Friday, October 27, 2006
The Night WE Stayed Home
Tonight, Jess and I embark on an epic viewing of the first five Halloween films. Why not parts six through eight, you ask? There are three reasons. First, because the fifth film is the last made in the 1980's and represents the end of an era before the drastic paradigm shift towards irony. Second, because Halloween 6 is not fit to be watched by humans. Third, because we need sleep.
6:13 PM: And so it begins.
6:15: Halloween is one of those rare movies (like Alien and The Shining) that is immediately scary. The classic synth score and all-time best opening titles make a perfectly creepy marriage. John Carpenter equals atmosphere.
6:18: Has any director ever gotten so much sustained tension out of a window light going out accompanied by a sustained high note?
6:27: The first film is a model of restraint compared to the rest in terms of body count. The nurse at the beginning lives because there's no narrative reason for her to die; it's hard to imagine her escaping the same fate today. Speaking of body count, we're currently at one.
6:35: I totally love P.J. Soles.
6:40: Carpenter uses the Sergio Leone style of spatial logic - that is, anything that exists outside of the frame is also invisible to the characters. Example: when Laurie Strode bumps into Sheriff Brackett, she should have seen him coming down the street several minutes earlier. I don't bring this up to nitpick; I'm actually quite fond of this kind of thing.
6:46: "Don't Fear the Reaper!" More cowbell!
6:54: Donald Pleasance is one of the all-time great screen actors, and Dr. Sam Loomis is his greatest creations. The monologue he delivers about Michael Myers' evil could have is pure hokum (and I think Carpenter knows it), but Pleasance makes us believe it with the conviction of his delivery and the fear in his eyes.
7:09: It's great how Carpenter juxtaposes sex and death with the foggy windshield in Annie's death scene. Slasher films afterwords always tried to capture the sex and death motif, but few did it with such subtlety. Body count is at two.
7:11: Jamie Lee Curtis is usually praised for her ability to scream, but I love the scenes of Laurie babysitting. We don't find out much about her - she's bookish and has no luck with the guys - but she's completely believable. And a great screamer.
7:21: Poor Bob, we hardly knew you. Body count is three.
7:23: P.J. Soles is totally dead. Body count: 4.
7:41: The unmasked Michael Myers looks like a young Jimmy Smits.
7:43: One of the all-time best final lines: "As a matter of fact, it was."
8:12: It's funny when a sequel to a surprise hit that costs a lot more than the original revisits the ending of the previous film with an inflated sense of self-importance. Such films include Back to the Future Part II, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Halloween II, which opens with a crane shot, for Crom's sake. There's something endearing about it - the filmmakers are goofily acknowledging our heightened sense of anticipation.
8:15: "You don't know what death is." You rock, Mr. Pleasance.
8:17: Confession: between the ages of 7 and 9, I must have watched Halloween II at least 40 times.
8:30: It's sad that most Michael Myers masks sold around Halloween look more like the faux-Myers who gets blown up.
8:32: There's a humanity to the Halloween films that is absent from, say, Saw. For instance, it's nice that they took some time to depict Sheriff Brackett's grief over his daughter. The characters in this may be one-dimensional, but they're not just fodder.
8:55: On the other hand, that faux-Myers is none other than Ben Traimer, Laurie Strode's crush. That's pretty callous.
(pause for phone call with Mom)
9:28: "[G]ive the filmmakers credit. They use that gimmick to deliver the one scene I've been impatiently expecting for years and years in gore films: Finally, one of the characters kills himself by slipping on the wet blood and hitting his head on the floor. Sooner or later, it had to happen." - Roger Ebert
9:33: Whatever problems Halloween II has, the last 20 minutes are basically perfect. The extended chase sequence manages to outdo the first film's - I'm nervous even though I know the outcome.
9:37: I could listen to Donald Pleasance talk about the Druids for hours. I'm going to try to only refer to Halloween as "Samhain" from now on. That's so metal.
9:51: My review of Halloween II earlier this year was a bit too harsh: for whatever its flaws, I really love it. It's hard not to appreciate a gory slasher movie that begins and ends with The Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman."
9:54: Also, the body count on that one was 12, or 3 times the first film.
9:59: If Halloween has the best opening credits, than Halloween III has the silliest. They suggest that the film will be about fear of Colecovision. The Carpenter/Howarth score is pretty great, though.
10:04: I sure hate the Silver Shamrock jingle. Yes I do.
10:13: Clearly, robots were just the thing to keep the Halloween franchise alive.
10:17: Something about having the original Halloween on a tv set in Halloween III just feels wrong (even if the plot is unrelated to the first two).
10:29: The obligatory sex scene involving Tom Atkins and the much younger female lead is only slightly less unsettling than the tree rape scene in The Evil Dead.
10:35: "How old are you?" "Don't worry, I'm older than I look." Shudder.
10:43: Halloween III does have one excellent performance: Dan O'Herlihy as evil toymaker Conal Cochran. Even though Cochran's plot makes absolutely no sense, O'Herlihy seems to really get what a sick joke the film is, and he approaches his role with sinister glee.
11:09: I sort of respect Halloween III for its genuine nastiness. It unflinchingly kills an entire family with a miniature plague of snakes and bugs, and it does it with a wink. Like the tanning scene in Final Destination 3, it's crude but effective.
11:18: "Millions of years ago, before the dawn of history, there lived an ancient race of people - the Druids. Noone knows who they were, or what they were doing. But there legacy remains etched into the living rock...of Stonehenge."
11:31: The last scene of Halloween III, a nod to the unresolved, downbeat endings of 50's sci-fi like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders From Mars, is terrific. Final body count on this one is ten, plus a lot of dead robots.
11:38: The makers Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers clearly understood that this series is all about atmosphere, opening the film with a montage of midwestern harvest imagery. I, for one, appreciate the effort: it's a stark, effective little sequel. I love the idea that it was once number one at the box office.
11:41: Weird: the first few minutes, set in Smiths Grove Mental Hospital, remind of The Silence of the Lambs even though Halloween 4 was released three years earlier.
12:02 AM: Unfortunately, I need sleep more than I used to. This isn't over yet, though - parts 4 and 5 will make a nice Saturday morning double feature.
9:12: "Jamie's an orphan!" Wow, that's evil even for fifth-graders. The filmmakers lucked out with Danielle Harris, though; she's better than a little kid in a third Halloween sequel has any right to be.
9:14: This movie is so 1988.
9:29: One of my favorite 80's horror staples is the marauding truck-driving gang of shotgun-toting hillbillies who try to stop the monster only to get brutally killed (see also: Silver Bullet).
9:32: Why are parts 4 and 5 always on AMC? Remember when AMC had credibility?
9:52: Generally, shotguns aren't used for impaling. But to each his own.
10:23: Looks like blogger's sluggishness will bring this marathon to a close - I'm spending so much time fixing HTML that I can't keep up with the film. Perhaps I'll give Halloween 5 its own review sometime soon. Final body count on part 4 is fifteen or so. Donald Pleasance, you are sorely missed.