Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloweek: Halloween (1978)

This week leading up to Halloween, I'm looking back at the original Halloween series of films, starting with John Carpenter's 1978 original. I've seen Carpenter's Halloween more than almost any other horror movie, and it impresses me every time I watch it. It's a model of economy and suspense, with every moment contributing to the overall sense of dread and discomfort. At the same time, Carpenter doesn't ever overplay his hand, and he spends plenty of time on character development, giving the main three teen girls real personalities before they come up against the horrors that await them. He and co-writer Debra Hill provide a low-key, realistic dynamic for the characters played by Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis, and the three actresses have a genuine chemistry that allows the audience to easily identify with them. Curtis' Laurie doesn't even face the homicidal Michael Myers until 15 minutes before the movie ends, but by that point we're thoroughly invested in what happens to her.

Although Halloween has plenty of iconic elements, including Carpenter's moody, minimalist score and the hulking, masked look of Michael Myers himself, it doesn't really have any lines or moments that have been repeated to death in various pop-culture venues, and thus it can feel a little fresher than, say, A Nightmare on Elm Street when watched from the jaded perspective of 2010. Michael himself is a deliberately blank, unknowable villain (in contrast to the overexplained victim of Rob Zombie's 2007 remake, or the convoluted mythology that eventually emerges in the sequels to Carpenter's original). Even the excellent opening sequence, shot from the point of view of the 6-year-old Michael, merely illustrates his actions without providing any explanation. As Donald Pleasence's Dr. Loomis says, he's "purely and simply evil." And that's a scientific opinion.

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