Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Horrothon Review #27 - Halloween (1978) and Halloween 2 (1981)

It's double feature Monday here at Scrolls of Wisdom!  :-D

And yes, I know these films have been around for years, but look, I absolutely love discussing horror films, and as long as I'm not giving anything away, I can really talk about the entire film, and not just the beginning!  :-D  Maybe some day I'll be a guest host on Turner Classic Movies or something, discussing films with Robert Osborne, or Drew Barrymore, or whoever the hell else they have hosting that channel.

As a quick aside, having a host introduce movies is an awesome idea, and I think more channels should do it.  It's not like it's copy-written by Turner Classic Movies, for crying out loud.  Joe-Bob Briggs used to do it on the Movie Channel back in the early 90's, and Walt Disney used to do it way way back for a long long time, to introduce almost all of the Disney films.  Svengoolie continues the proud tradition of introducing horror films on Saturday nights at 10 pm, or at least, he does where I live.  It's a nice set-up for the movie, and introduces us to a lot of little details we might otherwise have missed.  Now, on to the review!

Halloween (1978) begins telling the story of one Michael Myers, quite possibly one of the scariest characters in film history.  Michael's story begins one Halloween in 1963, when, as a 6-year-old boy, he brutally murders his older sister and her boyfriend, for no apparent reason.  This movie begins with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), Michael's psychiatrist, heading up to the Smith's Grove medical facility where Michael has been kept for the 15 years since the murder, on the night of October 30th.  Dr. Loomis is there to oversee the transfer of Michael Myers to a court-ordered judicial hearing.  It's a typical dark and stormy night, but when Dr. Loomis notices the patients running around loose, he knows immediately what has happened.  Michael has escaped, and in short order, he steals the very car Dr. Loomis approached the facility in.  What follows is a slowly-building, intensely suspenseful and creepy manhunt for the escaped lunatic that is Michael Myers.

First, let me just say, the whole escaped lunatic thing is a basic staple of horror films from years back.  Even the Night of the Creeps, which I reviewed a few nights ago, started with an escaped lunatic.  Hell, pretty much every ghost story, told around every campfire, in every horror film involving a bunch of slaughtered campers, involves an escaped lunatic.  There's nothing scarier than someone who's just completely apeshit, wielding an axe and running around hacking people apart, because usually there's no rhyme or reason to who or when he kills.  Serial killers all have a pattern, and sometimes, so do escaped lunatics, but in the case of a nutcase, it's usually a pattern no one else can decipher.  John Carpenter tapped into this fear of lunacy to write Halloween all those years ago, and he also made some of the creepiest damn music ever heard in a horror film.

Once Myers escapes the mental facility, we really have no idea where he's going, at first.  Dr. Loomis knows he's heading home, back to his house in Haddonfield, where he took a knife and stabbed his teenage sister and her boyfriend to death 15 years earlier, on Halloween night.  Dr. Loomis tracks the stolen car, and arrives in Haddonfield during the day on Halloween, immediately notifying the police of the escaped mental patient.  We, as the viewer of the movie, have already seen Michael Myers several times, driving around town in the stolen vehicle, tracking one Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who turns out to be Michael's baby sister, who escaped his killing spree some 15 years previous.  Once his quarry is located, Michael abandons the car, and begins following Laurie on foot, creeping the shit out of her, because she keeps thinking she sees someone, and then Michael vanishes back into the shadows before Laurie can verify what she saw.

Laurie Strode, a geeky high school teenager, was having a fairly normal Halloween.  With absolutely no idea that she is Michael Myers' long-lost sister, she meets her friends after school, walks home while the little kids are trick or treating, and tries to make plans around her babysitting duties later that evening (interestingly enough, the original title of this film was the Babysitter Murders).  All the while, Michael follows her, and Laurie gets more and more nervous as the night wears on.  Finally, in the midst of her babysitting, Michael Myers finally begins his killing spree, taking out Laurie's friends in the neighboring house, then heading over to kill her, all while Dr. Loomis and the police are out searching the streets for Myers.

One of the best parts about this film is how much it actually revolves around Halloween.  Older folks head out to party, teen girls settle in to babysit or hook up with their boyfriends, and little kids settle in to a night of watching scary movies.  At several points during the movie, scenes are shown on TV of old horror films, everything from Night of the Living Dead to The Thing and Forbidden Planet.    Jack-o-lanterns are frequently seen, and trick-or-treaters are heading from house to house, looking for candy.  You get the feeling that if Michael wasn't out killing everybody he could get his hands on, then this would just be a normal Halloween night for everyone concerned, including the viewer.  But this is certainly anything but your normal Halloween night.

Halloween 2 (1981) picks up where Halloween left off, with literally no time elapsed in between.  I think this is quite possibly one of the only series of movies I have ever seen that did this, making Halloween and Halloween 2 basically one long 4-hour horror film, encompassing a roughly 24-hour period in the life of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode.  Halloween 2 begins as Dr. Loomis sees Laurie Strode's young charges flee the house where she was babysitting them, and heads into the house just in time to fire six shots into the body of Michael Myers, saving Laurie's life, which we saw at the end of the first Halloween movie.  Michael falls over a balcony railing, landing in a bloody heap on the front lawn.  Dr. Loomis checks on Laurie, but when he returns to check the corpse of Michael, he realizes that Michael has gone.  After taking six bullets fired from short range, Michael has simply gotten up, and walked away.  The manhunt for Michael begins anew as Laurie Strode is taken to the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, suffering from numerous injuries, none of which are particularly life-threatening.

At this point in the 4-hour marathon of blood, it's getting late in Haddonfield, and the news media have clued in to the deaths of the 3 teenagers that Michael has slaughtered so far.  As news reports begins to interrupt the horror films and the little kiddies get to bed, the older kids are still out causing trouble and the police and adults in Haddonfield are starting to freak out a bit.  Michael Myers, that little boy who stabbed his sister to death 15 years ago, is back in Haddonfield, and he's pissed.  Further complicating matters, a teen boy wearing a mask similar to Michael Myers has been killed, and police are convinced that Michael Myers is dead.  Dr. Loomis, feeling that Michael is not dispatched so easily, has the medical examiner inspect the burned corpse, and Dr. Loomis informs the authorities that the teeth don't seem to match that of Michael.  After searching the entire town of Haddonfield, and supposedly finding their killer, the manhunt must begin all over again.

It's the very early hours of the morning at this point, and after being treated for her injuries, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis reprises her role here) is sleeping it off in Haddonfield memorial.  While parties are still going on and police are still searching the nighttime streets, Dr. Loomis is recalled by the governor, and learns that Laurie Strode is secretly Michael Myers' little sister.  In the meantime, bodies are starting to pile up in Haddonfield memorial, as Michael locates Laurie Strode, and goes about taking out every single living thing in his way, including the nurses, doctors and hospital staff.  Only one of the two EMT's (Lance Guest and Leo Rossi) who transported Laurie manages to survive, by sheer accidental luck, as Dr. Loomis heads to the hospital to save Laurie's life and end Michael's murderous rampage.

Interesting side note here, both Lance Guest and Leo Rossi went on to minor stardom.  Lance Guest was almost as big a star as Jamie Lee Curtis back in the 80's, starring in Jaws 4 and the Last Starfighter, as Leo Rossi went on to become a staple in a number of B-movies.  Nowadays, Lance Guest and Leo Rossi are all but forgotten, and Jamie Lee Curtis is doing yogurt commercials.  Another interesting little tidbit, john Carpenter was paid merely $10,000 to write the script and the music for Halloween, and awarded with 10% of the movie's profits.  I wonder if he still gets royalty checks every Halloween?  There is just no escaping this movie in October.  It's probably on more often than the Peanuts Halloween special with Snoopy and Charlie Brown.

Final note, Laurie Strode is one hell of a shot.  At the end of Halloween 2, doped up and in pain, after a long day and night of horror, she manages to put two bullets into Michael's head, one into each eye, and blinds him.  I'm not sure which is scarier, the fact that this barely slows Michael down, or that Laurie is suddenly a deadly shot with a revolver when she's never touched a gun before in her life.  Certainly the Myers family seems to have a knack for killing.

What possessed Michael to become a killing machine in 1963, when he was but 6 years old?  When most kids think of Halloween, they think of candy, not grabbing up a butcher knife and stabbing their sister to death.  For 15 years after the murder in 1963, Michael sits complacent in a psychiatric hospital, patiently waiting for Laurie's 17th birthday, and then he's out and killing his way to Laurie and Haddonfield.  Our only clue to Michael's behavior comes in Halloween 2, as Michael (or someone) mysteriously writes the word "Samhain" in blood on a school blackboard.  As we already know from reading my blog, Samhain was the festival of the dead, marking the end of the growing season and the harvest of the crops.  This is quite simply, our only clue to Michael's behavior, and the only one we need.  Not only does it link the Halloween of today with the possibly-sacrificial traditions of the bloody past, but it bodes ill for the future, giving some hint to Michael's intentions.  Adding to the mystery, how does Michael even know of Samhain, when he's been in a mental hospital since the age of 6?

These questions seemed poised to be answered in Halloween 3, but alas, Hollywood machinations resulted in the Halloween 3 title being absconded by another film-maker, and Halloween 3: Season of the Wtich was made.  Although a fairly decent and creepy standalone movie in its own right, it doesn't take up the tale of Michael Myers at all, instead focusing on a mask-making company, ancient druids and magical stone monoliths.  We don't get to learn more of Michael Myers til Halloween 4 and 5, which were both pretty good movies, but which probably weren't written by John Carpenter, and while Donald Pleasance returned to his role of Dr. Loomis, no one else came back.  Jamie Lee Curtis wouldn't return to the series until Halloween H20, a full twenty years after the original movie.  However, Halloween 4 and 5 did introduce us to the adorable Danielle Harris, who recently completed the "Hatchet" series of horror films.

While most people may focus on the Exorcist and Psycho as the scariest movies of all time, I much prefer Halloween and Halloween 2.  I mean, let's face it, Linda Blair might have been as frightening as the devil himself, but how many people did she kill?  One priest?  Another guy or two at most?  And Anthony Perkins in a dress and a wig, talking to himself in a high pitched voice?  That's more laughable than scary, if you ask me.  Michael Myers is supposedly a living human, but from the age of 6 onwards, not only acts in a very inhuman manner, but becomes an unstoppable killing machine that neither bullets nor fire can slow down.  We have no rhyme nor reason for Michael's onslaught, only the fact that Michael targets his own bloodline, and anyone else who happens to be nearby at the time.  Even Jason Voorhees is a zombie by now, giving him an excuse for his unending killing spree, but Michael, as Dr. Loomis puts it, is just pure evil.  Evil itself keeps Michael alive and killing, and isn't that creepier than an explanation, no matter how graphic that explanation is?

To sum up, lots of bodies over the two movies, mostly teen girls, and obviously some nudity here and there.  Lots of blood, no real gore, some gunplay and an explosion.  Suspense and creepiness run amok.  Excellent acting by Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis.  Gratuitous scenery of Haddonfield at Halloween, with trick-or-treaters running about, and leaves blowing off of trees.  Interesting thing to note, none of the trees in the background seem to actually have anything but green leaves, yet there are plenty of brown leaves strewn about on the ground and supposedly falling from the trees in certain scenes.  Makes me think it was summer during filming, and some brown leaves were just repeatedly tossed around, but it doesn't really detract from the movie in any way.  What I do wonder about is, Laurie's friend picks her up in what is, I guess, late afternoon, then has possibly the longest car ride in movie history as she heads to her babysitting gig.  Halfway through, the sun is going down, and by the time they get there, it's full dark.  What is that, in elapsed time?  Forty five minutes to an hour of travel time?  How are they still even in Haddonfield at this point?  Oh well.  It's barely noticeable unless you're looking for it.

Final fun fact:  The mask Michael Myers wears throughout the Halloween movies is a white, unpainted mask of Captain Kirk, otherwise known as actor William Shatner.  Star Trek, originally airing in the late 60's, was experiencing a fan-induced comeback in the late 70's when this movie was made, and Captain Kirk masks would have been popular items.  Which means, one of the scariest killers in movie history, to make himself even more frightening, dons a mask of William Shatner.  I wonder how Mr. Shatner feels about that?  Do you think he's flattered, or insulted?  ;-)

That's all for tonight!  Catch you guys tomorrow with more reviews!

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