horror

Mr. Sandman

The first time I ever saw Halloween was when I was around 10 years old, and was waiting for my babysitter Courtney to come over one Saturday a few days before Ol Hallow’s Eve. My mom had left the TV on and I watched the first few infamous John Carpenter scenes where it appears as if someone is watching and following neighborhood kids on October 31st. A small boy is seen getting bullied at school, where he’s carrying a large pumpkin through the outside corridor, and is pushed over onto the pumpkin. It smashes and falls apart onto the pavement. One of the troublemakers who takes off is confronted by a mysterious man in a steely grey jumpsuit. We don’t see his face, but we know the kid is frightened and runs away. The smaller kid who’s just been taunted is now seen walking home, from the passenger side of this mystery man’s station wagon—which we later find out is a stolen vehicle Michael Myers took on his way out of the asylum for the criminally insane. Behind the sepia-washed, 1970s tree-lined sidewalks, manicured lawns, and Laurie Strode and her girlfriends walking home from school with books in hand, a man lurks from the bushes, stalking his victims.

When my babysitter came over, I told her what I’d seen, and she smiled. She had been waiting to hear those words. We drove to the local movie store and rented horror movies for weekends to come. It is what started my love of the horror genre. Halloween, originally given the working title of The Babysitter Murders, is the kind of film that not only opened my eyes to a genre that would test my courage and induce heavy amounts of adrenalin for years to come, but stands as the king of all thrillers. The horrifying image of unkillable Michael Myers tops the list of ‘most terrifyingly crafted masked murderers.’ Interesting though, considering the original mask was conceived unintentionally through a lack of filming budget: the cheapest mask at the costume store, a William Shatner Star Trek mask that they spray painted white and reshaped the eye holes.

A big part of me is quick to say I’m only a fan of I and II. You can’t have one without the other, and anything beyond the two parter feels and acts overdone, uncreative, and only cheapens the original(s). Another part of me will admit to watching every Halloween sequel or remake made, several times, but only because I can’t not know what Michael’s latest tricks are. (It should be noted however that Halloween III has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the franchise.) Many remakes in film history fall short of the task at hand, but Rob Zombie’s 2007 and 2009 remakes played fittingly and respectfully on the substance, grit and history of the Myers character—building a complex family and mental illness background complete with one telling scene featuring Sheri Moon Zombie has the Myers mother, Deborah, a stripper in a plush fur coat and curly blonde hair dancing to ‘Love Hurts’ by Nazareth while her kids are at home and Michael is conceiving of murder.

Many critics disliked Zombie’s remakes, but he enhanced and etched out prequel qualities that hadn’t been navigated before. He not only revamped Michael Myers’ misunderstood image, but put a stamp of appreciation on a film I believe he agreed is somewhat untouchable. If the film had simply remade something considered outdated, it would have been a catastrophic failure. A remake needs to peel back layers that were there, but were never fully explored, and what’s more interesting than gaining a better understanding of the Shape, the man behind the mask, Michael Myers?

The original 1978 movie, Halloween, is my favorite horror film, ever. Perhaps it’s because of the pure fascination I felt for it when I first caught a glimpse of it on my TV at a young age. Or perhaps it’s because it’s the kind of film that remains relevant. It does not rely on gore and extreme violence. It carries itself in basic fears of being home alone, being at a house that isn’t your home where you are in charge of kids who aren’t yours, it plays on the spook of Halloween becoming a real nightmare, and that those famous last words, “I’ll be right back,” are a death wish. It says: Be afraid of the dark, of what waits for you in your closet, of who passes you in his car, and watches you from your classroom window. Michael Myers is standing in front of you in broad day light, an almost unbelievable vision caught in your backyard among the sheets hanging out on the line, and if you dare look away for even a moment, you won’t find him there when you look back. But you will see him again.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is walking home from school on October 31st. Accompanying her is the sound of John Carpenter’s infamous score that remains throughout the movie, a simple pairing of two piano keys delicately lingering behind old Buicks and piles of fall foliage, building and building, telling a story as it does, a key character of its own. Laurie lives in the kind of neighborhood where everyone knows everyone’s name, you don’t lock your doors at night, and this day above all others makes any citizen of Haddonfield think twice. The old Myers home sits quietly, watching children pass on bicycles, silently waiting the return of evil. Michael Myers, locked away after killing his older sister, Judith, on Halloween night 15 years ago, has escaped the hospital to return to his beloved town.

Halloween is a classic case of cliches that have only continued in horror films throughout the years: You don’t run up the stairs when the killer is chasing you. If you booze up, swear, or act like an unruly teenager, you’re up for grabs. You can run, walk, limp, or crawl away from the killer, for he will take his sweet time getting to you, but, he inevitably will. If you’re the lead character, you’ll likely live in the end, but your entire life has forever changed, and you will never completely escape the evil that follows you. In this case, Laurie does in fact escape Myers, by the hair of a closet rod full of wire hangers (Mommie, Dearest anyone?) But then we haven’t even made it to the hospital of Haddonfield yet, where not only does the Carpenter score intensify to a fast-paced electronic heartbeat of two notes, but we also see someone get completely fried in some kind of hot water vat—a sleazy doctor trying to seduce a nurse, if I’m not mistaken.

Dr. Loomis, an intelligent and likable character, who watches over the most evil boy in the world at Smith’s Grove Institution, and lasts almost as long as Laurie Strode in the franchise, was named after Sam Loomis, Janet Leigh’s boyfriend in Psycho. An intentional homage to Hitchcock. Dr. Loomis does not know everything about Myers, but his failures as a doctor, and his connection to the case, make him undeniably tied to the well being of whoever crosses paths with Myers. He has no intentions of curing Myers or rehabilitating this human, because he’s beyond human, and Loomis is convinced there is no fixing the pure evil that this supernatural like character is. Hitchcock inspired other elements of Halloween, related like the camera work often showing the plot unfold from the killer’s perspective. It was also one of the first horror films to use the false scare tactic, in which we are sure, thanks to the music swelling, that a seat-jolting moment is about to happen, and then it doesn’t. But wait! Suddenly, without warning, and only after the music has come to a brief stop, the killer suddenly arises before our eyes.

Laurie Strode’s character eventually discovers that she is the sister of Michael Myers. I theorize that the connection between Laurie and Michael’s other sister Judith is what drives Michael’s rage and twisted affection for Laurie. It is the reason he always knows if she is alive or dead. In the remakes, it seems like Myers has some kind of small fragment of respect for his mother, who perhaps carries a gene that he feels comforted by, but the female siblings in his life needed to be taken out, perhaps for him to have that sole love and affection by his mother. Just a theory though.

Halloween is every hair that stands up on the back of your neck. It’s the reason you’ve looked under your bed before you go to sleep at night. It stands deeply rooted in the hall of classic horrors. The art of the film lies in its perspective, the concept of not knowing you’re being watched, evil children. That 1970s, idyllic, suburbia American innocence pokes at the real versus the constructed. In some ways, you could see this as the kids of the 1950s growing up and raising kids in the 1970s without a real sense of harm ever being in their way, fitting into a cliche, buying into consumerism, and becoming paranoid with the idea of conspiracy and evil-doing. At the time: that could have been a nab at Watergate, spies, the segregation of hippies and what would later, int he ’80s, eventually be referred to as yuppies.

But above all, Halloween was and is terrifying for one thing: that John Carpenter score. Any horror buff will know that without suspenseful music, there’s hardly any fright. Cover your eyes all you want, it’s the sounds of the film that will get you. Carpenter was, quite obviously, inspired by the film Psycho in many ways, but it’s specific, contained score, comprised mostly of string instruments, is what bred Carpenter’s ideas for the Halloween score, along with a rhythm on the bongos that Carpenter’s dad taught him in the ’60s and by favorite composers like Bernard Herrmann. But perhaps this quote from Carpenter himself is the best way to sum up why the film and its music rely on each other for the complete horror experience:

“There is a point in making a movie when you experience the final result. For me, it’s always when I see an interlock screening of the picture with the music. All of a sudden, a new voice is added to the raw, naked-without-effects-or-music footage. The movie takes on it’s final style, and it is on this that the emotional total should be judged. Someone once told me that music, or the lack of it, can make you see better. I believe it.”

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  1. Pingback: The root of all evil « Some Kind of Nostalgia - November 1, 2010

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