Note: I'm updating yesterday's (admittedly rushed) post to include my thoughts on a one-off screening of the first film that I went to at a local cinema last night, after finding out about it at the 11th hour. I'll go into more detail about the experience below, but needless to say, I couldn't have imagined a more satisfying way to round off this month's viewing spree. (1/11/12)
It's hard to think of another movie (well, movies) that could be more appropriate/blindingly obvious to finish off this month long horror blogathon. Sure there are other great movies one can watch on Halloween night (Trick 'r Treat and Night of the Demons are two that spring to mind) but can any of them really measure up against the imposing stature of Carpenter's classic? I highly doubt it...
Due to the film's seminal status, it's perhaps even harder to think what one can possibly say about it that hasn't already been repeated to the point of cliche. As a result, it's probably best for me to briefly mention the effect the movie has had on me personally, and leave it at that. To cut a long story short, I'd say that Halloween was the gateway drug, so to speak, which is, for better or worse, largely responsible for my interest in/obsession with the horror genre, and I'm sure many others would say the same. Somewhat extending the drug analogy, you could also say that the film has functioned, for countless viewers including myself, as another rite of passage of sorts, further initiating them into the fascinating and, until now forbidden, adult world of various wild and sticky shenanigans.
As a result of the movie's tendency to catch people during their teens, where they are at their most appropriately curious and impressionable, it also has the effect, during many later re-viewings, of being able to conjure up nostalgia for one's now long passed, formative years. Furthermore, watching it as an adult, you start to view the characters (as one often does their past self) with a slight degree of knowing bemusement, infused with affection.
The only other thing I'll add is that this is one of those horror films (like Ghostbusters, for me at least) that is so seemingly perfect that I find it endlessly re-watchable. Furthermore, due to its almost invisible style and technical excellence, it arguably provides a masterclass for the budding filmmaker to study and learn from.
Addendum: As I mentioned above, last night I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing the film in a theatre. I don't really head out to the cinema very often these days, mainly due to a combination of overpriced tickets and the almost wall-to-wall, uninspiring, homogeneous fluff that is there to choose from, so this was a somewhat rare treat for me in more ways than one. Plus, aside from being able to see the movie in all-enveloping, wall sized glory, there's always the wonderfully unpredictable bonus of seeing it with a group of strangers, who add to and transmute one's own experience with their varying, and often polarised, reactions.
Seeing a familiar favourite on the big screen is often like watching it again for the first time and this was quite true when I watched Halloween last night. For one thing, the slow burning, dread-filled sense of inevitable and impending annihilation that one feels for the characters had never, until now, hit me like it did in the theatre last night. To be honest, that's no doubt partly due to the enhancing effects of the cheeky joint I smoked out back before heading in, and the resulting heightened awareness and borderline social anxiety that often brings with it. Obviously, seeing it on a screen one can barely escape also turns the volume up on things, so to speak. Needless to say, putting these two things in tandem is almost literally like being temporarily given a new pair of eyes with which to see the film.
The other things that struck me during this rewatch were mainly little moments of body language and bits of background detail; nothing that made me dramatically reevaluate the film, but all of them, in their own small ways, helping to bringing me further into its world.
As a cherry on top of this thoroughly enjoyable experience, I also had an eerie, slightly meta moment when the movie came to its end. While the credits were rolling and the audience was heading out of the theatre, I was in the process of getting my stuff together to cycle home, and was only half cognizant of what was occurring around me. Needless to say, I got a bit of a shock when the lights came up and I realised the room was now totally deserted. In retrospect, it sort of reminded of the scene in Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) where a woman is waiting in a busy park to meet someone and, after fumbling around her handbag and smoking a cigarette, suddenly realises the park is now empty and lifeless. Experiencing this for myself caught me a tad off balance at first, but it was an undeniably perfect way to finish the screening, before I had to head out into the dark, and on my lonesome way home. Also, after soaking in the film's autumnal ambience for the best part of a couple of hours, I certainly gained a new appreciation for all the groovy orange streetlights decorating the roads I had to travel.
As many others also attest, the film's first sequel blends so organically into its predecessor that I find it nigh on impossible to watch one without sticking the other on immediately after. It's not exactly as memorable or perfect as the original, but taken on its own merits, it's still an excellent example of the slasher subgenre, and to be fair, it was always going to suffer from being compared to its slightly older brother.
Some people find fault with it because Jaime Lee Curtis spends much of the movie in a borderline comatose state, but personally I've never had a problem with this. Besides, we get a brief trippy, fever dream sequence because of it, and also, it sets things up nicely for later on, when Laurie is limping around the mostly deserted hospital, looking for assistance.
The second sequel is probably the most underrated in the entire franchise and, if I'm not mistaken, largely bombed when it was first released due to the absence of the series' now iconic villain. Apparently Carpenter and company wanted to move away from the original story and start telling some other tales set around the eponymous holiday. And it's a shame this failed, as it would have been fascinating to see what else they could have come up with.
I wouldn't go so far as to call it a great film exactly, but it's got such a delightfully barmy plot that I never fail to get a kick out of it. For the uninitiated, it's essentially the story of a mad toymaker who plans to unleash his own Halloween holocaust upon the kiddywinks by selling them some diabolical masks he's constructed (using stolen pieces of Stonehenge to give them their occult power, if I'm not mistaken) which, when activated by a TV signal sent out on Halloween night, will turn their pretty little heads into writhing masses of creepy crawlies. Plus, Tom Atkins is in it, so what else do you need?
The film has been fairly ubiquitous on British TV this October (showing up on several different channels) so hopefully it will grow in stature; I know it already has a small cult of admirers who sing its praises (self-included). If you haven't seen it though, I'd recommend giving it a chance; just take it for what it is and hopefully you'll enjoy it.
Oh, and Happy Halloween!