Halloween ★★★★★

The gold-standard for American slashers. A seasonal ode to the boogeyman. As our subconscious mind paints vivid pictures as we sleep, so does it adorn the empty mask of Michael Myers: he is whomever we wish him to be. Myers is so formless, Donald Pleasance's Dr. Loomis can't even ascribe a gender: "Don't underestimate it." It is we who give form to The Shape, that "infinitely patient" shadow in the mist, that lurker in the dark. Halloween is a certain magic of atmosphere. Dean Cundey's cinematography captures a mood & a time & a place. John Carpenter's brilliant score (supposedly written in three days) is exquisite. At one point, two alternating piano keys build a wall of mood that stands taller than a dozen inferior films. The characters (Jamie Lee Curtis, in particular) are instantly likable. They have real hopes & dreams & feelings. At one point Jamie Lee & Nancy Kyes are just driving around & bullshitting & tokin' the reefer & fearing the reaper & it feels like a scene out of Dazed and Confused. Real life is unfolding, & consequently we care about what happens to these people. Unlike many of Halloween's successors, these characters are not token victims, sluts, or sacrificial lambs- they're just folks. They could be friends of yours. We always have a grasp of what's happening & where: the Myers house, the high school, the general store, the Strode house, the Doyle house, etc. This is key when it comes to separating Halloween from the slasher pack. Scenes of terror are far more suspenseful when you can actually understand what's going on. Incredibly, this film which set a new benchmark for American horror contains nearly nothing in the blood n' guts department, but still manages to raise the fright factor up to 11. Take for example the scene with the neighbor who shuts Laurie out during her moment of need. Violently pursued by Michael Myers, Jamie Lee finally makes it out of the house & shouts for help from the next door neighbor. A shadow comes to the window & looks over her, shuts the blinds & turns off the porch light. You really feel Laurie's desperation in this moment. Allow me to say a few words about Pleasance's Dr. Loomis, a character born of no-nonsense intensity. He says many ridiculous things in this movie & imbues them with power. He is our Van Helsing. He sets the stakes. He tells us what we're up against. & he sells it. God bless Donald Pleasance. & finally, there's the ending. & not simply the banality of the unmasking or the uncertainty behind Michael's disappearance. I mean the final shots of the film: the void, the breathing, the emptiness... these are the places we have seen Michael, & now they're empty. But there is not even a whisper of reassurance. The terror never came from Michael- it came from that void; we projected the rest.

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