Eric D. Snider

Halloween

(Reviewed in 2001 as part of a retrospective on the "Halloween" series.)

For better or worse, "Halloween" began the modern teen slasher genre. It came before "Friday the 13th" (which was clearly inspired by it) and was far superior to it, establishing tension and avoiding cheap scares. Where subsequent slasher flicks would focus on the blood and murdering, "Halloween" had very little blood and only five murders -- one of which occurred offscreen.

The film's prologue is among the creepiest I've seen. It is Halloween 1963. A girl goes upstairs to fool around with her boyfriend, unaware they're being watched by someone. Through the watcher's point of view, we see the boyfriend leave; then we head upstairs, find the girl naked in her bedroom ... and we stab her. Then we go downstairs and outside the house, where the point of view finally shifts and we realize the murderer is a little boy. Creeee-py.

The rest of the film takes place 15 years later. The boy, Michael Myers, has been in a psychiatric facility and has not spoken a word since the murder. His doctor, the lugubrious Sam Loomis, played by the inappropriately named Donald Pleasence, is on his way there to make sure he's not released on parole. Apparently, despite the boy not having spoken a word in 15 years, much less committed any additional crimes, Dr. Unpleasence is convinced he is incapable of being rehabilitated. Dr. Doom-and-Gloom is not what you'd call a bleeding-heart liberal, to put it mildly.

Anyway, while at the facility, a clumsy nurse lets Michael steal her car and head back to his hometown of Haddenfield, Ill. (Michael does this so easily, one suspects the nurse did it on purpose.) How can a man who has been in a mental institution since the age of 6 drive a car? Good question. When someone in the movie asks it, Dr. Morbid says, "Maybe someone around here gave him lessons!" He says it very accusingly, like it's a foregone conclusion. I say if you're going to bring up the plot holes in your movie, you should fix them, too, not just make them worse with stammering explanations.

Back in Haddenfield, the old Myers home is considered haunted by local kids, and probably a few episodes of "Scooby-Doo" centered around it. Dour teen Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) doesn't pay it no never mind, though, and is not afraid to live in the neighborhood. In fact, this very night -- Halloween, no less -- she is set to babysit a little boy who lives just around the corner from it, all by herself in the dark with scary movies on TV.

Laurie is an interesting character, insofar as she is the protagonist despite being utterly devoid of personality. She has two friends, Annie and Lynda, who hate each other and her.

Sure enough, Michael shows up in town, and Dr. Creepy gets the local sheriff to help him keep an eye out. It's the rare instance in horror films where the cops actually believe the town's in danger, but they don't do anything about it -- issue APB's or put the word out on the radio -- for fear of creating a panic. Once again, the movie paints itself into a corner and then just tramps all over the fresh paint to get out.

There are surprisingly few murders, considering how many you find in subsequent films of this genre (and of this series, for that matter). Carpenter also wins points for some spine-tingly camera set-ups and extended shots, the calmness of which almost makes you forget you're watching a horror film.

He doesn't win any points for that damn musical score, though. He wrote it himself, and it has two themes. The most famous one is that four-note piano riff, which is perfect for the mood of the film. The other one, though, is all cheesy synthesizers and goofy crap, and it drives me crazy. Awful, awful stuff.

I am amazed at how little time it takes people to have sex in Haddenfield, Ill. The opening sequence has Michael's sister and her boyfriend doin' it, in real time, and it takes no more than one minute. Later, another amorous couple gets it on, once again with no cutting away, and once again it is over in mere seconds. The girl remarks that it was "fantastic," too, which makes me wonder just how much sex she's had.

Donald Pleasence's performance is calculated and chilling, and I like it. Jamie Lee Curtis doesn't do much but scream (though not as much as she's famous for -- only three real screams in this film), and it's hard to get behind a main character who's so unexciting. But maybe it's Michael Myers who is the real main character. In which case, mission accomplished: I'm freaked out.

Grade: B

Rated R

1 hr., 31 min.

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This item has 7 comments

  1. Derek says:

    Wow, I'm surprised you only gave it a Grade B. Let's debate on a few things, though:

    1) About the "Michael stealing the car-bit", Dr. Loomis' exact words are not: "Someone here must have been teaching him!" They are: "Maybe someone around here gave him lessons," and he does not say it accusingly at all. He rather says it jokingly.

    2) "The girl", whom you are referring to when you say she has sex with her boyfriend and remarks it was "wonderful" is named Lynda. And she says "fantastic," not "wonderful." Not a big deal, but it makes me wonder how many times you've seen this film, especially when you add in specific quotes that are incorrect.

    3) Laurie, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, does a hell of a lot more than scream. She is the most well-developed character in the film. You feel for her character (well, maybe you didn't, but I did). She is the main character in the film, and I really think she's the heart of it; not Loomis nor Myers, Laurie.

    4) The musical score. The "other one with the cheesy synthesizers" is a great touch. Creepy music, and I enjoy it a lot. I'm not sure what was wrong with it, but it's your opinion.

    I think Halloween is the greatest horror film of all time. It certainly deserves a better grade than a B. B is just above average. If there was a grade higher than A, I'd give it that, but there isn't.

  2. catherine says:

    i loved this movie, and i am 17 and live in the era of slaher gore, yet halloween is very good, as are the prdecessors (though not as good as 1) i cannot wait until the 2007 rob zombie version

  3. Amanda says:

    "Back in Haddenfield, the old Myers home is considered haunted by local kids, and probably a few episodes of "Scooby-Doo" centered around it."

    Classic. Thank you. Plus, it answers the age-old question:

    Scooby-dooby-doo, where are you? Haddenfield, of course.

  4. David Manning says:

    Yeah, I really have to agree with Derek on just about everything he said. When you say, "How can a man who has been in a mental institution since the age of 6 drive a car? Good question. When someone in the movie asks it, Dr. Morbid says, 'Someone here must have been teaching him!' He says it very accusingly, like it's a foregone conclusion." it actually makes the movie snob in me kind of *angry,* like when I see a positive review for "Big Momma's House 2" that wasn't written by Peter Travers. Simply put, everything in that above quote ISN'T true. Before comments were around on this site, I always stared at that part and tried to come up with explanations as to HOW you saw the aforementioned when you were watching this movie. It makes me think of Tim Nasson (sp?), who wrote that horribly innacurate transcript of that Oliver Stone interview, because he was apparently going by memory and had not brought a tape recorder (or taken notes). I could go on to say *how* you're wrong by reprinting how the scene really went, but Derek already did that for me, so I'd be wasting space. (And yes, the character of Lynda says "fantastic," and not "wonderful." Also, that whole "sex scene without cutting away" thing is true, in that the scene doesn't cut away until said sex is finished, but you are forgetting the fact that when the scene begins, the sex has already started off camera and has presumably been well under way before the viewer sees it.

    You describe Laurie Strode as "dour," and then go on to describe her and her friends by saying, "Laurie is an interesting character, insofar as she is the protagonist despite being utterly devoid of personality. She has two friends, Annie and Lynda, who hate each other and her." [Okay...wait, huh?] Writing that is reason enough to see the film again in my eyes, even though what you got out of the characters is in the eye of the beholder. (Augh, why is it always eyes?)

    Just another thought: All of your reviews for the "Halloween" series (and, to a certain unequivalent extent, the "Friday the 13th" series, although that's waaaay different) seem to have a crueler, snottier tone and voice than your other film reviews do. To me, you seem to be particularly unkind to the efforts of Donald Pleasance* in some of your later reviews, much moreso than he deserves, and particularly in Part 5 (although, admittedly, the bourbon comment there was more about HIM than his performance).

    I would have given this movie an A, but hey, whatever. And for what it's worth, your grade of C+ for "Halloween II" seems generous.


    *Donald Pleasence was a semi-prestigious actor before he got involved with the Halloween series, which is probably what he's mostly remembered for now.

  5. Eric D. Snider says:

    I borrowed the DVD and double-checked, and you're right, I had the quotes wrong. I've made the corrections.

    Dr. Loomis says, "Maybe someone around here gave him lessons," not (as I originally had it), "Someone here must have been teaching him." It still seems accusing to me, but I guess it could be joking. Either way, my original point stands: The question of how Michael can drive a car is a plot hole.

    Also, it is true that the girl calls the sex "fantastic," not "wonderful." It's been a while, but I'm guessing I didn't actually jot down what she said in my notes. It was later, when I wrote the review, that I thought to mention the briefness of the sex scenes, and I relied on my memory for the way she described it.

    Regarding #4's assertion that the sex could have been going on for longer, we do enter the scene with the activity already in progress. Then the phone rings, and everything comes to a complete stop -- they even roll over to separate sides of the bed -- while they decide whether or not to answer it. Then the sex resumes, and that's the part that lasts 30 seconds before it's finished and the girl deems it "fantastic."

    Now, I suppose she could have been referring to the entire event, including the part from before the phone call. But it gets interrupted pretty thoroughly there, and it seems like they're back to square one when they resume. Either way, it's funny that she considers it "fantastic."

    I apologize for the inaccurate quotes. My opinions stand, though.

  6. Tadeusz says:

    This simply is not a great ilm. It drags along: the villan isn't really at all interesting, nor are his victims-including those dogs!

    The music is effectively creepy and Donald is fun to watch even though (or because?) he looks as if he's stepped out of an earlier period of film-making.

    There's something slippery and glib aout the camerawork- nothing seems to stick: there's a failure to make memorable images, and the dialogue is just plain boring.

    In the end, if you arent scared a horror film isn't working, and this one just made me sleepy - they could easily have cut 20 mins out of it, I reckon...

  7. Ray Crowe says:

    I consider Halloween an absolute classic, and it's refreshing to read different points of view on the film that are as well-written as yours. I agree that the film is more creepy than outright scary, though there are some out-of-the-dark jolts that were ahead of their time (not counting Wait Until Dark).

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