Compass International Pictures
Falcon International Productions
|Directed by: John Carpenter
||Running Time: 91min
Cast : Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Nick Castle.
Halloween opens with a magnificent four minute long POV panaglide shot that takes us all around and through the Myers house.
Review by Jay Wilson
Much has been said and written about Halloween’s famous opening shot, but I find the final moments of the film fascinating in that they unknowingly predict what was to follow. Most slashers end with the killer defeated on screen, and right when the characters think it’s safe to breathe a sigh of relief the killer pops up out of nowhere for one final jump scare. The end of Halloween shows Doctor Loomis empty an entire revolver into Michael Myers, we see him fall off a balcony, and when Loomis rushes downstairs the body is gone. Loomis looks up ominously, and then Carpenter cuts to a final montage showing all the locations where Michael had been throughout the film. However now, the killer is nowhere to be seen, yet we hear him breathing on the soundtrack.
He is nowhere, and yet ... he’s everywhere.
April in California doesn’t do very a good job of passing for October in Illinois, but given great colorful frames like this I could care less. In movies, I’ll take a great shot over logic any day of the week.
And today Michael Myers really is everywhere. Our culture is infused with the knowledge of what happens in these types of movies even if they’ve never seen one. So, in effect, in those final frames we see the true birth of the iconic undying slasher villains because in Halloween there is no conclusion. There is no closure. He’s still out there somewhere. Stalking. Waiting.
But, let’s back up. “There is no terror in the bang, only in anticipation of it,” said Sir Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense. Halloween, of course, opens with the point-of-view shot of young Michael Myers as he lurks around his house, observing his sister and her boyfriend, and eventually donning a mask and murdering her. We time jump fifteen years later and meet Doctor Loomis as he explains in no uncertain terms that “it” should remained locked up forever. Of course, “it” is destined to escape from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium—smashing through a car window with his bare hand, attacking a nurse, and driving off into the stormy night. And then, for the next forty-five minutes, Halloween demonstrates its incredible patience.
Michael Myers (aka “The Shape”) is actually seen quite a bit in Halloween, spending roughly the first hour stalking his prey.
We’ve seen Michael strike; we’ve seen him kill. We know he’s dangerous, and just in case we forget, Loomis occasionally appears and launches into a rant explaining to the local sheriff that what they’re dealing with is not a man, rather evil itself. We know Michael is a ticking time bomb, we know he’s in Haddonfield stalking the three babysitters—much of the time we can see him in frame—and it’s only a matter of time.
Yet, Halloween waits.
And while it waits, John Carpenter introduces us to its three protagonists: Laurie, Annie, and Lynda. Three ordinary friends in high school, living in an ordinary looking town, living an ordinary (70s) life. Granted the film has aged with fashion and character naivety; however, I believe this plays into one of Halloween’s strengths. This was before slashers went mainstream even though Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho had both come before it (and in both cases, took place away from civilization with the Bates motel off the main road and TCM in the middle of nowhere.) Halloween takes place in a friendly looking neighborhood and invokes that fantasy happy little town everyone wants to move to. A place that evokes safety.
There’s something Hitchcockian about this scene beginning with just Laurie and Annie talking to one another as they drive through Haddonfield. Along the way, Annie spots her father and stops to talk with him ...
... the girls drive off right as Loomis arrives to speak with Sheriff Brackett. Notice the car in the background which we know Michael is driving. The stories major threads and characters all woven into a single scene.
One of my favorite moment in Halloween: a minute long tracking sequence showing Laurie walk to the house across the street where we know (but she doesn't) that The Shape is waiting.
In almost every other slasher, the victims go out of their way to isolate themselves on the killer’s home turf. But in Halloween, Michael invades his victim’s hometown, he gets into their houses, and in doing so Halloween escapes much of the criticism one can level at other slashers (not that that makes it completely immune or anything.) With the exception of maybe Laurie Strode who does notice, these characters really don’t have any reason to think there’s a maniac stalking them in plain daylight—they’re in their homes behind locked doors. Besides, there’s houses everywhere and with them (in theory) people. Safety.
Earlier I mentioned the character’s naivety, but let me emphasize that’s in comparison to cultural awareness today where the amount of information and the speed at which it is delivered makes us hyper aware of humanities darker tendencies. However, let me point out that in several respects, Laurie, Lynda, and Annie are savvier and more sophisticated than characters in other horror films. Take Friday the 13th where pretty much once per film a female character will undress in front of a mirror and prep herself for the upcoming sex scene as if their sole purpose in life is the act of intercourse. Those films approach the subject with an almost giddy childish immaturity (maybe it’s how the girls always spray perfume on themselves, look in the mirror, grin, and give one last spray into her panties.) In Halloween, Annie Brackett spills a pan of popcorn butter all over her clothes (albeit, it looks like a tiny spill and cheap way to get her undressed, but whatever). She takes them off and puts them into the laundry. Simple as that. Not sexual in the slightest.
Meanwhile, she slips into a large button up shirt with no pants and spends the rest of the film like that. She doesn’t even bother taking her knee-high socks off even though it looks ridiculous. But the point is it’s not sexy. At all. Nancy Loomis is an attractive actress, of course, but she’s so casual and matter of fact about her temporary wardrobe that the scenes carry far more maturity. There’s more to this character than showing some skin and dying. A bit later she rendezvous with Laurie who looks her up and down and comments “oh, nice” to which Annie rolls her eyes and answers “it’s not been my night.”
Oy, the scene that would be repeated in every single slasher that followed. Damn you, Halloween! You started it! Oh well. At least Bob’s demise is cool, and it’s hilarious how Michael gets close to Lynda to kill her.
Director of Photography Dean Cundey would go on to do Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, Hook, Jurassic Park, and more. It’s easy to see why.
You may have noticed a lack of screens showing Michael Myers. Part of it is because he’s often obscurred and hard to see in a tiny static screen capture ...
And still, Halloween waits.
Meanwhile, in brief interludes Doctor Loomis tracks Myers to Haddonfield, teams up with Sheriff Brackett to find him, and explains to the good Sheriff (and the audience) what exactly Myers is. He talks about his history treating Michael Myers as a patient, he talks about the black soulless eyes of Michael—the Devil’s eyes—and his presence again elevates Halloween above the average slashers. In Halloween, there is a force actively pursuing Michael, and their actions make (relative) sense: Loomis waits by the Myers house while the Sheriff and his men patrol the streets, trying to find him without provoking a panic.
Of course Michael will inevitably claim victims, and I love how Michael is not a lumbering unstoppable hulk that just walks in and kills. He sets rudimentary traps, hides in the darkness, and waits for his prey. We see him drive a car while stalking the babysitters during the day. And through these on-screen actions, we can infer that Michael Myers does have a chain of thought—warped and demented, no doubt, and insane to the core—but Michael is a thinking being. He eventually isolates and traps Laurie Strode, gives chase until the final confrontation of the film described in the opening paragraph.
But Halloween really isn’t about murder, the chase, or confrontation. It’s about the ever present evil that lurks around us, forever watching, and forever waiting to strike. It’s about the anticipation of the bang, but not the bang itself.
Do I think Halloween is perfect? Not at all. I cringe every time I hear the first few musical stings—not the iconic themes for which the series is known, rather short little “jump” cues that more resemble sound effects than music which punctuate moments that really don’t need punctuation such as Michael standing up into frame after one of the babysitters crosses the street. Laurie Strode stops Michael twice, claims the knife from his seemingly defeated corpse twice, and both times drops it right next to him. I’ll give her the first time, but twice? Really? P.J. Soles plays Lynda, a promiscuous cheerleader who punctuates her sentences with the word “totally” and does have a sex scene which, no doubt, laid the template for every other oblivious teenage sex scene ever filmed. But, maybe the film and the character has just grown on me over time, but P.J. herself does have a certain charm that every actress playing a Lynda-clone has lacked (maybe it’s the ribbon in her hair that always looks like a cat ear to me.) And, there’s something about Donald Pleasance’s “the Evil is gone” delivery at the beginning that’s always bugged me—it just looks like it lacks conviction the way Donald stands, holds his arms, and looks around. But now I’m getting nit-picky.
... and the other reason is because Halloween is about cool reveals, and many of the shots with Michael only work in motion. A still really doesn’t do any of his scenes justice.
In closing, it’s really curious how the structure that’s come to define the slasher genre (even within the Halloween sequels) evolved from the original Halloween which is radically different from said formula. Slashers demand murders every few minutes (not present in Halloween), demand nudity (a few seconds of obscured toplessness) and a high gore content (which like Psycho, you see much much much less than you think you see.) Were the MPAA to rate today, Halloween might be able to get away with a PG13 rating.
Oh well. It makes Halloween that much more special.