The Fifth Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!

Halloween decoration and candy in Lucky's

Recently in the local grocery store I stumbled across the inflatable jack-o-lantern you see above, leering at me with his obnoxious smile. “Come here, gullible fool,” he seemed to say. “Buy some Halloween candy before it runs out in the middle of September! You wouldn’t want to be the only idiot on the block with no candy for the kiddies, would you?” I shook my head and the decoration leaned into me. “Well then,” he cackled, blowing a whiff of stale, plastic air and grocery clerk tobacco breath. “It’s time to get started on your Halloween Horror Movie Marathon!” Yes, dear polymer pumpkin. It most definitely is.

This will be my fifth year spending the weeks before Halloween watching horror movies and writing reviews. This being the Fifth Anniversary of my Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, I suppose it is a milestone of sorts, worthy of commemoration, if only in my own mind. It has occurred to me that for a fan of horror, I’ve seen surprisingly little of each of the major horror franchises. Just a couple of the Friday the 13th films, maybe a few of the Elm Street movies… So this year I’ll honor five years of my favorite Halloween tradition by catching myself up on a series. Since we’re getting a new, complete release of it on blu-ray this year, the Halloween slasher films seemed like a decent pick. Well, apparently the box set isn’t completely complete as, sadly, it leaves out Official Halloween Parody Nevertheless, it’s time to spend Halloween 2014 getting to know the original slasher, Michael Myers.

'Halloween' 1978

Halloween (1978) — Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, P. J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, Nick Castle, Charles Cyphers, Brian Andrews, Kyle Richards.

On Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers grabs a chef’s knife from the kitchen in his home and heads upstairs. There he dons a Halloween mask and, seemingly without reason, brutally kills his sister. Fifteen years later he escapes from a sanitarium and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to stalk and kill the town’s young babysitters. Woe unto the teenager looking to make an extra buck or two. Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), the only one who understands the true nature of the escaped lunatic, follows Myers to the suburban town in the hopes of saving its residents from pure evil.

In spite of my previous comments about how little of the major franchises I’ve sat through, I have at least seen the original Halloween before. But it has been many years and the details slipped away in the fog of time. And while I appreciated the film during this second viewing, by the end of it I came away wishing for just a little bit more. Perhaps my hopes were unrealistically high or maybe my mind was simply too distracted at the time but I did not feel all of the tension and fear I expected from one of the great, classic horror movies.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. I appreciated John Carpenter’s masterful direction, the landmark score, the simple but strong screenplay, and the devastating, physical assault of the screen by Michael Myers, aka “The Shape”. All of these elements combined to create the template for nearly every slasher film that followed. I recognize all of Halloween‘s fantastic qualities but I felt that this time around my viewing was more… clinical, if you will.

One of my favorite things about Halloween is Nick Castle’s performance as Michael Myers. It is not only one of the most effective aspects of Halloween but probably one of the greatest performances of a killer in any slasher film. He doesn’t play a stylish, cartoonish villain or a violent, sneering brute. Instead he’s a silent force, strong, alert, and determined. He hides behind a pale mask, the sight of which is unsettling enough (even if it is, hilariously, a painted William Shatner mask), but paired with the lack of any apparent motivation he becomes even more terrifying. Nobody knows what drives him, not even the doctor who worked with him for fifteen years. Seeming to exist only to hunt and kill, there is no reasoning or pleading with Michael Myers.

It’s not a criticism to say that the methods of murder in Halloween are not particularly inventive. The lack of style makes his stranglings and stabbings that much more realistic and gruesome. The death of Annie (Nancy Kyes) I found particularly disturbing as he chokes her in the front seat of a car before mercifully slicing her throat. See, I wasn’t completely emotionless during the film…

Speaking of which, I was also strangely moved by the brief moment when Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, in her premiere, landmark film role as the original “final girl“, as you probably already know) manages to remove Michael’s mask. We briefly see his injured face and, in spite of the apparent lack of emotion, we are suddenly aware that he is, or at least once was, human. Even the sound of the latex as he lowers the mask back down over his face adds to this vulnerability. It was a powerful moment for me.

But why didn’t I feel the overall fear and terror that so many others experience with Halloween, at least as far as the many online reviews indicate? I suppose one part of it could be due to several small details that took me out of the film, little gaffes here and there. Like the obvious dubbing of Jamie Lee Curtis’s screams or the silly looks on the faces of the actors while they pretend to be dead. Even the classic shot of Michael gazing up at Bob, who is supposed to be hanging on the wall, impaled by a knife… when clearly the knife is not plunged anywhere near deep enough to even connect with the wall. I know that I should forgive the film its faults because of its small budget… but there they are and they managed to pull me out of the movie’s flow.

Also… I’ve seen it before. Not just this particular movie but several of the movies it has influenced for years and years afterward. It removed most of the suspense for me. But I probably shouldn’t complain. It’s kind of like faulting Jimi Hendrix for sounding too much like Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I hate to disappoint any passionate fans of Halloween with this review. I’m not claiming that it’s overrated or that its status as a classic should be reconsidered. I really do think it’s a great movie. Perhaps I need another viewing, one where I can allow myself to forget everything else and get caught up in one of the greatest horror films ever made.


One Response to “The Fifth Annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon Begins!”

  1. Michael Vaughan Says:

    First let me say that I really don’t think that inflatable pumpkin was talking to you. You see Justin, in the real world, that sort of thing doesn’t happen. I fear you have watched so many horror films your mind has finally snapped and you are now completely insane. Just thought you should know…and please do not come to my house in a William Shatner mask and nail me to a wall with a small knife.
    As for your review, you should not feel bad about not being scared by this movie. How any movie can scare you at this point is beyond me. You watched the Serbian Film…the whole thing! I couldn’t get passed the trailer! After that and a million other horror movies you can’t expect to be frightened by Michael Myers.
    And speaking of…I had no idea you were planning on watching all the Halloween movies. This must be a symptom of your mental illness. I urge you to kill yourself before sitting through Halloween 3. Usually I do not recommend suicide but in this case it would be the kinder choice. Some things human beings were not meant to endure.

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