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Friday, 31 October 2014

Review and Trivia: Halloween (1978)

My all time favorite horror film is John Carpenter's Halloween so as today is Halloween I thought it would be fitting to review the much envied, imitated and loved horror films of all time.

Plot- Fifteen years before the main plot a six year old boy on Halloween grabs a butchers knife and brutally stabs his older sister to death. He is then sent to a mental asylum where he remains for fifteen years when he breaks out before stealing a William Shatner mask painted white and the overalls from a mechanic who he murders and sets off for his old home in Haddonfield, Illinois. The now grown up child, called Michael Myers...
Not that one
Michael Myers then stalks teenager Laurie Strode, (played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her first ever film appearance), with the idea to murder her and her friends. However Myers' psychiatrist from the asylum Dr Loomis, (brilliantly played by Donald Pleasence in one of his greatest roles), has to try and stop him. Although the plot seems extremely cliched and unoriginal there is a reason for this: this movie started the cliche. Halloween is considered the first slasher film, (a film where a killing murders the cast one person at a time), and many subsequent films such as Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street copied its formula. With Halloween though because of this there is some originality about it like the characters don't seem to be as cliched, (which I will come to in a bit), and sometimes a simple premise works. John Carpenter and Debra Hill knew that over-complicating the plot would make it unbelievable but they decided not to. A single killer going around in one night murdering people is not too far-fetched, for example Charles Manson did the same just seven years before Halloween was made. Although I do have a gripe about a plot hole where the creators only covered it up after the film was released. If Myers was incarcerated aged six how did he know how to drive which I would of preferred the answer to actually be in the film.
Donald Pleasence gives an excellent performance in the film
Characters- I'll talk about Michael Myers separately but the rest of the characters are really good. As you can already tell Donald Pleasence's character Sam Loomis is my favorite. Pleasence is a gifted actor no matter what film he is in and despite being paid little for an independent movie which seemed to have little chance of success he gave an excellent performance. He seems to be a realistic character and his fear of Michael Myers is a genuine one that makes the audience as well fearful of the masked murderer. When he gives the speech about his first meeting with Myers where he describes the killer's blank expressionless eyes and his pause just before he calls Myers evil is tense and makes you fearful of the killer. Jamie Lee Curtis also gives a good performance despite it being her first film. Her terror seems genuine and when she's interacting with her friends it seems genuine and her character is likable. You want her to get to safety and the fact that she is caring for two children at the same time makes her character more relate-able. Curtis already has shown that she can be a good actress at this early stage which has progressed throughout her career. The other characters, (that being Curtis' friends), also do seem relatively realistic with their dialogue and actions but it isn't as good as Curtis with at times appearing cheesy and forced. I find the boyfriend character played by John Michael Graham too cheesy and at times overacts but his acting's not too bad at times so it can be excused and he strangely his acting for when his character is impaled on the wall is quite good.
The killer Michael Myers
Michael Myers- Excluding the Evil Dead movies the antagonist is the most memorable character and Michael Myers holds this honor. Until Halloween if you had a singular human antagonist they would talk like in Dracula or The Exorcist but Carpenter and Hill made Myers a silent killer, (remember The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has multiple villains where only Leatherface was silent). His icy demeanor and slow walk puts you on edge where he gives the image of no mercy and that he some something entirely different from other regular people. Describing him as a robot would not be far from the truth with Myers being loosely based on the Gunslinger from Westworld which allows him to look more foreboding and deter any form of relation with the audience. Despite the mask his expressions even some distant with his odd leaning his head to the side after he has killed someone which seems that he cannot comprehend what evil he has done, (incidentally for Terminator 2 the T-1000 does the same thing in obvious homage to Myers).

Setting- Although filmed in California Halloween is set in the typical middle class American suburbia. This makes the film strangely more terrifying with it being in a familiar setting as before most horror films weren't in a relate-able place. The Universal and Hammer films were set in the Victorian era, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was in the Texan prairie away from people, video nasties like Last House on the Left were in houses away from towns as well as Night of the Living Dead being in a farmhouse. Films which could be seen in a normal setting like The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, Black Xmas and The Exorcist were in settings where you wouldn't find a family. Halloween brought it into suburbia and what could be more terrifying than a monster lose where your children live. In many respects it goes back to the B-Movies of the 1950s, which Carpenter loved, so it adds fear thinking that the killer seems to be at your door. Subsequent horror films began to be centered around suburbia such as Nightmare on Elm Street or areas which are associated with families like Summer camps with Friday the 13th.

Cinematography- Despite the low budget the cinematography is superb. The lack of a budget allowed a more guerrilla style of filming which seems more grittier and more scarier for the audience. With the produces unable to afford more cameramen Hill and Carpenter had an increased role in filming so they managed to use the camera to create fear. One such example is the opening where they literally put a mask on the camera and follows Myers through his eyes as he commits his first murder which puts the audience in the killer's view and stops them from shying away. My particularly favorite view though is at the end when Laurie Strode thinks that Myers is dead and the background is blurred. By the blurred background moves as Myers sits up and looks at her. As the camera is still focused on Laurie it makes you scared as it seems that it is in the corner of your eye.
This was actually named one of the scariest scenes in cinema history
There is also little blood. I believe that you only see blood briefly in the first scene. With a low budget they use careful lighting and shadows to let the audience imagine what is happening which is overlooked by many subsequent horror movies. Halloween can be seen as a psychological film: Michael Myers driving you to insanity. Throughout the film if you look carefully you can see him all over the film with only signs first viewing is John Carpenter's chilling score.

Trivia- Halloween is inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Janet Leigh, the infamous victim in the shower scene of the film. Dr Loomis is even named after a character in Psycho. Another fun fact is that Myers is played by four people: six year old Myers is played by Will Sandin, masked Myers by Nick Castle, unmasked Myers by Tony Moran, (Castle looked to friendly to play an unmasked monster), and co-writer Debra Hill was the hands of Myers in the opening because they didn't want a child to hold even a fake knife. Critics have analysed Halloween as criticizing youth immorality with the promiscuous characters or the ones who drink and smoke being killed while Laurie Strode who remains innocent survives but this was unintentional and Carpenter has dismissed it, (makes sense as you wouldn't smoke or drink when babysitting). I could go on forever with trivia but I'll just mention one more. John Carpenter was a massive B-Movie fan and one of his favorite films was The Thing which the kids watch in the film. Carpenter would later go on to make the remake of The Thing a few years later.

Verdict- With Halloween inspiring successive horror films as well as showing inventive cinematography and acting from Pleasence and Curtis but with a plot hole and mixed acting from the rest of the cast I'm awarding Halloween 9.2/10.

Thanks for reading and please comment on whether you agree or not and for any suggestions.

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