Monday, 30 June 2014

Against the Crowd Blogathon: A Rant Against Halloween

Wendell Ottley of Dell on Movies is hosting an interesting new blogathon, Against the Crowd, in which we were challenged to write about our views on movies that contradict popular opinion. I've written a lot on this issue, including my discussions of James BondSolarisAlphavillePlaytime, and Raging Bull to name a few, along with my positive reviews of the often critically panned Conquest of Space and Dark Tide. In fact I have a whole section devoted to this and my very first post in this blog dealt with this topic, so naturally when I heard about this blogathon I knew I had to find something to contribute.

He did specify specific movies so that rules out a long-winded rant about Goddard in general, and I think I've made my views on Solaris clear enough. I'm probably not going to write anything on either version until I can come up with a topic that doesn't involve pointing out why the Clooney version is better. Still, there are a lot of movies I have ranted about, including a few that are quite popular, and I think this is a good time to release some of my frustration. Just a warning though, I am about to say something extremely hypocritical. You've been warned.

I am a huge John Carpenter fan. Back in high school I did a twenty-minute documentary on his movies and he still remains one of two big-name auteurs I have had the pleasure of meeting (the other being Atom Egoyan) and the only one of those two I have confronted in person.

The guy has some excellent work under his belt. The Thing currently ranks among my all-time favorite movies, but I also love some of his other horror works like Christine, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness, and The Ward, along with some of his other stuff like Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13Escape From New York, Starman, They Live, and Vampires. I even enjoyed some of Carpenter's less popular work like Escape From L.A. and Ghosts of Mars. I'll confess I was not as keen on The Fog but even that had a few good points (the story never fully clicked for me, but I did always find Adrienne Barbeau's character interesting). It seems like there is no possible way that Carpenter could ever do a bad movie. Just about every movie he has ever done has something good in it...

Except for one: Halloween. Yes, I am a die-hard Carpenter fan and the one film of his I absolutely hated was the one most people consider to be his absolute best. I was actually quite shocked about this myself given how I'd responded up to that point to my other experiences with Carpenter films. I had gone in expecting something great, what with all the hype I had heard about how this movie frightened an entire generation and popularized the slasher genre. It still leaves me puzzled when I hear people talk about this as an "intelligent" horror film.

On the other hand as shocking as it was at first (I almost wanted to drop the project all together and pick a different director to study) the experience did have a few positive effects on me. The big thing was the angle I was able to take: at the time it seemed a lot of the films of Carpenter's I responded to best was his science fiction work (The Thing, Escape From New York, Dark Star) and though I would eventually find other films of his that showcased his talent for horror it did allow me to look at Carpenter's films in a broader context, going even further against the crowd. After all, everybody calls him "the Master of Horror" and for my documentary it ended up giving me a new angle: to emphasize his non-horror work and show just how versatile a director he really is instead of just saying the same old things about Halloween you've heard a million times.

As for the movie itself, well, let's look at the story in particular. You can certainly see some of Carpenter's trademarks emerging in this one, such as the low budget, his love for claustrophobic environments (particularly the scenes where Michael Myers starts breaking into houses), the idea that you can never truly overcome fear, among others. Certainly some of the things that would be present in Carpenter's later, far better works like The Thing.

Now to his credit, Donald Pleasance does an okay job in terms of performance (though he would play a far more interesting role in Carpenter's Prince of Darkness). The only problem is when you get down to it he really doesn't do a whole lot to help the story. Most of his scenes consist of him providing overly complicated ways of explaining that Michael Myers is a dangerous psychopath who must be stopped (gee, we'd never guess that from the fact that he's running around stalking teenagers and wielding a great big knife). Jamie Lee Curtis was also okay but she mostly just spent the climax crying, not exactly the role model she's made out to be.

So then of course we get to Michael Myers himself. There isn't really anything spooky about a William Shatner mask for starters, but the real problem is right at the end. Michael Myers gets stabbed in the throat and apparently dies, only to suddenly get up and keep moving like it's nothing. He then took his own knife to the chest and dies, only to somehow get back up as though nothing happened. He then gets shot several times by Loomis and falls out a second-story window, and STILL gets up and walks away just as the movie ends.

This whole thing comes straight out of nowhere in a story that seemed to be up to this point somewhat grounded in reality. I've heard arguments claiming that Michael Myers is supposed to be a metaphor for evil but if that's the case I don't think he's a very good one. I've also heard the claim that the ending is supposed to be ambiguous in whether he actually survived... except we clearly saw him get up completely unharmed after receiving two stab wounds that should have at the very least left him seriously injured.

Maybe that could have been a bit more disturbing, if Michael Myers did show signs of damage but kept moving anyway. I could see the image of the psycho crawling on the floor towards our heroine ignoring the fact that he is slowly bleeding to death through his determination to kill her. THAT might actually have been creepy, but as it stands it just comes out of nowhere and left me too confused to be frightened. Oh, and by the way, I'm sorry, but a kid whining about "The boogeyman" does not constitute buildup to revealing your main antagonist is invincible.

Actually, even weirder about this is that for a film called Halloween there really isn't a lot of... you know... Halloween. Supposedly that's when the movie takes place and they show a pumpkin in the opening titles but you really could have put the story on any night without changing much. I mean why are these kids watching old horror movies? They should be out trick-or-treating. We never really see anybody wearing costumes or doing any Halloween-related activities either.

That actually could have been another great way to make the film creepy, if it happens on a night when everybody is dressed up in costumes so that Michael Myers and his mask blend in perfectly. It would be a lot more terrifying since in an environment where lots of people, kids and adult, are wearing masks and costumes it would be much harder to identify him. He could be standing right next to you and you'd never notice until it was too late. There would be a greater sense of paranoia and a lot more reason to be afraid. Of course that would have actually been interesting. Instead we get Myers running around empty streets in an extremely conspicuous mask.

That Beach Ball from Dark Star was scarier than you.

So ultimately when you realize all the problems, Halloween is actually John Carpenter at his absolute worst. This is a dull film with an uninteresting plot and characters whose deaths were so predictable I literally wanted Michael Myers to get to them just because I knew those scenes where coming and wanted them over-with. If you want good horror from Carpenter, you're much better off with The Thing. That movie actually had some scary moments and an unstoppable force that made a lot more sense and was actually terrifying, and it used ambiguity to far greater effect in its narrative.

Quit crying, Laurie! You know nothing of fear.


  1. Wow. You went in pretty hard on Halloween. Great read. I've always liked it, but never thought it was as great as others make it out to be. Still, I can't deny that it was hugely popular and influential.

    Small thing to nitpick, though. This is not my first blogathon. That honor belongs to...

    Again, great read.

    1. Was it? Oh how silly of me. I'll fix that. Terribly sorry.

      Yes, when it comes to movies I really don't like I can get them pretty hard. This certainly isn't the first time I've insulted a movie a lot of other people like.