31 Days of Horror 2015: Loretta Sisco On… Halloween (1978)

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Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.

Few horror films can be considered classics. John Carpenter’s Halloween is one of them. It has a scary boogeyman, a haunting score, and tells a simple tale that manages to be chilling without blood, gore, or CGI. Let’s examine this holiday masterpiece.

John Carpenter’s story begins with young Michael Myers. Dressed in a clown suit, kitchen knife in hand, he climbs the stairs to his sister Judith’s room. She is seated at her vanity as her little brother stabs her to death. Their parents arrive home to find their son on the front lawn in his costume, still clutching the murder weapon.

Fast forward years later. That little boy now calls a mental hospital home, and he hasn’t spoken since the night he murdered his sister.

Much to his doctor’s dismay, Myers escapes from the institution. Dr. Sam Loomis believes his patient will return to the area he is most familiar, the scene of his crime, Haddonfield, Illinois. The search is on to find the killer before the body count rises.

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The fictional Haddonfield in the movie gets its name from the real Haddonfield, New Jersey. Debra Hill co-wrote the screenplay for the film, and she was from the quaint town with the tree-lined streets. I drive through Haddonfield on my way to work, a bit giddy from the horror history in my area, any house having the potential to be the Myers house.

Halloween’s opening scenes are unusual in that they feature the point of view of the villain. In fact, it’s Debra Hill’s hand that is seen reaching for the kitchen knife. Once the mask is put in place, the killer’s breathing becomes audible, adding to the menace.

The Michael Myers character is the boogeyman. Killers who stalk their victims without a sound are terrifying. The emotionless mask is recognizable immediately to horror fans. Carpenter chose a William Shatner mask, painted it white, teased the hair, and enlarged the eyeholes. This is the common story behind Michael Myers’s trademark look.

Myers uses body language to compensate for his lack of expression. When the knife is plunged into Bob, leaving him a fixture of the door, the killer tilts his head at his victim, appearing to admire his handiwork. He almost looks amazed at his gross accomplishment.

One of my favorite scenes is when Laurie is catching her breath after a recent encounter with Myers. You can’t keep a good madman down, and when the audience thinks the killer may be defeated, he rallies. Myers is shown laying on the floor, only to sit up straight at the waist, and turn his head in the direction of the babysitter. The movement is so fluid, so awesome.

As popular as the Donald Pleasance character of Dr. Loomis is, I find him overdramatic and annoying. The doctor, hot on the trail of his charge, comes off a bit over the top in the delivery of some of his lines. “The evil is gone from here!” I like Dr. Loomis, but I laugh at some of his cheesiness. He’s also fond of launching into speeches. You have to appreciate his intensity. He’s still a great character.

Sam Loomis does have some great lines. Some other favorites are “A road block wouldn’t stop a five year old,” and “It’ll be your funeral.”

Other characters have quotable lines as well. Annie’s father, Sheriff Brackett, has one of the best, “It’s Halloween, everyone is entitled to one good scare.” His daughter Annie says, “Hey jerk, speed kills” as a car drives past the three girls. The irony is that the vehicle is doing anything but going fast down the residential street.

There are three friends who are stalked by Myers. First is bookish Laurie Strode, played by then newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis, who went on to scream queen status, no doubt in part due to this film. Curtis currently appears in “Scream Queens,” a television show on FOX. In Halloween, she babysits Tommy Doyle.

Next is Annie Brackett (Nancy Loomis), sarcastic and a bit rough around the edges. She’s more interested in her boyfriend Paul than her charge for the evening, Lindsey Wallace. In fact, she drops off Lindsey to Laurie, leaving “the old girl scout” to watch two children so she can meet Paul.

The third friend is cheerleader Lynda (P.J. Soles). She and boyfriend Bob go to visit Annie, only to discover that she went to see Paul, leaving Linsdey with Laurie. The couple decide to stay at the now empty Wallace house.

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The plot is simple. An escaped killer from a mental hospital stalks young people on Halloween night. It’s not so strange an idea that it couldn’t happen, and the characters resemble people that could live anywhere.

Did you know that this movie originally did not take place on Halloween? An early title was ‘The Babysitter Murders’ before the film was changed to take place on the creepiest of holidays and given a new title.

One thing that has always perplexed me is why Michael Myers sometimes is referred to as The Shape? I have a shirt with the killer’s image with the play on words, “Halloween The Shape of Things to Come.” I haven’t found a definitive explanation for it.

Michael Myers has his own theme song, created by director John Carpenter. It makes a great ringtone for October. Halloween has one of the scariest soundtracks, and it adds to the overall feel of the film. In fact, this movie wasn’t considered scary by test audiences until after the music was added.

This film delivers the scares with minimal blood and no gore. It was made long before the invention of CGI, and it’s suspenseful and creepy without fancy special effects. Sometimes less is more when it comes to horror.

Halloween is a classic horror film, almost required viewing during the month of October. Some theaters will show it on the big screen close to the holiday. If you have the chance to see it that way, don’t pass on the opportunity. It’s so much better on a large screen, and you tend to notice things that you hadn’t before from just watching it at home. The movie never gets old, even if it is approaching its 40th anniversary. It is perfection. Happy Halloween!

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