Ten more days till… Halloween (1978)

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“I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply…evil.”

- - Dr. Sam Loomis (Halloween 1978)
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In order to celebrate every horror fans favorite time of year along with last month’s long awaited release of the entire collection of Halloween films on Blu-ray, we have decided to take a look back at each of these iconic films as the titular holiday draws closer.
The new box set is available here, and includes every film in the series (yes, even the Rob Zombie ones…) and a huge collection of special features, interviews and documentaries, and is a great addition to any collection.

Called several times the “Gone With The Wind” of modern horror films, John Carpenter’s 1978 original is a true genre classic. Ushering in the new wave of slasher and horror films of the early 1980s, the original Halloween is a perfect storm of creativity, simplicity and ingenuity that has yet to be replicated by any of the copycats or subsequent sequels.
A true passion project for the young filmmaker, Carpenter and his then-girlfriend Debra Hill were aiming to make the scariest film since “The Exorcist” and arguably succeeded.
After making some waves overseas with “Assault on Precinct 13“, their passion and determination for the project caught the eye of producer Moustapha Akkad, and he called John Carpenter’s bluff and agreed to finance the film for the amount of $320,000.

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With the only imperative from the producers being to make the lead characters babysitters for the sake of relatability, Carpenter and Hill wrote the script in three weeks. Hill claims to have shaped the personalities and friendships of the lead trio of girls, while Carpenter’s writing covered the excitable rants of Dr. Loomis, the “Ahab” character played by veteran actor Donald Pleasence. An interesting casting note is that Carpenter initially wanted both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for the Loomis role, but gladly accepted the acting chops that Pleasence brought to the table for what would become his 105th film appearance and a recurring role for the next two decades. Lee claims one of his biggest regrets to be turning down the role of Loomis.

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In one of the older featurettes included on this release, John Carpenter talks about how incredibly intimidating it was to recruit Donald Pleasence, and directing him as this admittedly melodramatic character. He recounts the story of Pleasence “testing” the young director constantly, questioning the motivations of the good doctor. Ultimately, Pleasence fully embraced the role, and despite the giddy geek feelings a horror fan might get picturing Christopher Lee as Loomis, he completely owns it. Donald Pleasence was once quoted as saying he was going to keep making Halloween films up to 22, when asked why he keeps reprising the role.

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Another key to what makes the film work so well is the perfect casting of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, in her first ever lead film role. Despite being the famous progeny of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh (of Psycho fame), Jamie had only had a single acting job up to this point, the short-lived TV adaptation of Petticoat Junction, where she starred alongside Jim Varney, who would go on to annoy the world as Ernest P. Worrell. Her innocence and relatable characteristics go a long way toward making the story work, and she lives and breathes the realistic and timely dialogue penned by Debra Hill.  Her sweet demeanor and tenacity when confronted with violence have since become the prototype for the virginal “final girl”, a now omnipresent part of the legacy of horror in film.

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While the script has no shortage of loving tributes to the horror films of the past, his role as director of the film is where Carpenter has the chance to shine as an artist, shaping his influences into something new that would go on to influence countless future filmmakers.
From the opening scene, largely borrowed from Bob Clark’s Black Christmas from the year before, the first person point of view throws audiences off guard, and the slow building tension becomes unbearable as the film builds to the inevitable climax. Interestingly, in one of the special features documentaries, Carpenter says that the film didn’t work at all without the now unforgettable music. He claims to have scored the entire film in three days, and it is hard to argue the severe tension the minimalist score brings to the final film.

Of course, Carpenter was wise enough to know that atmosphere and tension were just as important as the kills, and the film gets it right by leaving a lot to the imagination, a principle that was steadily forgotten (and arguably rebelled against) by the films that followed. The original concept of “The Shape” was a force of nature, a mysterious and unstoppable killing machine. The fact that in the original the killer had no clear motivation was much scarier than the over-explained versions of the same character which came later. Originally, Michael Myers was a shark in a latex mask, and that was what made this film work so well. Laurie and her friends (and the audience) didn’t even have a chance to wonder why, they simply had to accept his existence and deal with it.

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An interesting addition to this release is the presence of the TV version of the original film. When NBC bought the rights to the film, several scenes of nudity had to be trimmed and the studio needed an additional few minutes added to the run time. New scenes were added to the telefilm, which premiered the same day the sequel arrived in theaters, October 30, 1981. The scenes show some further bonding between Laurie and Lynda,  and include an intriguing scene between Loomis and young catatonic Michael. Even all those years before, Loomis was arguing for tighter security! Also notable is an added scene where Loomis investigates Michael’s room after his escape to see the word “sister” scrawled on the door. This was intended to plant the seeds of the newly revealed familial connections introduced in the sequel.

Other special features on the disc include a recent revisit to the original shooting locations in Pasadena California, new audio commentaries with director of photography Dean Cundey, producer Tommy Lee Wallace and the first portrayer of “The Shape”, Nick Castle.
Also included is a longish documentary from HorrorHound from 2012, featuring Jamie Lee Curtis in her first and last convention appearance, signing Halloween memorabilia and generously mingling with horror fans for charity.

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Overall, Halloween remains not only a horror classic, but simply a great film, and it looks fantastic on Blu-ray. Check back in tomorrow when we take a look at the 1981 sequel from director Rick Rosenthal!


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