7/18/07

R010 Halloween

(1978, Horror/Holiday, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy

I enjoy a good underpant.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

A deranged killer escapes a mental institution and returns to terrorize his home town.

Summary:

Co-starring Donald Pleasence as a pumpkin.Halloween night in the early sixties, Haddonfield, Illinois. A six-year-old Michael Myers (not the famous British-Canadian comedian) peeps at his teenage sister and her boyfriend through a window. The boyfriend leaves. Apparently traumatized by what he has just seen (which appears to be nothing), young Michael grabs a kitchen knife and mask and goes upstairs to murder his sister.

Fifteen years later, on the night before Halloween, an extremely nervous Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) guides a new nurse back to the mental facility he directs, warning her as they drive about a particular patient who must be kept in a drugged stupor at all times, so that he doesn’t...

They pull up to the gates and notice that the inmates are running free through the grounds. Dr. Loomis gets out of the car to investigate. Moments later, the nurse is attacked by a mostly unseen assailant. She escapes the car just before it drives away.

It’s Halloween in Haddonfield again, and straight-laced teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) goes about business as usual, making arrangements to babysit the neighbor boy, sitting through class, and bemoaning her non-existent love life with her catty teenage friends. A strange, masked figure keeps appearing behind bushes, in cars, and out windows, but is never there when she tries to show anyone else. Her catty friends show standard teenage compassion (a.k.a. derision) for her increasingly frightened behavior.

Dr. Loomis arrives in town just before nightfall; he makes contact with the local sheriff. The sheriff is rather incredulous, but elects to stay up all night scouring the town with Loomis on the off chance that his dire warnings are correct. They visit Michael’s old home to discover the fresh, half-eaten corpse of a neighborhood dog.

Virtuous teen Laurie Strode, pictured here with a slutty pair of impending corpses.Meanwhile, Laurie babysits a little boy while gossiping by phone with Catty Teenage Friend A, who is babysitting a little girl across the street. CTF-A spills something on herself and hangs up so that she can strip down to her underwear. Several laundry room-related false alarms later, she’s still alive and oblivious to the homicidal maniac lingering just outside the living room window. She blackmails Laurie into taking care of her babysitting charge for her, so that she can fornicate with her boyfriend in her employer’s house. She climbs into her car to go pick him up, but the knife-wielding Michael is hiding in the back seat. Fifty-four minutes in, and we’ve finally arrived at the movie’s second murder.

Shortly thereafter, CTF-B arrives with her boyfriend. The body of CTF-A has been removed, so the oblivious couple goes upstairs to fool around. Michael waits for them to finish before shuffling the boyfriend off this mortal coil. He goes after CTF-B as well; she sees him coming and manages to dial Laurie’s number before he strangles her with the phone cord.

Laurie assumes the grunting phone call to be a practical joke, but sends the kids to bed and heads across the street to investigate anyway. She finds the corpses of her friends in various poses, and then Michael surprises her with a knife. He only gets her sleeve, though; she escapes by throwing herself down the stairs. She runs back to the other house, and stabs him in the neck with a knitting needle when he chases her. She goes upstairs to check on the kids, but Michael gets up to follow. The kids hide again while she gets Michael’s hand caught in a closet door, steals his knife, and stabs him one more time. Then she lets the kids out and tells them to run for help.

They run into the street and find Loomis, who has been searching the town all this time. He rushes into the house to put several bullets into Michael, who has risen yet again to try and strangle Laurie. Michael falls over a railing and presumably dies, but a missing corpse and an obscene number of sequels (seven and counting) seem to indicate otherwise.

Thoughts:

Staid, blank-faced terror.Halloween is an effective, competently made film. It’s a little slow by contemporary standards, and the arbitrary, repetitive soundtrack can get annoying, but it works because it draws us in with a fairly interesting and reasonably realistic slice of small-town life before it starts stretching its credibility with the inexplicably unkillable antagonist. Many people consider this movie to be the first slasher film of any quality ever made (and, if you choose to ignore the prior existence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the original version of Black Christmas, I guess they’re right). If you like being frightened and have the patience for one of the earliest, most bloodless examples of the slasher genre, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Me, I don’t really “get” the horror genre in general. This may seem an odd admission coming from someone who watches and writes about horror movies all the time, but keep in mind that what I write about is bad movies, many of which happen to be horror movies as well. When watched for mockery purposes, a bad movie can be fun regardless of genre. When, upon occasion, I am surprised by a competent horror movie, I confess I get a little perplexed. I don’t mind being frightened occasionally in the service of the greater good, but it baffles me that people enjoy movies whose sole purpose is to frighten you, as if “horror” was a desirable end in and of itself. I’d much rather be fascinated than horrified. Give me a choice between Psycho and Halloween and I’ll choose Psycho every time. Norman Bates? Frightening, yes, but also fascinating. Michael Myers? Merely inexplicable and occasionally startling.

Kevin Murphy shows up to assist Mike Nelson on the commentary track. As Michael stalks Laurie early in the film, Mike says, “Puts on a mask; hangs around schools; frightens small children—it’s Michael Jackson!” Later, as CTF-A wanders the night in her underwear, Mike asks, “What’s her name again?” to which Kevin replies, “Victim Number One.” When we get near the two-thirds mark, and no one’s died since the opening sequences, Kevin notes, “In a recent movie, there’d be enough corpses to fill a strip mall right now.” It’s not a bad film, but the genre itself begs for mockery, and Mike and Kevin deliver.