(1978, John Carpenter)
“Everyone’s entitled to one good scare”
Time flies. Welcome, ladies and gents, to the second movie reviewed specifically for Halloween. A whole year ago, I presented my review of film #13 (appropriate number), the Japanese cult classic Ring. Now, I’m going a little more obvious. Need to review a movie for Halloween? Why not review…A Nightmare Before Christmas! No, not really. Of course, it’s Halloween, the movie that was to become the template for precisely four and a half billion slasher movies.
The plot is simple. Fifteen years ago, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his sister on Halloween night and was immediately dumped into an asylum for everyone’s safety. But now he’s back, escaped from the asylum and ready to kill again. Probably out to kill everyone who gave The Love Guru poor reviews. Oh wait, sorry, wrong Michael Myers.
Halloween is your typical teen slasher flick, only with a seventies vibe and its clichés weren’t actually clichés at the time they were made. The only major difference between this and Scream is that Scream played the clichés in a very ironic, post-modern way, while Halloween invented said clichés. Oh, and Halloween was watched in Scream. There’s that too.
But what seriously differs Halloween from all its imitators over the decades is that it does manage to be surprising. There also seems to be a strong effort to make the movie genuinely dramatic instead of just ninety minutes of teenagers getting stabbed. For a start, aside from the sister’s murder in the opening scenes, no one dies until the last half hour. The threat of Michael Myers is implied. Instead of murdering a bunch of people outright, we see him stalking around and being spooky. We don’t know what makes him so scary, aside from the sister murder and Donald Pleasance’s ominous talk of him being a monster. A monster is a little strong, admittedly. The Shrek movies got old fast but that’s no reason to call him names.
And then there’s Donald Pleasance. As one of the psychiatrists from the asylum, he knows what Michael Myers is capable of and is determined to stop him. He spends much of the movie trying to track Myers down, most likely because he didn’t like how Myers made fun of his James Bond character in the Austin Powers movies. But still, these scenes with Pleasance add tension and a new dynamic to the movies that’s often lost in many of its imitators. His character is not in the background like the authorities of later slasher movies, and provides a driving narrative force that goes further than the teens being stalked.
However, Halloween is marred by many things that don’t elevate it much higher than other slasher flicks. Michael Myers himself is presented as a normal human being, albeit one who murdered his sister in cold blood as a child, but the way he acts suggests some kind of supernatural powers, and that didn’t sit well with me. He seemed to teleport around, and after being shot and knocked out of a window, he still manages to get up and leave in one of the most contrived cliff hanger endings I’ve ever seen.
There are also moments where the movie does get a little silly, such as when Michael Myers appears to one of his victims dressed as a cartoon ghost (ie. he has a sheet over him) which just seemed to shatter the creepiness of the character instantly. Still, it didn’t look as ridiculous as when he was The Cat In The Hat, I suppose.
Another thing that seriously bugged me about the movie was how Jamie Lee Curtis was supposedly playing a teenager and yet not once did she ever look or act like one. Unless teenagers were vastly more mature in the seventies or this is one of the worst examples of getting an adult actor to play a teenager (even though she was only twenty at the time, which confuses me even more).
Then again, the depiction of teenagers was pretty weird in general. Most of them were out babysitting and then deciding to invite boyfriends over to have sex on a stranger’s sofa. They were so predictable and sex-obsessed to be just plain silly. For a movie that invented clichés, that one certainly seemed to be dated even prior to release.
Still, it was better than expected. It’s the original slasher flick, and still manages to pull off much of the genre conventions better than anyone else, largely because it invented most of them in the first place. And you could certainly do well to watch it this Halloween. Avoid the sequels though. I hear they’re terrible.
Starring Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles & Nancy Loomis
Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Produced by Debra Hill
Music score by John Carpenter
Cinematography by Dean Cundey
Edited by Charles Bornstein & Tommy Lee Wallace
Favourite Scene: Donald Pleasance gives a speech about Myers that is genuinely eerie
Scene That Bugged Me: OK, getting shot and pushed off a balcony and surviving is pushing the limits of believability a little here
Watch it if: It’s Halloween. HOLD UP, IT IS! WOO! PARTY TIME! EXCELLENT!
Avoid it if: You believe that because it has Michael Myers, it’s an Austin Powers movie