Take Another Stab At Halloween (1978)

This post is a part of the Take Another Stab series, where the horror films I hate get a chance at redemption through an open-minded revisit. There will be blood. There will be spoilers.

This one makes me reaaaal nervous. Like sweating along the collar, backing away from the mob type nervous. But I’m here to be vulnerable, to be open, and pick at the strings that move me. I’ll start by saying that I’ve always, always loved Halloween (the holiday). It’s the closest thing to a religion I’ll ever have. The traditions of Halloween are what make it so extraordinarily special. Carving pumpkins into faces and sticking a candle in it is this weird folk thing we people still love doing. We also love going to corn mazes and haunted houses (we pay money to get lost or get the shit scared out of us). Millions of us look forward to that first blow-sip-blow of a steamy PSL, simply because we’re denied cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves the other months of the year. We remember trick-or-treating fondly and if you have your own offspring, you get to relive a slice of that knocking-on-strangers-door magic. Of course, we can’t forget about movie watching. It’s taken me some time to realize this, but there are actual people out there who don’t watch horror year round. Bless them. The brave ones who honor the season and watch those scary flicks generally reach for any old horror romp. Or conversely, they choose one that feels like Halloween. And this is when I get sad.

Out of all the great themed movies and TV episodes to watch for the holiday, the masses are still enamored by John Carpenter’s Halloween. I’ve never experienced this love and I’m not sure why. One would think that such a title would guarantee my interest but that just didn’t happen. The last time I watched Halloween was sometime in high school, over 10 years ago. I recall being surprised during Michael’s escape from the hospital. And that was it. I haven’t watched the original since and haven’t watched the majority of the franchise ever. Perhaps it shines dimly next to Freddy and Jason. These villains have comedy and cinematic brutality on their side. Michael? He walks really slow. One might say he shuffles. That’s a vague summary of things, but I really can’t think of Michael Myers as anything other than a mental patient. Do fans think of him this way? Or as a serial killer? Or a supernatural entity (I have no idea on this one)? One redeeming factor for me is the theme song. Contrite, but true. So why doesn’t Halloween give me that seasonal glow? It’s not that I don’t like John Carpenter. His best film in my eyes is The Thing and that’s not too controversial to say out loud. The fresh-faced JLC was great and plays a convincing final girl. I even enjoy behind-the-scenes trivia for Halloween. I also have to consider the historical value Halloween brought to cinema. After all, it was the first film to proclaim Halloween as its title and basic setting. I don’t consider it the first slasher because Black Christmas outshines it again and again for me. Maybe it’s the lack of atmosphere, the lack of SPOOKY atmosphere. When I watch a film during Halloween time, it has to capture the essence of the season. Perfect examples are Trick ‘r Treat and Something Wicked This Way Comes. One is practically radiating the holiday and the other skillfully personifies autumn. On the other hand, I could view Halloween as just a slasher film and not as a holiday film. I may try doing that on this impeding revisit. It feels wrong, though. How bold do you have to be to name your film after this SACRED holiday and it not burst with orange and black? I expect I’ll be searching for those elements that makes this such a torch for horror fans during my fated re-watch. There has to be something that makes it magic. There has to be a reason why I can willingly watch A Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday the 13th but not Halloween. I’m about to (hopefully) find out.

About 1 hour and 31 minutes later

I did what I said I would. I watched this as a slasher, not a Halloweenie extravaganza. My conclusion? The last 15 minutes of Halloween are the best part. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let’s start with the opening credits. Absolutely RULED. That theme song is the perfect balance of dance and menace. What weirded me out about the first five minutes was the “freeze frame” moment. Michael’s parents confront him outside their home, where he stands with a bloodied knife and dazed expression. It seemed like the actors were being told to stand still to add dramatic emphasis. However, it felt more to me that someone on set had blurted out a racial slur or ripped a fart so loud that everyone was stunned into silence. That tidbit aside, the majority of the film focuses on Laurie and what a VIRGIN she is. It was overwhelming how hard they were driving home that this young woman was nothing like her bitchy, boy-crazy friends. What I picked up is that Laurie is smart and that’s the only thing truly setting her apart from these future victims, not her perceived pureness. It’s the goddamn head on her shoulders. And not to dim our final girl’s shine, but Laurie was the only one who actually fought back. Lots of strangling going on and no head butts in return! Not even Bob could muster a swat to the chin or a knee to the groin. If there’s no exchange during a violent episode, I’m left feeling cheated. I have no hopes or expectations for their survival because they didn’t even try. There’s no suspense. I concluded that the first half of the film is the half where you are permitted to nap. I’m supposed to be scared of this asshole Michael, right? I would be a few degrees of freaked if I saw him more than twice in one day. Yet, you see glimpses of Michael the whole time. This motherfucker is practically grocery shopping and Laurie does the dumbest thing she could do — doubt herself. The zero-chill Dr. Loomis made me laugh a few times. He’s so serious and keeps going off on these soliloquies about how evil Michael is and what an abyss of a human being “it” actually is. What stuck out to me was the lack of testimony. Sure, he killed his sister when he was a kid. But what else has he done for the last 15 years besides “stare through the wall”? If this dude was straight-up bad news, why not let the radio and TV stations know? Loomis did jack shit creeping outside of Michael’s bunker all night. Whispering to stupid kids “get yo ass away from there” doesn’t count as finding the escapee.

I started to feel an inkling of fright during the PJ Soles bedroom scene. While charming and lighthearted, the thought of a lover switcheroo is completely unnerving. A scene like this helps convince me that Halloween is scary. But it took so long to get there! One hour and 16 minutes was the mark that the TV had every ounce of my attention. As the French say, shit was happening. Michael had murdered all of Laurie’s friends and was waiting for her to come over to discover his macabre display on the bed. I get it, we’re supposed to be like “whooa, guy is totally strong if he can lift a tombstone like that,” but where the hell did he keep it this whole time? How premeditated was this gag? Specifics aside, that was another tender morsel of horror that had me nodding with approval. Then it was finally time for a little cat and mouse. Laurie ran, screamed, hid, and whimpered all while babysitting two kids. She did all these things and still managed to jab Michael in the eye with a knitting needle when no one else could. You could see the fear and exhaustion in her grimace as Dr. Loomis lit Michael’s ass up over the balcony. And then he was gone. At this scene (the last fucking scene, I may add), is when I’m understanding that all the stunts he pulled that day could have been due to the fact that he is in someway unnatural. The concluding seconds of the masked-smothered-breathing was a nice way to end a horror flick. Leave ’em with a sense of dread, a sense that Michael could be anywhere. We won’t know where until the sequel.

If those last 15 minutes were the main course, the rest had me starving. Is it okay to love a movie just for its climax? That’s what I gather after this viewing. Tons of you out there must love Halloween because of that ending. If not, what else? The hedge scene? All the “totallys”? The clothesline bit? What makes me like Halloween now is the score. To me, it brought all the excitement and tension that the visuals were sometimes missing. It embodies a cold autumn night that you’re forced to walk home alone in. It brought the creep factor and prolonged those sparse moments when I felt that jolt of electricity. I also loosened the reigns a bit on the set design. After all, the microbudget probably only allowed for a couple of pumpkins and candles to sell the holiday setting. You could even call it endearing, for Halloween is still Halloween with or without expensive decorations and fancy costumes. Just like Halloween is still a worthy horror movie, even if the horror was more concentrated in some spots. Though its villain may not intrigue me as much as others, its final girl wholly makes up for all that he’s missing.

Until next time, have a Happy Halloween!

One thought on “Take Another Stab At Halloween (1978)

  1. Pingback: Take Another Stab at The Lords of Salem (2012) | Haunted by Deadlines

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s