Oct 31, 2014

October 2014 (Final) Horror Movie a Day - Day 31: HALLOWEEN (1978)

"It was the boogeyman..."

"As a matter of fact, it was."

Speaking with a friend of mine this past week who is also participating in 31 Horror Movies a Day (for the record, he is way more of a horror aficionado than me. Compared to him I'm not worthy), we discussed how the only way you can complete this series ending on Halloween night is with the original 1978 Halloween. We surmised that if a movie as good as this one was named 'Christmas' or 'Arbor Day', there would be an unwritten law to watch those films on those holidays as there is with this one (Christmas does have must-watches It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve and A Christmas Story on Christmas day, and while nobody cares about Arbor Day, other holidays have movies like the 1956 The Ten Commandments, an Easter requirement).

Much has been written about Halloween over the past couple of months thanks to the release of a spectacular, comprehensive Blu-ray Disc box set from Anchor Bay and Scream Factory in early September. That highly anticipated set was met with fanfare where on Twitter, fans gushed over it. Last year when Anchor Bay released a standalone 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray for the original film, I discussed with a Twitter follower how this picture can be released in many different editions and we will all just keep buying them. The same occurred when Scream Factory released their standalone Halloween II and Halloween III Blu-rays that launched their label two years ago. With this last set I saw nobody doing the usual rumblings about double dipping or high costs or gouging collectors or whatever. People just got excited and bought the set. It says something about a franchise when a usually demanding physical media collector demographic unifies behind a product - especially when most of them already own many if not all of the films.

This movie is still scary every time I view it. The score is iconic, as is the element of an unstoppable killing force overcome by evil. The opening scene with a young Michael Myers donning a mask, grabbing a knife and randomly stabbing his teenage sister to death is chilling. The movie also introduced us to Jamie Lee Curtis, the scream queen.

The one and only 'Scream Queen'
Seeing as there has been so much discussion surrounding Halloween lately, I am going to focus on one element that I think really makes this picture special - Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis. When we meet Loomis he is a shell of a man, on edge, agitated and spouting overly dramatic lines like "this isn't a man" and "death has come to your little town, sheriff." How does a once respected doctor (and we don't need to see him as a sane man to get how his treating Michael has sent him over the edge) turn into a raving maniac obsessed with stopping his former patient? The Rob Zombie 2007 Halloween remake went the extra mile filling in the Myers and Loomis (played by Malcolm McDowell) treatment gap  and while that film has its merits, I think the 1978 story just jumping in and showing us the aftereffect Michael has had is way more effective.

Just try to keep up McDowell
Here is a section of dialogue where Loomis explains what he saw in young Myers:

"I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes...the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind those boy's eyes was purely and simply...evil."

Wow, that's heavy. This kid, who deep within his soul Loomis sees nothing but evil has now become a life obsession. What drives a man to declare a six-year-old child pure evil? What did he see to make such a statement? We find out soon enough as Michael rampages through Haddonfield in movie-after-movie (all except part III which was a Myers-less solo story and has grown a cult following of its own) brandishing a knife and attempting to kill his relatives as well as anyone who gets in his way. If Myers showed up for Thanksgiving dinner, he'd carve his family and not the turkey. Thankfully for them he sticks to only one holiday of the year.

The last person who should be carrying a loaded gun
Pleasence brings a frenetic incomparable energy to his portrayal as Loomis in this and each subsequent sequel (he is in Halloween II, 4, 5 and The Curse of Michael Myers - #6. He passed away in 1995) that drives the action and tone of the pictures. Without him, this might just be another run-of-the-mill slasher picture. I don't really believe that but with him, it's a masterpiece. His rantings are epic ("I prayed that he would burn in hell. But in my heart, I knew they would not have him."- Halloween 5) and while he may come across as a lunatic to the local authorities at first, we completely buy into his fear and paranoia as do they eventually. In Halloween II, his monomania even results in the fiery death of an innocent trick-or-treater! This man is willing to stop at nothing to stop Michael. Myers and as a result, it has driven him mad with obsession. He's just as bad as Michael in a way, very much like Batman has been shaped by his rogues gallery with a thin line separating him from becoming them. That makes him a compelling character more than any other I have seen in a horror picture with the exception of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates (there is a Psycho tie-in here as Carpenter pays homage by naming Dr. Sam Loomis with Janet Leigh's boyfriend's character name from that iconic Hitchcock film. It is only fitting.)

I found this sharp knife lying around and decided to use it
Tonight's viewing will not only conclude this year's edition of Horror Movie a Day (a.k.a. 31 Days of Horror), but will continue an annual tradition. According to my records, I have viewed the picture 25 times (it's up there with Psycho, Vertigo, Gone With the Wind, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.) and have owned it on multiple formats (VHS, DVD and now 2 Blu-ray editions - I missed Laserdisc because I was a poor college student at the time, but I rented it). As far as I'm concerned, if not for this picture Halloween would just be another day.