Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's All This Then?: Michael Myers and Halloween, Part One

I watch a ton of TV and movies, but there still seems to be a buttload of stuff that apparently everyone else in the universe but me has seen. A lot of it seems to be Japanese (Godzilla movies, Akira, Ringu, or any film Kurosawa ever made), but there's also plenty of domestic stuff that I either missed out on or just wasn't interested in when everyone else was. So, I'm starting a new feature called "What's All This Then?" in which I'll try to catch up on bits of popular culture (both Western and otherwise) that I've been lax about visiting. And then I'll tell you if I thought it was worthy of all the fuss.

One thing I've wanted to check out for a while was all those '80s slasher flicks. I'm not interested in the slasher genre per se, but I love mythos and continuity, and franchises like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street all have me curious to see just how they keep the story progressing from movie to movie. In fact, I had zero interest in the Saw movies until I recently saw a trailer for Saw 4 that came right out and said that new Saw movies are now an annual, Halloween tradition. With four in the can and the promise of more, I'm suddenly interested in seeing how the whole thing works together.

So, to kick off my investigation of slasher franchises, I thought I'd start with the first one (not counting Psycho) and watch all nine Halloween films. If you're the only other person in the world who hasn't seen these, be warned: SPOILERS BELOW.

Halloween (1978)

Halloween has bad acting, horrible dialogue, and a ridiculous, early shot of Michael and his parents standing in front of the house as the camera slooooowly pulls back from them. Michael stands there, motionless, holding his bloody knife while his folks patiently wait for a response to their questions that never comes. The movie's also got one of the worst cases of "telling, not showing" that I've ever seen. We get zero insight into why Michael Myers does what he does. I kept trying to make connections between his victims and the idea of babysitters neglecting their charges, but I might have been way off. The sequels certainly never explored that idea. All we have by way of motivation is Dr. Loomis' running around telling everyone that Michael's Evil. I guess we're just supposed to take that at face value.

However, our not knowing Michael's motives makes him unpredictable and that much more frightening. And in spite of it's heavy flaws, Halloween is undeniably spooky. I love that Carpenter makes us wait a good, long time before Michael starts killing. Before it ever gets dark, we're treated to scene after scene of him just standing on street corners and in the bushes, watching his future victims. Even when night falls, Michael spends a lot of time just watching people in their homes. Sometimes from outside; sometimes from in. It totally taps into that irrational fear that Someone's In The House. The killing is a necessary payoff, but it's secondary to the tension that Carpenter creates early in the movie. Some people criticize Halloween for being slow, but I loved that about it.

Also, that cliffhanger ending was teh awesome.

Four out of five knife stabs.

Halloween II

I like that this picked up right where Halloween left off, but I was mostly disappointed. It looks like Carpenter just wanted to keep it going after the success of the first one and because he'd left himself an opening to. Like I said before, the babysitter connection to his victims is discarded and now it becomes all about finishing the job he started with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the first movie.

In the DVD commentary for H20, Carpenter admits coming up with the Laurie-is-Michael's-sister angle on the fly while writing the script because he'd gotten stuck and didn't know where to take the story. It shows. Halloween II is just Michael following Laurie to the hospital to kill her, but going through the rest of the Emptiest Hospital on Earth first in order to pad the movie out to an hour-and-a-half.

Still, it had some nice, scary moments, so:

Two out of five hot tub drownings.

Halloween III: The Season of the Witch

I knew going in that Halloween III wasn't about Michael Myers, but I was convinced that I wouldn't let that taint my view of it. I would just watch it on its own merits and review it that way.

In concept, it wasn't a bad idea to keep the series going. Instead of making all the movies about Michael, make it an anthology series. Just switch the story to another madman trying to kill a bunch of kids on Halloween.

Only they made the madman an evil mask manufacturer who was planning to sacrifice all the trick-or-treaters to the pagan gods by having their masks turn their little faces to alien-insect-infested goo at a particular time on Halloween night. They never did explain how that works. Or why he used manbots as minions.

Actually, the plot is cheesy enough to be awesome if you're expecting it and willing to just have fun with it. But it's not scary at all. It's not a horror movie, it's an awful scifi thriller. So:

One out of five head melts.

Next Time: The Return, Revenge, and Curse of Michael Myers

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