Thursday, October 29, 2015

Spooktacular Savings #23: John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (revisited)

"Was it the boogeyman?"
"... as a matter of fact, it was."

Let's talk a little about what Michael Myers is.  It's difficult to not think about the myriad of college term papers and scholarly articles and just regular film reviews that have looked to posit what Myers not simply is - a demented mental patient who escapes and goes back to his hometown to kill - but the representation of him.  I don't know if I can really say anything more original than anyone else except of my perception that's changed over time with this 'thing'.  And perhaps the easiest thing to say is that it is a "thing"; I'm not sure if director John Carpenter knew that he wanted to remake it at the time (he was doing low-budget independent pictures back then), but the Howard Hawks production is featured prominently at a couple of points in the movie.  Why was it there?  "Who Goes There?" as the Joseph Campbell story goes.

Myers has also been called "The Shape", and not as some sort of nickname online or in the underground, but in the credits of the movie itself and in the script (just doing a quick google search comes up with things like this).  Is it meant to be taken literally as it may sound, like the SHAPE of EVIL?  It's possible.  I think that the power of Myers/Shape is that it really works more like a ghost or some supernatural entity (only a few days ago, good ol' James Rolfe at Cinemassacre posited a connection to Myers and the 'It' from It Follows, not bad at all).

Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men also comes to mind this concept of an unstoppable force that is after you - except that Chigurh does talk, and has his Two-Face conceit of the coin toss.  With Myers, everything is about watching and waiting and then striking.  Or it could be as basic as - here is his outline, you see his contour, this figure looking at you one moment, and the next is 'poof'.  Add to that a William Shatner mask and you got yourself a scary fucking dude, my friend.

Why does Myers keep appearing and then disappearing so suddenly though?  It's simply one of those great things about movie-making, the not explaining that keeps people coming back.  And yet it's all at the call and beckoning of suspense; if there wasn't that, Halloween might be dull.  For some, Halloween may have dulled over time.  Seeing it in a packed screening for a special one-night-revival, I wondered if the audience around me wasn't feeling put off by those scenes where Carpenter's camera just lingers, or he takes his time in those roving, creeping stedi-cam shots that are like the Shape itself: watching and waiting and not presenting any forced attempt to get a shock.  When Myers does appear, it's meant to scare the ever-loving shit out of you.  And after so many years, it is still... in a few spots.

I wish I could say that Halloween is a perfect film.  A couple of things bothered me seeing it in a movie theater screen (though not as it was seen in 1978, which I'll get to in a post-script), luckily all not major really: you cal tell, without much ambiguity, that it is certainly NOT in late October/early November when this takes place; while there are a couple of shots where fallen leaves are scattered about on the sidewalk, there are more scenes with leaves fully on the trees as people walk around.  And when a particular character yells and screams at a key point, you'd think that even if one set of neighbors don't help out, others would (or at least call the police - but hey, what can you do, monster movies are on man, I get it - or the sort of walking-around Dr. Loomis).  But those seem like such nitpicks that I can't let them get down the rest of the film, which is attempting, and succeeding, at making interesting characters - fleshed out enough for us to care (sort of, at least with Laurie) - and then see how they don't/do/fight to get out of this killer's grasp.

Why does this movie last?  Is it just the franchise itself that got spawned because of this one film?  And by the way, that is almost a shame in a way; the ending seems open-ended, like the natural thought is 'he'll kill again and keep killing'.  I was reminded of an embarrassing fact that I watched the #2 sequel before the original (not that the two viewings were far apart) and didn't feel TOO lost.  It ends on a series of shots that we don't really get to see much in movies anymore: seeing all of the places that we have been to - the rooms and staircase and the shot in front of the Myers house, which itself is a decrepit and 'Haunted' place.  Why is this done?  This add to the mystery at all?  I think it does, and mystery is one of those grand things that movies can sometimes do when they're in the right/smart hands.

So there are the thrills, and the tension with Laurie in that little closet as the Shape breaks through with nothing to stop him (except her, if she can try), and the music (good lord does that hold up exceptionally well, even as the themes are repeated - there may be just five, if that).  Many things come together in what is a, on the surface, uncomplicated horror movie.  And make no mistake that it IS horror - the horror of the unknown entity, the Thing In the Night, and that it may not be from another world but our own that is the most frightening thing of all - but that the question of this character/thing is still such a striking force.  I don't know what the hell Myers is, at least in this picture, and the lack of a connection to Strode (as would happen later in the films - it's all about the 'family' or something like that) makes it just this: there's this killer, it will not stop, and you may die.  Can you stop it, or survive?  As long as he's back 'home', who knows?

On a side note/PS: I saw this as part of the Fathom Events series; they actually screened an interview with Carpenter before the movie (with a voice-over that was saying things like "Halloween became one of the most important films in the history of horror" etc etc, yeah yeah, we know), which I quite liked as Carpenter is an unpretentious, informative speaker about things like filmmaking and getting things done to scare people.  But I felt uneasy for the audience around me, like, would they really care about this, they just want to get to the MOVIE itself.

And about that.... the theater I went to, I won't say there name (let's just say they're the only theater in Secaucus, New Jersey, that I know of), but they screened the movie in such a way where throughout the run-time black bars were on top and on the bottom of the image - in other words, the film was shown as if you were at home watching it on your TV.  Now, I know we can't turn back the clocks (for now) to show the movie as it should be, on 35mm through a projector, and that's fine.  But, could you at least *try*, movie theater, to not make the experience I've paid $15 for, make the screen fit Carpenter's 2:35:1 aspect ratio?  For the love of all that is Shapely?

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