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  Halloween
John Carpenter, USA, 1978
Rating: 4.9
 

Posted: October 24, 2003

Listen up, 'cause I'm only gonna say this once. With the Romero trilogy excepted, Halloween is the film that defined the modern horror movie. It's an excellent blend of physical horror and psychological suspense. To the casual movie buff, it's easy to lump Halloween into the "slasher" genre and be done with it. But to do this would only reveal one's ignorance. Halloween is a masterpiece.

Easy to say, but how does it achieve this? First, it has a good story. I'm not retelling it here: If you've never seen the film, then be gone from my sight and scurry away into the dank dwelling of your perpetual lowliness. For the rest of you, suffice it to say that Michael Myers will go down in film history as one of the most menacing characters of all time. He's the perfect blend of the physical manifestation of evil and pseudo-supernatural creepiness. Halloween does a great job of telling an extraordinary story, while keeping one foot firmly on the ground. Michael Myers does not fly. He is not invisible, nor does he deal in any other such base knavery. He lurks around corners. He stands outside windows. He hides silently in your house. Which brings us to our next point.

The setting is real. It's a neighborhood, with front lawns and backyards, a place we can all identify with, a seemingly peaceful suburban world. Man, can you just imagine looking out your window and seeing Michael Myers standing in your backyard? It would rank up there with the time I peeked out of my window and saw Laurence Station wearing only a sombrero and galoshes. Those things just stay with you, you know? Also, setting the film during Halloween is a stroke of genius. Halloween is pretty creepy by itself, but this just adds a whole other level to it. Michael Myers is referred to as "the bogeyman" several times during the film, and it's as fitting a title as any. He's always there, lurking behind the scenes, popping up like a bad penny or a Kevin Moreau review just when you least expect it. As the autumn leaves blow, this silent sentinel of evil walks among the masked revelers, and then wreaks havoc. We see him lurking in the background; parked outside a school in an old station wagon; and carrying a body into a house across the street. Creepiness, thy name is Myers!

As if these reasons were not sufficient, I give you Donald Pleasance. When there's buggery afoot, and you see that they've called in the D-man, look out: It's serious. Pleasance adds just the right amount of, oh, let's just call it "class" to the proceedings. Peter Cushing could have done in a pinch, but The Donald. Damn! He could sell matches to the damned souls burning in Hell. He could talk Rush Limbaugh into switching to a liberal. Heck, if he told me that the beautiful Ona Grauer was the daughter of Satan himself .well, that wouldn't change my mind. (He's only human, after all. We're still going to be married one day -- me and Ona, not me and The Donald, you freaks -- you wait and see.) So when the denizens of the town fail to heed Pleasance's warnings, well it's their own damn fault what happens next. He tries to warn the sheriff. He tries to warn the board at the hospital. But alas, no one heeds his warning. What's wrong with these people? If Donald Pleasance told me to get my game face on 'cause the blood was getting ready to flow, I'm getting ready! If there's a creepier scene than the one in which Pleasance's Dr. Loomis empties a large-caliber revolver into "the bogeyman," blowing him off of a second story balcony, only to look below and find him gone!, I've not seen it. Throw in some unsettling piano in the background, and BAM! Instant horror!

Unlike the comic book antics of later movie villains like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees (amateurs!), Michaels Myers, at least in the original film, does not stray from his objective. He never becomes a caricature of himself. No one laughs when he's on the screen. This is not campy horror people! Stick him in the neck with a knitting needle, he gets up. Poke him in the eye with an unwound wire hanger, he keeps coming. Stab him with his own knife -- no dice. The scene where Jamie Lee Curtis is convinced that she's finally killed "the bogeyman," and collapses to the floor? And in the background we see Michael Myers calmly sit up and turn his head?!! This is how you make a scary movie, people!!! Atmosphere! Camerawork! It costs far less than outlandish special effects, and much more effective.

If you've not seen Halloween in a while, it is most definitely time to revisit a classic. This is a true-to-the-bone horror film, and undoubtedly John Carpenter's finest hour. Don't believe me? Go rent Ghosts Of Mars. You'll see what I mean. Turn off the lights, lock your windows and prepare to be scared. Trick or treat!

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

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 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
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