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John Carpenter’s Halloween

Published by Brady Giusti

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A Look Back at the Original Horror Classic

Well, I haven’t yet seen Rob Zombie’s remake or reimagining of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” just yet. I was hoping to, but something personal came up. In preparation of seeing Zombie’s vision of Michael Meyers, I wanted to take a look back at one of the all-time great horror movies, as well as one of my all time favorite John Carpenter movies. I am a big John Carpenter fan and always have been. “Halloween” was the movie that finally out him on the map in Hollywood, and it took everyone by surprise.

Now what is there to be said about “Halloween” that has not already been said? It has been discussed ad nauseam in many circles. Even John Carpenter must be sick to death of talking about it all the damn time. On one of the more recent releases of the movie on Anchor Bay DVD, they ended up having to include the original commentary track from the Criterion Laserdisc edition because John felt that everything that needed to be said about the movie was on that track. In all fairness, it’s a great commentary track, so you can understand why he was reluctant to do that all over again.

We all know the story by now, and it is in large part due to the countless (not to mention endless) imitators who rushed to create their own psychotic killer once they saw how much “Halloween” had made at the box office. At the time it was released, it was the most successful independent movie ever made. Made for about $300,000, the
movie ended up grossing over $50 million. Hollywood of course, just had to feed off of that success. “Friday The 13th” would have never existed without “Halloween,” and is much more responsible for the numerous clichés we see in slasher movies of this type.

What I love about this movie, and why it still retains much of its power to scare to this very day, is how down to earth it is. All of these characters, the three teenage girls, the little boy Laurie Strode babysat on Halloween, the bullies who destroy Tommy’s pumpkin, the sheriff, and even Dr. Loomis come across as very down to earth. The way they are written and directed, we can easily recognize these are people in our own lives. We grew up with the same kind of people, even if we did not do the same things that they did. The only character in the whole movie that is certainly NOT down to earth is Michael Meyers. A killer who seemingly (in the first movie anyway) has no motive for why he does what he does. As the movie goes on, we can barely see him as a person at all. He more than comes across as the pure embodiment of evil.

That’s what makes the movie so damn scary. We have all at one time or another lived in a town like Haddonfield. A small town where families can raise their children in peace (or so it would seem), and the problems the town faces are nowhere as bad in any of the big cities in this country. The parents see it as a home away from reality, but for their children, it is reality. It is all they know. So when something like this happens, murders all in one night, it threatens to define the town above everything else it is known for. Was there anything else interesting about Haddonfield before young Michael Meyers took a knife to one of his sisters?

I also love the way this movie was shot. Working with Director of Photography Dean Cundey, Carpenter creates truly unnerving visuals of a killer lurking just behind you in the shadows. One moment, he appears in the frame, and then the next thing you know, he is gone. He could be anywhere, and there is no escape from him. How does one escape from evil in this day and age anyway? One of Carpenter’s main themes with this movie is how evil never dies. It is a force that is always with us, whether we like it or not, and it is just around the corner…

One of my favorite shots in the movie is where little Tommy is fooling around with Lindsay by doing a scary voice. While he is doing that, he suddenly looks out the window and sees Michael Meyers across the street. He is carrying the body of Annie Brackett, whose throat he just cut, into the house while “The Thing” is playing on the TV. It is one of the creepiest images for me from the movie, and the one that always stays with me. Don’t you wonder what your neighbors are up to? How much do you know about them?

The other brilliant thing about the movie is the way it is edited. The movie is edited in such a way that you cannot tell what is going to happen next, or where Michael Meyers will appear or kill next. The best example of editing in the movie is when Laurie Strode is running away from Michael Meyers. At that point, you are in her shoes as she desperately tries to escape the madman who murdered her friends while wearing that William Shatner mask. The editing plays with your emotions beautifully. You want her to escape, and you get the impression that she escapes by the skin of her teeth.

The moment that she is at the front door of Tommy’s house, screaming for him to let her in, is one of the scariest scenes I have ever seen in any movie. It intercuts with her banging on the door while we see the Shape approaching her, and we are stuck there with her, and we find even ourselves BEGGING for Tommy to let her in. That’s one of many moments in my movie watching experience where I feel like I am right there with the main character, begging for someone to unlock the damn door!

And who can ever forget the music? John Carpenter’s score for this movie ranks among the greatest and scariest movie scores ever done. I would put it up there with the work that Bernard Herrmann did on “Psycho.” Carpenter’s work on film scores has mostly of a minimalist approach, and not that of John Williams who always has the big orchestral score. After all these years, his main title music for “Halloween” is something that I never ever get sick of listening to. It’s one of several haunting music scores in this movie that succeeds brilliantly in heightening the ever growing tension the movie escalates in until it reaches the point where Michael Meyers starts hacking away.

The final shot is unnerving and utterly perfect in the way Carpenter shows how evil never dies. We then see images we are familiar with, as they were shown throughout the movie, as places where evil has been. This once again shows Carpenter’s main theme of how evil never dies. We never find out where Michael is or what he is up to (until the sequel anyway). All you can here is his heavy breathing, and that never goes away.

This is definitely one of my all time favorite movies, and I really never ever get sick of it. Jamie Lee Curtis is great here as Laurie Strode, the only one who is opened up to what is going on around her. Then you have P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis as Laurie’s so-called friends who frolic around, completely unaware of the killer in their midst. Then you have Donald Pleasance, and his Dr. Loomis is a character that pretty much came to define the latter half of his character. He is brilliant here, and he helps sell lines that may very well have come off as ridiculous coming out of anyone else’s mouth.

This movie inadvertently started off the cliché that the teenagers who ended up sleeping with each other were the first to get killed off. In the Criterion commentary, both Carpenter and the late Debra Hill (may she rest in peace) make it very clear that they were not trying to lay some sort of judgment on these characters. There was never any sort of Christian morality being forced on us, and not just because Carpenter is too liberal for that. They don’t get murdered because they end up doing something that most kids should not be doing anyway. They get killed because they do not pay attention to what is going on around them. Laurie Strode, on the other hand, is very suspicious of her surroundings.

Then of course there came the sequels, which went from good to god awful. I actually enjoyed “Halloween II,” even if it is a rip off of the original. I admired the fact that they tried to go in a different direction with the third movie which was given the subtitle, “Season of the Witch,” but the fact that it sucked did not help. “Halloween 4” was technically very well made, even as it descended into the clichés of the typical slasher movie. Don’t even get me started on “The Curse of Michael Meyers” which was god awful. They tried to explain why Michael is the way he is, and evil can never really be explained, not unless you want to take the threat of evil away.

That’s the only thing that really worries me about Rob Zombie’s reimagining of this classic. He is going to show us evil on a more human level, and he is going to show us Michael as a young boy and how he ended up becoming the vicious killer that we all know him as. Rob is taking a real risk here, but who knows? He just might pull it off. Either way, I am eager to see anything that Zombie does after “The Devil’s Rejects.”

But whether he succeeds or not, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” will remain the best of all the so-called slasher movies. There is no way anyone can top what he did with that movie. It has reached such a high level of praise in the ever growing pantheon of movies that it will never be topped by anyone. All the same, it will really be interesting to see Rob Zombie try.

 

 

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