Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stubs – Halloween (1978)

Halloween (1978) Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J.Soles, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay by John Carpenter, Debra Hill. Produced by Debra Hill, Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad  Run Time: 91 minutes. U.S.  Color, Horror

Concluding Trophy Unlocked’s Halloween tour of horror movies that launched franchises is John Carpenter’s original Halloween. Not only did this film start a trend (I’ll let you decide if it’s good or bad) of slasher films that became the norm for horror in the 1980’s and 1990’s, this is also the film that put John Carpenter on the map. 

He had written and directed two films before (Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13) and had written two others (The Resurrection of Brocho Billy and The Eyes of Laura Mars), but after Halloween he was a very big name in Hollywood. Also this film is responsible for introducing the world to yogurt eating Jamie Lee Curtis.

The film starts back on Halloween 1963 in fictional Haddonfield, Illinois. Judith Myers (Sandy Johnson) is murdered by her younger brother Michael (Will Sandin) using a butcher knife after having sex with her boyfriend (David Kyle).

Michael as a kid (Will Sandin) right after dispatching his sister, Judith.
Fifteen years later on October 30, 1978, Michael, who has been institutionalized since the murder, escapes and steals a car. Three guesses where he’s headed.

Back in Haddonfield, on Halloween, high school student, Laurie Strode (Curtis), is being stalked by Michael, who is wearing blue overalls and a mask. He appears outside her classroom and drives past her on the street. Laurie notices, but her friends Annie (Nancy Keyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) dismiss her concerns. Laurie sees Michael again, this time standing in her front yard staring at her bedroom door.

Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) with her friends, Annie (Nancy Keyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles).
Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), has come to Haddonfield looking for Michael. He stops at the local cemetery and finds that Judith’s gravestone has been taken. Loomis goes to see Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), who happens to be Annie’s father. The two go out looking for the escaped mental patient.

Donald Pleasence plays Michael's psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis.
That night, Laurie is babysitting a boy named Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) while Annie is babysitting a girl named Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) across the street. When Annie’s boyfriend Paul calls her and tells her to come pick him up, Annie takes Lindsey across the street to the Doyle’s and leaves her in Laurie’s care. When Annie gets into her car, Michael is waiting in the backseat and slashes her throat.

Meanwhile, in the Doyle house, Laurie and the kids are playing hide-and-seek when Tommy spots Michael carrying Annie’s body from the house across the street. He tries to tell Laurie, but she doesn’t believe him. Lynda and her boyfriend Bob (John Michael Graham) show up at the Wallace’s house and go upstairs to have sex. Afterwards, Bob goes down to the kitchen to get Lynda a beer, but Michael is waiting for him and impales Bob to the wall with a knife. Michael then heads upstairs with a sheet on, pretending to be Bob in ghost attire. Lynda though is suspicious and calls Laurie, just as Michael strangles her with the phone cord. (This is in the days before cell phones.)

An unsuspecting Laurie about to be strangled by Michael.
Unnerved by the call, Laurie puts Tommy and Lindsey to bed and heads over to the Wallace house. There she finds a gruesome scene, including Annie’s dead body next to Judith Myers’ headstone and nearby the dead bodies of Lynda and Bob. Michael attacks Laurie, who falls down the staircase. Fleeing the house, Laurie screams for help, but no one appears to hear or take notice. Running across the street to the Doyle’s house, Laurie realizes that she’s lost the key and the door is locked. Banging on the door, Laurie screams for Tommy to open the door. Lucky for Laurie, the kid comes through just in time, but Michael is not far behind.

Laurie has the kids hide and then discovers the phone line is dead. Michael gains entry through a window and Laurie sits down next to the couch. Michael appears and tries to stab her, but Laurie is cunning. She counterattacks and stabs Michael in the neck with a knitting needle.

Believing Michael is dead, Laurie goes upstairs and tells the children she’s killed the boogeyman Tommy had seen. But Michael doesn’t die so easily and is coming up the stairs. Telling the kids to hide again, Laurie tries to make it look like she’s gone out a window and then hides in the closet. But Michael isn’t fooled and tears a hole in the closet door and grabs at Laurie. Frantically, Laurie undoes a wire hanger and sticks Michael in the eye, causing him to drop his knife. Laurie picks up the knife and then tells the children to run outside and try to get help.

Michael breaks into the closet where Laurie is hiding.
Dr. Loomis happens to see Tommy and Lindsey flee and suspects correctly that Michael is in the Doyle’s house. Meanwhile, Michael has started to strangle Laurie, but Loomis arrives to stop him. Loomis shoots Michael once in the head and five times in the chest, but Michael doesn’t go down easily. Falling out of a second story window, Michael falls to the lawn. But when Loomis goes to look out the window, Michael’s body is gone. 

The movie ends with the speculation that Michael is still out there somewhere, accompanied by Michael’s heavy breathing. And the sequel is set up.

Honestly, it has been a year or so since I’ve seen this film, but I don’t remember there being any real motivation for any of the murders. While Michael clearly has a thing against pre-marital sex, since half of his victims have engaged in such during the movie, why does he go after Laurie, who is virginal? Unlike Annie and Lynda, she doesn’t even appear to have a boyfriend. But hey, Michael’s crazy, right?

I also find it interesting that the mental hospital only dispatches Dr. Loomis to find Michael and that Loomis brings a gun. I guess there is only so much talking you can do with the criminally insane.

As in all horror films, the main monster seems impervious to being killed. The same was true with Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula. Those monsters returned for sequel after sequel. The same is true with Michael in Halloween for which there were seven sequels: Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), and Halloween: Resurrection (2002); not to mention a remake by Rob Zombie, Halloween (2007), with its own sequel, Halloween II (2009).

Michael Meyers proved to be a very popular horror villain.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention our star of the future from Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis. The daughter of actress Janet Leigh and actor Tony Curtis, Halloween marks her acting debut, which means she made a big impression from the get go. The success of the film lead to roles in other horror films: The Fog (1980), Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980) and not to mention Halloweens II and III, earning Curtis the title of Scream Queen. She shed her horror persona, and her top, in the comedy Trading Places (1983) and had a prominent part in John Cleese's A Fish Called Wanda (1988). After starring in Blue Steel (1989) and True Lies (1994), opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ms. Curtis' career has been somewhat uneven. She's returned to the Laurie Strode character in Halloween H2O and Halloween Resurrection; appeared in lackluster comedies like Freaky Friday (2003), Christmas With the Kranks (2004) and Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008); written children's books and is now the spokesperson for Activia, the yogurt that makes you poop.

While Halloween did not start the slasher genre, you might say Psycho (1960) was the first one, it was a milestone of sorts. Audiences found out they liked to be scared. While there had been a few slasher films since Psycho, like Black Christmas (1974), Halloween is seen as really starting the trend that led to such films (and their franchises) as Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Child’s Play (1988).

As the 80’s and 90’s continued, slasher films tried to out-do one another, with more and more novel ways of killing victims and more blood and more gore. While the genre has been parodied by Scream (1996) with its sequels, and satirized by Scary Movie (2000), with its own sequels, it has never completely gone away. As mentioned in our review of Friday the 13th, last year’s The Cabin the Woods is a recent variation on the theme.

Now I am admittedly squeamish when it comes to these types of movies. As a rule I don’t like gore and I have a production code level of acceptance for blood. I only saw Halloween because my sons wanted to watch it. Perhaps it’s me or the time in which the movie was made, but it is not really all that bloody or gory. There’s enough, but it is not over the top, as in movies that came after it, notably A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), another movie I saw because of my sons, which literally gushes blood like a volcano with a bleeding ulcer. I also have a thing about piercing flesh, so Michael’s impaling victims is not a favorite to watch.

If you’re like me and not a fan of the slasher genre, then I would tell you to feel free to skip this one. But if you’re put in a position where you have to watch one or lose face, then Halloween is not really all that bad. Choose it over The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) or the aforementioned A Nightmare on Elm Street. And hey, it is Halloween after all. If you can’t get a good scare in today, when can you? And if it gets to be too much, keep reminding yourself, “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie” (apologies to Last House on the Left).

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