Monday, October 31, 2016

You Can’t Kill the Boogeyman, or Thoughts on John Carpenter’s Halloween

In addition to defining an entire genre of horror, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), was also the first movie to actually have the word “Halloween” in the titles.  John Carpenter always had his name before the title, a deliberate effort to establish himself as a brand in the tradition of his favorite directors, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, John Ford and of course, Alfred Hitchcock.  The actual title of the movie is not “Halloween,” it's “John Carpenter’s Halloween”; a minor detail for the audience but those little details matter in this innovative film that has since become the gold standard for slasher movies.
The original title was The Babysitter Murders, and featured the film debut of a very young actress with famous parents by the name of Jamie Leigh Curtis as Laurie Strode, the titular babysitter, future Scream Queen and Final Girl.  Her casting was a deliberate reference and homage to Psycho (1960), with the added benefit of generating free publicity and promotion for the microscopic budget of $325,000 budget ($25,000 of which went directly to Donald Pleasence).
But economy in the best of cases fosters creativity, and the first 4-minute single take tracking scene in Panaflex (Panavision’s answer to the Steadicam), is an excellent set-up for what’s to come.  It’s a smooth tracking shot from the killer’s POV; dreamlike and above all, cinematic, and a perfect introduction for the updated Hitchcock tribute with supernatural overtones that followed.
Michael Myers emerges fully formed once he escapes from his asylum; and although everything will be explained over the next 10 sequels and reboots, in this movie he is a supernatural force, an October storm, listed in the credits as The Shape, a dark shadow with a blank, expressionless face.  There’s no explanation for his fixation on Laurie, except for the fact that he saw her first and follows her home, and the fact that it’s so random only adds to the terror.
The casting of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, (another Psycho reference) was intended to add an air of legitimacy and class to what was initially a drive-in horror movie.  With hi quiet, mournful intensity and ties to The Great Escape (1963), Fantastic Voyage (1966), THX 1138 (1971), and inspiration for Dr. Evil as Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967), Donald Pleasence along with Jamie Lee Curtis contributed to the cinematic pedigree of Halloween, and became a role both actors would revisit in the subsequent sequels.
It’s ironic that 5-year-old Brian Andrews as Tommy Doyle and Dr. Loomis are the only ones who really know what’s going on, but nobody believes a kid and Dr. Loomis is a British crackpot.   Dr. Loomis is convinced that Michael Myers is pure, unthinking evil, like the shark in Jaws (1975) while to Tommy he is simply the Boogeyman hiding in the closet. 
John Carpenter’s iconic and haunting score, powerful in its elegant simplicity, helps to set the tone and establish mood, especially when juxtaposed against the lighting and cinematography.  The music becomes a character, just as ominous as Michael Myers, and is critical to the success of the film.
Watch out for P.J. Soles from Carrie (1976) and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) as Lynda, and Kyle Richards from Little House on the Prairie (1975), and current Real Housewife of Beverly Hills (2010) as Lindsey.



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