Monday, March 14, 2011

The first time I've been properly scared in years

So, as avid readers (by this I mean my long-suffering mates) will know, I am a massive horror movie fan. I'll watch pretty much anything, I don't scare easily and I have a pretty strong stomach - all of which has been built up over many, many years. However, there are still certain movies from which I stay away. Rob Zombie - awesome musician, fellow horror buff and all-round sexy man - has made a few fucked-up movies that I have absolutely zero interest in seeing again (The Devil's Rejects I have blocked out entirely). I saw his remake of John Carpenter's legendary Halloween one night in a bar and didn't sleep for a few nights straight. I couldn't even hear it, but seeing it on screen was enough.

It was the first time I'd been properly scared in ages, which leads me to the subject of this blog post. I am very ashamed to admit that, prior to last Saturday night, I had never seen the original Halloween. However, I am aware of how important it is in horror movie history, since it not only established the killer's first-person perspective and cemented the idea of the "final girl" but it managed to scare audiences without anything much happening at all. Horror, quite often, is more about what one doesn't see than what one does (it's really obvious I'm reading Mark Kermode's book at the moment, isn't it?).

After Rob Zombie's terrifying, updated version, I was petrified of seeing John Carpenter's original. I thought it would be even worse, given that it was the source material, and Rob Zombie couldn't possibly be that fucked up (no no, he is).

However, I was pleasantly surprised. On with the review!!

Halloween (1978) - John Carpenter.
The film opens in 1963, on Halloween night. Kids are trick-or-treating, horny teens are fumbling about on a couch, being watched through the window by the bizarrely high camera. Within the opening five minutes, a teenage girl is slaughtered by what turns out to be her much younger brother (despite the too-high camera), who is wearing a clown costume and brandishing a giant butcher knife and a totally blank, emotionless expression. There isn't much blood, but there are tits (always welcome in horror movies). So we're off to a good start!

We then skip fifteen years into the future again, where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is living on the same street, and has to drop a key (her father works for some sort of real estate company) to the "old Myers place" which, it quickly transpires, is sort of the neighbourhood haunted house, where kids dare each other to go and in which nobody lives because of the murder and blah blah blah. She then goes about her business with a plucky young boy and her intentionally vapid, slutty friends. Thus, it is quickly established that she will be the final girl, before anything even happens, because Slutty Mc OpenLegs isn't gonna be, and this isn't Zombie's version so it's not like the kid is going to be in the running (and then brutally slaughtered). Luckily, a lot of things in this film are implied, as opposed to the heavy-handed way in which they are communicated in horror movies nowadays (like BAD! BAD! THIS THING/PERSON/PLACE IS BAD! BE AFRAID! LIKE THE PEOPLE IN THE FILM! ROOT FOR THIS ONE!). One of the most interesting aspects of Halloween is how it compares to horror movies nowadays. For most of its' duration, I found myself on edge, but not really sure why, which is odd considering how bloody and disgusting and visceral the violence is in films today. How can nothing happening be scarier than that!?

After Michael escapes from the mental hospital in which he has been living for the past fifteen years (of course) and has driven off (yes, driven) in a car marked clearly on the side with the hospital's logo (something which is great later on for spotting him stalking in the background), the story switches back to Laurie, who, in stark contrast to her ditzy friends, answers questions in class, offers to babysit despite it being Halloween night, and generally acts like a boring, virginal, prissy chick who, although slightly dull, can stick up for herself and refuses to follow the crowd (thus, the final girl).

The moments when she spots Michael (who, let's be honest, looks like a member of Slipknot in his mask and stolen overalls, but is still frightening nonetheless) get creepier and more tense as the night darkens. It's rare to see the killer during daylight hours in a horror movie, and it's to Carpenter's credit that Michael appears and disappears at will, despite the fact that the sun is still shining and there's every chance he'll be spotted by a wandering passerby (although, of course, the only person who spots him is Laurie, thus cementing her role as the loon who's been studying too much and needs to relax). The tension is stacked up at an almost unbearable pace. Every moment Michael appeared behind Laurie, trailing her and her friend in his car, or just lurking across the street behind a nearby tree, I jumped, or even, at times, squealed like a girl (not a common occurrence for me).

Once the actual killing begins (and there isn't really much of it, either) it's almost a relief. Is Michael in the car? Yes. Is he hiding in the coat closet while that dude gets a post-sex beer? Yes. Is he going to pretend to be that man, using his glasses and a sheet, so he can see some tits and then murder the dumb blonde girlfriend? Oh yes. Jamie Lee Curtis excels as the terrified babysitter who has to choose between keeping the kids she's looking after calm, and freaking out that her best friends may be in trouble just across the street. To her credit, she does manage to fight Michael off quite a bit (with a knitting needle and a hanger, no less!), as opposed to the usual running-away-screaming-half-naked schlock to which we're usually subjected. The scene when she's trapped in the wardrobe had me squirming and clasping my hand over my mouth so hard I almost choked myself.

Put simply, I was TERRIFIED, which I haven't been in a very long time.

The beauty of Carpenter's Halloween is that nothing much has to happen for the audience to feel threatened, on edge, and completely terrified. One just has to hear that music and see Michael standing behind a bush to know that people are in danger and bad shit is going to go down. Most of the movie consists of Michael just turning up or stalking Laurie, not really doing much besides breathing heavily into his mask (much like Corey Taylor, har de har) while the amazingly creepy score plods alongside him. He isn't even that big, which means that, unlike in Zombie's version (in which the massive Tyler Mane plays Michael), it's somewhat believable that people wouldn't look twice if they say him on the street, because perhaps they would just assume that he was some lad having a laugh, in a mask, for Halloween.

There isn't much blood, and the kills, although vicious, are nothing compared to Zombie's (okay, okay, so subtlety has never really been his thing). So then, why did this film scare the shit out of me? A lot of it has to do with my fear of Michael Myers as a character...there is something so frightening about somebody who just kills for no reason... But a lot of it also has to do with the pace of the film (it's just over an hour and a half long, after all) and the dreaded tension that is built up throughout. It's a potent mix, the intelligence and skill of which has surely been lost on the creators of such torture-porn atrocities as Saw, Hostel, et al. (no, those films are not frightening, despite what you have heard).

My favourite modern-day horror movie, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, owes a lot to Halloween. After all, the killer is revealed early on, the kills, while inventive, are quick and reasonably bloodless. Most of the establishing shots are from the first-person perspective of the killer, and he is shown covered in blood, lurking outside the window, which is only noticed by, you've guessed it, the dumb blonde, who, of course, nobody believes. The same can be said of the Scream franchise, which establishes a killer, in a mask, with a big knife, and then goes from there.

Put simply, Halloween kicks some serious ass. It's scary, it's brave, it got under my skin, and I'll forever be looking over my shoulder at passing cars as I walk down my street towards home. Oh, and the ending truly made me shudder...for several hours...

1 comment:

Rich M Waters said...

Can't believe it scared you!!! Ally and I saw it in IMC with a group of horror heads one Halloween and everyone was laughing their asses off!!!