Friday, October 2, 2009

30 Days of Fright - 01: Halloween (1978)

It's easy to look at an older film through overly forgiving eyes. As the years pass films tend to date poorly, rooted as they are in the point of time of their creation in terms of their technical make-up, the fashion of the day, and the cultural notions prevalent; the films zeitgeist if you will. But think of those classic films that don't age. Think of The Exorcist, and the original Wicker Man, and Rosemary's Baby. Now put those great movies out of your mind as we discuss the stinking pile of shite that is "Halloween".

Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie, a high school girl living in suburban Illinois, in a town where 15 years prior on Halloween night, a 6 year old boy named Michael Myers murdered his older sister. Michael has escaped from the secure hospital where he was incarcerated (I won't say treated) and has returned home on Halloween to do some killing. Myers is pursued home by his doctor who attempts to stop the slaughter, but not before Myers bumps off a few teens and puts the shits up Jamie Lee. The End.

Mike Myers - Pre "Austin Powers"

Halloween is one of those films where there are loads of great ideas, and all the component parts are there, but they've been put together wrong and the result is an abomination. The story is a good one but the script is terrible and the execution on screen is barely watchable. Nearly all the actors give sub sub par performances and watching Halloween is like watching a video of your local amateur dramatics society working through a script they downloaded off the Internet.

The script itself is woeful and characters come out with statements out of the blue for no apparent reason. Why does Curtis tell herself that she's grown out of superstition when she sees the kids trick or treating? There's no mention of superstition until that point. And what in the name of all that's holy is Jamie Lee doing saying that the boys in school won't go out with her because she's "too smart"? Too smart? Sorry love, they aren't going out with you because you're a dowdy cow not because you're a smarty pants!

Top of her class or bottom of the barrel?

And what the hell was going on up at the hospital that held Myers? A six year old with violent tendencies goes in for (I assume) treatment and comes out "pure evil" (that's the diagnosis given by his doctor, but to tell you the truth I'd want to see that lad's medical license before I believed a word he said). The state of Illinois really needs to take a look at how it treats those with mental health issues if they get so badly abused in hospital that they come out as the embodiment of evil! And despite the young lad being totally fucking naughty beyond redemption, when he gets down to doing some harm he's just not scary, not even to the two actual children Curtis is babysitting in the film.

Technically there's a lot wrong with Halloween. The opening scene where young Michael kills his sister is filmed as a long Point Of View shot - the audience is looking through his eyes as he goes through the house, gets a weapon and commits the murder. The problem is that Michael's eyes are too high - the POV is over six feet so he towers over lightswitches and other household fixtures, including his semi-naked sister! If the scene had been shot lower it would have given away that Mike is only a kid at that point and the big reveal would have been spoiled, but the cat's out of the bag anyway once you see him reach for the knife and the fact he's a child is no great shock anyway, at least not to modern audiences, though the thought of a kiddie killer in 1978 might have been a real wonder. Whenever POV is mis-used it can become a glaring error - just look at the POV in Robocop that starts off so well but is ruined once he stands up as his height seems to be around the 5'5" mark, not the giant he's meant to be.

Halloween is riddled with continuity errors and other goofs, like in the final scenes which have Michael leaving his knife on the living room floor but still having a blade when he's upstairs with Jamie Lee, but by that stage in the flick the damage has been done.

With all that's wrong it's easy to miss what's right, and that's the elements of the story that became teen slasher classics. The young girl protagonist, the running up the stairs instead of out the door, the lack of real assistance or understanding from those around her, and all the other little details of these movies feature in Halloween, and in some cases started with this film.

John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween is a pile of shite but it's cultural impact cannot be underestimated. It's still getting two thumbs down from me though!

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