Saturday, 9 July 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 23 - Halloween

#78 - Halloween

Raise your hand if you’re a slasher film buff who hasn’t seen this movie. Well even if you haven’t, you’ve certainly felt its influence in the slasher genre. While films such as Suspiria, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even Psycho had touched on a few elements of the genre before, Halloween was the first to lay out the strict formula with the whole death by sex, innocent virginal female survivor and a bunch of other original ideas that are now clichés of the genre.

It was a cold night on Halloween 1963 in Haddonfield, Illinois when 6-year-old Michael Myers stabbed his older sister Judith to death. Fifteen years later he escapes from a sanatorium and heads for Haddonfield again. Meanwhile we follow three teenage girls – Laurie, Annie and Lynda. Laurie is a shy and responsible girl who prefers babysitting to parties and will be babysitting on Halloween night. Annie will also be babysitting down the street but is hoping to meet up with her boyfriend know. Meanwhile Lynda and her boyfriend Bob plan to come over to the house where Annie is babysitting and use it for themselves. Of course none of the girls realise that Michael Myers is stalking them or that his psychiatrist is on his trail.

Since it is considered to be the first proper teen slasher film you can indeed see a lot of the standard clichés of the genre such as the promiscuous couple predictably getting offed while the innocent Laurie survives. But this film does a lot of things that most of its imitators forget when trying to make a quick cheap scare. Believe it or not, nobody is killed off until about fifty minutes into the film. The parts before that are used to build suspense and let you know that something is coming. Also something notable is that the film doesn’t go for the quick kill, so to speak. For example, there are several opportunities to kill Annie before she actually does get killed like when she’s stuck in the laundry room window or when she’s alone in the kitchen. She survives those encounters to build suspense and make you think she might survive while a lot of poorly made slashers just kill people off straight away without bothering to build suspense or create that sense of unpredictability. Also notable is how few people get killed off. Only three of the teenagers get killed if you’ll believe that, despite there being a lot more characters. That eliminates a lot of the predictability that comes with a ton of characters getting bumped off every few minutes.

The film makes great use of long creepy shots to give you the sense of the girls being followed, especially the ominous take of Laurie leaving the children in bed and slowly walking across the street to the house where we know her friends have been killed. Like in Poltergeist, there are a lot of long single-take shots that definitely give you an impatient creeped out feeling, like you just want Michael to go ahead and do whatever he’s going to do so he can stop creeping you out. The one that stands out is the famous opening shot from Michael’s perspective as he goes through his house preparing to stab his sister to death. And the whole thing is helped by the equally haunting theme song created by John Carpenter himself. And of course the jumpy little bit that comes whenever something scary happens.

Of course my favourite scene has got to be the most famous one, where Laurie enters the upstairs bedroom to find the bodies of her friends all arranged in the original “body revealing” scene you see in all good slasher films these days. Laurie then stumbles into the hall crying as we see the ghostly form of Michael Myers come out of the shadows at her with the butcher knife. Indeed the final climactic chase scene is one of the best in slasher movie history, rivalled only by probably the one in Nightmare On Elm Street. As for the best death scene, I’d have to give it to Lynda because who can beat getting strangled by a telephone cord while on the phone to your best friend?

For all its influence and ground breaking, the film does have its flaws. It does look a bit dated right now with all the clothes the characters are wearing, especially considering those were the height of fashion back in the 70s. Then the scenes with the child actors are pretty annoying to watch, especially the scene where little Tommy Doyle gets cornered by three bullies. I feel that scene could have been cut because it does stick out like a sore thumb. The two young actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Loomis do have some problems with their lines but hey it was Jamie’s first film. PJ Soles on the other hand is brilliant as Lynda, dropping the word “totally” in every other sentence. The late great Donald Pleasance is of course equally brilliant as the psychiatrist who knows what makes Michael tick.

So another film down and I’ve covered the first proper teen slasher film as well as the clichés that were new and innovative at the time. Although it’s a bit dated now, it still holds up as a classic of the horror genre and one of the most influential films to date. Yes I’ve seen all the sequels and I don’t think they’re as fun as the first one except for maybe H20. Whatever the case, that’s it for another day so don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

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