Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Scariest Film Ever Made: "Halloween" (1978)



It is hard to believe a film over two decades old can still inspire such scares, as well as really lousy sequels.

Jamie Lee Curtis is Laurie Strode, a bookish high school student whose biggest plans for Halloween night is babysitting little Tommy Doyle. Laurie's friends, Annie (Nancy Loomis, now Nancy Kyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles), are looking forward to Halloween night for a little boyfriend time. Nothing out of the ordinary is expected on this Halloween night in 1978 in Haddonfield, Illinois.

Fifteen years earlier, another bland Halloween night was disrupted when a child named Michael Myers murdered his sister after she had sex with her boyfriend. The boy is sent to an institution where he is cared for by Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence). As Loomis says, he spent seven years trying to reach Myers, then eight years trying to keep him locked up. He refers to the young man as "it" and "the evil." The Evil escapes and heads back to Haddonville, to complete some sort of internal killing plan.

Annie ends up babysitting Lindsey, but dumps her on Laurie when her boyfriend sneaks out of his house. Laurie contends with both frightened children, and the fact that she is book smart and may not be very attractive to boys her own age. Loomis meets up with Annie's father, Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers), and the two track Myers to his old home. Myers begins stalking Laurie and her friends, murdering them until the final climax, when Myers and Loomis face each other for the last time...or the last time before over half a dozen sequels break the spell of this suspense classic.

One of my top three favorite films, "Halloween" is an incredible piece of suspense. Carpenter keeps his direction fresh, giving us scenes never seen in horror before. Mad at Laurie for assuming Myers is dead once too often? Keep in mind "Halloween" started the indestructible slasher genre. This film invented many plot points and cliches that we take for granted as a film audience.

The cast is great. Curtis became a major star after this, and appeared in some later sequels. Pleasence made some awful movies over the years, but this was one of his best roles. Loomis' Annie is not the typical heroine's best friend, some of her comments to Laurie hurt, and her deadpan reactions are excellent. Lynda is funny as played by Soles, using the word "totally" a dozen times too often but not to the point of annoyance. Cyphers is good as the sheriff, not quite believing Dr. Loomis.

The strongest points of the film are its soundtrack and lack of gore. Carpenter, whether it was budgetary or part of his script written with Debra Hill, keeps the gore very low. The violence is shocking, but innards and blood are not splattered everywhere, making for some very scary scenes. This lesson was completely lost on both the makers of this film's clone series (Friday the 13th, etc.) and the sequel creators. Carpenter also scored the picture, eschewing a soundtrack of songs "inspired" by the film and using simple piano pieces that crank the squirm factor way up. His theme is still used in the sequels, and is sometimes the best part of them.

If you have not seen this in a while, or are looking to relive the original magic of the series, and Carpenter's glory days, then by all means find this again.

"Halloween" is seriously good, excellently paced, and still frightens so many years later. I highly recommend it. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: Halloween