Friday, October 29, 2010

31 days, 31 faves: Halloween

You knew it would find its way to this list eventually, right? My last three movies are going to be rather unsurprising for anyone who knows me at all. Meaning, one could probably guess the final three. I mentioned at the beginning of the month that there was no specific order to this list, and for the most part that's true. Consequently, I've been watching these films each night to get a better grip on writing the reviews. Thus I knew which films I wanted my last few to be so that I could watch them closer to Halloween because indeed, they are my favorites, capish?

For many long years, I considered Halloween (1978) to be my favorite horror movie. Hell, my favorite movie in any genre! Even now, after I have a few more films that I like marginally better, I still come back to Haddonfield again and again for a trip down memory lane.

And let's just get this out there right now. Putting aside my one true love (Norman Bates of course) for the moment, I will say outright and proudly that I am a Michael Myers kind of gal. Much as I like the first few Friday the 13th movies and appreciate A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I will always be a Michael fan first and foremost. He's a force of nature - a man on a mission. I love his undying simplicity too. No getting up in my business or making wise cracks. No wielding a chainsaw either -he's just a machine. No emotion, no moral compass, no reasoning, no conscience. What's scarier than that, dammit?

In my life, I've seen my share of horror, without a doubt - but there is something about this film that still gives me a slight case of the willies. Michael, lumbering along with only one thing on his mind (for once, a man without sex as a top priority!), has always got my ghost, so to speak.
The film is just such a classic. Itself influenced by Psycho, it has been one of the most powerful inspirations to a whole generation of horror. One of the original "slasher" films (some say Black Christmas was the first, some - including yours truly - even claim Psycho as the basis), it has introduced an undeniable boatload of people to what horror is all about.

The idea of having the point of view of the killer is just simply awesome. It's really done best here, with an almost giallo-like mentality... the audience feels what it's like to be the killer, to see what he sees, to go where he goes. And it works, largely in part to its clever director, John Carpenter. He and partner Debra Hill wrote a straightforward film about a man in a mask terrorizing babysitters. Doesn't seem like it would be a ground-breaking film, does it? But oh how it was. And the fact that Carpenter wrote the eerie score - well, that just proves his brilliance. A few simple notes (akin to Jaws in that respect) make up the main theme, which is recognizable by even non-horror fans.

Subtle scares and little gore are key here, with only a few mild scenes with actual blood in them. It's so much more what you don't see here that scares the pants off of you. The very first time I saw it, I remember closing my eyes and seeing Michael Myers, his white mask burning into my brain. When we see Michael's face pop out from various locations, like behind the clothesline or the hedgerow on the sidewalk, it's moments like that that make this film what it is. Scary.

But really, what do we have to worry about?
After all, it's just a man in a white William Shatner mask, right?

*Spoilers ahead*

Haddonfield 1963. From outside, someone is watching a young couple getting their groove on in a quiet street in a normal neighborhood on Halloween evening. The lovers retreat upstairs to do the deed and the quiet observer watches as the lights go out in the upstairs bedroom. The peeping tom heads around the house and enters through the back door. Flipping on the kitchen lights (apparently not afraid of being discovered) a small hand reaches into a kitchen drawer and pulls out a Psycho-esque butcher knife, continuing to walk through the house. Waiting patiently, our mystery someone listens to the couple saying goodnight (after having the quickest bout of nookie known to man) and the satisfied boy leaves. The voyeur silently stalks up the stairs and enters the girl's bedroom as she's sitting nearly naked in front of her mirror brushing her hair. She turns, exclaims "Michael!" and ta-dah, Michael begins to stab her several times, with relentless determination. She falls to the floor, dead. The killer goes back downstairs just in time to meet his parents out in the front yard as they come home from where ever the hell they were. Dad also questions, "Michael?" and pulls off his mask. The camera then focuses on a young boy, somewhat catatonic and dressed as a clown, holding a bloody knife.

Could there be a more perfect opening for a horror film?

Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and Nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens) are on their way to pick up a patient at the Smith's Grove Sanitarium on a dark, rainy night in late October. The infamous Michael Myers is being moved to another facility and Dr. Loomis has been his psychiatrist for the last fifteen years.

As they approach the hospital, it looks like a scene from Night of the Living Dead, with all the inpatients turned into outpatients - roaming around the rainy grounds in their white hospital gowns like demented homeless people.

The nurse stops the car so Dr. Loomis can check to see what the hell is going on and while gone, Michael jumps up onto the car and breaks the window, scaring the nurse into exiting the car. Michael steals the car and drives away. (And the age old question remains: how in the world was Michael able to drive a car?)

Alas, we return to Haddonfield, where Dr. Loomis is certain that Michael will return to. Turns out, he was right.

Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis ) is our virginal heroine, and probably one of the most beloved (if not the most famous) scream queens in horror. She's on her way to school and meets up with Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews), a young boy she frequently babysits. They have a run-down of the intended evening activities (pumpkin carving, popcorn, and monster movies) when Laurie stops at the now neglected and abandoned Myers house. Tommy warns her not to go near, that it's haunted- and Laurie brushes him off, running up the steps and leaving a key under the mat. Her dad is a real estate agent and is attempting to sell the old house. As Laurie stands on the porch, we realize Michael is standing right behind the door, his trademark heavy breathing (for all the wrong reasons) the only sound you hear. Well, until you hear John Carpenter's score break into the scene loudly.

At Smith's Grove, Dr. Loomis is having an absolute conniption with fellow doctor about the fact that Michael Myers has gotten loose and drove away from the hospital with no problem whatsoever. He swears up and down that Myers is headed for his old hometown, Haddonfield.
Naturally, that thought is met with disbelief and Loomis storms off.

During school, Laurie sees what looks like a man in a mask, standing near a station wagon outside the school when she is in English class. It unnerves her, but she puts it out of her mind.
A discussion of fate during class is ironic yet completely relevant.

After school, Laurie is walking home with her two friends, Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Annie (Nancy Kyes). The popular twosome are less than chaste friends who pretty much have only one thing on their minds: getting laid. On their way home from school they chat about things like school dances, cheerleading, and getting thrown in the boy's locker room. Laurie's social awkwardness comes to the forefront here, and she doesn't have much to add.

As they walk, a car speeds down the road past them and Annie yells out a derogatory comment. The car stops a moment but then takes off. As the audience, we know it is the car from the Smith's Grove Sanitarium, more than likely with Michael behind the wheel. Laurie recognizes it as the car outside the school window during class.

A few minutes later, when Laurie looks up at the sidewalk in front of her, she sees someone in a white mask peeking out around the hedges. But when she tries to get her friends' attention, the shape (see what I did there?) is gone.

Visibly shaken, Laurie finally gets home and is in the comfort of her own room when she gets a phone call from Annie, who is babysitting at the house across the street from the Doyle's and is hoping to talk Laurie into taking her ward as well while she heads off to get lucky with her boyfriend Paul. Laurie reluctantly agrees and as she talks to Annie she looks out her window to see the same masked man behind the clothesline in the backyard. These are the subtle, effective moments that I am talking about.

Loomis, arriving in Haddonfield, heads to the cemetery where Judith Myers is buried. Not surprisingly to Loomis, the headstone for Judith is missing, making him more certain than ever that Michael has come home. That evening, he finds the sheriff (Annie's dad) and explains the situation to him but finds the local law enforcement less than eager to accept this assumption. Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers), however, does accompany him to the Myers house, where they find evidence that Michael has been squatting there. Loomis goes over the details of Judith Myers death and Michael's situation and warns Brackett that his men should be on alert for Michael as they aren't sure just where he'll strike, or why. "Death has come to your little town, Sheriff."

Annie drives Laurie over to the Doyle's and Laurie and Tommy get down to carving a pumpkin, soon settling in with the 1951 version of The Thing (shades of things to come perhaps - pun intended).

Annie calls and asks to bring Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) over so she can go pick up Paul. As she gets ready, Michael stands outside, biding his time until the right moment can come along. It does of course, and Annie gets strangled and stabbed to death in her car.

Meanwhile, the incessantly giggly Lynda (who I have always wanted to stab through the eye with a sharp object!) and her equally as annoying boyfriend Bob arrive at the Wallace's. When they realize Annie isn't there, they get down to business (in someone else's house for heaven's sake!) In an eerie moment, we see Michael standing in the doorway, watching. Even more creepy, he stands right by the bed doing the heavy breathing, which Lynda & Bob never hear because they are having some damn noisy sex.

Naturally, Michael is waiting nearby and when Bob goes down to get a beer, he kills him, impaling him on the wall (quite implausibly) with the knife. Michael then appears back in the bedroom wearing a bed sheet completed with Bob's glasses. When he doesn't answer Lynda, she gets pissed and picks up the phone to call Laurie, subsequently getting strangled with the phone cord. (*secret cheer*)

When Laurie doesn't hear from anyone in awhile, she makes a phone call which ends up being Michael doing his heavy breathing act. Nervous, she heads over to the Wallace house, where she finds not only the Myers tombstone, but the bodies of her three friends. Michael then attacks Laurie and she falls down the steps. Struggling, Laurie runs out the door and back over to the Doyles, screaming the entire time. (I do realize it's Halloween, and trick-or-treat time and all that jazz, but seriously - if someone was screaming 'help me' as loudly and as desperately as Laurie is, there's no way I wouldn't hear her and/or wouldn't think something pretty awful was happening!)

After finally waking Tommy up, she's able to get back in the house but Michael makes his way in as well. Surprising him with a knitting needle to the neck, she thinks she's killed him and runs upstairs to tell the kids to run and get help.

Just when she thinks she's safe, Michael appears again and chases her into a closet, where she ends up poking him in the eye with a coat hanger (love that part!). Once again falling prey to the age old first no-no of horror (never assume the killer is actually dead), she is shocked to discover Michael is indeed NOT dead, though poking him in the eye does make him drop his weapon. Laurie picks it up and stabs Mikey in the stomach, causing him to go down like a lead balloon.

Wandering the streets, Loomis sees the kids running wild on the street and makes his way to the Doyle house as well. He reaches Laurie just in time and shoots Michael six times, causing him to fall from an upper floor window outside to the ground below. Dr. Loomis comforts Laurie, but then upon looking out the window at the body, he discovers it's not there.

And that, my friends, is how it's done.


-Lou said...

Ever notice how Carpenter eschews the close-ups in this movie? It might be true of his other films as well (this just jumped out at me when watching "Halloween" for about the 85th time so I'll have to go back and compare), but whatever the case, the constant distance from his subjects is extremely effective here.

Anonymous said...

I love that picture of Lynda==she just looks so BORED!
Totally. Rob