Sunday, October 21, 2007

What makes Halloween tick

I think what makes a horror movie work best is when the suspension of belief is injected into the storyline. When a psychopathic killer or other form of evil presence is present, it adds a level of frustration and/or anxiety that is quite necessary to the building of the plots drama. Many horror movies do a commendable job, but here I will highlight John Carpenter's Halloween as being one of the better examples because it instills those qualities on a number of different levels. For the most part it boils down to Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), and the opposing characters who lose their lives due to their own failure to recognise their instincts. An audience that invests quite a bit of their emotions over the frustration of the characters' ignorance, is a successful storyline. Some of these characters' fates were unavoidable , but in the end I believe John Carpenter and Debra Hill's screenplay does an exceptional job of tapping into this sort of doomed fate.

The scene that really introduces it for me (and to the audience) in the form of "The Shape" (Nick Castle, the best Michael Myers) is the nighttime car drive to the detention center during the opening. Donald Pleasance really has some of the best lines:

Dr. Loomis: Just try to understand what we're dealing with here. Don't underestimate him.
Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens): Don't you think we could refer to "it" as him?
Dr. Loomis: If you say so.
Marion Chambers: Your passion is overwhelming, doctor.
Marion Chambers: What do I give him when we take him in front of the judge?
Dr. Loomis: Thorazine.
Marion Chambers: He'll barely be able to sit up!
Dr. Loomis: That's the idea.
Marion Chambers: You're serious about that, aren't you?
Dr. Loomis: Yep.
Marion Chambers: You mean you actually never want him to get out?
Dr. Loomis: No, never, ever... never.
Marion Chambers: Then why are we taking him up to Hardin County if you're just gonna...
Dr. Loomis: Because that is the law.

Another dynamite scene that supplants the level of ineptitude of the mental health/security institution:

Dr. Wynn (Robert Phalen): [walking out of building] I'm not responsible, Sam.
Dr. Loomis: Oh, no...
Dr. Wynn: I told them how dangerous he was.
Dr. Loomis: Two roadblocks and an all points bulletin wouldn't stop a five year old.
Dr. Wynn: Well he was your patient, doctor. Precautions weren't strong enough. You should have told somebody.
Dr. Loomis: I TOLD EVERYBODY!!! Nobody listened.
Dr. Wynn: There's nothing else I can do.
Dr. Loomis: You can get back in there and get back on that telephone and tell them exactly who walked out of here last night and tell them where he's going!
Dr. Wynn: Probably going.
Dr. Loomis: I'm wasting my time.
Dr. Wynn: Sam, Haddonfield is 150 miles away from here! Now, now, for god sakes, he can't drive a car!
Dr. Loomis: [opens car door] He was doing very well last night! Maybe someone around here gave him lessons. [closes car door]

Then the phone call to the police:

Dr. Loomis: [at a phone booth] He's on his way. You've got to believe me, Officer, he is coming to Haddonfield... Because I know him - I'm his doctor! You must be ready for him... If you don't, it's your funeral!

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is given several superb hints that someone is following her. The Shape is watching her at school from across the street. Then the car drives by as Laurie and her friends walk home from school. [Linda (PJ Soles): Hey, isn't that Divone Graham? Laurie: I don't think so.] Or peeping out from behind the bush. [Laurie: He was standing right there. Annie (Nancy Loomis): I think you're wacko. Now you're seeing men from behind the bushes.]

Debra Hill talked about how the neighborhood locations brought a depth to the screen because of the branchy tree cover. I tend to think rural people feel safe in the country because no one is around. Well here on the streets of Haddonfield (though still a smaller town) a resident can feel the same sense of safety during daylight hours and the general comfort of knowing boogeymen don't jump on their victims in open public. But what the camera depth gives, coupled with Carpenter's ominous and repetitive score, is the feeling that Laurie Strode is alone, disbelief being the inner demon to her insecurity since no one believes her. Later she even refuses to believe it shorty before returning to her house: "Well, kiddo. I thought you outgrew superstition." Her babysitting job at the Doyle's even tells her to not trust her instincts because Halloween is only make believe. [Little Tommy (Brian Andrews): Laurie, what about the boogeyman? Laurie: There's no such thing.]

There's on final scene that I thought was a great touch because it brings out a helpless feeling in Laurie. It's when she goes over to the dark house across the street to where Annie babysitted. After being attacked by Michael Myers, she escapes and runs to the neighbors screaming "HELP!" while pounding on the door. The neighbor opens the curtain, closes it, and turns the outside lights off. That was another nice touch from a screenplay that exhibits some masterful suspense. I hope you enjoyed these memories from this horror classic.


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