Slash and stab-slash and stab.

 

halloween_1978_theatrical_poster

1978

Halloween is another classic horror film directed by John Carpenter. I have praised Carpenter for his directing on The Thing and many other works, but this one never really grabbed me. In the era of Freddy and Jason, Michael Myers never really stood out as an exceptional villain. Like Jason, Michael is completely devoid of personality, which is a major drawback for me.

The film primarily follows Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis’s debut) as she goes through the “normal” day of a teenager in 1978 on Halloween night. Complicating her schedule is the fact that a psychotic killer is now loose and has chosen to fixate his attention on her. The summary above might seem a bit glib, but it is more or less the entirety of the film.

I think we watch horror films for a few different reasons: characters, killers, or scares. If a film has one of these elements, it is usually at least enjoyable. How does Halloween do? The teenage characters are annoying, so I guess that is realistic? I have heard the argument that horror films punish women for having sex (and you could make that argument with this film), but sometimes I wonder if they are actually trying to punish them for being dumb. Sex and drug-crazed teenagers are cannon fodder in these films, and watching this movie now ruins any artifice of suspense. We all know that Laurie is going to survive. Not only is she the wholesome one who gets to live, she is also the main character, which removes her from lethal danger (in most horror films). I can’t really blast this film for annoying teenagers, which is something of a plague for all of horror.

However, where I can attack this film is the development of the villain, which is woefully underdone. We see Michael Myers as a child (through a POV perspective) murder his sister before his parents come home and flip out. We cut to twenty years later and he has broken out. Dr. Sam Loomis (played by Donald Pleasance) works as an exposition megaphone by telling us we need to fear Myers. He is evil, says Loomis, because I am a doctor, so I know things. Not to sound crass, but Myers killed one person (albeit when very young), but imagining him as a supreme construct of evil is pushing things a bit for me. He is a slow-moving-knife-wielding-mask-wearing maniac, and little more. For the majority of the film, he is just a dude who wants to kill young people. Hardly a legendary foe.

Perhaps the most important aspect of any horror film is to judge whether it is scary or not. I personally did not find the film scary. The jump-scares are bizarrely stacked together. We have huge spans with nothing happening to have three piled right on top of each other. The kill setups are so obvious that I couldn’t feel any suspense. Further, when it is revealed that Myers can somehow survive gunshot wounds, I did not care. Of course he can, right? That is the best way to end the film—make him supernatural. The whole thing just smells a little lazy to me. Granted, if I had seen this film in 1978, I might have crapped my pants, so we do need to recognize the historical importance of the film.

Is it worth watching? Yes, particularly for horror fans. Some of the film work is quite good, and we do see Carpenter’s ability to frame suspense in full effect. The problem is that if you have ever seen a slasher film you have seen this one. 6/10

2007:

Here is the part where I piss off most horror movie fans.

Rob Zombie’s remake is not a bad film. One thing I have noticed as I have done this series of originals and remakes is that I am not as opposed to remakes in practice as I am in theory. Zombie’s goal in this film seems to have been to fill a void he saw in the original: developing Michael Myers.

The first half of the film differentiates itself vastly from the original. Instead of what looks like a standard upper-middle-class family, Michael comes from a horrid home of abuse and cruelty. His vicious step-father (played by William Forsythe) is one of the most revolting characters ever. Michael is bullied at home and at school with no redeeming light in his life. We finally see him lash out violently. His first kill is not his family, but a pair of schoolyard bullies—and in my opinion this scene is one of the best in the film. The emptiness and evil of Michael is on full display here (and we don’t need an exposition chatterbox).

Fans are truly divided on this film, pursuing the boards on the link above you will see that many thought it was unnecessary. Some see the development of Michael as a character as the death of the film. I did not find the unknown villain frightening in the original, and that might be the difference. However, the film spends around half of its run time setting up Michael as a character, so this is closer to a slow burn than most of Zombie’s films. We see Michael grow into a beast who is detached, ruthless, and cold. His strength and wickedness seem extraordinary and also more believable because we see him grow. Once he escapes the institution, we as the audience understand what type of monster now wanders the streets.

The second major change to the film is that Laurie (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) is actually Michael’s baby sister (who he spared the night of the massacre). The subtle change here makes his pursuit of her make a bit more sense.

For me, Zombie is incredibly successful in setting the scene up. I understand Michael, and there is a real reason for him to pursue Laurie. I cared more about the characters due to their increased development. But then….

The film becomes the first one.

We are back to stupid teens, a nearly hysterical doctor who claims Michael is a demon, and a progression of almost identical kills from the first one. The additional gore (for me) makes the kills carry a bit more weight, but I have seen them before. Zombie exceeds the original in some ways, but still falls into the trap that almost all slashers eventually do. I found myself frustrated here because the setup was so good.

The remake is certainly more visceral and at many points more understanding than the original. For my money, I think Zombie did a great job for the first half. The faltering of the second half does not take away from the enjoyableness of the film. For more hardcore horror fans this is a must see. 8.5/10

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