Friday, October 21, 2011
It would have been too obvious to see John Carpenter's Halloween for the first time on Halloween night. Instead I saw it a good 12 days in advance of the holiday, which turned out to be a great decision. A holiday like Christmas is all about anticipation, planning, shopping, and having parties before the actual day itself. But the only real way to plan for Halloween is to start getting scared early. Carpenter's masterpiece is a good way to get the spook fest under way. It's not a real surprise that this is Carpenter's best film. I'm a fan of nearly all his work, but this is the only one that's without flaws. It's also his only real horror/suspense movie. After this Carpenter really got into the monster, supernatural, and action genres. Perhaps he read Pauline Kael's scathing review of Halloween in which she mentioned with negativity that he had seen too many Hitchcock films. But really I think Carpenter is someone who just likes to explore new grounds. He wouldn't touch the sequel to Halloween because he had made that movie and probably wanted something new. Three years later he had churned out Escape from New York, The Thing, and Christine-all great and all very different. Kael surely had no response to that. Even Hitchcock stuck to the same genre for his lengthy career. If Carpenter had stuck with pure suspense, he probably still would have a great legacy, maybe even similar to Hitchcock. Halloween is a very professional piece of work. Carpenter, with a fantastic cast (I loved Jamie Lee Curtis in her debut-similar to Bacall in To Have and Have Not), a screenplay he wrote with producer Debra Hill, his own amazing score, and his taut direction, essentially carries on a tradition that started with Psycho: to create a genuinely frightening film in which violence plays a key role. Yet what makes Psycho and Halloween the two great horror films (despite all the other classics, none of them really compare to those two) is that they use the violence so sparingly so that when it occurs it really is shocking. Most horror films relish violence and get soaked in it. These two embrace it and keep quite dry. And then of course without relying on violence, Halloween has plenty of room to play with the audience, which it does exceedingly well. Another great strength of the film is that it gets the viewer scared during daylight, a feat in and of itself, and a vital mood setter for the evening scenes to come later. Essentially, Carpenter has us frightened the whole way through.