Halloween [retro review]

“Was that the boogeyman?” “As a matter of fact . . . it was.”

The Scoop: 1978 R, directed by John Carpenter and starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, and Tony Moran

Tagline: The Night HE Came Home!

Summary Capsule: A murderous young boy becomes a murderous young man and breaks out for a Halloween rampage

Kyle’s Rating: easily one of the best horror films ever made. And notice how William Shatner is tangentially involved? Shatner rules!

Kyle’s Review: In order to consistently enjoy a horror movie over years of repeated viewing, that movie must touch you and more specifically scare you in a close and personal way. It also helps for the film’s villain to successfully represent a variety of threats about certain situations. If you’re afraid to fall asleep or you’ve been having nightmares, then clearly Freddy Kruger is after you. Staying in a secluded cabin and the lights go out? I bet you’re glancing outside nervously looking for a man in a hockey mask. And when you’re out in your spaceship and you hear scratching on the outer hull the first thing to pop into your mind is visions of Aliens with acid blood and double jaws. You see? The best horror flicks transcend the screen and haunt you for the rest of your days in a very satisfying way. What a pleasant distraction from all the real world horrors, eh?

Halloween is a perfectly manufactured delivery system of fear. It’s basically a horror film in a cigarette form, and although I don’t smoke I’ll readily recommend you get hooked on this scare rush. Of course it’s a little dated now, and modern movies like Scream showcase the various advancements in technology that might render some of the big-screen madmen’s rampages impotent nowadays (cell phones, burglar alarms, internet access to cops and pizza). But still, the events of Halloween could conceivably happen today and this movie is simple and streamlined so that with a minimal amount of effort towards suspending disbelief the “hey, this movie is old and stuff!” factor (it was released back in 1978) is negligible.

It’s Halloween and young Michael Myers has a problem with his sister. Maybe he’s ashamed of her having boyfriends coming around the house, or maybe she made fun of his costume and stole all of his candy. Whatever the reason he finds it necessary to stab her to death with a big butcher knife and then enter a catatonic state for more than a decade. His therapist, Dr. Sam Loomis (the late great Donald Pleasence), has developed a healthy respect for Michael’s condition over the years in that he’s gone from thinking Michael is a disturbed young boy to him being the epitome of pure evil. Loomis is positive that Michael should spend the rest of his life locked up in a small padded room to keep everyone safe from harm so when Michael stages a daring escape and heads towards his hometown Haddonfield for another night of Halloween debauchery, Loomis is hot on his tail to avert a charnel house scene. Just the kind of professional you’d want caring for you, eh? But actually Loomis seems to have known what he was talking about as Michael carves a bloody tear into the countryside heading home, and as Michael sets up shop in his childhood home and targets Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends for this year’s recipients of bloody tricks and treats, only Loomis can save Laurie and only Laurie’s inner strength is going to keep her alive long enough for Loomis to find her.

I think Halloween is one of the coolest horror movies ever and I think Michael Myers is one of the coolest screen boogeymen ever. Michael doesn’t play around, he just guts people like fish and he creeps around in shadows most of the time so he only has to kill when necessary or when he feels like it. Michael’s costume, though fairly simple, is just as memorable and intimidating as Freddy’s or Jason’s, with his simple dark overalls highlighting the madness and menace of his white William Shatner-adapted mask. It’s evil mirror universe Kirk and he’s after us!! No, just kidding.

John Carpenter knew where it was at while he was making Halloween and it shows in every shadowy shot and every cramped suburban house set. Carpenter manages to turn a sleepy suburb into a dark maze of death and keeps Laurie and her friends as isolated as they would be in the middle of the woods. For all the community feel suburbs have we see here just how vulnerable to attack you truly are while you’re living in one and just how little help your beloved neighbors will truly be when you’re being pursued by a relentless madman. No wonder I hate all of my neighbors.

If you can appreciate a classic horror film and your mind isn’t addled from modern crap movies and wrestling, give Halloween a shot. Most of the sequels are stupid and Curtis, despite her performance in Halloween cementing her as the ultimate scream queen/heroine and her setting the standards for countless female horror leads to follow her, has an odd-looking mouth at certain angles. Still, Halloween is where it’s at! I dig the mask and the quiet loner image, Michael! Keep those sequels coming! R.I.P. Donald Pleasence, you were the coolest!

And that's when Michael realized he didn't have a -thing- to wear!

Intermission!

  • For at least this first installment (which is the best, by the way) the mask was a William Shatner mask spray-painted to achieve that spooky look. It worked!
  • Pleasence’s character Sam Loomis is named after the Sam Loomis from Psycho
  • The kids Laurie is babysitting are watching the 1951 version of The Thing From Another World, which Carpenter remade in 1982 as the excellent The Thing
  • Laurie Strode was the name of Carpenter’s first girlfriend
  • Director John Carpenter was raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky. In one scene, the subtitle on the screen depicts the location as “Smiths Grove, Illinois.” Smiths Grove, Kentucky, is a small town of about 600 people 15 miles from Bowling Green. There are many other references to other local towns and landmarks.
  • Inside Laurie’s bedroom there is a poster of a painting by James Ensor (1860-1949). Ensor was a Belgian expressionist painter who used to portray human figures wearing grotesque masks.
  • The performance of Halloween’s musical score is credited to “The Bowling Green Philharmonic.” There is no Philharmonic in Bowling Green. The “orchestra” is actually John Carpenter and assorted musical friends.
  • There is actually a cut in the infamous opening tracking shot, where the mask is put on the camera, as it would have been too hard to adjust the focus if they tried it in one shot.
  • If you catch Halloween on cable, or buy the just-in-time-for-Halloween “television footage restored!” copy of the film, you’ll get to see a bunch of scenes that are either brand new or different versions of existing scenes. These were to fill up time for television showings and to keep gore to a minimum. John Carpenter took them out of the theatrical version because they are pretty useless and distract from the relentless killer pace he successfully achieved without them. But they’re kind of interesting if you have the time to check them out.
  • The opening from-Michael’s-point-of-view shot, which is one of the coolest things ever and has been ripped off and paid homage to in countless other films (like The Funhouse) apparently has a quick cut in it because the camera couldn’t adjust the focus with that clown mask over it.
  • Since the movie was actualy shot in spring, the crew had to buy paper leaves from a decorator and paint them in the desired autumn colors, then scatter them in the filming locations. To save money, after a scene was filmed, the leaves were collected and reused.
  • Halloween was shot in 21 days in the spring of 1978. Made on a budget of $300,000, it became the highest-grossing independent movie ever made at that time.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis was cast as Laurie because of the publicity – her mother, Janet Leigh, was in Psycho.

Groovy Quotes

[Referring to a partially eaten dog.]
Brackett: A man wouldn’t do that.
Dr. Loomis: This is not a man.

Laurie: Was that the bogeyman?
Dr. Loomis: As a matter of fact… it was!

Dr. Sam Loomis: I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blind, 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 for I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… EVIL!

Sheriff Leigh Brackett: It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one scare.

Marion Chambers: Don’t you think it would be better if you referred to “it” as “him”?
Dr. Sam Loomis: If you say so.
Marion Chambers: Your compassion’s overwhelming, doctor.

Lynda: Now when we get inside, Annie will distract Lindsey and we go upstairs to the first bedroom on the right. Got it?
Bob: First I rip your clothes off…
Lynda: Don’t rip my blouse, it’s expensive you idiot!
Bob: Then I rip my clothes off, then I rip Lindsey’s clothes off, yeah I think I got it.

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11 Comments

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