Posts Tagged ‘Halloween

09
Oct
13

Blake’s Halloween Fun Fact #2

FACT: The tradition of wearing costumes on Halloween is European in origin. It was believed centuries ago that, on All Hallow’s Eve, spirits roamed the Earth seeking the living. People would wear costumes in order to trick malevolent ghosts into believing they were spirits too, and pass them by.

Modern costumes seem to follow the opposite logic, as no human being would ever be caught dead wearing something like this:

"Sexy" Bert and Ernie

Seriously, who the HELL thought this would be a good idea?

08
Oct
13

Blake’s Halloween Fun Fact #1

Turnip JackFACT: The original Jack O’Lanterns were not carved from pumpkins, like we do today, but from turnips. The practice dates back to the 19th century, and originated in the Scottish Highlands.

BONUS FACT: Consuming large quantities of turnips acts like a marinade, making your supple flesh much tastier when the inevitable reign of Blorgath, Eldritch Lord of Chaos begins, and he starts demanding human sacrifices into his enormous, gaping, hook-toothed maw. So eat up!

29
Oct
12

Lunatics and Laughter Day 18: Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Director: Michael Dougherty

Writer: Michael Dougherty

Cast: Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Quinn Lord, Lauren Lee Smith, Moneca Delain, Tahmoh Penikett, Brett Kelly, Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Alberto Ghisi, Samm Todd, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Leslie Bibb, Connor Christopher Levins, James Willson

Plot: (Note: Trick ‘r Treat is a movie in the Robert Altman tradition – not just an anthology film, but a film in which multiple plotlines tend to weave in and out of one another. Although I’ll attempt to give as straightforward a synopsis as possible, it may be best if you just watch the movie. Come to think of it, just watch the movie anyway. It rocks.)

On Halloween night, Emma (Leslie Bibb) and Henry (Tahmoh Penikett) return home after a party. Despite Henry’s objections, Emma blows out the candle in their Jack O’Lantern and begins taking down their decorations, even as kids on the street continue trick-or-treating. Something leaps out at her, covered in a sheet, and slashes her throat open with a pumpkin-shaped lollipop sharpened into a blade. Henry comes outside later to find her head severed and limbs dismembered, dangling from a scarecrow, the lollipop stuffed in her mouth.

Earlier that evening, elsewhere in town, the streets of Warren Valley, Ohio are loaded with partiers and revelers – this is a town that takes Halloween seriously. But not everyone is ready yet. Laurie (Anna Paquin) and her friends are at the local costume shop, trying to find last-minute outfits. Laurie is reluctant to join the fun, but her sister Danielle (Lauren Lee Smith) insists. Laurie selects a Red Riding Hood costume. As they check out, Danielle invites the sales clerk to join them at a party they’re going to in the woods. After the others chide Laurie for being a virgin at 22, Laurie abandons her friends, saying she’ll meet them at the party later. She’s decided she wants to find “her guy” herself.

Elsewhere, a young boy named Charlie (Brett Kelly) marches down a street, knocking over pumpkins as he goes. He approaches the home of his school principal, Mr. Wilkins (Dylan Baker), who catches him stealing candy. As he carves a new Jack O’Lantern, he gives Charlie a lecture about respecting the dead and the traditions of the past no one cares about anymore. Charlie begin throwing up blood. Wilkins gleefully confesses that he poisoned the candy, and Charlie dies. He takes the body into the house, but is interrupted by trick-or-treaters. As he gives them candy, one of the kids asks if they could have his Jack O’Lantern for a scavenger hunt. He drags Charlie to his backyard, dumping the body into a hole where another body already waits. While working, his son Billy (Connor Christopher Levins) loudly yells for him from the window. His next interruption is the neighbor’s dog, which he distracts by throwing one of Charlie’s fingers to him… but his neighbor Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox) comes out. As Wilkins hides in the grave, the second body squeals, not quite dead. He gives Kreeg a story about his septic tank being backed up, sending him back inside. Billy pops out again, begging to go with Wilkins to the Halloween party, but Wilkins says he can’t, he has a date. He finally manages to get the bodies buried. When he walks inside, Kreeg shrieks at him from the window, but Wilkins ignores him, and we see someone attack Kreeg. Inside, Wilkins and Billy sit down to carve their Jack O’Lantern… Charlie’s severed head. Billy sweetly tells his daddy to help him with the eyes.

The trick-or-treaters who took Wilkins’s pumpkin meet up with some other friends who’ve been gathering pumpkins. Macy (Britt McKillip) says they need more, so they visit “idiot savant” Rhonda (Samm Todd), who has carved dozens. Schrader (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) charms Rhonda into joining them. They make their way to a quarry where, according to the legend Macy tells them, 30 years ago a school bus full of mentally challenged students were taken instead. The children’s parents – exhausted and embarrassed– asked him to do “the unthinkable.” As he passes out candy and checks the chains on the students, one of them gets free and starts the bus, sending it into the lake at the bottom of the quarry. Only the driver survivs, and no one knows what happened to him. Finishing the story, Macy says they’re going to leave the Jack O’Lanterns by the lake. They manage to activate the old quarry elevator, taking Macy, Schrader and Sara (Isabelle Deluce) to the bottom. Macy says she’ll send the elevator back up for Rhonda and Chip (Alberto Ghisi).

Back at the Halloween party, a hooded figure in black kisses a girl in an alley. He bites her with a pair of fangs, drinking her blood. She flees into the streets, running into Emma and Henry and begging for help, but they think she’s just drunk. The hooded man returns, finishing her off. Laurie, meanwhile, is having no luck finding a suitable single man – until she sees the man in the hood.

At the quarry, Rhonda hears a howling in the distance and declares it to be werewolves. She and Chip take the elevator down, hearing their friends shouting for help as they come down. When they reach the bottom, the others are nowhere to be found. Rhonda leaves the frightened Chip behind and seeks the others, finding the half-submerged school bus in the lake, along with shredded and bloody remains of the other kids’ costumes. A pair of creatures emerge from the slime, and she runs. She falls into the lake, hitting her head, and the attackers reveal themselves to be Schrader, Macy and Sara – the whole thing was a cruel prank. Schrader tries to apologize, but Macy seems more irritated that their trick is over. Packing up, Macy kicks the last lit Jack O’Lantern into the lake, and voices begin to come from the water. The children from the bus crawl from the lake, pursuing the pranksters. They get back to the elevator, where Rhonda sits with her Jack O’Lanterns. The dead children approach, and Rhonda turns the elevator on, leaving her tormentors behind, screaming.

Laurie walks through the woods to her party alone, afraid she’s being pursued, until she encounters the hooded man. Danielle, at the party, is nervous for the sister her mother always called “the runt of the litter.” As she waits, a body in a Red Riding Hood cloak falls from the trees. Danielle lifts the cape to reveal the hooded man, begging for help. Laurie suddenly steps out of the trees, casually, albeit with a little blood on her. Danielle admonishes her for being late, and one of the other girls, Maria (Rochelle Aytes) removes fake fangs from the Hooded Man’s mouth. She removes his mask to reveal Principal Wilkins. She smiles, saying she’s glad he’ll be Laurie’s first. Laurie admits to Danielle that she’s nervous, and her big sister tells her to just be herself. She walks to Wilkins, sits on his chest, and transforms into a werewolf, opening her mouth wide for her first kill.

Earlier (again), a group of trick-or-treaters visits Mr. Kreeg’s house. He scares them off, taking the candy they left behind, and desperately tries to find something on television that isn’t about Halloween. He’s alerted to an intruder when his gate begins creaking, and someone begins pelting his window with eggs. He steps into the backyard, where his dog is nibbling on something and, over his fence, his neighbor is digging a hole. While they chtalkat, someone watches him from the bushes.  Kreeg sees a figure running through his house – a small child in orange pajamas with a burlap sack for a mask (Quinn Lord). (“Sam,” as he’s called, has turned up several times throughout the film, watching our stories.) Kreeg goes to his bedroom, where a burning pumpkin reveals “Trick or Treat, give me something good to eat” written on the walls and ceiling, over and over again, in blood. Sam slashes his ankle with a knife hidden in a candy bar. Kreeg runs for help, slipping on candy and broken glass that sends him tumbling down the stairs. He goes to the window and begs Wilkins for help, but his neighbor ignores him and Sam leaps again. Kreeg  rips off Sam’s mask, revealing a horrible pumpkin-like head. Sam finally gets the upper hand on Kreeg, approaching him with a sharpened pumpkin lollipop… but instead of stabbing him, he takes the candy Kreeg stole earlier. As Sam leaves, we see in Kreeg’s fire a burning photograph… years before, when he was a bus driver, at a home for mentally challenged children.

Later that night Kreeg, wounded and heavily bandaged, gives candy to a group of trick-or-treaters who come to his door. As he looks around the street he sees Billy Wilkins, bloody, handing out candy, Rhonda coming home with a wagon of pumpkins, Laurie and her friends driving by and giggling… and Sam, on the sidewalk, watching him. Across the street, Emma and Henry arrive at home, Henry admonishing her not to blow out the candle in their pumpkin. When she does it anyway, Sam looks down at his sharpened lollipop and walks towards their home. Kreeg drags himself back inside, but there’s one last knock on the door. The dead children from the quarry are back… and they want their candy.

Thoughts: Trick ‘r Treat is one of those movies that sat on a shelf for a few years, scoring only a limited theatrical release before coming to DVD. As such, many people dismissed it – straight-to-DVD movies have a rather negative reputation, you may have heard. But when I finally got a chance to watch the movie I realized that, not only was this a cut above most DVD-first fare, it was actually one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a very long time.

Writer/director Michael Dougherty’s film puts its inspiration on display in the opening credits, which are structured to resemble old-fashioned horror comics of the Tales From the Crypt variety (inspiration for the TV show and movies, the Creepshow series, and countless other contemporary horrormeisters). He displays his four tales (and pieces of others) as part of a single night of insane terror across a little town, connecting them in subtle ways and using the audience’s own expectations of horror movies against it. The effect is a movie that makes you chuckle, jump, and scream, all the while giving you a brand-new horror icon that really could stand right up there with the Freddies and Jasons of the world.

The movie isn’t quite a gag-laden comedy the way a lot of the other movies in this project have been. In fact, someone unfamiliar with horror movie tropes may not find much to laugh about at all. The laughter almost always comes in when you realize the direction the story is going is not at all what you expected. In the principal’s story, for instance, Dougherty shows us early that Wilkins has no qualms about murdering a child, and when he begins showing clear frustration at Billy, we’re certain that either Billy will die or Wilkins will get some sort of cosmic comeuppance at the hands of his son. In virtually any other horror movie, in fact, that’s exactly what would happen. The end of the scene, where they tenderly begin to carve Charlie’s mutilated head up together, works brilliantly against everything a normal horror movie does, while delivering a powerful kick to close off that story (for the moment, at least).

Even more brilliant, perhaps, is the twist at the end of Laurie’s story. Dougherty sets her up perfectly as the sweet, innocent, virginal “survivor girl,” even making it seem as though she’s going to be pitted against a vampire for her grand moment of triumph. He nails us with two reversals here – first, making her the killer instead of the victim, and second, pulling a werewolf out of nowhere to close it off. Well… almost nowhere. Rhonda, earlier, did claim she heard werewolves in the woods, something that is easy to blow off the first time you watch the movie but that seems like a brilliant bit of foreshadowing on the second viewing.

Those little connected moments, by the way, also work brilliantly to make this a strong, cohesive film. Each of the four main stories could be chopped out of the anthology and shown as individual short films, and each would feel more or less complete. The connections, though, make things a lot more fun and help us connect the characters to one another and keep track, mentally, of the timeline. The movie doesn’t jump around quite as much as, say, Pulp Fiction, but it does jump.

The good thing is that the nonlinear nature of the story helps with the playfulness of the plot. When Sam kills Emma at the beginning, it seems sort of random. Okay, so she didn’t like Halloween, but surely that isn’t enough to deserve a death sentence. The callous way Henry blows off the girl who died at the party – which happened earlier but which we see later – helps bring things around to Emma getting what (in a twisted scary movie sort of way) she had coming to her. Mr. Kreeg’s story also benefits tremendously from this technique. Chronologically speaking, Sam attacks him long before we hear the story at the quarry, but had the film been shown in that order, the burning photograph would have been meaningless. We would have picked up the meaning later, but it would have robbed the story at the quarry of much of the impact. What’s more, when the dead children drag themselves out of the lake, it’s the first time the movie shows anything that’s explicitly supernatural. Rearranging the story would undercut that, and lord only knows what it would do the werewolf story.

Then there’s our new horror icon. Sam, at first, appears to be just a sort of playful phantasm, something that appears everywhere. He gets candy from Wilkins, visits the massacre at the quarry, and observes the murders at Laurie’s party. At first, he’s actually cute. He comes across as a mischievous little sprite that seems to be a watcher of sorts, but not actually connected to the chaos around him. The encounter at Kreeg’s house changes all that, of course, and does so in a clever way. Without actually spelling things out, Dougherty reveals why Sam is after Kreeg, ties many of the stories together, and makes the jolly little pixie truly horrific. You even understand – kinda – why Sam decides to let Kreeg live at the end. (It’s telling that perhaps the most disturbing part is that when Sam is injured, he doesn’t explode in blood, but in pumpkin seeds and entrails.)

Dougherty and producer Bryan Singer have been working for a few years to get a sequel to this film made. Although progress is slow, unlike the perpetually-stalled Behind the Mask sequel, it seems like this one will make it to the screen sooner or later – the movie is not only critically acclaimed, but eventually achieved solid commercial success on DVD. The FearNet TV channel has also embraced the film, having Dougherty direct several holiday shorts starring Sam and showing the film for 24 hours on Halloween, mimicking the success of A Christmas Story on TBS. In fact, if you’ve never watched this movie and you get the FearNet network, there’s the perfect chance to rectify this egregious error. Just check out the various shorts on YouTube, then set the DVR or carve out any two-hour block on Halloween night, and prepare to discover a movie that has become a tradition for horror fans everywhere.

Don’t forget, Lunatics and Laughter is the second Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

And while the 20 films for the first phase of Lunatics and Laughter have been selected, I’m still taking suggestions for next year’s expanded eBook edition. I’m especially looking for good horror/comedies from before 1980, so if you’ve got any ideas, please share them in the comments section.

28
Oct
12

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 276: The Showcase Boys Vs. the Evil Dead

 

The Showcase Halloween Marathon returns! This year, the guys tackle Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s trilogy of terror, Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. The guys also discuss the Dynamite Comics and the upcoming Evil Dead remake. In the picks, Kenny goes Halloween-y with the Vampire Hunter D franchise, and Blake gets a little meta with Superman #13. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 276: The Showcase Boys Vs. the Evil Dead

21
Oct
12

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 275: The Ultimate Top Ten Movie Monsters

 

With Halloween so close, Blake and Erin discuss the greatest movie monsters of all time. Our picks, your choices, and the number one monster in cinema history wait for you in this week’s episode! In the picks, Erin loves The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 2 and Blake goes with Locke and Key: Grindhouse and Marvel Zombies Halloween. Don’t forget to vote for this year’s Halloween movie marathon at the Fighting Fitness Fraternity Facebook Page! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.



Episode 275: Ultimate Top Ten Movie Monsters

14
Oct
12

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 274: News From NYCC

 

Blake is by himself this week, taking a look at some of the news coming out from this weekend’s New York Comic-Con. From Marvel Now! to the SHIELD TV show, Scott Snyder on Superman and Mars Attacking… everyone, Blake gives his thoughts on these big announcements and more. In the picks, we look at Batman #13 and the Image Halloween Eve One-Shot! Don’t forget to e-mail us your top ten favorite movie monsters for our Halloween episode! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 274: News From NYCC

01
Oct
12

Mutants, Monsters and Madmen-NOW AVAILABLE!

Last year, you guys may remember that I spent the entire month of October watching and talking about assorted scary movies, chronologically tracing the evolution of horror films from the 1920s up until the present day. I really enjoyed that little project and I think a lot of you did too. And now, as Halloween approaches again, I’m ready to launch the next stage of that project, my new eBook Reel to Reel: Mutants, Monsters and Madmen.

This eBook collects the 35 essays I wrote last year, plus five brand-new ones written just for this collection. Over the course of this book, I look at how the things that scare us have grown and evolved over the last century, dishing on some of the greatest, most influential and most memorable scary movies ever made. This eBook, available now for a mere $2.99, is hopefully going to be the first in a series, in which I’ll tackle different cinematic topics the same way.

If you read the essays last year, check this one out and enjoy the new ones. If you haven’t read any of them, dive in now for the first time. And tell all of your horror movie-loving friends about it as well! After all, the reason I decided to write this book in the first place is because I wanted to read a book like this one, but I just couldn’t find one. The market is out there, friends. Help us find each other.

(And lest I forget, thanks to Heather Petit Keller for the cover design!)

You can get the book now in the following online stores:

Amazon.com (for your Kindle or Kindle app)
Smashwords.com (for every other eBook reader)

And in case you’re wondering, the movies covered in this book include:

*The Golem (1920)
*Nosferatu (1922)
*The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
*Dracula (1931)
*Frankenstein (1931)
*The Mummy (1932)
*Freaks (1932)
*Cat People (1942)
*The Fly (1958)
*Peeping Tom (1960)
*Psycho (1960)
*Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Terror (1962-New in this edition!)
*Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
*The Haunting (1963)
*The Birds (1963-New in this edition!)
*Wait Until Dark (1967)
*Night of the Living Dead (1968)
*Last House on the Left (1972)
*The Exorcist (1973)
*The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
*Jaws (1975)
*Carrie (1976)
*Suspiria (1977)
*Halloween (1978)
*Alien (1979)
*The Shining (1980)
*Friday the 13th (1980)
*The Evil Dead (1981)
*Poltergeist (1982)
*The Thing (1982)
*A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
*Return of the Living Dead (1985)
*Hellraiser (1987-New to this edition!)
*Child’s Play (1988-New to this edition!)
*Misery (1990)
*Scream (1996)
*Ringu (1998)
*The Blair Witch Project (1999)
*Saw (2004)
*The Cabin in the Woods (2012-New to this edition!)

30
Oct
11

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 243: Icons of Horror

It’s time for the official Showcase Halloween episode! This year, Blake and Erin get together to talk about horror movies… their favorites, the earliest ones they’ve seen, movies they hate, the icons that make horror what it is today, and those characters that could potentially join the ranks of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in the future. In the picks, Blake gives us a New 52 Pick, Superman #2 and a Halloween pick, Casper’s Scare School #1! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 243: Icons of Horror

23
Oct
11

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 242: Haunted Happenings

A week before Halloween, Blake is all by himself. OOOOOGH! It’s honestly not as scary as it sounds. But in this brief episode, Blake hits you with some creepy coolness — a review of the season premiere of The Walking Dead, a resounding endorsement of FearNet’s upcoming Trick ‘R Treat Halloween marathon, and for a few chuckles, the new hardcover Horrifiyingly Mad collection. In the picks, he goes with Justice League #2! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 242: Haunted Happenings

18
Oct
11

Story Structure Day 22: Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Writer: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis,  Nick Castle, Peter Griffith, John Michael Graham, Bryan Andrews

Plot: In Haddonfield, Illinois, 1963, a 6-year-old boy named Michael Myers inexplicably murders his older sister on Halloween Night. Michael is sent to a mental institution where, for 15 years, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) attempts to treat the boy for his psychosis. Eventually, Loomis surrenders, believing the boy to be beyond redemption, and turns his efforts towards containing the monster that has grown up to become a brute of a man. On October 30, 1978, Michael (Nick Castle) escapes from the institution and begins a trek back to Haddonfield.

The next morning, the day of Halloween, high school senior Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) drops off a package at the old, empty Myers house as a favor to her realtor father (Peter Griffith). She and the child she babysits, Tommy Doyle (Bryan Andrews) relate the legend the Myers story has become, unaware that a now-masked Michael is watching them. Laurie and her friend Annie (Nancy Loomis) encounter Annie’s father, Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers), who informs them about a break-in and theft of a Halloween mask from a store in town. Loomis recruits Brackett to help him both in searching for Michael and in keeping his presence in town a secret.

That night, Annie and Laurie are both on babysitting jobs until Annie drops off her charge with Laurie and Tommy across the street so she can spend the evening with her boyfriend, only to return to what she thinks is an empty house. Naturally, it’s not. Soon afterwards, Lynda (P.J. Soles) and her boyfriend Bob (John Michael Graham) come over and find the house empty, seeing a free reign for some amorous activities of their own. Instead, they simply give Michael two more victims to add to his count. Still-nervous Laurie, across the street, decides to check out the unnaturally quiet house, only to find Michael’s victims, including Annie laid out in a gruesome tableau beneath the stolen headstone of Judith Myers. Laurie screams, tries to flee, and winds up taking a tumble down the stairs to escape Michael. Hurt, she staggers across the street to protect the children, but Michael follows her. In the final scenes, Laurie and Michael engage in an incredible cat-and-mouse game for her life, until finally she sends the kids out to seek help, drawing Loomis’s attention. He arrives just in time to save Laurie, shooting Michael and sending him falling from the window. A shattered Laurie asks Loomis if it really was the Boogeyman. Loomis confirms that it was… as he looks out the window and sees that Michael is gone.

Thoughts: Not the first “slasher” film, of course (we’ve already discussed at least two others that fit in that category), John Carpenter’s Halloween is truly the one that created the template future slashers would follow. In a simple 20-day shoot, on a shoestring budget, Carpenter gave us the synthesis of the mysterious figure, the slow build-up of one death after another to lead to a final confrontation, the use of the killer as some sort of karmic punishment for teenagers that get wrapped up in the evils of sex and drugs and alcohol, and of course the Survivor Girl in Jamie lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode.

Carpenter also uses visual tricks to great effect. The long opening scene is a single-take shot, all from the point of view of little Michael, as he watches his sister with her boyfriend, waits until she’s alone, and makes his first kill. The audience doesn’t even realize it’s a point of view shot for the first minute or two, until we see Michael’s little clown-clad arm reach out and grab the kitchen knife. Once he puts on his mask, our vision is impaired and reduced to a pair of small eye-holes, which covers up just enough of the brutality of his sister’s murder to make it all the more horrifying. He bookends this at the end of the movie, after Michael’s disappearance, with images of the empty rooms and exterior of the house where the rampage took place. Although we don’t see Michael again at this point, the idea that we are again looking through his eyes strikes you immediately.

For pure horror atmosphere, Halloween is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made. Some of the earlier slasher prototypes – here I’m specifically thinking of Last House on the Left and Texas Chainsaw Massacre – spent a good deal of time on mundane or even goofy nonsense before delving into anything horrifying. Halloween starts with a murder, and although it’s some time before Michael kills again, there’s a pervasive feeling of dread and terror that lasts throughout the film. Carpenter also composed the movie’s theme, which has really become an iconic piece of scary music, right up there with the themes to Psycho and Jaws.

In fact, Carpenter obviously draws on the history of Psycho in several places: his killer is obsessed with slaying women, particularly those of his own family; Dr. Sam Loomis is named after the John Gavin character from Psycho; Michael’s knife –his stance – echoes “Mother” and her weapon as she stalked Marion Crane; even his heroine is played by Jamie Lee Curtis, real-life daughter of Janet Leigh, who played Norman Bates’s most famous victim. I’m pretty sure the film’s original title was The Babysitter Murders (or) I Love Hitchcock. In a curious bit of pre-reflection, the babysitters and their charges spend Halloween night watching the 50s sci-fi chiller The Thing From Another World, which Carpenter himself would remake a few years later, and which we’ll actually discuss here in a few days.

Michael, in this film, is almost omnipresent. He’s an enormous, white-faced ninja, appearing at random times, able to pop up from virtually anywhere, and always, always watching. When you consider how relatively little violence there is in the film – the death scenes are few and brief – it’s amazing how effective Michael’s presence is at creating the overwhelming sense of fear. At the same time, there’s an odd sense of innocence to the character… or at the very least, confusion, like he doesn’t fully comprehend anything he’s doing. Bob’s death in particular demonstrates this: Michael pins the boy to the wall hard enough to leave him dangling there in his death-gurgles. As he’s dying, Michael tilts his head at him, almost quizzically, like a puppy looking at a stranger he can’t quite figure out.

Oddly enough, the family obsession isn’t actually that clear in this first film, except for the fact that Michael’s original victim is his older sister. There’s no reason at this point, though, to believe that his madness is anything other than a random killing spree. Halloween II, also written by Carpenter and Hill, is probably one of the all-time great horror sequels. It picks up immediately after the climax of this film and the entirety of the action takes place on the same night: Halloween 1978. If one views the two of them together, as if it was one long film, you get a richer story and uncover much more about the Myers family – namely the fact that Laurie was adopted by the Strodes and is, in fact, Michael’s younger sister. I have no idea if Carpenter and Hill were thinking along these lines when they wrote the original screenplay, but in the sequel they pull out a revelation that makes the earlier installment better by adding a totally different subtext. (Contrast that to the Star Wars revelations: no matter how much you love the original film or Empire Strikes Back, don’t you always feel a little squicky now when Leia plants a wet one on Luke Skywalker?)

As much as Michael Myers became emblematic of the horror movie boogieman, so did Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode come to embody the Survivor Girl trope – the one girl who remains (relatively) clean and innocent while all her friends are busy drinking, smoking (anything they can get their hands on), and engaging in lots and lots of teenage sex. We go back to the old Horror Movie As Morality Play idea, as these other teens are picked off one at a time, leaving only the clean, sober, virginal one to make the final stand against the killer. And truly, Curtis’s final stand is one of the best ever. She’s scared, but she’s also tough and determined, more so to protect the children than to protect herself. At every step of those final scenes, while Michael stalks her through the house, her first concern is to protect the kids, then herself. It’s a heroic stance that makes us sympathize even more than we would have originally (and the Babysitter Versus the Boogeyman idea is already one that wins her a great deal of sympathy from the audience). When she’s scared, you buy the terror on her face wholeheartedly. When she’s angry, you wouldn’t want to be the one to cross her.

And yes, like every horror movie in the history of ever, you’ve got those scenes where you want to just scream at her to turn around, dammit, he’s right behind you! But you usually say this while laughing, knowing the teenager is going to bite it and you’re really just there to see how it’s going to happen. This is one time where you really want her to turn around before it’s too late.

The series went off the rails with its third installment, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which didn’t feature Michael at all. The idea was to try to turn Halloween into an annual Tales From the Crypt-style anthology series, each installment telling a totally different scary story. It’s not a bad idea and it may have worked if it wasn’t that Halloween II had already cemented Michael as the star of the franchise and if Halloween III wasn’t such a hot mess. Future installments never quite matched the original two, drifting Michael further and further down the road of the supernatural, which undermined what made the original so great in the first place. In the first two films, Michael is a terrifying figure because he represents a hidden dark side that could exist even in the most seemingly innocent person, a darkness that could erupt at any time and become the shadow in the window or the boogeyman behind the closet door. Once you make Michael the victim of a curse or a demon, you lose that. So go out and watch the first two Halloween films as part of your seasonal festivities, and ignore the rest.

From the terror in the house next door, tomorrow we’re going to the depths of deep space for perhaps the greatest blend of science fiction and horror ever made: Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.




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