Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Live From Beautiful Downtown Haddonfield, Illinois Clyde’s Movie Palace Presents: Halloween (1978)

Reviewing a classic film held in high esteem can be a no win scenario. If it’s a film you really love, you may have a tendency to go on and on like a gushing school boy declaring your undying devotion as if you were Mary Kay Letourneau
longing for heartthrob Vili Fualaau from your jail cell.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t quite see what the big deal is and decide to offer up maybe just a teensy weensy little speck of criticism, or maybe even trash it altogether.  I could do this and probably will when and if I ever get around to reviewing certain films which have had cinematic greatness bestowed on them for all eternity for whatever reason.  At which time all the fan boys will descend on me like locusts letting me know I am not entitled to any opinion but theirs.

Halloween 0001What does all this have to do with John Carpenter’s Halloween? Maybe something, maybe nothing. It’s just that there are some movies where everything that can be said about them has already been said, in a book, in a documentary, or written as commentary on every film discussion board worth its salt that proliferates the internet. The original Halloween is no exception.

In case you’re one of the ½ of 1 percent of the population who doesn’t know the story or maybe a member of the One Million Moms Organization who’ve never seen it because you might go into shock over P.J. Sole’s exposed breasts, here’s a quick rundown.

A very young boy, Michael Myers, (Will Sandin) comes home on Halloween just as his teenage sister (Sandy Johnson) is preparing to do the bump and grind with her boyfriend (David Kyle). (How young is Michael? We’ll get to that, just bear with me.) Or maybe he was always at home just hiding in the shadows until the pumpkin credits finally fade out.

In the amount of time it takes for sis and her sex starved young lover to go upstairs, hop into the bed, then hop out of the bed, and for the boyfriend to kiss and run, Young Mr. Myers takes a knife from the kitchen cabinet, heads upstairs, slips on his clown mask and lovingly greets sis by stabbing the shit out of her. (How long was it before he went upstairs and how old was he that he was able to overpower his sister so easily? We’ll get to that, just bear with me.)

He then heads back downstairs to greet Mom Myers and Pop Myers, who rip his mask off so we can see his blank cold deadly stare of pure evil as the camera pulls backwards until we fade out. (What is Ma and Pa Kettle’s reaction to their son standing there with a bloody kitchen knife? We’ll get to that, just bear with me.)

Flash forward fifteen years minus one day later. Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) are headed to the State Hospital to pick up Michael for a hearing required by law that will determine if he’s now sane enough to be set free. But Mikey, being of not so sound mind and inhabited by the spirits of Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer, knows his chances of being set free to walk the streets of Illinois are roughly equivalent to that of having angels fly out of his ass. So he decides to head out on his own in the same automobile that Loomis and the nurse had arrived in.

Having been locked up for fifteen years, how did Michael learn to drive? Well, funny you should ask because someone else asks Loomis the same question. And although he has no explanation it’s a pretty good come back just the same:

Dr. Loomis, having taken care of The Honorable Michael Myers for a decade and a half, is pretty damn sure he’s headed back to Haddonfield, the All-American City that spawned him in the first place, to practice his craft a little further. Understandable when you consider the fact that he has so little other skills beyond stealing state issued automobiles.

Halloween 3 movie collectionHe commences to stalking the babysitter’s club, whose members are  Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Annie Brackett (Nancy Kyes (Loomis), and Lynda van der Klok (P.J. Soles). Technically only two of them are doing any babysitting on this particular night, but who knows what Lynda is up to the rest of the week. What other skills could she possibly have besides drinking beer, making out with her boyfriend, drinking more beer, and making out with her boyfriend some more? Come to think of it, I wouldn’t hire her as a babysitter either. I guess Laurie is our go to girl.

While Mikey is stealthily sneaking around his old neighborhood haunts by driving the stolen state vehicle up and down the streets as if he’s just back from Daytona, Dr. Loomis heads to Haddonfield to track him down, hopefully before Michael has a chance to brush up on his jack-o.lantern carving skills using Laurie, Annie, and Lynda as models.

And that’s about it. If you’ve seen the film, you know the rest of the story. If you haven’t you wouldn’t want me going into the rest of the gory details. So if you haven’t watched, you may want to stop reading right now and then come back later for our group discussion, consisting of me, more me, and mostly me, when you have something not so worthwhile to add.

I was watching the film for the umpteenth time a couple of nights ago, and it was a struggle to make it through the first twenty minutes or so. Maybe I was just tired. Perhaps I had seen it so many times that the thrill was long gone. I’m not sure. So while I watched, in between dozing off, I began to become irritated with some of the havoc caused by Mr. Michael Myer’s reunion with his Hometown of Haddonfield.

For instance, my recent review of The Best Little Whorehouse came to mind and the lyrics of the Charles Durning song stuck in my head:

“Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don't-

I've come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,

Cut a little swathe and lead the people on”

The above verse would pop into my head every time Sir Michael Myers would step in and out of the shadows. Look! He’s outside the school window! Oh crap, no he’s not. Look! He’s behind the shrubbery! Oh damn, no he’s not. Look! He’s mingling with my bed sheets! Oh hell, no he’s not. Look! The bogeyman is standing next to the baby-sitter's house! Oh heck, no he’s not.  This guy has more disappearing acts than David Copperfield.  Observe this picture montage that I literally spent hours putting together.  Yes, you may hum the Halloween theme as you scroll.:    

You can stop with the humming any time.

It would seem Myers can move pretty damn fast when he has a mind to. He only seems to slow down when he’s getting ready to stick a butcher knife into your gut or cut an extra airway into your windpipe. In that case he comes at his victims with all the speed, subtlety, and grace of Boris Karloff running from the villagers in Frankenstein. And you know how that ended. Yep, you guessed it: endless Frankenstein sequels, remakes and rip offs, just like it did with this film.

And then there’s this. At 3 minutes and 15 seconds into the movie, Judith Myers (Michael’s sister. She does have a name lest we forget) heads upstairs with her unnamed boyfriend (who doesn’t have a name lest we forget) to do the nasty. At 4 minutes and and 30 seconds, with no cuts and the camera never straying from young Michael’s point of view, the boyfriend is already coming down the stairs putting his shirt on.

That’s what I call a quickie! Hell, why even bother with the trip upstairs to the bedroom when you’re that fast? This lad was so fast he must be an embarrassment to teenage boys all over the planet! This guy is so fast, he makes Roadrunner look like he’s standing stationary. This guy is so fast, that if he had run against Secretariat in the Belmont, Secretariat would have been looking at this boy’s ass fifty lengths from the finish line. This guy is.....oh never mind. You get my point.

When I originally posted this review, one reader dared to challenge me on how I knew if they had even had sex.  Let me see, the boy comes down the stairs getting his clothes back on and Judith is upstairs totally nude brushing her hair.  I don’t think they were up there discussing the merits of 70’s disco.

Then there’s the fact that Michael is only six years old when he carves up dear old sis. We know this to be true because later in the movie Dr. Loomis talks about him having been six when he started treating him.

Now I don’t know about you but even if I were a sixteen but more likely a seventeen year old female and some six year old pint sized little shit comes at me with a knife, he may get one whack at it and then that little fucker is going to be flying across the room and out a second story window. And I don’t care if Judith is just a horny teenage girl with a fast boyfriend. Look how many stabs it took Norman Bates to put the hammer down on Marion Crane.  And he was an adult.

Yeah I know, easy for me to say. I’m not the one being hacked and maybe that first whack was right on target severing her spinal chord, thus incapacitating her and all the arm waving was just a nervous reaction. Sort of like farting after you’re dead.

You know, the proverbial lucky shot. Anything’s possible. Frankly, I just think he was pissed because the boyfriend did some nasty things with that clown mask in the 1 minute and 15 seconds he was up in the bedroom. I’d be pissed too but I still wouldn’t hack my sister up.

And what was the deal with those parents? I mean, they see the bloody knife in his hands and the look on his face and all they can do is say, “Michael!” and then stand there like a couple of clueless dolts waiting for the scene to fade out. I mean, I half expected them to say,

“What do you have to say for yourself Beaver and what did you do with Wally?”

And if you’re like me and have seen this movie endless times, don’t you get just the least bit irritated when a certain someone drops that knife towards the end of the movie? I know you do. Don’t lie.

And then the dumb ass turns around and does it a second time as sort of an ode to Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough.

I originally saw Halloween at a drive-in with my girlfriend, soon to be wife, soon to be ex-wife in South Point Ohio many summers ago. And the fact that I’ve seen it so many times since and know the details as well as I do is actually a testament to it’s staying power. I’m no longer scared when I watch it, and I’m sure much of today’s audiences are so jaded by the torture porn of films like Hostel and Saw that they would hardly understand what the fuss is all about especially considering how bloodless Halloween is by comparison.

But yet, I viewed it with my youngest son last Halloween, and many of the scenes made him jump, so I guess having the bogeyman come out when you least expect it and say boo still gets the job done, and this film did it better than most especially when you consider it’s miniscule budget of $300,000 which even in 1978 dollars was a mere pittance. The film went on to gross over fifty million dollars upon it’s release.

The reason the film works is not because we watch a serial killer on a prowl, it’s because director/writer John Carpenter and co-writer producer Debra Hill puts us in the house and makes us the victim as much as his cast of hapless teenagers. Is Michael in the kitchen or isn’t he? Is he behind the bushes or isn’t he? Is he mingling with the drying clothes or isn’t he? Just as Laurie is unsure of her own senses, we become doubtful of ours as well. Is what we are seeing in her imagination, or is it the Boogeyman, able to fade in and out as he pleases?

There is one scene in this film that I am in awe of to this day. At one point Laurie is standing next to a darkened room. A Closet or something.  Michael seems to appear out of nothingness and we begin to question whether or not we had seen him there all along. But our attention is so focused on Laurie that we can never be sure. And it happens every time I watch this movie.  Observe:

Likewise, when in the living room of the house across the street, we know just as Laurie does that Michael has gotten in through an open window. We can hear him breathing somewhere nearby, but like Laurie, we never know exactly where he is lurking. And remember, before Halloween, indestructible human killers were a rare thing unless they were man made monsters stitched together in a laboratory being chased into a windmill owned by Universal Pictures.

The casting of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie was either a stroke of luck or genius, depending on how you look at this. She’s young, fresh, and brings just the right feel to a character that is supposed to be naïve and innocent, unlike Lynda and Annie who are as horny as Michael’s sister was years ago. Or if you insist, Laurie’s  a goody two shoes.

Donald Pleasance brings a certain amount of over the top scenery chewing gravitas to the character of Dr. Loomis, making him unforgettable in an odd sort of way. I guess. If you mention Donald Pleasance to someone they’ll always think of his role in the Halloween Movies.  In my case, I think of him as Dr. Loomis this film, as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, or as Dr. Michaels in Fantastic Voyage where he was unceremoniously devoured by a white corpuscle.

There is another actor in this film that I haven’t mentioned. Much in the way that Jaws would have been a different film without John Williams menacing shark theme, Carpenter’s score for this film works to perfection in it’s ominous simplicity. It serves to enhance the relentlessness of Michael Myers, much in the same way that William’s shark score let us know someone was about to become fish bait.

It’s easy for me to have a little fun at the expense of Halloween, but there is no denying it’s impact on horror films and the craftsmanship that went into it. And sure, some of the things in the initial twenty minutes don’t stand up to scrutiny, and at times it’s low budget flaws are glaring. 

All the trees are green as is the grass although it is supposed to be late fall.  But Carpenter blew a bag of dead leaves around to try to overcome that.  At one point, when Annie and Laurie are driving to babysit, it suddenly switches from daylight to dark even though they only drove a couple of block. 

But who cares? That’s part of the charm of this film.  It succeeded with almost nothing but the desire to make a good film.  It’s a horror film, and despite its flaws, when it gets down to business it succeeds on every level leaving me no choice but to grant it a score of an A..

This closing moment, one of the greatest and most memorable two lines ever spoken in any horror film, is worth the A by itself. Not to mention that it’s the best possible way to close out this review. Happy Halloween, y’all. Stay safe.

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