Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween (1978)

I'm going to preface this review by stating that I'm not really a slasher fan. Or perhaps I should clarify: I'm not really a fan of the 'big three' slasher franchises which have corroded the arteries of moviegoers and horror-hos for the past 30 years. Nightmare on Elm Street is irredeemable tripe in its entirety, and while I thought the very first Friday the 13th film had some potential, the franchise's transformation into masked-stabbing-by numbers became an increasing chore to experience. And then, there is Halloween, John Carpenter's legendary film which birthed a thousand copycats, most of which I find just as void of thrills and entertainment as the original...

You read that right. I don't like Halloween. It's a formulaic, predictable piece of film that neither stirs my emotions, ever makes me feel remotely threatened or scared, and never seems to get any more interesting no matter how many second chances I spend with it. Oh, I can appreciate certain elements at play here. In particular, I think John Carpenter did a wonderful job with the synthesizer score, which deserves all its place in horror history as one of the finest in the genre. I like some of his direction choices...some of the film techniques. Like the first-person views, the massive up-front panning shots of Haddonfield's middle America suburb setting. The chance to see the breasts of almost everyone Michael....

*Spoilers and punkin' seeds*

Yeah, but as far as the actual plot, acting and script are concerned? This must be one of the most blase films to ever achieve such an unbelievable cult status. Little Michael Myers murders his sister in cold blood, after we get a nice glimpse of her cleavage of course. No real explanation, the kid is just dead inside. So he gets put away for 15 years, and breaks out, while Dr. Sam Loomis is straight on his heels. So he goes back to his old neighborhood, picks a few teenage girls who he thinks will reveal their tits before he stabs them or strangles them, and gets to work. Man, can Michael pick them! Because two of his three targets do indeed reveal their shapely bon bons before gettin' their dues. But no, not Laurie, she's the smart one, fights back and manages to turn the tide. Or does she? Roll the credits.

Sound like a preposterously basic plot? Because it really is, and in no way is the film gruesome or frightening in the slightest. The titular 'Halloween' is represented only by the fact that it's that time of year in Haddonfield, and there are pumpkins everywhere (and a cool movie poster). It does work in Myers' favor of course that no one questions this creep whose driving or stalking around in the open, during the daytime, because hell, on Halloween even grown ups are allowed to be murderous psychos trespassing and hanging out where they shouldn't be. But really, I'd actually forgive all of these strange little inconsistencies if the film could scare me, but like most of the Friday the 13th sequels, the deaths are all too predictable, and there is not a twist in sight (they attempt a few in the Halloween sequels).

I like Donald Pleasance in general. He was cool in The Great Escape and You Only Live Twice, and he's just pretty average here. Having a 'foil' for the psycho killer is an interesting choice, but it becomes a bit redundant in the subsequent entries to the franchise. Also, this was the film debut for Jamie Lee Curtis, her first 'screen queen' role predating The Fog or Prom Night, but she's really nothing special here either. The teen friends all feel phony. They're basically here to smoke up, be naughty with boys and take their shirt offs so they can be stabbed, so I think the award for 'best role' here would have to go to Nick Castle, who stalks around silently as Michael Myers for $25/day on set and manages to grunt a bit and add a fraction of atmospheric eeriness. He's no Kane Hodder or Gunnar Hansen, but he gets the job done.

Unfortunately, the movie comes across too clean and unsurprising to really resonate with me, and while it's certainly a progenitor for the slasher genre, it was nowhere near as good as those few predecessors it had, like Black Christmas or excellent Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which is admittedly the fourth largest of the useless franchises, but at least built upon a phenomenally fucked up first chapter). I realize it's a pretty old film for its style, but I am four years older and it never even freaked me out as a child.

Needless to say, I'm not popular at parties when it comes to slasher discussions, but I can't help but feel that this is one of those films that is so highly loved and accepted due to its premise alone and what it represented, rather than the actual quality of its less than gripping suspense. And considering just how great other Carpenter films are (The Thing, They Live, Big Trouble in Little China), I can't help but feel that this is just a wee bit overrated...and by a wee bit I mean massively. I don't 'hate' Halloween, it has its strong points (the music and camera style), and it blows Nightmare on Elm Street away, but its premise and 'thrills' are flatline average at best.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

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