It’s October. And in honour of all things scary, Marie has decided to visit John Carpenter’s seasonal icon. Switch the damn lights on, Laurie!
It’s strange, isn’t it? You hear so much about a film, it has iconic status, it’s lauded and rewatched year after year and yet, when you finally get to it yourself, it’s not at all what you were expecting.
Halloween was not at all what I was expecting.
I had been gearing myself up for some kind of blood bath, with dozens of victims and a whole kitchen drawer full of knives.
Instead, after the opening sequence, there is a whole hour of tension-building and nothing remotely gory.
Made on a tiny budget, and eventually taking huge sums at the box office, we see (through a mask) Michael Myers killing his sister, escaping from the institution in which he has been held for 15 years, and returning to the family home to wreak further havoc with a blade on unsuspecting young women in the neighbourhood.
The plot really is that simple. Donald Pleasance is in hot pursuit but spends most of the time outside the wrong house, not noticing his own car over his own shoulder.
By default, jack o’lanterns and face masks are creepy, the suspense is created by Steadicam filming and an eclectic musical score, and the wide-open residential streets with the beautiful housing gives off the vibe that, although nothing really bad ever happens around here, something terrible is about to occur.
And that terrible thing is a 6 year-old psychopath who kills girls who are sleeping with their boyfriends because his sister ignored him one night when her boyfriend was over. Boo hoo.
The message I took from Halloween was not horror. It was a lecture to teenagers about how they shouldn’t be having sex. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the Last Girl because she doesn’t have a boyfriend.
I’ve since read that John Carpenter and screenwriter Debra Hill repeatedly stated that this was never their intention – that the reason Laurie survives is that, because she does not have the distraction of a boyfriend, she is more focussed on what is happening around her. But it’s only a tiny step from this to ‘don’t have sex, kids’ and I can’t help but think that if they had to repeatedly deny this suggestion then it may have been nearer to the surface that they will admit to. It doesn’t help that the girls who are murdered are gratuitously shown naked or semi-naked at the time.
That’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate this movie, but it didn’t bowl me over in the way that Night of the Living Dead did.
Because for all the objectively good things about Halloween, it still hits a handful of those exact things that are the reason why I don’t watch that many horror films. And, I’ll happily admit, are probably the reasons that the genre often goes over my head when I do.
To start with, if I hear a strange noise in my house when I’m home alone, I DO NOT INVESTIGATE IN THE DARK! Quite the opposite – the first thing I do is switch all the lights on. Why wouldn’t you? And so when Jamie Lee Curtis starts moving around the house I lost the feeling of suspense and … SWITCH THE DAMN LIGHTS ON LAURIE!
I also struggle to get along with the idea of there being no reason for the serial killer’s actions, and Halloween goes out of its way to emphasise this point. I understand that for many people the fact that there is no motivation other than ‘pure and simple evil’ is part and parcel of this type of film, but it’s not how I like to watch movies. If there’s no point to it, then why should I invest my time?
Of course, the ending left options open for a number of sequels which I don’t intend to visit, nor do I (currently) hold much interest in the most recent iteration which also stars Jamie Lee Curtis 40 years down the line.
But as the for 1978 version – yes, I would watch again on Halloween – because it wasn’t that scary to be honest.