Halloween

Halloween ★★★★★

It's a night and day experience to view this and the recent "re-quel" film. The original Halloween is shot and told in such a way that evokes old Hollywood and Hitchcock much more than the modern cinema it helped to influence.

Pay attention to the framing and shot composition and the editing in this movie. Everything is done with a very clear purpose that helps tell the story and sell the emotion and suspense to the viewer. The newer movie doesn't do that. It follows the same Hollywood blueprint for blocking and camera movement and cutting as every other generic, modern-day, garden-variety film out there.

But because John Carpenter's Halloween is different, we remember it.

There's a reason this helped birth the slasher craze, and that is because the movie functions *as a story*. Its imitators seldom do that. They focus wholly on the idea of teenagers being killed and almost always forget to add the key ingredient to Halloween's success.

That ingredient is Dr. Sam Loomis.

A story isn't a sequence of events, like a madman murdering teens. A story is about a person trying to accomplish a goal, and either succeeding or failing. Halloween is not about teens trying to survive being murdered by Michael Myers, but about Dr. Loomis trying to stop Michael Myers from murdering teens.

Halloween works so well as a story because, despite its simplicity, there are layers to it. You have Michael returning to town and stalking babysitters, and Dr. Loomis and the Sheriff trying to stop that. If it was just Michael stalking babysitters, the movie would not be nearly as captivating.

And if Dr. Loomis was not played to perfection by Donald Pleasance, the movie would, again, not be nearly as captivating. Both the role AND the performance of Loomis are the reason this works.

Loomis is played as a man almost as unhinged as his escaped patient. He has to be, or else we wouldn't take the threat of Michael Myers seriously. Donald Pleasance raving like a lunatic sells the danger and threat and fear of Michael Myers to the viewer. Pleasance as Loomis is largely the reason we're afraid.

Imagine if Loomis wasn't in the movie. Imagine if it was just Michael Myers stalking babysitters. We would view him as just an escaped mental patient, not as "purely and simply ... evil". We wouldn't be afraid. But if he has "the blackest eyes ... the devil's eyes", get me a change of underwear.

All of this makes Loomis a key factor in the horror of the movie, but I'll be damned if it doesn't make him the single worst mental health professional in film history. "He's gone from here! The evil is gone!" Dude, that's your fucking patient. It's no wonder nobody listened to you.

The way this story unfolds is masterful. The film made great use of the brand-new Steadicam technology with the opening shot, providing viewers with something they literally have not seen before. What movie has done that lately? Certainly not the new Halloween film, which is standard as fuck.

After Michael kills his sister for no reason whatsoever, the next scene keeps the tension as Loomis and the nurse approach Smith's Grove Sanitarium during a thunderstorm at night. The atmosphere is thick and foreboding, and the unexpected sight of patients wandering around outside is just creepy.

Myers steals the car and takes off, and only then, after two scenes of Michael, we are introduced to Laurie Strode. Even this scene has the creepy score running under it, and the tension builds yet again as Laurie goes to the Myers house, which is allegedly haunted, and Michael is actually there, spying on her and young Tommy Doyle.

Consider how the viewer is introduced to every key element of the story. Michael kills his sister. Then we meet Loomis on his way to meet with Michael. There's a connection there. Then we meet Laurie, who has to drop a key off at the Myers house, so there's a connection there, as well. Then we meet her high school friends. Everything is built up from what we were previously told. There isn't a moment where we're given new information and forced to play catch-up. It's streamlined in such a way that the film has a brisk and easy pace, and this is crucial for rewatchability. Once the story starts, it doesn't stop. You're in it.

Also crucial for rewatchability is having a cast of characters you actually care about. These teens are played as normal people, not characters in a film. I actually want to see them live. In the new Halloween movie, I didn't care if they all died, because if they did, at least they would then be included in an interesting scene.

I admire that these characters are on screen a lot. We don't cut away to Michael unless he's watching them, and we don't cut away to Loomis unless it's necessary. This means the teens have more screen time, and the more we see them in situations where you think Michael is going to kill them, the more we empathize with them. It takes a long, long time for any of them to die in this movie, and I don't think modern films have that kind of patience.

Many will blame audiences for lacking patience, but I have more faith that a lot of people would be okay with slow-burn movies that are done well. But today, Hollywood has conditioned audiences to accept lesser-quality movies with weaker storytelling that focuses more on shocks and jumps than atmosphere and suspense. It's upsetting. Audiences are accepting this because it's better than not watching movies, not because that's what they actually prefer.

Michael is most interesting in this movie because there's no bullshit family storyline or curse of thorn nonsense to attempt to explain why he's doing what he's doing. There doesn't have to be an explanation. In fact, there shouldn't be. The real horror is *not* knowing, like what possessed real-life serial killers to stash bodies under their houses while appearing to be mild-mannered and upstanding citizens and neighbors otherwise? We'll never know, and the fact that we don't know what drove them to do it is why it's fascinating!

I noticed on this particular viewing that Michael has a child-like pattern of behavior in this movie. Everyone knows about how he tilts his head almost in curiosity after murdering Bob, but he also fucks with people much in the same way a child would. He wears the sheet over his head with Bob's glasses, but the scene isn't played for laughs. He does that because it's part of his *character*. He sits in the back seat to jump out and strangle Annie the way a kid would hide to jump out and frighten others. Before that he ripped down a potted plant to startle Annie. He set up the corpses of the teens he murdered in a funhouse-style display for Laurie to find. Hell, he follows Laurie because she showed up to his house, and for literally no other reason.

He's a child inside, fucking around because it amuses him. He could have taken the straight-forward killing approach, but that would have gone against his character and made him completely fucking boring, and this is something the new film completely misunderstood.

Some people think this film sends the message that promiscuity is bad, as everyone Michael kills is looking to get laid, but that is untrue. The real message of the movie has more to do with Laurie's sexual frustration. Everyone else is having fun except her, and there's even a line of dialogue spoken by Laurie herself to echo this. Do you think it's a mistake that every weapon she used against Michael was essentially a long, hard shaft? Crochet needle, long knife that you grip from the base, and a coat hanger fashioned for the express purpose of penetrating Michael as she did with the other weapons? I'll tell you it's not an accident, because it was all confirmed in an interview by John Carpenter himself.

Speaking of Carpenter, his musical score in this movie is nothing short of perfection. I particularly love the use of creative jump scare stingers (yes, this movie has a good number of jump scares, but he makes them work). Some of the stingers, you only hear once. The main theme is iconic and legendary, but every piece of music on the soundtrack is memorable, and the way the score evolves to introduce new pieces of music as the film and the drama plays out is exceptional, and does a tremendously great job of upping the tension throughout.

I don't think enough could be said of the cinematography by Dean Cundey. The guy went on to work with Spielberg on Jurassic Park, so you know the dude has chops. But the lighting in this movie ... the fucking lighting! It's truly the work of a virtuoso. It's effective but doesn't stand out or feel too much like a movie. It feels natural for the scene, which gives the movie a sense that it's something that actually happened, and the fact that it looks like reality (unlike every movie today that's clean and shiny and drowned in post-production ejaculate) is the reason I was affected by it so thoroughly as a child. This movie is still creepy today. Broad daylight never looked so terrifying.

There's so much talent at work here, from Carpenter and Cundey to Debra Hill and Jaime Lee Curtis and of course Donald Pleasance. These are not simply a bunch of random people who got together to make a low-budget movie, but a collection of highly skilled and talented artists, and it shows in the final product. This movie is not great by accident. They all knew what they were doing.

This movie is four decades old yet it feels fresher and more effective than anything in recent memory. Everything today feels over-produced, even lower-budget fare, and being constantly reminded that I'm watching a movie and consuming a product is one of the least-frightening things I can possibly imagine.

I want more films to be less "perfect" and more reflective of reality. I want movies to look like real life and not a filter in Adobe Premiere. There are shots in this movie that are focused completely wrong, like when Annie and Laurie are driving as the sun is going down. Annie's face is blurred and the steering wheel is sharp. That is not for dramatic effect, that's a fuck-up, and I actually admire that. It brings me back down to reality. I'm not saying do a sloppy job, but know what it is that you're doing, and what effect it will have on the viewer.

It helps that the cast is not made up of supermodels who just stepped out of a makeup room with perfect hair and are always lit well. They look like people that actually exist. Casting the hottest women alive to play everyday people is a god damn lie, and that also takes me out of every movie in which it occurs. Regular people can be incredibly attractive. Not everyone in movies has to adhere to a magazine standard, and they shouldn't. Hell, I don't know how to say this, but I want to have 1978 Nancy Loomis's babies. Walking Barbie dolls can fuck themselves for all I care.

Anyway, we're still talking about Halloween, right? I guess I'll comment on the ending. There is no more perfect conclusion for this story. Virtue, represented by Laurie, defeats evil, represented by Michael. Or does she?

First, I love that Michael is shown to be a regular human being throughout the movie, until that moment in the end when he disappears after being shot six times and falling off a two-story balcony. He could realistically get up from everything inflicted upon him before then, but not that. Loomis quietly craps his pants, knowing his suspicions were true, and then the movie ends. The montage of locations where Laurie and Michael faced off with the soundtrack and heavy mask-breathing seals the deal and reminds the viewer of what they just witnessed, which is a unique and clever way to end the movie, and it's not something most filmmakers would consider. I liked that.

But that's it. The story is over. The entire story has been told. There is nothing more interesting or intriguing or captivating that we could be shown or told. This is the height of interest, leaving the viewer satisfied with what they had just seen, but left with so many questions, and as we talked about before, it's in *not knowing* the answers that resides our interest. If I told you, "Oh, well Laurie did all this and Loomis did that, and this happened with Michael", you'd say, "Oh." and go on with your day. It's better unexplained.

No sequel should have ever been made, because none of them can reach this level of storytelling, and none of them have, and none of them ever will. I doubt new ideas would ever be executed this well. What was the last legitimately great slasher movie? Whatever it is, it's probably older than you.

Have you ever stopped to think about that, about why movies are generally nowhere near as good as they used to be? You should.


Beer: Southern Tier Pumking - 5/5 (Sober October is over [hey, that rhymed; I'm a poet and I didn't even realize] so beer reviews are back. This is not as good as previous years when the beer was less mass-produced, but it's still Pumking and no other pumpkin beers can touch it.)

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