Thursday, October 11, 2012

Halloween (1978)

 Premiered October 25, 1978.

"Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it."
-Dr. Sam Loomis to Sheriff Brackett

Halloween Night, 1963:
In Haddonfield, IL,  6 year-old Michael Myers brutally murdered his sister Judith with a butcher knife. Michael's parents arrive and see him leaving the house with the murder weapon.

Michael Myers' parents arrive home just after the 1st murder.

October 30,1978:  Michael has spent every day of his life incarcerated at Smith's Grove Sanitarium since he murdered his sister.  His psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is picking him up to attend a hearing.  He mentions that Michael has been catatonic since he killed Judith, and hasn't spoken since that night.  Loomis believes Michael is "purely and simply evil" and incapable of being rehabilitated.  Michael steals Loomis' car and escapes.  Loomis is convinced Myers will return to his hometown.

The next day, Halloween, in Haddonfield, brainy high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)  is getting ready for school.  Her father Morgan, a real estate agent, asks her to drop off keys at the Myers House, which is up for sale.  She runs into a neighborhood boy named Tommy (Brian Andrews), who believes the Myers place is haunted.  Laurie drops the key off under the mat, never noticing that someone is inside the house.  Laurie is scheduled to babysit Tommy that night, they make plans carve Jack O'Lanterns & watch horror movies. 

The Myers house, abandoned & neglected for 15 years.

Later, at school, Laurie looks out the window and realizes she's being watched by a man wearing a white mask. She spots him a few more times that day.  Her friends Annie Brackett (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda van der Klok (P.J. Soles) mock her & say she's imagining things.  They discuss their respective boyfriends and their plans for Halloween.  Laurie has no plans, which is why she's babysitting Tommy.  Lynda and Annie tease her, because she never seems to have plans.  Laurie doesn't date much, she says "guys think I'm too smart".  

Laurie Strode feels like she's being stalked.

At Tommy's elementary school, kids get out of class and run home in their costumes.  Tommy is taunted by a gang of older kids, they say the Bogeyman will get him.  The kids make Tommy trip & fall, causing him to break the pumpkin he's carrying.  As the boys leave the scene, Michael Myers (perhaps the "real" Bogeyman?) arrives and scares them away.

"He's gonna get you!  The Bogeyman is coming!"

After school, Laurie and Annie are driving around getting high.  They notice Annie's dad, Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) outside a local hardware store.  He tells them a robbery has occurred in the store, some masks, knives and rope have been stolen.  Loomis appears at the scene of the crime and tells the Sheriff that Michael is in town and probably robbed the store.  Sheriff Bracket isn't sure about Loomis' story.

 Michael pops out from behind a hedge & gives Laurie a scare!

Michael continues to stalk Laurie and her friends all over Haddonfield.  Before Halloween Night is over, Michael will go on a murderous rampage and Laurie's life will never be the same.

J.A. Morris says:

The younger version of myself was a connoisseur of slasher movies.  From about age 11 to 15, I watched as many as I could.  I clearly remember the first time Halloween aired on network TV in 1981.  A few friends of mine came over to my house to watch it. I found the NBC opening for the first broadcast of Halloween (isn't the internet great?), check it out here:

I went on to watch many of the sequels and imitators: Halloween II, some of the Friday The 13 movies,etc.  I say this just to prove my slasher/gore fan "bona fides".
But even then, I realized how formulaic they were.  Eventually I found the "plots" of slasher movies to be insulting and moved on.   

Halloween is the blueprint for just about every slasher film that followed.  Michael Myers is a mute, masked psychopath who seems to be invulnerable.  He commits heinous acts of murder in a typical small town or suburb.   

I'll start with what works in Halloween:
-Donald Pleasence is excellent as Dr. Loomis, flirting with but never quite going over the top.  He's obsessed with capturing Michael.  We get the impression that his attempt to "cure" Myers has driven Loomis crazy as well.  
-Jamie Lee Curtis is good, especially when you consider this was her first role.  She earns her title as "Scream Queen" with aplomb here.  It should be noted that she's the only real teenage actress in this movie (the other "teens" are played by actresses pushing 30).
-P.J. Soles (best remembered as Riff Randell in Rock N Roll High School) has a one-dimensional role, but she's memorable as Laurie's friend Lynda, with her incessant use of the word "totally".  
-Nick Castle (better known as a director & screenwriter) also does a good job as Michael Myers (he's credited as playing "The Shape").  It's a thankless role with no dialog, but Castle still makes an impression behind the mask.  Speaking of the mask, it should be noted that Michael's mask is a "Captain Kirk" mask painted white.
-Director John Carpenter has some nice moments where he keeps the audience on edge.  At several times, we think Myers will strike, only to be faked out.  And it's worth noting that Carpenter made the film on a $320,000 shoestring budget. 
-Haddonfield's Sheriff is named after Leigh Brackett, a famed SciFi author & screenwriter.  Brackett passed away about a month before Halloween was filmed. 
-Of course the best thing about this film and the Halloween franchise is the main title music, composed by John Carpenter.  Give it a listen and try getting it out of your head:

Now for what doesn't work:
-For starters, we're told Michael Myers has been catatonic for 15 years. Loomis says he saw no emotions or reactions from him when they met.  So how does Michael know how to drive?  There's a throwaway line from Loomis ("Maybe someone around here gave him lessons!") about this that is never elaborated upon.  If Michael doesn't steal Loomis' car, there's no movie.  I don't care if there were retcons created to explain this, it's a major problem.

- Moreover, Haddonfield is 150 miles from the sanitarium.  How did Myers get to his old home?  Did he secretly invent & make a GPS during "the catatonic years".

-Shortly after Michael's escape,  Loomis says he warned everyone about how dangerous Myers could be.  But we get a scene where Sheriff Brackett blames Loomis for any (future) killings implying Loomis got Myers out of incarceration.  How?  When?  Perhaps something was edited out?  Is Carpenter trying (and failing) to make a statement about law enforcement officials?  Low budget or not, that's a big gaffe.

Sheriff Brackett confronts Loomis outside of the Myers house.

-What is Michael's motivation?  I know, his "motivation" is he's a homicidal maniac.  But why does he target Laurie and her friends?  Do they remind him of his sister?  Are Annie and Lynda targeted because they're always talking about having sex?  But Laurie isn't like them, why does he pursue her?  Are Lynda and Laurie targeted because they're babysitting kids (like his sister Judith was watching him when he offed her) who are around the same age he was when he killed Judith?  I can't defend the existence of the Friday,The 13th franchise, but at least Jason and Pamela Vorhees had an obvious (if twisted) reason for killing Crystal Lake camp counselors.

-Why is Michael Myers invincible?  I won't spoil the movie, but he takes punishment here that would kill any normal person and keeps coming after Laurie.  Loomis describes him as an incarnation of pure evil, but how did killing his sister give him superpowers?

And finally, Halloween may have inspired dozens of imitators, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good film.  Inspiring a bad genre isn't necessarily a good thing.

One last note, Michael Myers' body count includes an unfortunate German Shepard named Lester who attempts to guard his house.  You don't see any of his killing, but I know some folks avoid movies where this sort of thing happens to dogs.

If you're going to watch a slasher film, watch this one.  Its Halloween setting makes it a bit more watchable than the average slasher flick.  But it's still not a very good movie.

My rating:

2 Jack O'Lanterns.


Caffeinated Joe said...

Wow. Have to totally disagree with your "what doesn't work here" points, mainly, his motivation. The point is, there really is NO motivation. Michael just kills because he wants to kill. Leaving all the "Laurie is his sister" stuff aside, since it wasn't in this movie. He just comes back to his home and focuses on her because she walks up to his door that morning. Simple as that. He has no reason, he just does it.

Anyway, to each their own, right? :)

Happy October!

Filmfan said...

He targeted Laurie because she came to the front door of his house. When Tommy left her, she continued to walk down the street by herself and Michael eyed her the entire time. That's why he stalked her. That's his motivation--he saw her and that's it. Her friends were just innocent bystanders,