back then, and still to this day don't question how relatively similar in concept they can be.  I'm not disagreeing, but those films are held to the highest of standards in horror, but these modern interpretations of a monster movie was considered vastly inferior.  I was at a young enough age, that I wasn't able to see outside the box.  And in the era I grew up in, these were how you did horror movies.  It was the popular convention at the time.  It wasn't really in too much of question.
There was also a masterstroke given with this movie that wasn't in the others.  Carpenter and Cundey really shot this thing in a creepy, Hitchcock fashion.  It also dabbled in suspense.  It made me wait and wait.  Was something going to happen.  WHEN was something going to happen.  There also weren't a lot of fake "boo" scares or majestic cats that jumped out of things either.  On the whole, this film played very real.  I was young enough to remember when things looked similar to the way they did in Halloween.  I also fell somewhere between the age of Laurie Strode and Tommy Doyle, so I could kind of feel for both.  I lived in the midwest, and while this movie was shot in Pasadena, I would never have guessed it.  It reminded me a lot of my hometown.  Where I was, watching this movie.
Halloween was coming after and coming to get ME!  In other horror films, I'd have to go to camp, the woods, sleep or have some supernatural occurrence take place for me to be in danger.  This guy, this Michael Myers, was coming straight to my house.  Jason was taking revenge for his mother's death.  Freddy was taking revenge on kids for his own demise.  But, Michael Myers?  What the heck was he up to?  The entire lack of motivation for him might have been one of the creepiest factors of them all.  We don't even know why he murdered his sister in the beginning.  There was this guy, Dr. Loomis, he knew Michael best and all he could do was tell us how bad he was, but this guy didn't know why he did what he did either.

The characters we follow in Halloween, all felt quite genuine.  Like people I'd knew or seen or could relate with.  They were well developed for me then and I still feel they are now.  I couldn't instantly sense "dead meat" on them.  I didn't want to see harm done to them.  And with each offing came a shock.  The film's kills are pretty much bloodless, but they have impact all the same.  Michael is even such a disturbed guy, he kills a dog.  Part of his creepiness comes with his stalking.  There were hints of stuff like this in Jason's films, but it was never done to this effect.  The more you watch this film, you notice him in different spots you may not have before.  And its creepy, he's right he gonna do something?  Ope, nope...just preparing.  And the blank, lifeless, pale mask is one of the creepiest images in history (yes, I'm aware its a Shatner mask).
The final chase sequence between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers was the most pulse pounding, heart racing intense thing I had ever seen at that point in my life.  It was an incredible adrenaline rush.  This right here is one of the big reasons why this is my favorite film of all time.  Starting from Doctor Loomis noticing the Smith's Grove car across the street (ALL THIS TIME!! haha), begins an incredibly iconic event in horror history.  Its perfectly scored and executed (even with the door knob flub).  For some reason, it felt like if Laurie wasn't getting away, neither was I.  This movie had become a very personal viewing experience.  I was young and dumb too, as I fell for it every time she left him for dead.  I figured Doctor Loomis would be there any moment now.
Then there came a moment.  After Laurie stabs Michael from the closet and let Tommy and Lindsey run for it, she sits, collecting herself with the body of Michael, supposedly dead in the background.  And then, out of focus in the background he rises.  And with the turn of the head, he cues the chase music.  Laurie has no idea, but he is slowly waddling toward her just feet behind.  It's where the complete essence and consummation of the bogey man fully come together.  It would become my favorite shot in cinema history.  Its engrained in my brain.  I absolutely adore that moment.  And its always been my favorite part to watch people's reactions for when showing it to them for the first time.
Then what follows.  Loomis shoots Michael "six times!" off the balcony of the Doyle house.  All is well right?  No, when Loomis peers over to check out Michael's body, he's gone.  No trace.  But as we go back over some of the locales in the movie, his breathing resumes.  He's still out there.  And he may be coming for you next.  As I set up before, I'm in the basement of my house.  In the pitch black dark.  The man who's terrorization of Laurie Strode and her friends just scared the shit out of me is STILL out there.  It was never darker in my parents' house than that night.  And I had to make my way all the way from the basement to back corner of the 2nd floor to my bedroom.  It was late, the neighborhood was dead.  I couldn't go to sleep as I needed to keep checking out the windows to see if Michael Myers was outside.  Illinois was the next state over from he wasn't far.  Every creek and crack that night jostled me.  The movie had done it.  It had absolutely frightened me.
I miss that feeling of getting scared like that.  It rarely comes to me any more.  Whether its because I'm 31 now or I've desensitized myself to most of horror, i don't know.  The film was actually able to maintain its intensity for me on multiple viewings too for a while.  I loved it.  I couldn't get enough.  The feeling and sensation I had from Halloween was unmatched.  I was hooked.  Perhaps if you've never seen it before, I've overrated the film.  I was likely at the perfect age for this to take its full effect on me.  However, I argue, that if you wait til its late, and turn out all the lights, turn the volume up and watch the film by your can still be highly effective.
Watching it was only half of why this film would have me proclaiming it as my favorite movie.

To be continued...

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