Directed By: John Carpenter
Written By: John Carpenter and Debra Hill
I didn’t intend to review this film when we started this horror themed month for October but I got caught up in the spirit. We have watched and reviewed several horror films this month but none quite as iconic as this one. Barring The Exorcist (which I refuse to see again) this is the big enchilada when it comes to the genre. An iconic film that set the tone for the decades that would follow. It was not the first slasher film but far and away this is the one that all the others would take the lead from. Everything from who the victims were and what they were doing to setting the tone with music to who would win in the end was all in the blueprint for this film. Seeing everything that comes after almost makes it redundant.
I was born in 1984, and by that time this franchise had already risen to the top and fallen from grace due to a horrible third film. The franchise would come roaring back with it’s fourth film in 1988 but it wasn’t so much a roar as it was a weep that kept it going for another 15 years. When I was growing up it was Friday the 13th that was all the rage. As a kid I specifically remember the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees being the thing to wear and while I didn’t know what it was I thought it was really cool. My mom would never let me go as the bloody machete wielding villain though opting for more traditional and cute costumes that never impressed my friends. Nevertheless I was introduced to Jason long before I even knew anything about Michael Myers. One of the first horror movies I ever saw was one of the Jason movies, no clue which one, and it scared the hell out of me. I remember going into dark rooms as a child and fearing Jason would be standing over me when I turned the light on. Darkness is always scarier when the idea of a slasher who is there to kill you for no reason is introduced. To a preteen child such irrational things seem possible when you are all alone.
By the time I actually saw this film I was in my later teens. I watched it because I knew it was a legendary film, but having already seen so many movies just like it the film had little effect on me. I had seen it all before and in much more violent and bloody fashion. Not only that, but Michael Myers’ white mask (a William Shatner mask turned inside out) had nothing on the hockey mask worn by Jason Voorhees. Even Jason’s weapon was scarier than Michael’s because Jason used a machete while Michael simply used a kitchen butcher’s knife. When I finished this movie for the first time I found it not scary at all and anticlimactic as well. I know now how wrong my initial perceptions were.
I may not have been impressed as a teenager but I was too young to really appreciate classic stories then. At that age I was always looking for more blood, more explosions, and more boobs. Some movies had been built up too much in my mind based on what I had already seen and I couldn’t look past something less to appreciate the fact that it was what started it all. The Jason movies only seemed more frightening to me because with each new film it was both trying to one-up this movie as well as all the other slasher films that preceded it. Jason would have never existed without this film and its success. This movie was made on a really low budget and raked in tons of profit. It became the blueprint for what many franchises would build their foundation on. A killer who kills kids for no real reason, victims that are engaging in promiscuous behavior, and a musical score that would set the tone for the film.
It’s not until the sequel to this movie that you get any motive as to why Michael Myers has targeted these teens for killing. I suppose the pointless killing adds an extra level of fear to the whole thing but this always bothered me, and I’ll admit it bothered me while I was watching it last night. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an awesome movie, but there is little point to it other than the guilty pleasure of watching violence. The popular slasher film that came out when I was in high school was Scream which made a lot of the “slasher victim formula.” The formula being that the kids engaging in drinking, drugs, and sex were the ones to fall prey to the stalking killer. This is the lead that the others followed because it’s the way it appears in this movie but I don’t see it this way. John Carpenter has dismissed the notion before and I think it’s simply because he wrote the teenagers to act like teenagers. What generation of teenagers don’t engage in drinking, drugs, and sex when the parents aren’t around? I think the fact that the victims in this movie were doing such is merely happenstance. Laurie Strode appears to be the angel of the group because she is the more innocent of the three girls terrorized by Michael Myers but she was getting high at one point in the movie. According to the formula proposed by Scream this would have put her on Michael’s chopping block but it didn’t happen because that formula never really existed in this film. They were just kids being kids, coincidentally doing what kids do when the slasher came to kill them.
I think the greatest thing about this movie is the musical score. That tune on the piano which has become legendary now is such an eerie and dramatic sound. It sets the tone for the movie and moves it along at the right pace. John Carpenter also did a lot of interesting things behind camera that added to the effect the movie had when it came out and was imitated by the filmmakers that would follow. Shooting from the point of view of the killer was a new idea at the time and it allowed the viewer to fear for the unsuspecting victim as their death crept up on them. Both of the qualities, the musical score and the view from the killer were things specifically copied for the Friday the 13th franchise.
This was the first film Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in and was the beginning of what would eventually give her the title of “scream queen.” Curtis came by it naturally because her mother probably would have had that title had it been around twenty years earlier. Her mother, Janet Leigh, was made famous for screaming in the shower scene in the original Psycho film. I have always been a big fan of Curtis because of her role in True/Lies in 1994, and because I saw her boobs in Trading Places as a kid. I was young when I saw that movie and instantly fell in love with her, her role in True/Lies only served to re-enforce that infatuation. This infatuation has proven to be very troubling as I have heard many times over the last ten years that she was born as a hermaphrodite, meaning that she was born with both male and female reproductive organs. I do not know if this is true or simply a popular myth but I don’t like it and find it really hard to believe. Curtis has fallen out of the limelight as far as films go these days but remains active in many notable causes. I think she had many terrific roles throughout her career and it all started with this movie.
Aside from Curtis the most notable actor to be involved in this franchise on a regular basis was Donald Pleasence playing the part of Michael Myers’ doctor Dr. Loomis. I have never really cared for the character because he always comes off as so annoying. In every one of the Halloween movies he appears in he is always the guy running around trying to warn everybody but nobody will listen. If he wasn’t such a whiney know-it-all maybe people would have listened to him. He is specifically preachy in this movie and honestly, most of what he says doesn’t make any sense. He says that he knows Michael Myers better than anyone but what can you really know about a person that hasn’t communicated in any capacity in fifteen years? His analogy that behind Myers’ black eyes is nothing but pure evil serves as nothing more than making the villain more ghoulish and threatening. That is the point I suppose but this guy couldn’t have died soon enough in my opinion. I haven’t seen the sequels in quite a while but if I remember right Loomis blows himself up at the end of the second film in order to kill Myers. If anybody knows how he managed to come back to the franchise let me know because I have always wondered.
This movie may come across as boring to younger generations that have seen it all before, just as it did to me when I was younger, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a lot to be said about a film that sets the bar and leads the way for so many that will follow. It doesn’t matter what film may have out done it later because it was merely trying to copy what was already achieved by this one. I didn’t love this movie when I saw it the first time but I have grown to appreciate it for what it is worth and what it has done for the genre and industry. This movie is one of the greatest horror films of all time and was a great way to spend Halloween night after the kids were done trick or treating and safely tucked into bed. It goes without saying that this movie is worth your time to see.
Classic. That’s really all that can be said about this movie. So classic in fact they made many, many, too many more. It’s a really cool horror movie that isn’t as scary as it probably was back in its prime, but I think it still holds it own. And nothing is more Halloween iconic than the theme song. I made it my ringtone this year.
I am going to say here that I feel kind of bad for the designer. They didn’t know what an iconic movie this would become. I am not a fan of this at all. I don’t like the illustration, the typography is just plain bad, and the copy-writing is worse. “The Night HE came back.” Who, Jesus? I actually want to recreate this one. I think it could be a lot of fun.