Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween (1978)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector set-up.

Horror is definitely a film genre in which I feel woefully unversed. I'm a bit of a wimp and in some ways pretty squeamish so I've avoided a lot of the bigger-name ones on purpose. I'm trying to rectify that somewhat since really I need to just man up (MAN UP!) and see some movies. John Carpenter's Halloween seemed like a good place to start. First-time-performer Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Laurie, a bookish high school student stuck babysitting on Halloween night. Unbeknownst to her, local deranged killer Michael Myers has broken out of a mental hospital and is on his way to continue the killing spree he began when he was 6. And Laurie's in his way.

With an almost ponderously slow pace, thoughtful use of first-person POV, and several scenes of Donald Pleasence levelly prophesying impending doom, Halloween succeeds in freaking out its audience by holding a lot back. Every shot seems to show off how deliberate it is, with Carpenter making full use of the questionable innocence of the quiet suburban street on which most of his story takes place. The haunting repetitive theme and closed-in settings of the two main houses increase the tension strung throughout the film.

A lot of this movie is just spying on teenage girls hanging out while babysitting, so it's lucky that PJ Soles, Nancy Kyes, and especially Jamie Lee Curtis are all so good in their roles. The former two prance around in limited clothing with attitudes that command respect, while the latter earns our attention with her expressive face and somewhat androgynous style. Donald Pleasence has the most entertaining part as Dr Sam Loomis, Michael Myers' long-time psychiatrist who frequently reminds us that we are in the presence of pure evil with cryptic, doomy utterances. He knows exactly how unhinged Myers really is but no one seems to actually believe him.

Halloween succeeds most fully in its depiction of the killer himself. Almost nothing is known about Myers except that he killed his sister when he was 6 and spent the rest of his life locked up. He never speaks, his face is never shown, and no attempt is made to offer an explanation for his doings. According to Loomis he's just an amoral sociopath with a knife. There is absolutely no clear reason for his actions, which makes him all the more terrifying and Laurie's predicament all the more compelling. As much as I'd like to know more about him, I appreciated Carpenter's minimalistic approach to his tale, which manages to both satisfy while leaving the audience hungry for more.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I haven't seen it but Sasha recommends Friday the 13th.

4 comments:

  1. Very well-done review; I have loved "Halloween" from the get-go, because of the deliberate pace, the atmosphere, the conspicuous talent Carpenter has for setting up a shot and, more than anything, the performances. Curtis and Pleasance have rarely been better.

    I hate how the sequels do try and explain away everything instead of letting the original; stand on its own and be about evil incarnate. Which is what I HATED about Rob Zombie's reboot - Michael Myers' childhood? Who needs that??

    Sorry, I'm back. Again, you hit every stylistic point square on the head, Alex. Very nice indeed.

    BTW, good "manning-up". ;D

    - TGWD

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  2. Dope: Thanks! I haven't seen the sequels but I read a bit about the second one and yeah it seems like it's sort of overkill. But I didn't know Zombie added stuff to the story, that's ridiculous!

    Candice: Yeah I can't believe it took me so long to see it, it's so good!

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  3. The PERFECT place to start a horror movie education. Really one of the best; so many pale imitations. And for some reason I've found even those averse to horror love this one.

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