October 28, 2012

Halloween (1978)

Part 1 of 2 *due to Hurricane Sandy, I am working nonstop and don't have time for parts 3 and 4. Sad face.

What can you write about Halloween that hasn't already been written? My greatest fear, and yes, there is yet another fear to be added to this film besides those of chilling terror and slow, methodical tension, is that people will forget how brilliant this film is. The Paranormal Activities and Saws of the world have their place but they seem to play more on the ability to scare quickly and temporarily as oppose to chilling you to your soul for a lifetime. I saw Halloween for the first time in 1997, when I was 15, and it has effected me to this day and, as I grow older, it only gets more memorable and more frightening.

Yes, the film is dated by time and I've become adjusted to a new kind of horror that films like Wes Craven's New Nightmare and Scream spawned, but it is one of the only films that plays at are comfort level and, despite featuring a creature known simply as The Shape who, in later films would possess supernatural (and admittedly goofy) powers, would make you look around the corner, across the street, out the window, and up the stairwell with the hint of doubt. Is the boogeyman coming?

People forget that Halloween is more of a hunter-prey film then a horror film. There is a 'feel' of the supernatural but the original film keeps things on a human level. For the most part we see Michael Myers, known only as The Shape, stalking a small band of connected teenagers. There really is no mythology and if the sequels never happened, this would be a simple tale of a psychotic killer coming home to finish what he started.

What makes the film so successful is not only its atmosphere, which even in its quiet moments makes you feel like a voyeur looking into the everyday life of a stranger, slowly stalking them and watching their habits and normal routines, but also it's victims.

The idea of teenagers in horror films is nothing new but, for the most part, we see teenagers who live in a parentless society and engage in all the things adults do with reckless abandon: sex, drugs, rock, roll, and all the rest. Halloween has it's share of horny teenagers, there is no doubt, but they are within the confines of a restricted world.

One youngster named Annie has to wrangle around her babysitting duties so she can get her boyfriend to come over. He, in turn, has to get out of being grounded and sneak out. Even then, sex isn't a guarantee, just a possibility. But it is kids with romantic senses of grandeur trying to spend time with each other.

The more promiscuous of the three main characters, Lynda, also has to basically sneak over to someone else's house to get her sex in. And, of course, Laurie Strode, played by newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis, is the more typical teenager: reserved, awkward, and sexually inexperienced. The movie admits: kids do drugs and have sex but they do it with the watchful and scornful eye of parents. And they come from real roots, not a bottomless bank account like in other franchises where kids seem to have all the great cars, the great access to private homes and country estates, and all the latest fashions.

*the parts I am referencing specifically occur from 0:33 until the end of the video

That brings me to my point: we are seeing real kids here and when they become victim to a murderer, it chills us. No one getting murdered, mind you, is a good thing in real life but what haunts you more: a child being murdered or an adult. It's a pick your poison situation but there are virtually no adults in danger in Halloween, only kids, and their innocence, because sex and drugs are not damnable acts, is what makes their slaughter so disturbing.

Many other franchises, including Halloween, would forget this. Even the direct sequel, Halloween II, while keeping Laurie Strode in the mix, forgets that we care about kids just for being kids and that their murders are the most haunting. Halloween II adds a lot of nameless adults, mostly fodder for more exploitative kills, that make us care less when they die.

Halloween's slow crawl can be misconstrued as boring but, in reality, it makes the deaths more bloody, and mostly because of the facts above. For a five minute stretch we see teenagers walking from school and talking as most high schoolers do to each other: without a filter, about boys (or girls), about this jerk, that stud, that loser, etc. etc. It is the mundane reality of life that makes the extraordinary end of said life so disturbing.

There is a truly haunting moment at the end of the film when, after surviving the grudge match, Laurie Strode asks Donald Pleasance's Dr. Loomis if Myers was the boogeyman. He says it was, just in time to see that Myers has gotten up from the six slugs he took and has vanished as if he wasn't there (the films only real hint at the supernatural). At that moment, Laurie breaks down crying. And, pretending the other films didn't happen, we know that that young girl has become a woman for all the wrong reasons: seeing adult things with children's eyes.

As she cries and the music starts we see a change in her that is not for the better: a soul destroyed by violence and fear. We have to remember, Laurie knows NOTHING of what has happened. All she knows is her friends are dead and a man has tried to kill her. She doesn't know about who Myers is, why she was his next victim, and why her friends were killed. She is just a victim . . . and for basically no reason (in the context of this film).

Oddly, amongst all the sequels to this franchise, some of which are good and some of which are atrocious, one of the worst ones focused on the damage a murder (or murders) can do to a child, one even younger then a teen. In Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (or Part 6), the movie's main hero is Tommy Doyle, the little boy Laurie babysits in the first film. Played by Paul Rudd, the kid is awkward and obsessed with the man who changed his life.

Anyway, I could go on but the film speaks for itself. It is one of the most atmospheric and unique films I have ever seen and 15 years after seeing it for the first time, it still scares me and invades my consciousness. I consider it one of the greatest films ever made and if you haven't seen it, you must watch it. Your idea of horror will never be the same.

*Be sure to check out Part 2 crossover series on the Halloween films over on my sister site THE PUV.

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