31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #31 – Halloween (1978)

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Tagline: The Night He Came Home

Director: John Carpenter

Writer(s): John Carpenter & Debra Hill

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Budget: $325,000

Box Office: $70m

Release Date: 25th October, 1978

IMDb Rating: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Donald Pleasance – Dr Sam Loomis

Jamie Lee Curtis – Laurie Strode

Nancy Loomis – Annie Brackett

PJ Soles – Lynda van der Klok

Charles Cyphus – Sheriff Brackett

Kyle Richards – Lindsey Wallace

Brian Andrews – Tommy Doyle

Nick Castle – The Shape

Trailer

Plot According to Google: On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17 year old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30th, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21 year old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims.

Inertia’s Insight: The slasher sub-genre and its films are often derided as being tactless, kill-by-numbers cash cows that only serve to fuel the appetites of blood-thirsty teenagers who cheer for the masked killer as its one-dimensional victims are slaughtered in new and inventive ways. Halloween is debatably the Godfather of the slasher genre: most subsequent slashers tended to follow its trend of a holiday theme, a masked killer, a group of drug-taking alcohol-drinking pre-marital sex indulging teens and the iconic virginal Final Girl. For all its derision, the slasher genre still has some gems, and Halloween is a stone-cold classic.

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Touted as an idea called “The Babysitter Murders”, relative newcomer John Carpenter was tasked with creating a horror film on a small budget. With producer and then-girlfriend Debra Hill, they crafted a genuinely terrifying horror film that features barely any blood and has its first murder 53 minutes into its 90 minute run-time.

High school student Laurie babysits the neighbour’s kids on Halloween night, preparing for an evening with no more excitement than pumpkin carving and a pre-watershed horror film. Her friends Lynda and Annie are preparing to get their rocks off with their boyfriends in what is just another evening in little old Haddonfield. But Michael Myers, the guy that murdered his sister when he was just six years old, has escaped Smith’s Grove and is on his way to Haddonfield to wreak havoc in this sleepy town.

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The opening shot is infamous and will be taught in film school for years to come. Aesthetically Hitchcockian, the opening continuous shot (thought technically not) sees us in the perspective of an unknown assailant, peeping in from outside before entering the property, taking a knife from the kitchen, putting on a mask, ascending the stairs and murdering the beautiful girl. It isn’t until the end of this scene that its revealed that this merciless killer is in fact a six year old boy. It’s a powerful opening, effective by immersing us into the horror but also for establishing the killer as an emotionless, remorseless, soulless individual.

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From here the film, in horror terms, moves slowly as it establishes Laurie, her friends and their environment whilst tracing Michael’s story via the determined Dr. Loomis, the man intent on keeping Michael Myers locked away for the rest of his life because he recognises him as being “purely and simply… evil.” Whilst her friends are out to play, the shy and reserved Laurie, though showing signs of ‘slasher transgressions’ by smoking pot and talking about going to the Homecoming dance with a boy, is prepared for an evening of babysitting and homework. Instead, whilst the sex and drinking goes punished, Laurie fights for her survival against a ruthless and seemingly unstoppable killer.

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Carpenter had said that it wasn’t intentional for him to make Laurie’s virginity a heroic part of her Final Girl prowess; rather, the fact that she is not distracted by boys is the reason she is able to survive. It works to her favour, naturally, but you can’t help but feel that in the age of the rebellious teenager, it’s societies way of reflecting on and punishing their transgressions, isolating the virginal girl as the heroine and survivor.

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Once the killing starts its relentless and doesn’t let up until Loomis’ intervention at the end. The killings are bloodless, Carpenter relying on the effect and impact of Michael’s imposing force and faceless mask to amplify the scares. The scene in which he pins Bob to the wall with the kitchen knife then stands back, his head moving slowly off-tilt to study his victim with curiosity is just plain terrifying.

Michael Myers is actually an extremely calculated killer. He stalks Laurie for the best part of two thirds of the film, and for me its him first ensuring that she is his sister (though we don’t discover this fact in this film) and then planning how best to isolate her; Michael is clever in his pursuit of his victims, hiding before attacking; he wears the bed sheet in an attempt to win trust from Lynda; his positioning of Annie on the bed with the Myers headstone above her is beautifully macabre. This sets Halloween apart from the slew of slashers that ensued.

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The shot of him rising, seemingly from the dead, as Laurie sits panting, thinking that it’s all over is perfect popcorn launching Halloween night fare. There are so many shots in the film that are more frightening than most horror films could offer – the shot of Michael stood outside Laurie’s school, or inbetween the sheets of washing; the shot of Michael walking calmly towards Laurie as she frantically tries to get back into the house; the shot of Michael’s pale mask emerging from the dark after Laurie discovers her friends bodies – all this and more renders Halloween a timeless, classic horror film that, at 38 years old, shows no signs of losing its terrifying impact.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • The infamous mask now has an equally infamous story – its a William Shatner Star Trek mask with the eyes widened then spray painted white.
  • John Carpenter considered the hiring of Jamie Lee Curtis as the ultimate tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, who had given her Mother, Janet Leigh, legendary status in Psycho.
  • The original script, “The Babysitter Murders”, had the events take place over several days. It was a budgetary decision to change the script to have everything happen on the same day.
  • The opening POV sequence took two days to film.
  • Tommy and Lindsey are watching the 1951 version of The Thing, a film that Carpenter would go on to remake in 1982.

Quotes

DR. SAM LOOMIS: I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realised that what was living behind that boys eyes was purely and simply… evil.

SHERIFF BRACKETT: It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.

LAURIE: It was the boogeyman…
DR. SAM LOOMIS: As a matter of fact, it was.

LYNDA: See anything you like?

SHERIFF BRACKETT: Every kid in Haddonfield thinks this place is haunted.
DR. SAM LOOMIS: They may be right.

All images courtesy of Blushots: https://blushots.weebly.com


Until Next Year… Happy Halloween!

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13 Days of Horror: Day 3 – Horror Masterpiece: Halloween

In 1978, a film first billed as The Babysitter Murders travelled across multiplexes one state at a time, building momentum as word spread of this creepy horror film about a masked murderer who had returned to his home town 15 years after killing his sister to finish what he started. Halloween is a unique film as it is a perfect blend of commercial intention and creative gusto; the film was intended to be a quick dollar making exercise for producers Moustapha Akkad and Irwin Yablans, who hired young filmmaker John Carpenter to bring their basic idea to life. Little did they know that with Carpenter and Debra Hill, his then partner, they had hired two artists in touch with the ethos of the teenage mantra of the 1970’s as well as being die hard fans of the horror genre. Since its release, Halloween has become a financially successful franchise spawning no less than seven sequels, one remake with its own sequel as well as countless comic books and merchandise. It has also been considered the first true slasher film that inspired a number of seasonal slashers, and has been analysed by film theorists for its apparent subtext and social commentary.

Halloween

Halloween is a masterpiece. It sets the precedent for the slasher sub-genre as well as the horror genre itself and it does this primarily by being a character focussed film. This concept might surprise some, as theorists argue that the sexually promiscuous characters in the film are the ones that meet their demise, but the focus throughout the film is on Laurie and it is in this character that the film is set apart from the countless other horror films that are produced in order to make a quick buck. Having said that, there is also something intricately appealing about Michael Myers, the antagonist who is the antithesis of your archetypal horror boogeyman. It is also a masterpiece because of its measure between genuine scares versus blood shed. Think about it: if you’ve watched Halloween, think about when you might have seen blood? Not often. It’s only when the body’s are seen posthumously that the blood is seen. Halloween manages to construct scares entirely from suspenseful shots and suggestive imagery as opposed to the shock value of seeing the victims insides on the outside.

The film’s opening shot is one of the most famous in horror history, as a seemingly continuous shot takes us from the outside of the Myers house – peering in with voyeuristic intention – into the house itself where the viewer is soon transformed from spectator to facilitator as a mask is placed over the camera lens and we see this house from a different perspective. A knife is picked from the kitchen drawer and protrudes steadily ahead as we make our way up the stairs and into the room of a sexually promiscuous young girl who is combing her hair. She recognises the perpetrator – is it us? – as he proceeds to stab her to death. The shot then cuts to a young Michael Myers, stood emotionless outside his home as his parents return. The pathological look in young Michael’s eyes tells us all we need to know about this antagonist – he is void of any emotion or remorse and will be relentless in his pursuit. That sublime tracking shot that opens the film – which actually has three cuts in it – establishes the primary focus of this film: a masked killer with no compunction stalks the young and vulnerable.

Young Michael Myers

The unique thing about Halloween is that it takes its time to build up to the chaos that inevitably ensues. In the time it takes for Michael Myers to break out 15 years later and start stalking his victims, Carpenter and Hill have established a repertoire of characters. Laurie Strode, our hero of the film, is introduced as she goes about her day. We see her interact with the local kid she babysits for as well as talking to her eclectic mix of friends she hangs with, sizing up where she fits amongst them. It is clear that Laurie is the clean cut, all American teenage girl: good with her grades, friendly with the neighbourhood kids and reluctant to mix with the boys. Her friends flaunt their sexual promiscuity and frequent drug use but she brushes this off. However, there is a secret yearning for her to feel wanted by a boy as much as her friends are idolised. We see this when, later on in the film, Annie tells Laurie that there’s a guy at school that has a little thing for her and wants to take her to the dance the following night. Finally Laurie has the chance of living a bit of a life, but Myers has other plans…

The devastation caused by Michael Myers lasts one night, on Halloween – the perfect setting. The parents are out and the teenagers are babysitting, taking advantage of their situation by having their boyfriends come over. Kids of all ages wander the streets in a plethora of costumes so no-one blinks twice at a man in a faceless mask and boiler suit wondering the streets with a kitchen knife, nor do they look when someone runs screaming from their house. With no adults aside from Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett tailing bodies behind him, Michael Myers has free reign over Haddonfield to finish what he started 15 years ago: to kill his entire family. What is psychotically brilliant about Halloween is that no-one really offers an explanation as to why he is doing this. Loomis tries to relay the character of Myers through monologues describing his time with him from infancy as “…this six year old child with this blank, pale, expressionless face and the blackest eyes – the devil’s eyes; I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realised that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.” What’s made all the more intriguing about Myers is that we never actually see him; rather, we see the mask he hides behind. Yet, this mask is perhaps more of a significant representation of Myers because it is faceless and soulless, with no remorse or emotion – just as Myers is.

Michael Myers

The brilliance of Michael Myers is that there is an evil haunting the characters that has no real motivation, no definitive purpose, no way in which the events have been purposely orchestrated. The murders he commits are to segregate his sole intended victim but the macabre and remorseless way in which he does this is what makes this film so brilliant. The focus on Myers has inevitably caused controversy due to theorists summarising that as we follow this psychotic antagonist we are almost sympathising with him, but horror needs an antagonist that doesn’t really have a weak spot. Being shot and falling from a second story doesn’t deter Michael as his psychopathy almost renders him inhuman. His almost robotic movements and remorseless way in which he observes his victims belie his psychotic intention.

Though we follow Michael and at the start we are his eyes, the film is definitely moved forward by Laurie, our determined scream queen that holds her own and protects the children from ‘the Boogeyman’. Essays have been written about Laurie as the eponymous ‘Final Girl’, able to fend off the attacker because she is pure of mind and soul. But its Laurie’s fighting instinct and determination to protect the young ones that really drives her instinct to survive. She overcomes insurmountable odds and psychologically devastating events as she sees her entire friendship group killed off by a masked, emotionless killer intent on killing her. It is only with Loomis’ retrospective monologue does she begin to understand the magnitude of what she has been through.

Dr Loomis

Halloween has some incredible set-pieces and scary moments, the most memorable being when Laurie is in focus in a medium close up in the foreground, breathing rapidly but in relief as the nightmare feels like its over. Then in the background, with a calculated ease Michael rises from the floor, turning his head with mechanical precision to stare with his faceless mask at his intended victim. The shot holds as we scream at the scream for Laurie to run. It’s the shots that Carpenter crafts that bring the most scares as opposed to blood and guts. The unmoving frames – like the one that sees Michael approach from far to extremely close – are the moments that keep the audience teetering with their pillows in front of their faces. It is the most important thing when it comes to horror: less is more. When you craft your shots so perfectly that the audience believe they have seen something that was never shown, that’s when you’re winning at horror.

Iconic Scene

Released 36 years ago, Halloween has continuously topped the polls for scariest films and scariest villain because it has stood the test of time through ingenuity – it focussed on its characters by making them three dimensional as opposed to kill-by-numbers pop-ups. It is a masterpiece because it set the benchmark for the slasher sub-genre and the modern horror genre itself, and despite the franchise destroying the innovative concept of a soulless indestructible monster, the original film still chills today. The remake, though it shouldn’t be considered as canon, does well to explain the reason behind the mask and the motivations of Michael. However, when we look at the original, there is nothing more scary than knowing that the motivation of this killer is as blank as his face.

Remake

TOMORROW: Horror Masterpiece: A Nightmare On Elm Street