Thursday, October 29, 2015

'Halloween' 1978, still the best Halloween horror film

By Steve D. Stones

John Carpenter’s classic 1978 film – Halloween is the standard by which every schlocky slasher film that followed aspired to be but failed miserably. It manages to scare the pants right off you without showing one drop of blood. Author Stephen King once said that the best killers in horror are the ones who give us no explanation for their killing. Michael Meyers fits this description well. He is a killing machine who will stop at nothing to kill. The viewer is never given any specific reason for Meyers’ desire to kill, making him all the more effective and Halloween all the more scary.

Lori Strode, played by 19 year old Jamie Lee Curtis, is more interested in hitting the books after school than hitting on boys. Her friends tease her about studying too much and not chasing boys. Her friend Annie, played by Nancy Loomis, tries to set Lori up with a boy at school she has a crush on. Both girls are babysitting on Halloween night when a psychotic killer, Michael Meyers, escapes from an Illinois State mental institution and comes to their town. Meyers stabbed to death his teenage sister some fifteen years earlier in 1963. He returns to the scene of the crime in Haddonfield, Illinois on the night of Halloween 1978.

Carpenter successfully creates impending fear in the viewer by never fully showing Meyer’s face. He relies greatly on shots that show Meyer’s shoulder in the frame of a shot, or by showing his silhouette in dark, shadowy environments.  Other shots show Meyers stepping briefly into the shot, only to be quickly consumed by shadows in the background. This is effective and creepy film-making, worthy of techniques used in the silent German-Expressionist masterpiece – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

I respect the Rob Zombie 2007 remake-homage to Halloween, but it is not nearly the classic of Carpenter’s 1978 film. Zombie spends too much screen time giving us a back story of how Meyers evolved into a killer and his obsession with creating masks in his mental institution cell. Like many children in 1983 who saw Return of The Jedi, I was greatly disappointed to see the man behind Darth Vader’s mask at the end when Luke Skywalker reveals his identity. I feel the same with Michael Meyers. Meyers is much more evil and mysterious when the viewer is not aware of his past and what he looks like behind the mask. I really don’t care why he kills, or what motivates him to kill. The fear a viewer experiences in Halloween is better felt by not knowing his identity.

One ridiculous criticism that Halloween received when it premiered in 1978 is that Carpenter was trying to make a moral statement about pre-marital sex and teenagers, since some of the victims killed by Meyers are teenagers having sex on Halloween night. Lori Strode, the smart girl who avoids boys and refuses to engage in sex, is the person who survives Meyers’ attacks. Carpenter’s town of Haddonfield, Illinois is not a town like Andy of Mayberry. This critique is complete nonsense. Carpenter actually adds a great sense of realism to his film by showing teenagers being sexually active. Is it safe to say that many teenagers do get together on Halloween night and engage in sexual
activity? I think it is safe to say that they do, therefore Carpenter shows us a side of Middle America teens that is accurate.

Carpenter was smart not to get involved in any of the sequels to Halloween, at least in terms of directing them. Halloween II picks up where the first Halloween film ends, but it is a disappointing effort mostly because it takes place in a dimly lit hospital. Halloween III blacklists the Meyers character and instead concerns a plot to kill children with rigged Halloween masks.

This Halloween Season, enjoy a great classic by viewing John Carpenter’s 1978 classic – Halloween. You might get your pants scared off you, but you won’t be disappointed. Happy Viewing!!

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