Halloween Special: Review 63: Halloween (original) (3.5/5)

Halloween cover.jpg

Halloween

Directed by John Carpenter

Starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis, Nick Castle / Tony Moran

Released on October 25, 1978

Running time: 1h 31m

Rated R (Suggested rating: PG-13 for frightening sequences throughout, sexual content, brief nudity, some language, mild violence, and momentary smoking – all involving teens)

Genre: Horror

If I actually had a Halloween costume this year, I would be going as one of the plague doctors during the Black Death. You know – the ones in black robes with long-beaked bird masks. Either that, or I’d be going as Pinhead the Hell Priest.

Those of you who have been following me from the beginning know that Rob Zombie’s remake of the horror classic Halloween was the fourth film I ever reviewed, and that the remake’s sequel was the fifty-ninth. To avoid anger, I will simply say that my reviews toward them were particularly scathing, with the remake receiving a .5 out of 5, and its sequel receiving a rare 0 out of 5.

Having reviewed both of the aforementioned films and truly hating them, I decided to go back to the original and give you my thoughts on it.

Unlike Madman but like Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween was made out of inspiration rather than obligation. Good!

Literally seconds after the movie starts, the iconic, still-creepy theme song plays, setting the atmosphere and triggering a rush of nostalgia. A big smile broke out on my face. You know, I actually made an attempt to transcribe it to my crummy music notation program. While not very well written, this theme song is undoubtedly creepy, has stood the test of time, and will remain a staple of horror for a good long time yet.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

The title sequence displays a deceptively innocent jack-o-lantern, and the rest of the opening credits show a slow zoom into its left eye.

At the end of the opening credits, we go to 43 Lampkin Ln., Haddonfield, Illinois, as a long POV shot begins. A small group of children recite a rhyme:

“Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts / Covens of witches and all of their hosts / If you think they scare me, you’re probably right / Blood, guts, and goblins on Halloween night. Trick or treat!

Cute.

As I was saying, a POV shot begins. Obviously, it’s a six-year-old Michael Myers. He goes around the side of the house, and sees his sister Judith (former Playboy playmate Sandy Johnson) and her boyfriend on the couch, then going upstairs to have sex. He goes inside, grabs a big kitchen knife out of a drawer, and puts on a mask. He hides as the boyfriend goes downstairs and exits the house. Michael goes upstairs, and enters Judith’s room, where she is naked and combing her hair. She notices and is initially angry at him, but Michael quickly stabs her to death, while never actually looking at her as he does the deed. Michael walks downstairs and out the front door, where we see that his parents have arrived home. The father goes up to Michael and pulls off his mask. Cut to a front view of Michael as the camera zooms out, and we fade to black.

Did you know? This unbroken POV shot actually took up almost an entire roll of film. Nice.

Transition to fifteen years later, as Dr. Sam Loomis (Pleasence) and a nurse drive to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. They stop at the main gate, and Dr. Loomis gets out to punch in the code to open the gate. Michael (Tony Moran for the face, Nick Castle for the body) appears and attacks the nurse. The nurse jumps out of the car, and Michael drives off. Dr. Loomis laments Michael’s escape.

DR. LOOMIS: He’s gone! He’s gone from here! The evil is gone!

By the way, Carpenter and the producers originally wanted Peter Cushing (with him fresh off of the fame of Star Wars), then Christopher Lee to play Dr. Loomis, but neither would sign on, with Lee considering it the biggest mistake of his acting career. (God rest their souls.)

Transition back to Haddonfield as we are introduced to Laurie Strode, played by future scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis in her first-ever film role. Her performance in this movie is a little rough around the edges, but overall, for her first film role in her entire career, it’s actually pretty decent. We learn that Laurie is to babysit Tommy Doyle that night, as she encounters him as she walks to school. They plan to make popcorn, watch horror movies, and carve a jack-o-lantern. Cool.

I always love drawing the parallel between Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, and her mother, Janet Leigh, in Psycho.

And already, Michael is stalking Laurie, during which we see that he’s a pretty dang good driver for having just driven for the first time the previous night. He stalks her on the way to school, he stares at her through a classroom window, she sees him as she walks home with her friends as he stands halfway in the open as he watches her from a tall fence-like bush, and, when she gets home, she even sees him standing out in her yard. In fact, in every shot he’s in, he is perfectly still. The camera does not show Michael trudging offscreen. He’s like the Slender Man, only not as tall, not as long-limbed, not bald, etc.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Speaking of Laurie’s friends, her friend Lynda was intentionally written to be, well, really girly (thanks, Debra Hill!). In fact, much of her dialogue contains the word “totally”. This is a running gimmick in theatrical showings. Whenever Lynda says a line that includes “totally”, when the line ends, the audience responds with a loud, hearty “Totally!” Ho, ho. Yes. Memorable dialogue.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Also, Laurie’s friend Annie is babysitting Lindsay Wallace, across the street and three houses down from the Doyles’. Lynda plans to show up at the Wallaces’ with her boyfriend Bob so they can have sex.

I must mention that as Laurie is walking home, kids on the block are already trick-or-treating. Odd. It only seems to be between 2:00 and 3:30 PM.

Over the past long while, Dr. Loomis has been calling the town’s Sheriff, Sheriff Brackett (I actually would have liked to see Brad Dourif in this. He was the only redeeming quality that the remake had.), warning him that Michael is coming to Haddonfield. He repeatedly does so over the course of about twenty to thirty minutes.

Annie picks Laurie up at 6:30 and drops her off at the Doyles’ before going to the Wallaces’. The trick-or-treating kids have gotten only a little more populous, but they’re still saying the well-known rhyme “Trick-or-treat! Trick-or-treat! / Give me something good to eat!”, but forgetting the last half: “If you don’t, I don’t care – / I’ll pull down your underwear!” Odd.

Annie and Laurie keep in contact over the next hour or two. Annie is pestered by Lindsay’s dog Lester’s barking, but Michael Myers, who is stalking Annie, … gasp! KILLS THE DOG!

I saw fit to bring this gag back:

AAAAH! AAAAH! AAAAH! AAAAH! OH, NO, NOT THE BEES dog. NOT THE BEES dog. AAAAAAAAH! OH, NO, MY EYES! MY EYES! AAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAAAAAH-URRRLLKKK!

Ho, ho.

By the way, over the past while, Tommy and Lindsay have, at their respective houses, been watching The Thing from Another World. Odd, as John Carpenter will, in four years, remake it into one of the best dang horror remakes to date.

Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett arrive at the Myers place, where Dr. Loomis explains that Michael is evil. As if we didn’t know. Dr. Loomis patrols around the house as Sheriff Brackett has some of the police patrol around the neighborhood.

Annie brings Lindsay to Tommy’s house, telling Laurie that she’s planning to bring her boyfriend Paul to the Wallace residence (how else can I put this) so they can have sex.

Annie gets into her car and is about to start it when Michael springs up from the backseat and strangles Annie, then slits her throat.

Lynda and Bob show up at the Wallaces’ and have sex. When they finish, Bob gets up to go grab the two of them a beer, leaving Lynda with the now-hilarious-and-iconic death-warrant line “I’ll be right back”. Bob goes downstairs, grabs the beers, and is accosted by Michael, who lifts him up and runs him through with his knife, pinning him to the wall. Michael takes a few steps back and admires his kill like Picasso would admire Guernica.

Michael throws a white sheet over himself and puts on Bob’s glasses over the sheet. I guess Michael has a sense of humor; who knew? He walks into the bedroom where Lynda is, and when he does, Lynda does something unscripted. Good for her!

LYNDA: (drops sheet, revealing her breasts) See anything you like?

Michael remains stoic in the doorway as Lynda gets up and starts to call Laurie. But just as Laurie picks up, Michael moves over and strangles her with the phone cord (how?). The last thing Laurie hears of Lynda is guttural sounds before the line goes dead.

Laurie, seeing that Tommy and Lindsay are asleep, goes over to the Wallaces’ to check on Lynda. She finds the bodies of Annie, Lynda, and Bob, and she encounters Michael. Michael chases her out of the house.

It was now that I realized that Michael’s almost mechanical movements are actually kind of creepy.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Laurie makes it back to the Doyles’ just in time, but Michael cuts the phone line and breaks in. He attacks Laurie, but she briefly distracts him by stabbing him with a sewing needle. She runs upstairs, hides Tommy and Lindsay, and hides in a closet, but Michael breaks in. Laurie sticks Michael with a coat hanger, Michael drops his knife, and Laurie stabs him with it. He falls to the ground.

You know, I always found Michael in the original Halloween to be a little too easily dispatched.

Dr. Loomis sees the car that was stolen from the sanitarium earlier. It’s parked near the Doyles’. He calls the sheriff, and goes over to investigate.

Laurie has the kids run down the road to the neighbors’ house to call the police.

Behind Laurie, we see the iconic shot of Michael sitting up and turning his head to look at Laurie. He attacks her, and Laurie pulls off his mask, revealing his slightly deformed face. Loomis bursts in and pulls out his revolver. Michael stops attacking Laurie and puts his mask back on. Loomis shoots Michael, then runs up the stairs and shoots Michael five more times, sending Michael toppling out of the window and falling to the ground. And then…

LAURIE: That was the boogeyman…

DR. LOOMIS: As a matter of fact, that was.

Dr. Loomis goes back to the window and looks out.

Michael’s body is gone.

Insert the final rendition of the theme song as Dr. Loomis comes to his horrifying realization. We see a short montage of locations throughout the film, as we have also come to the horrifying realization that though Michael is gone, he is somehow everywhere; Michael is an unstoppable, inhuman, supernatural force. And that is terrifying.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Though I freely admit that I did not like the original Halloween as much as everyone else, I did still like it; it’s still a dang good movie; and I will never ever deny the impact Halloween still continues to have.

It still continues to scare audiences. In fact, I even felt a little on edge while watching. Not enough to be creepy, but still. John Carpenter truly went the extra mile to frighten his audiences, and he deserves credit for it. Much of its scariness was visceral. More of it was through clever camerawork. Carpenter uses his camera to establish his situation, and then has the camera pan to the side, showing something looming in the midground or foreground that’s not supposed to be there. Normally, it’s a red herring, making the incidents in which Michael is there that much scarier.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Speaking of Rob Zombie, I forgot how not bloody the original Halloween was when compared to its remake. In fact, there is no blood flying. In fact, any onscreen blood has settled down. In fact, the most violent scene in the original was Michael’s murder of his sister. But by then, the only blood there was settled down.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

There was no explicit sex for the sake of sex in the original Halloween. In fact, we only ever see Judith’s and Lynda’s breasts onscreen for mere seconds. There were no f-bombs in the original Halloween. At the most, there were two or three s-words. There was no illegal drug use in the original Halloween. If anything, there was some smoking and drinking.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

The original Halloween was, in general, a much better product. It takes time to assure us that our characters are normal, timeless people. It takes time to lovingly paint its timeless slice of life long before Michael begins killing.

It’s a timeless, inspired, lovingly created masterpiece that continues to be lauded by many. It deserves to be remembered.

Eat that, Rob Zombie.

Final verdict: 3.5 out of 5.

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