Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This Is No Man

"Death has come to your little town, Sherrif". So says Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) in John Carpenter's 1978 "Halloween". Almost 30 years old and over 25 years since I first saw it "Halloween" still frightens me. This generations horror director, Rob Zombie is in pre production of his "Reimagining" of the film that started it all back in the age of small budgets, cult hits. "Halloween" cost $320,000 to make of which over $20,000 went to aquire Donald Pleasence in the joint piviotal role of Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers Van Hesling, after both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing turned the role down. Most people never really care for the extras on a DVD but I found the documentary feature lenght film that came with a special edition of one of, for me, the best films of the seventies, fascinating. This star filled documentary, with every one of the key cast and crew is pure film student arena. How a succession of ideas came together from a young group of aspiring talent and the town of Haddonsfield, Illinois would forever be associated with one man, one night. And also one star in the making. Jamie Lee Curtis. I have never since seen the role of a teenager out of her mind with terror protrayed as well as Jamie Lee Curtis did in "Halloween". Playing 17 year old school student Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee captures the viewers sense of forebaring, of helplessness and complete and utter feeling of unreality of a situation. From the first scene, "Halloween" is both frightening and disturbing. Michael Myer's first victim, that we know of, is his own sister, he wears a garish clown's outfit and mask which his parents pull off to reveal the only face we will see of Michael. The gore would come in the sequels and especially in "Halloween 2" but here it centres on the daytime tension before the escalation of terror and then, in time, slaughter. Not a scene is wasted or a line of dialogue, though it was with with the script that Donald Pleasence had the most difficulity. He hated saying lines like opening line of this piece but through those lines we realise that the killer, had a soul of pure evil and has now grown up and gone home to kill and kill again. His home is the house we fear from our own childhoods. It would later be an Elm Street house that scares us and if your a child this week the house becomes the monster in "Monster House". No director can make a horror film or teenage actress scream unless they have studied the pace and plot of "Halloween". I find it strange that I can't go and see a Rob Zombie movie or "Hostel" or the remake of "The Hills have eyes". I know I cannot watch sexual violence or sadism for the sake of it, almost for entertainment. Yet, it is women who are stalked in "Halloween" and the death scenes are as distubing as any other film in this genre and I regard it as a film I could watch time and time again. I think this is because it is impossible to recreate that 70's feeling of horror film making, my own seen on screen childhood memories. "The Blair Witch Project" tried to do it, low budget too, in the 90's but that film, for me, had only 2 real scares. "Halloween" is one scare after another. When Lynda (P.J. Soles) says to her boyfriend "Go get me a beer", you know he isn't coming back. In is in his death scene that I found the scariest moment in the film when Michael or The Shape as he is referred to, stabs and nails his third victim in the film to the wall, his head tilts to survey the lifeless human being as blood drips to the floor. In the voice over commentary Jamie Lee Curtis said that this scene was the one she was also most scared by. How I sat wide eyed thinking that after all these years the centre of the film thought that too. It is in the build up of tension that we absorb the sense of dread. Glimpses of Michael beside a hedge, passing by in a car where he is mistaken by Laurie and her friends as a fellow student, by a washing line in Laurie's garden, outside her school window. There is one amazing shot of him standing against a porch light with the night blackness all around the house. He is there for all to see but it's "Halloween", everyone is dressed up, looking weird, therefore he blends in. One of the scenes that almost defines today's society is when Laurie bangs her fists on a neighbour's door frightened out of her wits and her pleas for help are left unanswered, we even see the neighbour's form in the window. An ignorance atypical to today, better to turn away, she's on drugs or drinking, ignore her. Michael wears a boiler suit in the film, obviously stolen to escape from the asylum and later a blank mask which Carpenter sent out his production assistant to find a "scary mask". He came back with a Captain Kirk mask that looked nothing like William Shatner, the image of a white soulless face reminded Carpenter of a mask that had also been used in the french film "Eyes without a face". Michael was played by a friend of Carpenter who just wanted to hang around the set to watch the process of film making, himself then becoming one later. His father was a choreographer to MGM stars and this environment of growing goes is what makes Michael's movements perfect. He never runs, when stabbed and left for dead, he sits straight up, silently and unstoppable. Jamie Lee Curtis fall over the bannister near the end of the film is similar Lee Remick's, Catherine Thorne's fall in The Omen. Laurie escapes injury after her fall but after the Haunted House one, two, three effects of seeing her friends murdered and propped in a bedroom she surely wishes she too was dead. "Halloween" ends at another beginning. Michael proves more and more he is truly the devil in human form after repetative shootings and a fall out of a window he leaves a body shape on the ground, gone somewhere else, we find out where in the sequel. Earlier Dr. Loomis who is there at the end said "This is no man". True words, indeed.
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