Rather frequently I discuss the current state of film with my friends, no surprise there. One of the more intense topics of debates is what has happened to horror as a genre. One on particular example is how movies such the ‘Saw’ franchise have eroded a once entertaining type entertainment has degraded into something that would make Tomás de Torquemada cringe commonly referred as ‘Torture Porn’. I am not against blood shed or violence in a horror movie, in fact if done properly it can be used to heighten the requisite fear. A sub category of horror flicks, the slasher movie, is an ideal case study. Currently a das and slash movies assembles a group of attractive teens, isolate them and send some unstoppable monster with a perchance for sharp edges chasing inexorably after his victims picking them off one by one. Even that simple motif has been corrupted by the infusion of torture. Just before this lamentable trend latched on to this venerable genre there was a period of time when the best horror oriented filmmakers were abler to ply their craft with a lot scary entertainment value while retaining a modicum of good taste. Arguably the definitive slasher style movie was released in 1978 by a certifiable Master of Horror, John Carpenter; ‘Halloween’. This opus was part of the independent horror movement that grew out of the exportation flicks and midnight movie craze. In another time Carpenter would have been one of the village story tellers regaling his tribe with mesmerizing tales of creatures lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce on their unsuspecting victims. Frequently there was a didactic component to the stories where those exhibiting sinful behavior are among the first to succumb. The franchise that followed this movie generated eight sequels and a reboot that has already spawned its own sequel.
In the town of town of Haddonfield, Illinois the kids look forward to the 31st of October with the same gleeful anticipation of millions round the country. In 1963 all that would change as this holiday took on a sinister aspect that would linger in the core of the community. Six year old Michael Myers (Will Sandin) puts on a clown mask an proceeds to grab a knife from the kitchen wanders into his room of his teenage sister Judith (Sandy Johnson)and upon walking in on her having sex with her boyfriend hacks her to death. He is apprehended and placed in a long term psychiatric facility. On October 30, 1978, one night before the fifteenth anniversary of his crime Michael Myers escapes and begins what will become one of cinema’s most infamous killing sprees. Michael's primary psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) has been treating the boy for most of his incarceration and was allayed convinced that should Michael ever escape he would return to his home town to pick up where he left off.
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a popular girl in the local Haddonfield high school. Pretty, smart and outgoing Laurie is s good girl somewhat shy around boys. Her best friend’s Annie (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda (P. J. Soles), don’t seem to have too many inhibitions, the now adult Michael has fixated on Laurie and has begun to stalk her. Wearing a pair of overalls and an appropriated William Shatner mask he follows the teen around town. Dr. Loomis begins to investigate realizing that in the cemetery Judith Myers' headstone is missing. The girls prepare for an evening of babysitting. Laurie is sitting little Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) while Annie is just across the street with Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards). Annie receives a booty call from her boyfriend, Paul (John Carpenter in an unaccredited appearance).gets Laurie to also watch her charge. Although the primary object of Michael’s attention is Laurie slicing his way through her friends makes for a bloody undercard.
Unless you have lived in a community without electricity for the last thirty five years you already know the details of this film; it’s iconic. The tropes and stereotypes established here have been integrated not only to the horror genre but as an integral part of our society. Every culture in history has had a boogey man in one incarnation or another. In our current culture the triumvirate of evil for decades has been Freddie Kruger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. The share a few traits in common but each manages to bring their unique spin on maleficence to the table. Freddie has his dark banter and bladed fingers, Jason his hockey mask while Michael personifies evil with his lumbering, unstoppable reign of terror.
Most slasher films come and go in a blink of an eye terrorizing the audience with gruesome special effects that fade in their effectiveness after a few viewings. With ‘Halloween’ Carpenter has crafted a masterpiece of terror that works on not only a visceral level but more importantly it infuses itself into the dark recesses of the most primitive part of your mind and makes an indelible impact on the psychological level. The trope of the personification of evil is ingrained in what makes us human. It represents the fears we have held of things that go bump in the night from when we sat in caves huddled for safety around a fire. The crafting of this film set the bar for the genre and has been challenged but never quite surpassed. With this 35th anniversary edition reinvigorates this classic with a high definition make over but new extras that every fan will enjoy. These films was the trend setter and while horror movies have degraded to the senseless infliction of pain through the use of overelaborate devices and circumstances this movie remains the purified essence of what a horror movie should be. The terror that starts with shocking images just provide the fertile ground for the exploration of primordial fears turning everyone in the audience back to childlike state of irrational fear. Even if you are not particularly a slasher film devotee the crafting this movie is so tightly executed, no pun intended, that it a piece of our cinematic heritage.
New Audio Commentary With Writer/Director John Carpenter and Actor Jamie Lee