Bucket List Movie #467: Halloween (1978)
Welcome, fair readers, as we (by "we" I mean me) conclude Horror-tober the best way possible: by succumbing to precious gimmickry! Yes, I premeditated concluding my month-long salute to horror films by reviewing, on Halloween… Halloween!
Yes, John Carpenter's 1978 slasher masterpiece, the film that, for better or worse, set the standard for contemporary slasher flicks and established a horror story template that has changed very little in the 36 years since its release. Everything is recognizable, from its dark and neutral cinematography to that damn theme music that threatens to drive you as batty as Halloween's masked antagonist, Michael Myers. Halloween is the film that started the tropes that Scream actively mocked: the phone dying when you need it the most, the idea that virginity will protect you from the psychotic killer, and, the one that makes me want to tear my hair out the most, the indestructible villain. I don't know if Michael Myers is the first of the Indestructible Villains, but he was definitely the first to become an icon that demanded sequels to be churned out like snack cakes. Don't forget, he preceded both Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Depending on your feelings towards slasher films, you'll either sympathize with and relate to the characters in Halloween, or smack your forehead and laugh at the absurdity of it all. In fact, Halloween's star, Donald Pleasance had this to say about the screenplay:
There are parts of the script which I couldn't accept. I believe people are behaving in a way in which they couldn't possibly in real life behave. And that's always difficult because if you're one of the people, then you are the one who's going to look like an idiot.
Yet Halloween isn't remembered as Pleasance's movie, but as the star-making debut for a then 19-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis. Her mother, Janet Leigh, became a scream queen thanks to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and Jamie Lee was ready to carry on the legacy.
Okay, plot time: Six-year-old Michael Myers, all decked out in his clown costume, hacks his teenaged sister to death on Halloween night, 1963. Kids, right? Naturally, his parents are perturbed, and institutionalization ensues.
Skip ahead 15 years, Dr. Sam Loomis (Pleasance) is Michael's doctor, about to take Michael to court, hoping against hope that Michael, a hollow sociopath, will never be released. But Michael has had time to become crafty, and he escapes by stealing a car and driving off into the night. It's one of the all-time plot quibbles on how a man who's been locked up in the loony bin since he was six ever learned to drive, but, quite frankly, that's the least of the implausibilities surrounding Michael Myers.
Tiresome Trivia for the Day: For the record, Michael's mask was actually a Captain Kirk mask painted white and with the eye holes cut bigger. William Shatner later found out and was allegedly flattered his image was used in the film.
Anyway, plucky, straight-laced good girl Laure Strode (Curtis) is babysitting young neighbor Tommy (Brian Andrews) on Halloween night. She doesn't expect anything more thrilling than watching scary movies, carving a Jack o' Lantern, and being visited by her more extroverted girlfriends Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Loomis), who is babysitting Lindsey (Kyle Richards), the little girl next door. Laurie tries not to think too much about that strange-looking man who was skulking around the neighborhood and outside her school, and she tries to calm Tommy's fears about the "bogeyman", who he claims is right outside. Poor Laurie is about to learn that the bogeyman is very real, his name is Michael Myers, and he has come back to his old neighborhood to settle old scores (such as they are). When her friends start getting picked off one by one, Laurie has to think and act fast to protect the kids… and herself.
Curtis is quite good as Laurie, who just an ordinary girl thrown into this awful situation through no fault of her own. It's tempting to roll your eyes at how her hornier friends get offed by Michael, but, according to IMDb, Carpenter has stated many times through the years that inventing the "get laid, get killed" trope was not his intention. He states that because Laurie is more introverted and reserved, she's more on her guard than her amorously inclined friends. Fair enough, I guess, but I can't blame people who feel this trope stinks of slut-shaming.
Another thing I learned about Halloween is that John Carpenter didn't want Michael Myers to be in any way, shape, or form relatable. Mr. Carpenter, if you're reading this (highly doubtful, but humor me), I can only say thank you, good sir! Why can't more writers quit putting killers on such undeservedly high pedestals? And why would anyone want to relate to Michael anyway? I've got to say, as far as villains go, Michael Myers is remarkably uninteresting. Michael, on the other hand, is a voiceless, motiveless hack n' slasher with the personality of a dryer sheet. Really, the only fascinating thing about him is how damn inextinguishable he is. To quote the Joker from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, he's harder to kill than a cockroach on steroids. Michael is shot, stabbed by a knife and a knitting needle (as a knitter I grinned like a dope at this), pelleted with bullets a la Bonnie and Clyde, falls from windows… and he keeps on going! Maybe that's the real reason why he's crazy, immortality's just getting him down.
I don't hate Halloween, but I can't really like it either. Blame it on my slasher movie cooties. Still, it's at least a stylish enough movie, and it was, for many years, the most successful independent film ever made. It spawned imitators, as opposed to being an imitator, so it deserves props for that. Carpenter is adept at building character and mood, so when shocking things happen, you aren't just surprised, you really care, if only a little.
I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween, hope you got more Dove bars than candy corns, and may all your future Halloweens be merry, bright, and free from psycho killers in Shatner masks!