Thursday, September 13, 2012

Halloween (1978)

         On Halloween night in 1963, Judith Myers was stabbed to death by her six year old brother Michael who was dressed as a clown.  Fifteen years later on October 30th, 1978, Michael's psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis along with his nurse Marion Chambers are heading to Smith's Grove Sanitarium to pick up Michael to transfer him to a maximum security prison. When they get to Smith's Grove, all of the inmates have been released and are walking around outside. Loomis goes to open the gates, leaving Marion in the van. Michael climbs on top of the van and pulls Marion out before getting in the driver's seat and driving away.  The next day (Halloween), teenager Laurie Strode drops off a key for her father at the old Myers house as Michael closely watches her. From that point on, Michael stalks Laurie and her best friends Annie and Lynda. That night, Laurie is babysitting Tommy Doyle and Annie is babysitting Lindsey Wallace right across the street.  Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis gets in touch with Annie's father Sheriff Brackett and the two are on the lookout for Michael Myers.  What starts as creepy stalking soon escalates to murder and one of the most famous and terrifying final fifteen minutes in horror cinema history!

          When I was a kid, I was absolutely terrified by scary movies and couldn't watch them all the way through. I remember getting nightmares and sitting there on the couch with the lights off, covering my eyes.  Hell, I couldn't even make it all the way through the intro to "Tales From The Crypt" and would run out of the room every time that show came on. What? The Cryptkeeper's laugh scared me when he popped out of the coffin in that creepy mansion! The only things remotely horror related that I could watch without getting too frightened was the Nickelodeon television show for teens on Saturday nights called "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" and the Fox show "Goosebumps" that was based off the hit horror book series for kids in the '90s. Yep, I was a '90s kid all the way dude!  Anyway, when I was like eight or nine years old, my Dad brought home a movie titled "Halloween".  I have always been and still am a huge Halloween celebrator. Whoever said that you could only enjoy Halloween when you're a child is full of shit!  So, the title of this film right there caught my interest. And then there was the box cover with this dude with a sweet looking blank white mask.  Ninety minutes later, I was a horror fan for life. Something in Halloween changed me. Maybe it was the use of the holiday. Maybe it was the music. Maybe it was the great story and characters. Maybe it was the interesting villain. Or maybe it was just that Halloween was a great film period.

         Let me first begin with the background history of the film.  The best place to start would be where the horror genre shifted from  the supernatural and the Universal monsters era to the psychotic murderer/slasher era. In 1960, the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, scared the Hell out of movie goers with the horror classic "Psycho".   It took horror out of the supernatural realm and placed it into Human issues.  Monsters went from being creatures and became people who had gone mad.  The '70s brought on the demon/Satan era of horror beginning with "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist".    During the '70s, the new realm of terror that Psycho introduced also expanded.  Very graphic films such as "The Last House On The Left", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", and "The Hills Have Eyes" came along that put Human Beings as the villains.  In 1974, Bob Clark released the very creepy "Black Christmas" that told the story of a group of sorority sisters who are harassed and murdered by a mysterious killer who's hiding in the attic of their house as they are snowed in during Christmas break.

        In the late '70s, a young filmmaker named John Carpenter had made two feature films, "Dark Star" and "Assault On Precinct 13".  Carpenter did Assault On Precinct 13 with an independent distributor named Irwin Yablans.  Yablans wanted to get some independent films made and the only way he knew to do that was to get them made himself. Irwin Yablans wanted to make a horror film and came up with a simple story as his premise.  The film was about a group of babysitters who are stalked by a killer. Yablans then asked Carpenter if he would be interested in directing it and Carpenter agreed as long as he got his name above the title and got full creative control on the project.  The budget was $300,000, which Yablans was able to get from the film's investor Moustapha Akkad.  Carpenter hired his girlfriend at the time, Debra Hill, to co-write the screenplay with him and produce what at the time was called "The Babysitter Murders". Yablans realized that he wanted the film to take place on one night and Halloween just popped in his head. After doing research, Yablans discovered that the title "Halloween" at the time had never been used as  part of a title in the history of the film business. Yablans quickly called up John Carpenter and told him that the film had to take place on Halloween night and be titled "Halloween".

         In around three weeks, Carpenter handed in the script and Halloween was on its way.   Carpenter hired a lot of people that he knew from college such as Tommy Lee Wallace to be his production designer and hired his good friend Nick Castle to portray one of horror history's most terrifying villains, Michael Myers, who he named after a guy who put his last film, Assault On Precinct 13, in the London Film Festival where it became a hit since it bombed in the U.S. at the time.  The film was set in Haddonfield, named after Debra Hill's hometown.    To the cast and crew of Halloween, this was just any other film project and nobody knew just how big this low budget independent horror film was going to become.  When it first opened, Halloween didn't do well at the box office. It was treated like an underground film and wasn't reviewed really well.  Soon, a miracle happened and the numbers got bigger and bigger. It turned out that word of mouth got around to how scary Halloween was.  Halloween then became a surprising smash hit that not only shocked the Hell out of Yablans, but surprised Halloween's cast and crew as well as Carpenter himself.

            I think the thing that works about Halloween's story is how simple it really is.  It's also dealing with things that everybody can relate to and located in an area that looks familiar to us. If you're not even safe in your own neighborhood or in your own house then where are you safe? Here's a movie with barely any special FX and concentrates solely on story, atmosphere, music, and characters. You know, what a great/good horror movie should do.   I just love that opening scene used with young Michael's POV. It makes the audience think that some maniac snuck in the house, then makes you think that the girl's brother is the maniac and a grown man/teenager possibly, but then you discover that he was just a six year old kid when the father pulls the clown mask off. That was a shocker when I first watched this movie back in like 1995.  I also love how there's a crane shot that pulls up after the reveal of the kid holding the bloody butcher knife and we see that it happened in a neighborhood that looks like any other neighborhood. The escape from Smith's Grove was both effective and creepy. I especially loved it when his hand slides down and cracks the window when he barely tapped it. Just goes to show us how evil this man truly is.   Carpenter is one of the few directors that I know who can make day scenes look just as creepy as the night scenes.  I'm not sure if it was the addition of his music, but that day scene when Laurie is walking is shot effectively creepy.   The shots where the Shape is in the background of scenes is what kept me interested to see what was going to happen. That sequence where he's outside Laurie's window or standing behind the bush is pretty creepy.  There's so many very creepy moments in this film. I love it! It's not really what you see that scares you, but what's lurking in the dark. The screenplay written by both John Carpenter and Debra Hill is fantastic.  Debra Hill wrote a lot of the scenes with Laurie and her two friends Annie and Lynda since she used to be a babysitter when she was a teenager, while Carpenter wrote all the scary stuff and all the Loomis stuff.

         Another thing that Halloween has over many other slasher films is character development.  Laurie was the most developed. She was the kinda girl who was all about school work and doing the right thing. Her friend Annie was all about her boyfriend Paul and wanting to spend "alone" time with him instead of having to babysit Lindsey Wallace.  And then Lynda was the sexually active blonde bimbo of the group that said "totally" about a bazillion times. Plus, she was a hottie and was the comic relief. I can understand why teens today can't relate to them like a lot of us old school horror fans can. They are more '70s era teenagers. Today, they would be more foul mouthed, spicy, and sexually active. You know, like they became in Rob Zombie's 2007 remake.   Dr. Loomis was actually my favorite character in the film personally. I just loved this man's monologues about evil and about Michael Myers. Here's the best Loomis line ever!

      " I met this six year old child with this pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes. The Devil's eyes. I spent six years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I knew that what was behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply, EVIL."

         Plus, I love how Carpenter borrowed two character names from Psycho such as Marion and Sam Loomis.  It shows how inspired by Hitchcock that Carpenter really was.   The kids Tommy and Lindsey were pretty likeable. I felt sorry for poor Tommy when those bullies at school caused him to drop his pumpkin. I just love how scared that one bully got when he bumped into Michael in the school yard.

         The cinematography by Dean Cundey is amazing. I love the blue color tint for the night time exterior scenes. It gives the film a very creepy atmosphere.  Definitely great visuals and I also love how the visuals tell the story. Hands down, the best shot EVER is that part when Laurie is up against the wall crying after finding her friends dead and we slowly see behind her a pale white face slowly brighten up in a pitch black room. In fact, that shot helped inspire my shocking surprise bedroom sequence in my short film "Midnight Silence".  Just a fantastic shot. I also love how that chase from the Wallace house to the Doyle house was done, showing Michael as a shadowy figure walking slowly. Definitely a heart pounder!  I also love the ending.  It just gives me goosebumps every time I watch it.

         I was definitely digging the production design by Tommy Lee Wallace.  The back story behind the Michael Myers mask is hilarious. It actually started out as a Star Trek William Shatner mask that Tommy Lee Wallace found in a mask store along with the clown outfit (used for young Michael at the beginning). Basically, Wallace tore off the eye brows and sideburns, spray painted the mask whiter, messed up the hair a bit, and made the eye holes wider. Tada, we have Michael Myers, the Boogeyman of the horror genre!  It was also cool that they used the same Fall leaves over and over with a fan to blow them since it was actually Spring when they filmed Halloween.

           I have to mention the music, which John Carpenter wrote and composed himself. It is quite honestly some of the most chilling horror movie music that I've ever heard alongside Psycho's theme song and the music for "The Omen". Let's put it this way, it is so iconic that Nightmare Mansion at Virginia Beach plays it at the front door. I get chills every time I hear  any of the Halloween soundtrack. Just marvelous!

            The acting is absolutely great! Jamie Lee Curtis was excellent as Laurie Strode. It's funny that the only reason that she was cast was that her mother, Janet Leigh, played in Psycho. And yet she turned over a very iconic performance that began her career. Curtis would go on to play in other horror titles such as "The Fog", "Prom Night", "Terror Train", and return to the Halloween legacy in the 1981 sequel "Halloween II".   Veteran British actor Donald Pleasence is and will always be Dr. Sam Loomis to me.  He would return in four of the later sequels.  Charles Cyphers was really good as Sheriff Brackett.  Nancy Kyes was excellent as Annie. She played the bad girl role really well. P.J. Soles was really funny and sexy as Lynda.  She also had nice boobs. Soles has returned to the horror genre in many independent films and had a brief cameo in Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects by being hit by Captain Spaulding who needed a ride. Plus, she was a bad girl in "Carrie".   Brian Andrews and Kyle Richards were decent as the kids Tommy and Lindsey. Nancy Stephens was good as Marion Chambers , who would return in both Halloween II and Halloween H20. And future director Nick Castle was menacing and creepy as The Shape. Who knew that the director of "Major Payne" and "Dennis The Menace" played one of the largest horror icons back in 1978? Tony Moran looked creepy as the brief unmasked adult Michael Myers at the end of the movie. I do think that it's kinda unfair that he got all of the credit when all he did was take off the mask and fall off the balcony.

           Meanwhile, Castle did a great portion of the film as adult Michael Myers like the stalking and stabbing that dude against the wall before doing the infamous head tilt that still creeps me out to this day.  When it came time to quickly grab a glimpse of Michael's real face at the end, Carpenter wanted a more evil look and hired Tony Moran to be the adult Michael Myers, while giving credit to Castle for playing The Shape. Don't get me wrong though, I thought both Moran and Castle did a great job bringing Michael Myers to life. I just thought that both guys should have gotten equal credit is all. The same situation happened in Friday The 13th Part 2 where Warrington Gillette who portrayed the brief unmasked Jason got credit for the whole thing, while stuntman Steve Nash was barely mentioned when he did 98% of the film just about as Jason with the burlap sack mask on. The only way I knew was from watching the Halloween documentary on the DVD called "Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest". I just thought that I would point out that two guys played adult Michael Myers and not just Moran.  Oh well, Moran did look pretty creepy under that mask.  At least he didn't look like a drunken Santa Claus like Tyler Mane looked like in Rob Zombie's H2 (2009).  Bottom line, great performances from everybody involved.

        The direction by John Carpenter was just amazing.  Enough said.  Carpenter is one of my top favorite directors and I just love everything this man does, even the films that some folks seem to look down on. The man is a myth, a legend, and a hero to aspiring horror/action/thriller filmmakers everywhere!

            Overall, John Carpenter's Halloween is the ultimate horror movie classic. It is a horror film that does everything right and set the bar for true terror. I'm surprised that none of these knock offs have tried to go back to basic storytelling instead of over the top kills.  Halloween is a film that has lived on through three decades and continues to find more fans. I am, have been, and will always be a fan of the original. No matter how many sequels or remakes come out, there is only one John Carpenter's Halloween!


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