The Chronological Carpenter: Escape From New York (1981)

escape-from-new-yorkGood golly, has it really been NINE months since I posted about a John Carpenter movie? Well, after checking out 1980’s The Fog last fall, I actually watched the next two films in relatively quick succession (for me at least). But, I never got around to writing about those films: Escape From New York and The Thing. I wanted to get back on this train, so I watched Escape again and here we go.

escape from new york poster 1The first thing that struck me about this film is the scope. All of Carpenter’s movies revolve around strange things happening in the real world (masked killers, ghost pirates, stalkers and voodoo gangs) which create these smaller, twisted realities. But, with Escape, he’s creating a whole world. The Big Apple has been abandoned, the island has been walled off and turned into a prison. On top of all that set dressing we also have characters who all feel like they’re as lived in and sometimes legendary as possible.

And a lot of that comes from Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Snake Plissken. The man doesn’t say much, looks cool and is known by EVERYBODY (even if he’s shorten than expected). He’s also got a deep history hinted at but never fully delved into. This is a nice trick that’s played in comics when it comes to characters like Punisher, Wolverine and John Constantine where we’re impressed (and possibly scared) by them because just about everyone else is. Russell fills the role with his own presence and created an iconic character who continues to inspire comic books and toys to this day.

escape from new york poster 2Adding to that, you’ve also got the denizens of New York, one of the strangest groups of people this side of Thunderdome. Creeps, weirdoes, evil geniuses, murderers and Cabbie? Seriously, why is Ernest Borgnine in this place?! He seems so nice (except for when he ditches everyone). Questions like that might not come the first time you watch the film, but pop up the more times you check it out which broadens the world.

On the surface, it might seem like Escape is an outlier in Carpenter’s filmography because there aren’t any supernatural forces at work, but if you look a little deeper you’ve got the clear influence of westerns (lone gunman with a reputation entering a place and getting the job done), the concept of being trapped by something nefarious and Carpenter’s growing cast of actors who appeared in several of his movies like Russell, then-wife Adrienne Barbeau and Halloween‘s Donal Pleasence as the president (who gives a great latter day Loomis performance here).

 

As much as I like this movie, I have a weird relationship with it. As it turns out, I think I actually watched the sequel Escape From LA first back in high school, so there are huge portions of that movie that live in my brain because that was back when I could absorb the most information. Because of that, I kept wondering when the map seller would show up or when the basketball scene would happen. The other problem is that I seem to fall asleep during this movie more than any other. I don’t know what it is, maybe the music or the subdued performances from many of the cast members. More likely, it’s the fact that I can barely stay up past 11:30 these days. Whatever the case, I’ve started this film more times than I’ve finished it and yet I still love the opening 20 minutes which sets everything up so well. I’d love to see this one on the big screen to really feel the full force of this huge, sprawling and yet subtle at times world that Carpenter crafted.

You might be expecting me to move on to The Thing next, but that won’t be the case. Much like with Halloween, I love that horror classic a lot and, as I mentioned above, watched it not too long ago. I find its best to not overdo it when it comes to favorite horror movies because they can lose some of their power if you’re TOO familiar with them. I think it’s also safe to say that I don’t have much in the way of unique thoughts on the masterpiece of stranded, paranoid beauty he created there (plus I wrote about it a bit back in 2011). That means I’ll be moving on to Christine in the near future!

Halloween Scene: Scream Factory’s Halloween II

Seeing as how it’s Halloween, I wanted to watch a few new horror flicks today, but instead decided to stop wasting time with something that might suck and watching a movie I already know I like presented by the best DVD-makers around, Shout Factory. I actually got the Halloween II Collector’s Edition from their Scream Factory imprint back when I got the one for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but was saving it for a special occasion. Today seemed appropriate enough, so I went with it.

Before getting into the bonus features, of which I only got through about half, I want to say a few nice things about this movie. I reviewed this one way back in 2008, and while that post is filled to the gills with spelling errors, I still agree with it. ,mv I think this is an underrated sequel. It doesn’t come near topping the o/. riginal, but I give it a lot of credit for mixing things up, getting into a different location and keeping the horror a lot more tight and claustrophobic.

I didn’t realize before how important the setting is to this film. In addition to giving Michael Myers one specific place to haunt for a period of time, you’re also dealing with a lot of the inherent fears that come from being in a hospital. While in a hospital you’re by definition not feeling well or something’s wrong, so you’re altered emotionally, but then you’ve got all these strangers walking in and out and doing things to you you might not understand. Who’s to say all of those people have your best interest in mind? Put a masked killer on top of all that and you’ve got a pretty great recipe for scares.

Okay, now on to the bonus features. I haven’t watched the second disc which contains the TV version of the film, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, so that’s something to look forward to. I also didn’t have time to re-watch the movie with commentary, but will keep it in mind next time I need something to listen to while working. I did watch the documentary The Nightmare Isn’t Over: The Making Of Halloween II which is a great viewing experience, just like its brother over on the H3 Scream Factory release.

One of the most interesting pieces of info I learned from the doc is that they actually shot an ending where it’s revealed that Jimmy lived. The interesting part isn’t that it got cut, but that director Rick Rosenthal didn’t know it got cut. He said there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen and he didn’t know who cut it. They then talked about the TV cut, which was apparently done more under John Carpenter’s direction and included newly shot scenes with the cast when Rosenthal wasn’t there.

I also once again enjoyed an installment of Horror’s Hollowed Grounds with HorrorHound‘s Sean Clark. He’s not joined by the director like he was with the H3 version, but he’s still full of info and it’s always neat to see locations from the flicks and how they’ve changed or, more interestingly, not changed over the decades. Clark’s attention to detail is always impressive. It’s also fun to see locations from other movies right next to these shooting locations.

Once again, Shout’s Scream Factory arm did an awesome job putting together the kind of presentation that the second best Michael Myers movie deserves. This is far better than the single disc version I already had in my collection and will take that spot with ease.

Halloween Sccene: Halloween The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

2008-12-03
4:31:42 am

Wow. Faithful readers will remember that I was pleasantly surprised watching the Halloween sequels by how much I liked them. Well, that all changed with the fifth. The best part about Curse is Paul Rudd, an actor I love in his comedic rolls (Wet Hot American Summer, Knocked Up, Friends, etc.). Rudd plays Tommy Doyle who you may remember as the kid Laurie’s babysitting in the original flick. Well, now he’s a melodramatic college student obsessed with Michael Myers. Rudd jumps into the role with an intensity that gives Donald Sutherland’s Loomis a run for his money. Seriously though, as bad as the movie is, it’s kind of worth it just to watch Rudd.

Of course, that might not be enough for most people and I don’t blame ’em as there’s all kinds of craziness going on. First off (not chronologically, of course, just the first thing to pop into my head as I watched this movie over a week ago), the Myers house is being lived in by Laurie Strode’s adoptive family the Strodes. Now, this is incredibly frustrating on a few levels. First off, it looks absolutely nothing like the house. It’s the wrong shape, the wrong color, the rooms are different, the basement is different and the yard is the wrong shape. Maybe you’re average viewer wouldn’t notice something like that, but your average Halloween fan will. Oh, also, the Strodes appear to have no knowledge of Michael Myers and the dad is a complete jerk. He’s close to unbearable to watch.

Really, the only reason they’re in the movie is to have some weird connection to Laurie, oh yeah and their daughter has a kid who has some unexplained connection to Michael which leads him to wander over towards the killer at times. What?! It makes no sense and the only purpose it serves is to get his mom closer to Michael.

So what’s the plot? To be honest I’m not all the way sure. In the beginning you’ve got Michael’s pregnant niece Jamie as a teenager. Some weird dudes in robes kidnap her and force her to give birth in their weird warehouse place. Jamie eventually escapes with her baby but dies. Somehow (I can’t really remember, to be honest) Paul Rudd winds up with the baby. Meanwhile, Loomis is on the hunt as Michael starts attacking again, older and crazier than ever. Loomis is dealing with a doctor (played by Greg’s dad from Dharma and Greg) who SPOILER turns out to be head of the cult.

We also find out that Michael appears to be related to some kind of druid curse, which is an element I actually liked as it’s a fairly creative use of what’s been laid down before it and makes sense (like a Geoff Johns comic). Anyway, it gets fumbled by the poor directing. The whole movie looks like it was made for TV instead of the big screen (which may have been the case as I don’t really remember seeing ads for this movie in 1995, but hey, my memory sucks).

Meanwhile, the rest of the movie gets pretty well fumbled as there’s no real ending (apparently Sutherland passed away during filming and they didn’t really have an ending so they just threw something together, ugh). Michael does way too much corpse-posing which is an element I appreciated in the early films, but after watching 6 or so Friday the 13th movies, it’s getting old. That added to the poor choice for the Myers house and the general lack of likable characters and a coherent plot really make this a disappointing finale to the original Halloween series. I’m still waiting to watch H2O and Resurrection (or whatever it’s called), but I’m not really looking forward to them which is why I’m taking a bit of a horror break to watch some (hopefully) good action movies.

Halloween Scene: Halloween 5 (1989)

2008-10-28
2:22:39 am

This might sound funny, but I keep watching the Halloween movies expecting to not like each subsequent sequel. But I’ll tell you, I dig H5 for the most part too. Sure it has it’s problems, but I Michael Myers is still my favorite slasher and I just love seeing him skulking behind clueless dudes and dudettes. And you know what? Danielle Harris is awesome as Jamie. She’s 12 in this one (she was 11 in the previous one) and I think she does a damn good job of acting scared. It might seem easy at first thought and I’ve never personally been chased by a maniac with a knife, but I feel like her fear fills up the screen just as much as the images. Good for her.

The basic idea behind H5 is that Jamie’s getting hunted by her uncle, Michael Myers but folks like Dr. Loomis, Jamie’s step sister Rachel and Rachel’s friend Tina are standing between The Shape and this little girl. But as you might remember from the very end of H4 Jamie stabbed her step mom. They kind of explain that away by saying Jamie was influenced by her uncle. In this flick, Jamie’s got some kind of psychic connection to her uncle that gives her a kind of Spidey Sense when Michael’s killing someone.

Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis gets even crazier in this sequel and it’s awesome. Watching the transformation from movie to movie has been pretty fun. In this one he threatens another police officer and grabs Jamie as bait. It’s a great bit of business because we’re not sure if Loomis is really nuts and wants to end the madness by letting Michael kill Jamie or if it’s a trap for Michael.

I also really like the opening credits. You get treated to scenes of a knife slashing through something that turns out to be a pumpkin. There’s just something so brutal about the knife work. It does a good job of setting the sometimes brutal tone that the movie has.

But it’s not all love and hugs for H5. There’s a character that he only see in profile or at ankle level dubbed The Man in Black that breaks Michael out of jail at the end. He seems to have only been introduced to do just that. He’s not a character he’s just a plot point.

Another problem I have is how easily duped the Haddonfield police department is. For a force that now has a SWAT team (hey, it’s about time, if for no other occasion than the yearly murderfest, they should get their own tank) they make a really stupid mistake. They’re all camped out at the Myers’ house until Jamie has a vision of Michael attacking the children’s hospital. Loomis and the cops actually listen, but then ALL OF THE COPS leave the house and go to the hospital. Really guys? You’ve never heard of a bait and switch? Sheesh. Loomis knows right away.

Sure there are stumbling blocks along the way, but I think H5 looks pretty good for a movie rushed into production a year after H4 came out. And yet again, I find myself not looking forward to Curse of Michael Myers, except for the performance of a young Paul Rudd. After that I’ve got H20, Resurrection and, huh, the remake. I’m REALLY not looking forward to those three.

Halloween Scene: Halloween 4 The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

2008-10-05
2:18:47 am

Last night everyone (Em and her visiting parents) went to bed at about 9:30 so I was left with a pile of comics and the TV to myself. I wasn’t really feeling a horror movie yet, so I read comics and then watched The Soup (love that show). I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I popped 300 in, but instead of watching that I saw the top 7 songs on VH1’s Top 100 Hip Hop Songs of All Time (or whatever they called it) followed by a documentary about NWA which was really interesting (I was definitely not paying attention to rap at the time so it was a great education on the time period as well the music).

Well after that I was faced with a question, should I just watch 300 or another Halloween Scene flick? Well, horror won out and I popped Halloween 4 in even though I wasn’t very excited about it. And let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised.

I originally watched most of these slasher movies in high school, so it’s been quite a while in most cases, plus I think I watched some of them out of order. Needless to say, it’s hard to keep everything straight (just wait until I start watching the Friday the 13th flicks). H4 is a great addition to the Halloween franchise as well as a great movie on its own.

It’s 10 years later (remember that, even though H2 came out a few years after the original it was still set on the same night, so it works out time-wise) and we’re introduced to Jamie, who is Laurie Strode’s daughter which makes her somewhere between 7 and 10 I think, I can never tell how old kids are. Laurie and her husband died so now Jamie is living with another family including older “sister” Rachel. And, of course, Michael Myers is still around. Apparently both he and Loomis survived the huge explosion at the end of H2 and Michael ended up in an asylum where he’s been for the last 10 years. It’s not until he’s getting transported to another facility (without Loomis’ knowledge) that he hears about Jamie’s existence, goes crazy and makes his way back to Haddonfield.

Instead of the fake out scares that populated H2, H4 offers more general suspense as you never really know what’s going to happen. The directing and screenwriting has some really inspired moments like when three or four kids in Michael Myers masks and coveralls surround Loomis and the new police chief. One of them might even be Michael as only two called out and/or took off their masks. Another scene I really liked takes place before either Michael or Loomis get to Haddonfield when they end up both in the garage. They stare at each other from across the station, Loomis has a great speech, fires a few shots and then Michael drives out of the station and sets the gas pumps and Loomis’ car on fire.

Which reminds me, kids in the Halloween-verse are big time jerks. Remember in the first one where the three kids pick on Tommy and give him crap about the boogie man? Well, this one tops that with three kids dressed up in those costumes where you basically wear a mask and then a plastic shirt with what you’re supposed to be on it making fun of her for her mom being dead and her uncle being a serial killer. These kids must really taken to heart the old saying that kids can be cruel. But that’s not all as a car with two jocks and two cheerleaders pull over to offer a ride to the stranded Loomis and then drive off laughing at him. Hopefully Myers killed them at some point off screen.

Oh, and those kids that made fun of Jamie? She ends up trick or treating with them later, which results in her getting separated from Rachel who found her crush Brody ready to bone the sheriff’s daughter because Rachel canceled their date in order to take Jamie trick or treating. What a jerk (even though Kelly, the sheriff’s daughter is super hot). Brody is played by Sasha Jenson who was in both the Buffy movie and Dazed and Confused (two big favorites from my younger days). I can’t believe he was 30 when he did Dazed and Confused.

Anyway, back to the story. My mind’s all over the place. Back before trick or treating there’s a scene where Rachel takes Jamie to a drug store to get a Halloween costume. Brody works at the store too (this is when she tells him she can’t make their date that night). So while Rachel’s talking to Brody, Jamie’s looking at the mask section by herself, which brought back memories of the costume store that used to be by my house growing up. They always had those huge crazy monster masks that you never say anywhere but in the store, which was a fun bit of nostalgia. But the scene gets even better as Jamie picks pretty much the exact clown costume we saw Michael wear as a child when he killed his sister in the beginning of H1. But THEN we see Michael’s scarred hand grab a new Shatner mask and appear right behind her. Jamie understandably freaks out and crashes into a mirror and then Michael disappears.

Which got me to thinking about something. Is it a plot hole that he wouldn’t just kill her right there (if in fact that was him)? The answer I came up with was no because Michael doesn’t just want to kill his main target, he wants them to suffer all kinds of mental and physical trauma. Sure, if you were just one of the friends or a side character you’ll get a shotgun stabbed through your guts or a thumb through your face, but if you’re Laurie or Jamie or even Loomis, he wants bad bad things to happen to you, which is why he takes the time to set up the bodies. He’s theatrical that way I guess.

Okay, again, back to the story. The girls wind up with Loomis and the sheriff and a deputy in the sheriff’s house with Brody and Kelly (awkward). But Michael’s there too and he slowly picks off the ancillary characters (the sheriff and Loomis leave on their own accord). Rachel and Jamie have this great scene with Michael chasing them on the roof. For a few minutes, it turns out to be just Michael after Jamie which is kind of terrifying because, what chance does a kid stand against a dude who has survived gunshots and explosions? Then Loomis comes to the “rescue” gets them to the school and then promptly gets thrown through a door, leaving Jamie on her own again. Rachel and a group of rednecks who have formed their own “lynch mob” to take out Michael.

The rednecks drive away from the city with the two girls as cops from the town over (or something) drive past. There’s a sense of relief as they roll into town, but of course it’s not that simple as Michael was under the truck the whole time (or something). And then there’s the one part of the movie that I just can’t buy. Michael pulls himself up over the tailgate and attacks the two or three guys in the back, but the driver and the two girls in the cab don’t notice ANYTHING. Ah well. The girls are left alone with Michael on top of a truck and then crash into a cemetery. Then the rednecks and the cops show back up somehow (how’d they know to turn around?). The guns ring out and Michael falls back into a pit where all kinds of dirt and graves fall in on him.

As if the above wasn’t SPOILERY enough, now I’m going to talk about the very end, which I love. Rachel and Jamie get back to their house and Loomis and the sheriff show up so everything’s cool until we get a replay of the ultra creepy opening scene from H1. You’re not really sure who it is and then we hear a scream and see little Jamie standing at the top of the stairs holding a pair of bloody scissors that she used to kill her new mom. And THEN Loomis pulls his gun out and almost shoots him until the sheriff stops him. Then it just ends. Great stuff, even though I’m not sure why Loomis expects Michael to stay buried. SPOILER, he won’t there’s 2 of 4 more movies in the continuity depending on how you count.

Return turned out to be a really really great horror movie and I highly recommend it. I haven’t seen H2O or the sequel to that one, but it’s one of the better sequels in my opinion (depending on how I’m feeling it and H2 switch places in the favorite sequel category). Good times!

Halloween Scene: Halloween II (1981)

2008-09-28
6:56:00 pm

I’m not sure what’s happening to me, but I’m having trouble getting a full movie in starting at 11 PM anymore. I guess I’m starting to show my age. Because of that it’s taken me three days to actually Halloween II which was written by the original’s John Carpenter and Debra Hill and still starring Jamie Lee Curtis (the last one to do so until the continuity killing H20) and Donal Pleasence. This time though it’s directed by Rick Rosenthal who later directed a TV sequel to The Birds and a ton of TV including Buffy episodes “Help” and “Normal Again.”

H2 is one of the few horror sequels I can think of that picks up directly after the first one leaves off which either means it’s not that common or that I’m just highly forgetful, either seems possible. You even get the last few minutes of the original where Michael does his awesome sit-right-up scene that I love and Loomis coming in gun blazing with Michael falling out the window and disappearing. So, with this installment we get treated to the further adventures of that fateful Halloween night in Haddonfield. Laurie gets taken to the hospital while Loomis runs around town trying to find where Michael has gotten off to.

There’s a definite difference in feel between this and the originally. For one thing it’s a lot darker and harder to understand what’s going on at times. There’s also less of the POV stuff that I loved so much in the first one, but way way more fake-outs. I guess by 1981 people had seen a fair amount of slasher movies, so instead of kind of inventing the tropes, this one tries to play with them to not the greatest effect.

That being said, I do like this flick. It’s got my three favorite elements from the first, Donald Pleasence getting crazier than ever (until next time), Michael Myers (who’s in my top two favorite slashers with Leatherface) and Jamie Lee Curtis. Most of the action takes place in the hospital as Michael makes short but bloody work of the staff, but one of my favorite elements takes place outside as what looks like Michael Myers gets hit by a police car and catches fire. Pleasence and his policeman friend think it’s Michael for a little while. Yes, it’s a little convenient that someone dressed up exactly like the guy who went around killing a good number of the teenagers in town gets killed, but do remember that Michael swiped the mask from a local store so it’s not too too crazy. I just like the idea of them being at ease while Michael’s still out there killing folks. Also, the kid who dies was Bennett Tramer, the boy who Laurie had a crush on in the previous movie (he’s also named after a dude who would go on to work on Saved By The Bell!).

The hospital kills are pretty creative as Michael boils a woman alive in a hot tub (which I don’t think is possible), stabs a dude in the head with something, drains the blood out of a woman and others. But for some reason my favorite is when he stabs a nurse through with a scalpel and then lifts her up about two feet off the floor. She’s understandably shocked, then her shoes fall off and she finally crumples to the floor. There’s just something about the image that has stuck with me since the first time I watched since high school.

That particular kill removes that last other person in the hospital between Michael and Laurie. Laurie’s understandably messed up (I think there was something about a coma, but I can’t quite remember) so Michael does his usual slow walk chase as Laurie scrambles away. There’s something primaly unnerving about watching someone who’s already gone through so much craziness just barely able to elude her killer. It’s not the kind of thing that had me pulling my blanket over my eyes, but it’s the kind of thing that I do think about (probably too much).

Meanwhile, Loomis is driving around with a woman and a cop. He finds out about the hospital and freaks out on the cop, holding his revolver to the cop’s face and telling him to head to the hospital against his original orders. I love me some crazy Loomis. Once they get to the hospital, Laurie’s outside trying to get this dude in a car to drive her away, but the dude passes out or dies. She’s crawling through the parking lot as Loomis and Co. show up, but she doesn’t scream out for some reason until after they’re already in. I think I’m missing a fairly big piece of the story from falling asleep so many times, like maybe she was drugged up or something. Michael gets on Laurie’s trail again so she runs to the door, bangs on it and screams until Loomis lets her in. Michael gets shot a number of times, but of course, he’s not dead.

All of which leads to the ending which I actually like very much. Michael chases Loomis and Laurie into some kind of room where he has them cornered. Loomis gives Laurie a gun, but tries to shoot Michael with his which is empty, so Michael stabs him in the stomach. Loomis crumples to the floor and Michael goes after Laurie who’s crumpled on the floor. Laurie shoots Michael in the face, which doesn’t kill him or even knock him over but it does blind him, forcing him to swing around wildly. I really like this element of the movie because Myers spent the last two movies fairly calm and collected and now he’s acting like an animal, slashing the air. Loomis gets back up and opens up a nearby (what I assume) oxygen tank. Michael moves towards the sound away from Laurie so Laurie gets up and opens up even more tanks. Now Michael’s really going crazy, Loomis tells Laurie to run away, then busts out his lighter and blows the room up. Out in the hall, Laurie gets knocked down by the blast and the camera just focuses on the blaze for a while until Michael comes stumbling out. Holy crap! Then he falls to the ground and everything’s over (haha, right). The song “Mr. Sandman Bring Me a Dream” plays over a last minute show of Michael’s face and mask burning. A nice touch.

Here’s the thing that a lot of people don’t seem to get about the Halloween series. The first was made without expectations of of a sequel (as far as I know) and the second one was made to finish out the series. No more Michael Myers. Then something happened (I’m assuming enough money was thrown his way) and Carpenter decided to turn Halloween into a kind of anthology with a different horror movie every year, which is why 3: Season of the Witch has nothing to do with Michael Myers. Things didn’t go so well with that one so they switched back to Michael for part 4. Any horror fan worth their salt knows the deal, but I still hear people complaining about it, which is one of my big horror pet peeves. I guess I’m just a weirdo that way.

thrashing around blindly

“Mr. Sandman” playing over burning carcass

Halloween Scene: Halloween (1978)

2008-09-26
4:06:03 am

Alright, in honor of Halloween I decided to move all the horror/scary movies in my Blockbuster queue up top. There’s about 30 movies now that I’m positive I won’t get through, plus a number that I already have (most of the pre-H2O Halloweens and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) or have recently ordered (the Friday the 13th box set which is on its way).

After really discovering horror movies at the age of 14 or 15 (when I could ride my bike up to the Family Video and they didn’t card me for R rated movies), Halloween became one of my favorite holidays and I would celebrate it with various horror-fests, usually on my own, but sometimes with friends. Well, my senior year in college I got bronchitis and penmonia so bad that I actually had to go home for Halloween which put a damper on things. Then, the next year, a mere two weeks after moving out to New York I didn’t get invited to a former co-worker’s Halloween party (an oversight I’m sure), so I spent it in my hovel of a room trying to cheer myself up with horror movies, which didn’t work too well. I can’t remember the year after that, but last year I got sick again, though not as bad. Well, this year, I’m not letting sickness get me down. I’m celebrating my favorite holiday the only way I know how, by watching a butt-ton of the best and worst horror has to offer.

To kick things off, I naturally started with Halloween, a true favorite and a very recent addition to my DVD collection (it wasn’t on sale last year when I picked up 2-5 on the cheap). I don’t remember the actual first time I watched Halloween, but I know it was in my room in high school and it freaked me the f-bomb out. It’s still in my Triumvirate of Terror (the other two being Jaws and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I’m sure I”ll get around to reviewing this week). Anyway, it still holds up 31 years later and still actually makes me jump in places (even watching it on a tiny laptop screen).

If you don’t know the story of Michael Myers, I’m not going to explain it to you, you should really just watch the movie. But I will get into what I love about it. First and foremost you have the brilliant directing done by John Carpenter. He would go on to work with bigger and better actors, but what he did for POV camera work in Halloween just can’t be undone or imitated quite as effectively. By giving the camera the killer’s perspective (or at least one very close the Myers, like right next to him) you actually get trained to be afraid of everything you see, because you’re not sure if you’re seeing events through the killer’s perspective or just your average camera angle. That builds an element of suspense and unease that continues throughout the movie and adds a sense of dread not found in many other movies, even the ones where the camera man is a character in the movie.

And speaking of Michael, damn, what a creepy figure he makes. That painted-over Shatner mask (look it up) paired with the simple blue jumpsuit and the gray station wagon have never, and will never, be creepier. Being able to take such simple, every day elements and making them terrifying is very impressive. But besides the general aesthetic, Carpenter absolutely mastered the timing of showing off Myers. Like in Jaws, you don’t get an eyeful of him all at once. He teases you with the killer throughout the first part of the flick and then you get these short, terrifying glimpses until the last 15-20 minutes when he’s giving Laurie the scare of her life.

The kills are great too. Myers plays with his victims, but doesn’t get overly orchestrated in his kills. He does seem to enjoy setting up his kills in various places. I really dig the one with Annie in the Jesus Christ pose on the bed with the headstone above her, but the other two do seem a little out there and time consuming. But I guess when you’re wandering through a neighborhood and icing teenagers, you’ve got all the time you need.

Another thing I love about Halloween is Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s just fantastic in this. She was about 20 when she made the flick, but I get the feeling that her and her friends are actual teenagers. Maybe it’s because of the time gap. I have no idea what real teenagers in the ’70s would have acted like, the performances could be completely off for all I know, but they FEEL genuine. Especially. PJ Soles and her boyfriend Bob. Oh and the little kids are great, if not a bit stiff, but sometimes the slightly wooden performances add to the realism of a movie for me. We’ve all met those people who just don’t know how to talk to other people.

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If Curtis hadn’t sold her performance so well, I don’t think the climactic scene would have been nearly as effective. You start off with her coming across her friends’ bodies, then freaking out like I do when I see a shadow that looks even remotely Michael Myers-shaped. Which of course leads to her running back to the kids she’s babysitting and Myers eventually following. And then you get three almost kill encounters, each one way scarier than the last until finally Loomis (geez, I haven’t mentioned Donald Pleasance once, have I?) jumps in and caps Myers right after we get a glimpse of his face (pay attention when he puts his mask back on and you can see the Michael Myers mask scrunching up under the Shatner mask). Of course he disappears at the very end and we’re left to hear his heavy, mask-restricted breathing as we get our last minute shots of the various locations in Haddonfield, Illinois.

Before I move on, I’ve got to say that one of my favorite scenes in movie history is the one towards the end after she stabs him in the closet where you see Lorie in the foreground and Michael sits up in the background. Damn. It doesn’t scare me like it did the very first time (because I know it’s coming), but it’s so damn creepy. He sits up like a robot!

Also Donald Pleasence is the man. He only gets crazier and crazier as the sequels roll out, but you do get a glimpse of his obsession with Michael here. From what I read he did his scenes in 5 days, which is pretty impressive.

Speaking of the sequels, none of them top the original, but I do have a special place in my heart for them. Seeing all these big new remakes come out puts a few tiny daggers in said heart because I know we won’t get a Halloween 7 (or 9 if you count H2O or Resurrection, which I don’t because they negate everything from 2-6). I also heard the Rob Zombie version was pretty terrible, though I did get to interview Danny Trejo because of it and he was my favorite interview of all time (so far).

One last word on the subject of Halloween. I actually don’t like being scared in real life, so even though I love horror movies, I’ve only been to one haunted house kind of thing. When I was in high school there were three under one roof in what used to be a Handy Andy or something like that. I picked the metaphorical last straw and ended up in the back of the line (not a good place to be) and ended up being followed by a guy dressed up like Michael Myers for the entire 10-15 minutes that it took us to walk through the thing. I’m not sure when he started, but I looked back, saw him and completely freaked out on the inside, but tried to keep my cool in front of my friends. I wanted to punch that dude SO bad. Luckily I didn’t, cause I don’t want to end up like Bob.