Skip to main content

You haven't anything to worry about. He hasn't spoken a word in fifteen years.


(SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s original slasher. Or at least, the movie that began the seemingly endless cycle. I have to admit, however, that while I recognise Halloween’s stripped-down effectiveness and visual elegance, its persuasively insistent score and the engagingly antic presence of Donald Pleasance’s prophet of doom – representing scientific reason! – I don’t rate it as highly as some of the director’s lesser known or regarded pictures.

It’s worth noting some of the different takes on the picture, both in terms of praise and refutation, and how they actually end up saying many of the same things. Carpenter and co-writer and producer Debra Hill lay it all out there with kids’ incessant references to whether the boogey man and whether he is real, and Dr Loomis’ (Pleasance) raving to anyone who will listen that Michael is “purely and simply evil”. Pauline Kael acknowledged this in her review, but also attested to its “pitiful, amateurish script” that “doesn’t seem to have any feeling at all for motivation or for plot logic”. She essentially recognised that this is, if not the point, then beside it, but I do see and sympathise with her complaint that, once you take away the vital and intrinsic stylistic tricks – courtesy of Carpenter’s nifty Panaglide camera – there’s a shortage of anything else there.

Attempting to account for Halloween’s phenomenal success, Kael sniped that “stripped of everything but dumb scariness… it satisfies part of the audience in a more basic, childish way than sophisticated horror pictures do”. Kim Newman was much less grudging in offering the picture praise – he would be, as a horror buff – but he made many of the same points, that it was “the perfect machine movie. Its only message is ‘boo!’… It’s sort of silly, full of seat-clutching scare moments, and, most of all, fun”. Kael’s objections to internal integrity scarcely mattered: “The boogey man doesn’t have to make sense, all he has to do is be scary”.

Kael’s thoughts on the genre it birthed are not recorded; “classy” De Palma slashers were much more her cup of tea. But Newman knew his genre when he attested “Few horror films are as well made or as inoffensive”. Time Out’s Tom Milne called HalloweenA superb essay in Hitchcockian suspense, which puts all its sleazy Friday the 13th imitators to shame with its dazzling skills and mocking wit”. And Newman too noted it was with the advent of Jason Voorhes (or his mum) that “psycho movies started to go nastily wrong”. He highlighted the lack of blood in Carpenter’s film in favour of suspense – it’s singular connective tissue with the preceding Assault on Precinct 13 and indeed TV movie Someone’s Watching Me! – whereas those that made subsequent entries in the genre “aren’t talented enough to direct a hosepipe”.

Newman also identified the elements Kael attempted to work through to account for Halloween’s success, recognising it was “about as original as an Italian western remake of a samurai epic”, and that original concept The Babysitter Murders from producer Irwin Yablans wasn’t really all that; on paper, it “did not sound like the kind of film that would stretch the horror genre overmuch”. One can put the results down to many things: the alchemy of the simple title and the hook of the music, the prowling camera and the simple “dumb scariness”. It’s all those elements, but it’s essential to note that even Kael recognised Carpenter’s facility as a filmmaker, even if she objected that he “keeps you tense in an undifferentiated way – nervous and irritated rather than pleasurably excited – and you reach the point of wanting somebody to be killed so the film’s rhythms will change”.

I’m happy to admit I’m only ever moderately engaged by Halloween until the final fifteen minutes, when virginal tomboy Jamie, I mean Laurie, comes under direct attack from Michael, as opposed to being preyed upon at a distance. It’s easy to see the picture’s traits in terms of self-parody now, given the way it stops and starts and the music cues suggest foreboding when Michael’s nowhere in sight (let’s not forget how Carpenter later sustained the opening titles of Prince of Darkness, also partial to its very deserted setting, there urban rather than suburban). As Kael commented, “there’s so much subjective tracking you begin to think everybody in the movie has his own camera”.

Again, though, Carpenter explicitly isn’t resisting that (“True crass exploitation” he called it). You only have to look at the scene in which Loomis scares some kids away from the Myers house by putting on a scary voice, before visibly jumping when Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) comes up behind him, to see the director of Dark Star is present and correct.

Loomis’ ranting offers the refutation of the explicable psyche at a key point. Halloween doesn’t thrive on the explicitly supernatural – a demonic or satanic influence – and it’s a long way past a world where rational explanations were possible for disturbance (the episodes of Spellbound through to Psycho and even Frenzy), a world where morality is relative and grounded in accountable formative influences and there are shades of grey. Michael isn’t the Damien Antichrist. He’s just a stone-cold child killer and adult one too (Hill references their inspiration from the Samhain idea of souls “let out to wreak havoc on the living” on Halloween, personified in Michael). He unleashes a very materialist horror, then, for all that he is evil personified, and that may be why slashers were so prevalent in the subsequent decade (even A Nightmare on Elm Street, for all its dreamscape surrealism, is about the perfidy of the flesh).

Dr Loomis comes on like a cackling loon from a Universal horror, confirming that every superstitious view naysaid is in fact real, and then Michael proves it by refusing to stay dead. “Sometimes you think he’s going to have to cross his eyes to keep a straight face” said Kael, but she’s only underlining the fine line between terror and parody the picture walks

None more so than Laurie’s queasy “I’ll kill you if this is a joke” as Lynda (PJ Soles) is strangled on the other end of the phone. Notably, Michael only kills three people when he reaches Haddonfield (four if you count the dog, the only one of them not randy, although we don’t know that for certain). Which is positively restrained by most of the genre’s standards (“sexually uptight” Laurie does the most stabbing, and in keeping with her twisted sobriety has a self-portrait by Belgian expressionist painter James Ensor on her wall; he was keen on his figures with grotesque masks or skulled faces). It probably feels like more, because Carpenter has spent so long establishing mood. This includes those ever-present pumpkins and the bizarrely ritualistic sister’s tombstone overseeing the body of Annie (Nancy Kyes). Curiously, the kids are watching old sci-fi movies (The Thing, Forbidden Planet), rather than outright horrors.

The Carpenter-produced sequel went in for the gore the original had avoided. But then, Carpenter himself took fright and added some to The Fog after getting cold feet over its box-office prospects. Halloween II was ignored by the also gore-friendly 2018 retcon, a derivative attempt to Sarah Connor-up Laurie that certainly didn’t improve on the H20 revisiting of Curtis’ character twenty years earlier. Halloween has bags of atmosphere, and it may be the picture Carpenter will be most remembered for, but for my money, the four (cinematic) features he made either side are all a cut above.


Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Are you, by any chance, in a trance now, Mr Morrison?

The Doors (1991) (SPOILERS) Oliver Stone’s mammoth, mythologising paean to Jim Morrison is as much about seeing himself in the self-styled, self-destructive rebel figurehead, and I suspect it’s this lack of distance that rather quickly leads to The Doors becoming a turgid bore. It’s strange – people are , you know, films equally so – but I’d hitherto considered the epic opus patchy but worthwhile, a take that disintegrated on this viewing. The picture’s populated with all the stars it could possibly wish for, tremendous visuals (courtesy of DP Robert Richardson) and its director operating at the height of his powers, but his vision, or the incoherence thereof, is the movie’s undoing. The Doors is an indulgent, sprawling mess, with no internal glue to hold it together dramatically. “Jim gets fat and dies” isn’t really a riveting narrative through line.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Fifty medications didn’t work because I’m really a reincarnated Russian blacksmith?

Infinite (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s as if Mark Wahlberg, his lined visage increasingly resembling a perplexed potato, learned nothing from the blank ignominy of his “performances” in previous big-budget sci-fi spectacles Planet of the Apes and, er, Max Payne . And maybe include The Happening in that too ( Transformers doesn’t count, since even all-round reprobate Shia La Boeuf made no visible dent on their appeal either way). As such, pairing him with the blandest of journeyman action directors on Infinite was never going to seem like a sterling idea, particularly with a concept so far removed from of either’s wheelhouse.

I can do in two weeks what you can only wish to do in twenty years.

Wrath of Man (2021) (SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie’s stripped-down remake of Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck , also the working title for this movie) feels like an intentional acceleration in the opposite direction to 2019’s return-to-form The Gentleman , his best movie in years. Ritchie seems to want to prove he can make a straight thriller, devoid of his characteristic winks, nods, playfulness and outright broad (read: often extremely crude) sense of humour. Even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its fair share of laughs. Wrath of Man is determinedly grim, though, almost Jacobean in its doom-laden trajectory, and Ritchie casts his movie accordingly, opting for more restrained performers, less likely to summon more flamboyant reflexes.

Five people make a conspiracy, right?

Snake Eyes (1998) (SPOILERS) The best De Palma movies offer a synthesis of plot and aesthetic, such that the director’s meticulously crafted shots and set pieces are underpinned by a solid foundation. That isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t a sheer pleasure to be had from the simple act of observing, from De Palma movies where there isn’t really a whole lot more than the seduction of sound, image and movement. Snake Eyes has the intention to be both scrupulously written and beautifully composed, coming after a decade when the director was – mostly – exploring his oeuvre more commercially than before, which most often meant working from others’ material. If it ultimately collapses in upon itself, then, it nevertheless delivers a ream of positives in both departments along the way.

I’ll look in Bostock’s pocket.

Doctor Who Revelation of the Daleks Lovely, lovely, lovely. I can quite see why Revelation of the Daleks doesn’t receive the same acclaim as the absurdly – absurdly, because it’s terrible – overrated Remembrance of the Daleks . It is, after all, grim, grisly and exemplifies most of the virtues for which the Saward era is commonly decried. I’d suggest it’s an all-time classic, however, one of the few times 1980s Who gets everything, or nearly everything, right. If it has a fault, besides Eric’s self-prescribed “Kill everyone” remit, it’s that it tries too much. It’s rich, layered and very funny. It has enough material and ideas to go off in about a dozen different directions, which may be why it always felt to me like it was waiting for a trilogy capper.

Madam, the chances of bagging an elephant on the Moon are remote.

First Men in the Moon (1964) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen swaps fantasy for science fiction and stumbles somewhat. The problem with his adaptation of popular eugenicist HG Wells’ 1901 novel isn’t so much that it opts for a quirky storytelling approach over an overtly dramatic one, but that it’s insufficiently dedicated to pursuing that choice. Which means First Men in the Moon , despite a Nigel Kneale screenplay, rather squanders its potential. It does have Lionel Jeffries, though.

I’ve crossed the Atlantic to be reasonable.

Dodsworth (1936) (SPOILERS) Prestige Samuel Goldwyn production – signifiers being attaching a reputable director, often William Wyler, to then-popular plays or classical literature, see also Dead End , Wuthering Heights , The Little Foxes , The Best Years of Our Lives , and earning a Best Picture nomination as a matter of course – that manages to be both engrossing and irritating. Which is to say that, in terms of characterisation, Dodsworth rather shows its years, expecting a level of engagement in the relationship between Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) and his wayward, fun-loving wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton) at odds with their unsympathetic behaviour.