On this most special of days to we Fellow Fans, we thought we’d take a nostalgic look back at the namesake of this great holiday…and remember what makes us tremble in the darkness on All Hallows Eve…
Looking back over the years, there are certain films that come to be tent poles of any genre; our beloved horror is no exception. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu stand out in the early years of silent films; the Universal trio of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man established the horror film from the Depression through World War II; Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist…all films that are now household names to we Fellow Fans; high-water marks of the art of horror filmmaking. That’s not to say that there aren’t many others that are deserving of praise (I’m certainly not implying a complete list with those), but only to point out that certain films etch such a deep groove on our collective psyche that they stand above the rest, becoming something that even the most cursory movie-goer will recognize its name and have some butchered story of their favorite scene. One such film is one of my very favorites, standing in my memory above many, many others…
In 1978, young filmmakers John Carpenter and Debra Hill set out to create a horror film with three-hundred thousand dollars and the seed of a very simple idea; a psychopath stalking teen babysitters. Originally titled as simply as the idea, The Babysitter Murders evolved and grew in the minds of the storytellers, and with the good fortune of a certain fall holiday having never been used as a title for a film and their combined talents as writers, producer, and director, they crafted a film that is now one of those above-mentioned household names.
Of course, I’m talking about the classic Halloween.
In 1963, on Halloween night, the picturesque little town of Haddonfield, Illinois was rocked with a horrific tragedy; six-year-old Michael Myers stabbed his teenage sister to death, for reasons that no one could ascertain.
Because of his age and seemingly obvious mental defect, the child was sent to the Smith’s Grove Institution where he was placed under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis. Time moved on, and fifteen years later Haddonfield has done its best to bury it’s nasty secret, and as is the way of collectively dealing with tragedy, memories of the killing have become relegated to whispers amongst the adults and ghost stories to the local children. Teen-aged Laurie Strode isn’t a believer in superstitions; she’s a level-headed, nerdy girl, more interested in her studies than social activities. For her, the upcoming Halloween night will be spent babysitting rather than partying, which brings jabs and barbs from her more free-spirited friends. Unbeknownst to the teens and children planning their fall festivities, the now-adult Michael Myers has managed to escape from Smith’s Grove, and despite the desperate pleadings of Loomis to look for him in Haddonfield, the powers that be don’t believe Myers would be capable of recalling, much less reaching the some hundred-mile distant community. Having seen something behind the eyes of Myers throughout the years that frightened him, Loomis sets out on his own to the small town, prepared to do what must be done to protect it from what he is convinced is the purest of evil. What ensues when all of these elements combine in the quiet, sleepy little town on All Hallow’s Eve will go down as one of the most terrifying and infamous nights in memory.
With a small budget but a one hell of a vision, John Carpenter and crew created a tale for the ages by taking a simple idea and combining it with an adept knowledge of old school film techniques, competent acting, and an inspired and terrifying synthesizer score. The movie has homages to great films past, with the influence of Hitchcock and Welles often peeking through, but it’s still an original, frightening tale of terror, a genre benchmark. Carpenter’s now trademark minimalism uses shadow and subtlety in lieu of exploitative (and expensive) gore effects to create a film that is now a thing of legend to many. The acting was top-notch, worthy of a much larger-budget work; for a cheap independent film, it was amazing. Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie was one of the first (and most-recognized) final girls in the genre, and her performance effectively kick-started her feature film career. Donald Pleasance breathed a stoic, determined life into the character of Sam Loomis; his portrayal of the character was determined yet vulnerable, scientific yet somehow mystical; the Van Helsing of my generation. Also of note was horror favorite P.J. Soles in a small but totally memorable role. This flick cemented Carpenter as a bankable name both as a writer and a director, and served as a milestone in the career of Debra Hill as well as several other names that have become well-known in horror circles, among them Dean Cundy, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Nick Castle.
Spawning six direct sequels and scores of imitators over the last thirty-six years (yeah, I’m skipping part three; although I personally like the film on its own merits, it’s not a Myers flick) and yet another chapter currently in the works, the longevity of Carpenter’s creation is firmly established. As is the case with most horror franchises, the storylines got more repetitive and less interesting as they went, at least until we got to H20. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve sat through multiple viewings of all those in between (and have several DVD and Blu-ray editions of each lining a shelf), and would happily point out all the things I love about them; in all honesty, however, we gotta admit that each sequel progressively gets further and further from the stygian darkness of the original film.
Like any classical beast of myth, Myers wasn’t evil made, he was evil born. More than a simple psychotic, he was a relentless force of nature; a silent, stalking thing of unholy patience with an insatiable lust for blood and death. We never knew why he did what he did; hell, poor Dr. Loomis had had fifteen years of studying him, and still had no clue. In the final summation, however, the reason why doesn’t matter; the simple fact was that he was out there…he was coming home.
He was that unknown thing in the darkness of our collective, primal consciousness.
He really was the Boogeyman.
Halloween is my favorite of Carpenter’s films…and one of my very favorite horror flicks of all.
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