Halloween: Redefining the Horror Experience

         For me, movies have always been a mini vacation. They are two hours that I may leave behind my own life and enter into a new one. Nothing peaks my interest more than horror films. From the classics like F. W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu and James Whales’s 1931 Frankenstein to the new remakes of Hills Have Eyes, directed in 2006 by Alexandre Aja, and When a Stranger Calls, directed in 2006 by Simon West, they all capture my attention and fascinate me. It is natural to slightly enjoy that “safe” feeling of being scared by a movie. Unfortunately, it takes too much to scare me these days and very few films can even dig a slight jump out of me. I have learned to predict every twist, turn, and jump a scary movie can throw at me. I have watched every different type of horror movie, from the not-so-scary movies of the forties and fifties, to the B-movies of the eighties, to the modern thrillers. However, nothing has captured my attention more than the very first horror movie I ever saw. It started me on a path that I have yet to reach the end of. When I was six years old I popped in a videocassette and sat down in front of the television to watch John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween.

         From the very second the movie started I was captivated and frightened. John Carpenter, the film’s director, managed to create a score for that original movie that still sends a chill up my spine. One of the great things about the best horror films from that time, like Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 Friday the 13th and Steven Spielberg’s 1975 Jaws was the distinctive noises and music that accompanied them. They defined the movies and the villains in them, and Halloween was no exception. In the sequels, the beat and tempo were slightly altered and it never had quite the same effect. Tampering with them took away from the perfect eeriness that John Carpenter had made. I understand that, unless the movie is a musical, the music should only be a backdrop and not really noticed. However, I believe that without this score at the beginning of the film, the whole mood of scariness and foreboding would have been thrown off.

         As I have gotten older I have learned to appreciate other aspects of the film as well. The best aspect of the movie is the fact that, since John Carpenter is from Bowling Green, that is where the movie was shot. I found it hard to believe that such a great movie was shot just a few hours away. To this day I still like to drive around the neighborhood where the movie was filmed. I also like driving through the parking lot of the hospital that the first sequel was filmed in. It has since been turned into a mental institution, and I cannot get very close to the actual building, but it is still a joy to see. I also enjoy hearing the references to places like Scottsdale Road and Russellville. It adds a bit of realism to the movie for the people who understand where these references came from. I believe that the areas used for the exterior shots were chosen very well. Carpenter managed to find a suburb in this college town that really gave it the small towns feel that I am supposed to feel in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois. The houses and schools used reflected a simplistic view and were picked very wisely. Although I assume the indoor scenes were shot on a soundstage, I believe that they very well represented what the insides of these houses would have looked like. The decorations and furnishings were all subtle and never detracted from a scene. In the sequels whenever the film makers returned to the Myers house I was highly disappointed that they had completely changed the layouts of the house to accommodate whatever storyline they had. Changing highly noticeable things like that is very unsettling to me. It lets me know that the filmmakers think that their viewers are not bright and will not notice things like that.

         The choice of actors for this film was also an incredible part of making this film such a great success. At the time, nobody really knew that Jamie Lee Curtis was going to be such a huge success. It was certainly never guessed that she would take over her mother’s role as the next “scream queen.” However, she managed to pull off the role of the shy, goodie-girl, Laurie Strode perfectly. She also seemed to have a perfect set of lungs for all the screaming she had to do. Another surprising aspect of the casting came in Donald Pleasance. A man born in Nottinghamshire, England, is not who most people would think of as the first choice to play the Van Helsing-like Dr. Loomis. He was a well-known actor in England having played “The Forger” in John Sturges 1963 The Great Escape and the classic Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in Lewis Gilbert’s 1967 You Only Live Twice. However, something made him perfect for this role. His burning desire to stop whatever evil was possessing Michael Myers to be a murderer was truly believable. Even the other casting choices seemed to click together. Beau Starr as small town sheriff, and slightly clueless dad Leigh Brackett was perfect. P.J. Soles as a completely ditzy high school girl who says “Totally” way too many times is also completely believable. She had a face that just made you think, “Poor thing must not be able to spell her own name, but she’s pretty!”

         The costumes were also seemingly perfect. They were appropriate for each character but never detracted from the actors’ scenes. I even love the clothing change that Laurie does from her little wool skirt to jeans between school and baby-sitting. Most costume designers for movies of that budget would not have thought about that. It seemed to just emphasize her good-girl nature. These characters, with their appropriate clothes, really drew me in and made me believe that they were a few girls who had known each other forever and through time they had changed into three very different people but were still the best of friends.

         I do not know if, when he set out to make this movie, John Carpenter planned on redefining the genre of horror, but I think he did it anyway. He introduced us to the kind of movie where the viewers never got to find out the killer’s motive for doing what he was doing (until the sequel anyway). That made the movie so much scarier then and now. Halloween will forever be one of the best movies, not just horror movies, ever made.

         As an added note I just found out that they have remade this movie and it is slated for a late August release. I am already getting myself ready for the disappointment of a remake.

Stephanie Utley

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