Halloween ★★★★

Hoop tober No. 2 #6

I've wanted to see it since I was eight years old, but somehow by the time I was old enough to seek it out, I had such a strong sense of familiarity that I'd lost all impetus. Got the DVD from Netflix and brought it with me to my parents' place. I wasn't sure they would want to see it again, but they were game. "This is a scary movie," my mom said as we settled in in the basement rec room. "Really scary. You're not thinking of showing this to the kids?" I reassured her on that score, although it's absolutely true that part of what drove me to put Halloween on this year's list was that my kids have been asking me to tell them the story of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers for a few years now. This year, by the time Halloween rolled around, I was determined to be able to tell them what Halloween was about from first-hand knowledge. So, finally, in a dark basement, with my parents, while we ate apple pie, I saw the movie.

The music, the dark screen, the jack o'lantern, and the opening credits: simple and elegant. The whole movie is like that: just a handful of ingredients, artfully arranged. Stalking scene after stalking scene — it's so simple, but relatively rare. Killing scenes, chasing scenes, yes, we're swimming in those now — but Carpenter really knows how to milk the scenes of build-up, where we feel the stalker's attentions slowly narrowing in on our heroines, for all they're worth.

It reminds me of Duel in a way — the hotshot novice director who's bold enough to build a whole movie on a very simple framework and knows how to make it spellbinding.

I'm a great admirer of Pauline Kael, and while this is a cheap game to play, I want to quote her original review of the movie. It's always satisfying to see that even very perceptive critics sometimes just don't roll with the right movie the right way.

Carpenter keeps you tense in an undifferentiated way — nervous and irritated rather than pleasurably excited — and you reach the point of wanting somebody to be killed so the film's rhythms will change. Yet a lot of people seem to be convinced that Halloween is something special — a classic. Maybe when a horror film is stripped of everything but dumb scariness — when it isn't ashamed to revive the stalest device of the genre (the escaped lunatic) — it satisfies part of the audience in a more basic, childish way than sophisticated horror pictures do.

Ooohh, you got me, Pauline. The shoe fits and now I have to wear it. But I liked the word she used, "stripped." The aesthetic for this movie is very stripped-down and I love it for that reason. Later the same night, I watched Baskin, which had an eccentric, manic feeling, a willingness to pile the grotesque on top of the bizarre just to get an effect. That's fun, too, but I love what Carpenter and Debra Hill achieved with this movie. Michael Myers spends most of his time standing, walking, driving around, lurking, watching, and the only frill he allows himself is a little graveyard vandalism so he can create an inexplicable tableau (I mean, what made Annie so special anyway that she got to play the role of Judith?). Just a guy in a mask with a knife, and lucky us, we get to be that part of the audience that is satisfied in a basic, childish way.

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