::Literate Blather::
Monday, September 08, 2008
30 Years Later: Halloween Revisted

Observations and Rants While Watching the Horror Movie That Changed the Genre

I saw the original “Halloween” for the first time when I was in eighth grade. To say it scared the shit out of me is to reduce the term “scared the shit out of me” to meaninglessness. The movie gave me nightmares – for weeks. Hell, it changed my perceptions on fear. I still think about butcher-knife welding madmen every damn time I hear a strange noise in the night.

Can it be argued that the United States’ obsession with serial killers started with this low-budget slasher flick (that cost about $300,000 to make)? Can it be argued that Michael Myers – the demented seemingly supernatural killer – is the grandfather of Hannibal the Cannibal, Jason Voorhees, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Freddy, and all the rest of our gloriously worshiped Hollywood mass murderers?

Yes, it can be. So on the year that “Halloween” turns 30 I decided to rent the 25th anniversary edition and watched it – alone – to take only my second look at the horror movie that changed everything.

Here’s my real-time running commentary on the film (the parenthetical comments were all added later):

  • John Carpenter’s piano score is one of the creepiest themes to a horror movie. The opening sequence shows a jack o’lantern with a bemused expression -- a candle glowing within it's plump interior. The music pounds away and I can feel a lump growing in my throat – this is truly a moment of hesitancy and I’m thinking: “Why the hell am I doing this?” The music grows and the camera gets closer and closer to the pumpkin and the bemused expression starts to subtly change – into a very demented face and then it all goes dark and I know I’m friggin' in for it.
  • The first person point of view is brilliant. The sister is making out with her boyfriend – so you know that her number is up. Where did the idea that sex will get you killed in a horror movie come from anyway? Oh, yeah -- "Halloween.” It was John Carpenter that introduced for modern audiences the concept of “immoral” teenagers literally getting the knife. One of the criticisms of the film is that sexual active characters are the first die. Carpenter dismisses this as nonsense – but there it is.
  • The boyfriend bounds down the stairs after like two minutes. Talk about a quicksilver in the sack! No wonder he’s ambivalent when she yells down the stairs for him to call her in the morning. I’d be embarrassed at that performance as well.
  • The first time you see the movie – you think the first-person is some adult killer. He puts on the mask and just starts hacking up his sister. It’s a terrible, shocking scene. When he runs down the stairs and the car pulls up with his parents inside. Wow. There’s this little kid in a clown suit and the knife is so big in his hand it looks like a sword. Blows you away. Even now when I know its coming. Is there a better opening for a horror flick?
  • Donald Pleasence is an ugly bastard. Why do I immediately start thinking about Nazis when I see him?
  • Pleasence is driving with a nurse who is dressed like Florence Nightingale. She’s actually wearing a black-and-red cape. I'm not kidding.
  • Uh oh, here comes the music!
  • There are mental patients wandering the lawn – at night, in the rain! Donald don’t leave the goddamn car!
  • Michael has escaped and Donald shouts: “The evil is gone! The evil is gone from this place!” Jesus, what a jackass.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis makes her appearance at 11 minutes in. She’s a high school girl in nearby Haddonfield – where Michael Myers grew up. Hmm. He escaped from the mental institute. Wonder where the plucky bastard is heading?
  • Jamie Lee is hot.
  • Holy crap! Michael is in the goddamn house! Oh, man, he’s following her and you can hear him breathing.
  • Classroom scene. Look at all those terrible 70s haircuts. Nice bangs.
  • Whoa, Michael is outside the school watching Jamie. Damn this movie is scary (It’s no wonder Entertainment Weekly named it the 5th scariest of all time).
  • Donald finds a truck that Michael stole and runs off. The camera pans back and there’s a dead body in the bushes. For those counting – Michael has already murdered two people: his sister and this unknown pick-up truck driver. Donald, by the way, was wearing a suit with a vest. Quite sharp.
  • Jamie is walking with her two girlfriends – and the girlfriends share a smoke. They’re dead (the girlfriends are P.J. Soles and Nancy Kyes. Soles is probably best known as the sexy MP who romanced Bill Murray in “Stripes.” Kyes appeared in “Halloween II” and “The Fog” and then pretty much disappeared).
  • Carpenter just doesn’t let up. One of the incredible things about the film is how he makes the scenes so tense and creepy – even when they are taking place in broad daylight. Michael drives slowly by the Jamie and the girlfriends and one of them yells out at him. He brakes in the middle of the road. It’s really quite scary – yet it is right after school.
  • By the way, if its autumn in Illinois then why are all the trees green? (Turns out the film was done in California – in the late spring. The crew made fake dead leaves and threw them all over the set. Couldn’t do much about the real trees, however, and apparently there are a few palm trees in the movie).
  • The music really does add an element of eeriness to the entire proceedings.
  • There’s Michael again behind a shrub. This guy is quite persistent.
  • Hmm. Suddenly the streets and sidewalks are soaking wet. When did it rain?
  • Michael’s in the laundry in the backyard!
  • Donald is back – checking out the graveyard of Michael’s sister, Judith. The headstone is gone. Donald says: “He came home.” Captain Obvious!
  • Fabulous. “Don’t Fear (the Reaper)” by Blue Oyster Cult is playing in the car with Jamie and Kyes. Michael, of course, is following them.
  • Whoa. It’s suddenly pitch black. Night falls fast in Illinois.
  • Apparently, Michael ate a dog when hiding out in his old, abandoned house. Donald and the Sheriff are checking out the house. Donald tells the Sheriff “This is no man.”
  • Oh, man. A rock gets thrown through the window. I may have a skid mark on my boxers.
  • Donald is talking about dark eyes and devil eyes. He thinks Michael is evil and he spent six years trying to reach him and another six trying to keep him locked up.
  • Look at the size of those telephones!
  • Kyes is in deep, deep trouble. She just took off her shirt and pants in the kitchen and Michael is watching her. Call me nuts, but I don’t think he likes naked women much.
  • Michael kills another dog. Death count: 2 dogs, 2 humans.
  • Jamie and the boy she babysits are watching “The Thing,” which John Carpenter would end up remaking (in 1982).
  • The people Kyes are babysitting have no washer and dryer in the house. It’s in a dark shed in the backyard. Very unfortunate for her. Oh, man, here it comes!
  • She made it.
  • Michael is like a jack-in-the-box.
  • Kyes is alone again – after dropping off her ward with Jamie. The way she’s parading around it’s only a matter of when. She in her car and she leans forward to wipe condensation off the windows (really nice touch) and then Michael pops out of the backseat and kills her.
  • Body count: 3 dead people.
  • P.J. Soles just showed up with her boyfriend – and they’re drinking beer. They’re heading into the house where Kyes was babysitting and now it’s completely dark. Now they are making out. Won’t these kids ever learn?
  • Now they’re upstairs in bed and Michael’s shadow passes across them.
  • Soles has an annoying giggle.
  • Michael just pinned the boyfriend to the wall with the butcher knife. He standing back to admire his handiwork. Brutal.
  • In one of the more twisted scenes, Michael puts a sheet over his head and put glasses on it. He goes to see Soles. She calls Jamie, who – swear to God – is knitting. Michael then proceeds to choke Soles to death with the phone chord.
  • Body count: 5 dead people
  • Donald sees the car Michael stole down the street. You think he would have, you know, turned around earlier.
  • Jamie has walked across the street – into the house of death.
  • She creeps up the stairs and there is Kyes lying on the bed with her throat slashed and Judith Myers gravestone behind her. She whimpers, bangs into the closet door, and the boyfriend swings out (putting another skid in my poor boxers). Jamie screams. Run, Jamie, run!
  • And then another door squeaks open and there’s Soles. Another scream. Jamie really can scream.
  • Then Michael is behind her and stabs – and actually misses. The bastard rips her shirt and she falls down the stairs. But how did he miss?
  • She runs across the lawn screaming help. But the neighbors don’t do anything. Sounds more like California than Illinois.
  • Here comes Michael. She’s banging on the door trying to get in and he walks across the street. It’s a tense scene. But the little boy finally does let her in. Unfortunately, he’s already in the house.
  • Michael pops up from behind the couch – and misses again. It’s a bloody easy shot! The dude is 0 for 2. So Jamie sticks a knitting needle in his neck.
  • Donald is wandering the streets aimlessly.
  • Jamie goes to get the children – but she should have called 911 first. Here comes Michael again. Jamie locks herself in the closet and the rattling starts. This is the famous scene with the light bulb swinging and then she stabs him in the eye with a coat hanger and then with his own knife. Jesus.
  • Michael is up again. He grabs Jamie and starts to choke her. Donald runs in and shoots the living blazes out of him. Hits him like six times and he falls out of the second floor onto the ground. Jamie says: “Was that the Boogie Man?” Donald says: “As a matter of fact, it was.”
  • When he looks down. Michael is gone. The music starts and Donald looks really, really scared.
  • The movie ends with Jamie whimpering. Then the breathing from every where.
  • Damn that’s a scary movie.

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Blogger James said...
It was damn scary but a damn funny review as well. Jamie Lee was hot. In fact up through "True Lies" I thought she had Madonna like age defying powers. They seem to have receded unfortunately.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Yes, she was gorgeous and then -- WHAM! -- it ended. But she's still a pretty good actress -- and nobody could scream better.

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