F*CK, SCARE, KILL: An Autopsy of Teen Horror HALLOWEEN

F*CK, SCARE, KILL: An Autopsy of Teen Horror HALLOWEEN

Horrorific content by Jessica Gomez on October 13th, 2020 | Culture | Halloween, Cult Classic, Halloween Slasher, Maniac

A monthly column dissecting teen horror films.

It didn’t take me long to get here, did it? A few short months into my column and I’m already at the best teen horror movie ever made. The often-imitated, never duplicated, incredibly successful indie film that changed horror movies forever - John Carpenter’s Halloween.

If you haven’t seen Halloween yet, I don’t know what to tell you besides get your ass to your local video store and rent it - it’ll be in the Favorites section. In the meantime, let’s get into the nitty gritty of why this film consistently ranks as one of the best horror movies of all time.

In 1974, Black Christmas was released. (A movie, I suspect, I’ll be covering another month for this very column.) Most horror fans have seen it, but it never broke into mainstream success. It did, however, birth an entirely new sub-genre - the teen slasher. Four years later, an up-and-coming filmmaker named John Carpenter, influenced by Black Christmas, agreed to take on the role of director as long as he had final cut and his name displayed above the title. He spent ten days with his writing partner Debra Hill completing the screenplay, originally titled The Babysitter Murders. With a $300,000 budget financed by Moustapha Akkad and a mostly unknown cast, he developed a film that received negative reviews from critics, but viewers were blown away. As the film’s success and notoriety among fans grew, the reviews got better and better.

In the opening scene, a child named Michael Myers, for a reason we never learn, kills his older sister - who is supposed to be babysitting him - on Halloween night. (Though she is post-coitus and topless during the kill, so there are implications as to why she got the axe.) He’s still got his mask on from his Halloween costume, and when his parents arrive, he’s in a state of shock. He never speaks again.

He is committed to a psychiatric facility where his doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), is convinced that he is pure evil. Pleasence took the role because he owed his ex-wife alimony, but his total committal to the serious nature of Loomis was integral to selling the idea of a man so frightened that he goes to great lengths to keep Michael locked away. His grave nature made him a fan favorite, ensuring his involvement in sequels. Fifteen years after he’s been committed, Michael escapes from the facility, and Loomis, sure he is returning to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, stops at nothing to alert anyone who will listen that a killer is on the loose. Ala Jaws, no one takes him seriously enough until it’s too late.

Meanwhile, nerdy Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her hard-partying friends are babysitting in the same neighborhood, and Myers is stalking them all as he dons a new mask (the prop used was a modified Captain Kirk mask). Myers, credited as The Shape, is faceless, wordless, and utterly terrifying. Laurie, presumably a virgin, begins this notion of the final girl - her promiscuous friends don’t make it, creating a formula that most slashers followed thereafter. Scream poked fun at it as one of the “rules” of horror - if you have sex, you die.

If you’re looking at the basics, the concept is simple: a deranged serial killer stalking young women on Halloween. But a film centered around Halloween night had never been done, and horror had yet to meet John Carpenter, whose direction was miles ahead of its time, most notably for lingering scenes and his cutting-edge choice to use a Steadicam. And then there is that mesmerizing, effortlessly scary score that Carpenter himself composed. The synth, that we can all undoubtedly hear in our heads just by thinking of it, took murder scenes, and especially simplistic scenes (such as when Laurie is walking home from school), and turned them into something visceral and gut-wrenchingly suspenseful.

Halloween initially had a regional release. With its terrifying reputation, word quickly spread, and the film eventually released in theaters nationwide. It grossed over $1M in its first week alone. Newbie Jamie Lee Curtis was chosen partially because her mother, Janet Leigh, starred in Psycho. But Curtis held her own as a likeable, realistic and valiant character. An unknown 19-year-old who had chosen her own wardrobe for the film from JCPenney was suddenly catapulted into stardom, and she worked with Carpenter again (and with her mother) in The Fog.

Television rights were eventually sold to NBC - if you’ve ever seen Halloween on cable and notice additional scenes, including Dr. Loomis talking with Michael as a child, that was a result of twelve minutes of added footage so that NBC could fill a two-hour time slot. 

The unexpected success of the original brought immediate interest for a sequel. Carpenter had no desire to make a second Halloween film, but eventually conceded to writing it with Hill, though he did not direct. He admitted in his In Search of Darkness interview that he felt his own script for that film was subpar. Nevertheless, Halloween II, though never achieving the iconic status of the original, was financially successful, and it brought out an interesting plot point that Michael and Laurie were siblings.

When Halloween III: Season of the Witch arrived, sans Michael Myers and with a plot that had nothing to do with the first two films, fans were outraged. No one had been clued in that the Halloween franchise was meant to be an anthology - which, you can’t blame their confusion, considering Halloween II picked up right where the original ended. Hill and Carpenter served as producers, but both left the franchise after the third film. After the backlash, Halloween 4 went back to the tried and true Michael Myers killer formula, but it wasn’t the same without the cat-and-mouse game of Strode vs. Myers, and it became clear that Myers was unkillable. Five sequels were made (including Paul Rudd’s feature film debut) before there was a break in the franchise, and eventually, the production company went back to basics with Halloween: H20, a direct sequel to Halloween II. Twenty years after Laurie Strode’s attack, she attempts to save her teenage son and all of his friends from Myers. Halloween: Resurrection followed, with an attempt to bring much-needed diversity to the franchise. Unfortunately, it was not well received by audiences or by critics.

In 2007, Rob Zombie decided to tackle the franchise with a reboot, followed by its own sequel. I’m a Halloween purist so I’ve never seen it, but reception was dismal.

In 2018, Blumhouse released Halloween, with David Gordon Green directing but Carpenter returning to the franchise as a producer and composer and Curtis returning to her role as Strode. The plot showcased Strode as an aging survivor whose life has been consumed by her entanglement with Myers. It ignored all former sequels, including Halloween II, meaning that in this universe, Michael and Laurie are not siblings (though, to appease fans, they did address it.) It was a love letter to Halloween, with arguably too many scenes that called back to the original. But it was made for the true fans, and you can’t be mad at that. Two more sequels are planned - the original release date for Halloween Kills was to be this October, but due to the pandemic, it has been pushed to October 2021. Halloween Ends will be released in October 2022.

Some of Halloween’s dialogue and acting is undoubtedly cheesy because it was filmed so long ago, but in a nostalgic way that makes you smile. The core of the film remains timeless and still makes me tense, even though I’ve seen it 100 times. Few films have been such pioneers for the genre. Slashers as we know them - including the Friday the 13th franchise - simply would not exist without Halloween. This could happen anywhere, in a sleepy town just like your town, without rhyme or reason or any place to hide. There is no scarier concept, and there will likely never be another horror movie to achieve the status of Halloween. An October staple.

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