Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Movie Review: John Carpenter’s Halloween 4 Stars

“This is not a man.”

Although there were slasher films before Halloween, none were nearly as successful. Shot for a couple hundred thousand dollars, Halloween grossed $47 million, launched the franchise of eight sequels, and spawned legions of imitators.

Unlike most slasher films, Halloween boasted at least marginally naturalistic performances, reasonable excuses for gratuitous nudity and truly suspenseful moments of terror, thanks largely to Carpenter’s use of inspired widescreen shot compositions as well as unseen horrors occurring offscreen. And, of course, that eerie music, that, as legend has it, Carpenter composed himself in about ten minutes, unhappy with the film’s original score.

In 1963, in the quiet town of Haddonfield, Illinois, six-year-old Michael Myers murders his teenage sister for no apparent reason. After fifteen years of therapy at a sanitarium for the criminally insane, Michael’s psychological profile remains an enigma. His psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) surmises, and we are led to believe thereafter, that Michael Myers is “pure evil.” Although an overt Freudian psychosexual theme runs throughout the film, Michael Myers’ actions are prompted by an innate wickedness.

Myers escapes the asylum just before Halloween in 1978. Loomis knows he will return to Haddonfield to resume his deadly dirty work and, as a latter-day Van Helsing, he begins to track the killer. Meanwhile, in Haddonfield, shy, studious Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) has plans to babysit on Halloween night. Her libidinous high school friends, Lynda (PJ Soles) and Annie (Nancy Loomis) pawn off their babysitting responsibilities onto Laurie, so that they can engage in wanton sex with their boyfriends. When Lynda and Annie never return, and no one answers the phone, Laurie fears strange things are afoot. Her fears are not unfounded.

Jamie Lee Curtis delivers a surprising performance in spite of pitifully trite dialogue. While most scream queens to follow relied on campy hysterics, Curtis’ terror seemed very real. (Heather O’Donoghue’s performance in The Blair Witch Project is perhaps Curtis’ only equal.)

John Carpenter has made better films. He’s also made much worse. But Halloween remains the film for which he is most celebrated, and it still stands fast as the American slasher film by which all others are measured.

Laurie: “Was that the bogeyman?”
Dr. Loomis: “As a matter of fact... it was!”

DVD Bonus Features:

Amazing. Anchor Bay, who also released the outstanding Army Of Darkness disc, does it again with Halloween. The two DVD-set contains plenty of treats and a couple of tricks. The documentary, Halloween Unmasked 2000 provides insight into the making of the film as well as the mythology of Michael Myers. The trailers are a hilarious time-capsule of the advertising styles of the ‘70s. And the movie itself looks and sounds incredible.

No comments: