Written by: Karl Franks
With it being Halloween it seemed the perfect time for a long overdue first ever double-bill of John Carpenter‘s seminal masterpiece and the 2018 sequel, also confusingly called Halloween. Which to be perfectly honest I was underwhelmed by at the cinema back in 2018.
So first up the 1978 original.
Starting with one of the most iconic opening sequences in cinema history, a stunning continuous shot that introduces us to Michael Myers via his point of view. Unbelievably not actually the one take it seems to be as there are cleverly hidden cuts. Even more impressive is it was filmed on the last day of the shoot in the dilapidated Myers’ house. Decorated and made to look like a lived in home, yet only within the frame of the shot, the paint still wet with the house in a state of disrepair seen in the rest of the film; The definition of movie magic. Climaxing with a crane shot that was even more difficult to achieve. A hugely impressive accomplishment given the low budget, time constraints, and the fact this was in the days before digital technology; which nowadays would be far easier to achieve.
Jump to 15 years later, we first meet Dr Sam Loomis and then Laurie Strode. Both beautifully brought to life by Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis, in her very first lead role.
Initially hired because of who her parents were (Janet Leigh & Tony Curtis), which was seen as good marketing for the film. Nevertheless, she showed herself to be a very assured actress in her own right, completely inhabiting the role and character arc of Laurie.
Pleasance accepted the role at the insistence of his daughter who had been impressed with “Assault On Precinct 13“, particularly by John Carpenter’s use of music
Loomis’ standout monologue “I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong” is the character’s defining moment, that also contributes to making Michael Myers even more disturbing and frightening.
Hitting the ground running from the very first, with its brilliantly written, stripped back to the barest minimum screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; who wrote the scenes involving the teenage girls, giving them a more authentic feel. Every character is engagingly fleshed out, and not one second is wasted on unnecessary exposition. Peppered throughout is some “totally” well placed humour that further adds depth to all the main characters. Although a welcome addition are the scenes shot for the TV version that add depth to Dr Loomis and Michael Myers relationship/connection, and a scene involving Curtis and P. J. Soles. This was the cut I first saw and my first experience of “Halloween” back in the early 80s. This version is available on the 1999 Anchor Bay DVD release.
This may well be “John Carpenter’s Halloween,” but equal credit should be given to everyone involved, cast and crew. They came together as a group of pretty much novice film-makers and a mostly inexperienced actors to create one of the most influential, and successful independent, films of all-time.
From first to last “Halloween” is an audio-visual thrill-ride like no other. Brilliantly realised escalating tension, dread, and scares. The widescreen image utilised like no other horror film before, or maybe since.
“Halloween” is cinematic perfection, a horror masterpiece that kick started the slasher phenomenon into mainstream consciousness, and has stood the test of time, feeling more impressive as the years pass.
So next onto the 2018 sequel.
Beginning with a powerful pre-credits sequence that sets up the story and reintroduces Michael Myers. Following on 40 years after the events of the first film, disregarding all the sequels.
When we met up again with Laurie Strode she is convinced Michael Myers will return. The obsession with being ready and prepared to the detriment of the rest of her life in the intervening years. So much so that she has pushed her family away.
The most successful aspects are when focus is on Laurie, and its depiction of her psychological torment. Jamie Lee Curtis gives one of the best performances of her career. A superb depiction of the effects of PTSD, realistically portraying the traumatic after effects. Clearly showing she did a lot of research and preparation. Judy Greer and Andi Matichak, as respectively Laurie’s daughter and grand-daughter, are the standouts of the supporting cast. Most notably in their scenes with Curtis; bringing an emotional engagement missing from the rest of the film.
Special mention should also go to Nick Castle returning as “The Shape” for the first time since the original film. No actor brought to life the role of Michael Myers as he did. His movement, even a simple thing like the tilt of his head makes Myers even more terrifying. James Jude Courtney is also equally adept with his performance, both adding depth to Michael Myers.
Where the film is less successful is when focus shifts from Laurie, becoming a generic formulaic slasher movie. Many of the characters are one dimensional, and purely there as kill fodder. There seems to have been too much emphasis of giving fans of the franchise the bloodshed and the set piece kills synonymous with the sequels. The original film had some shocking deaths, but was virtually bloodless and was all about the building of tension and suspense. While there are edge of the seat moments, it is just not on the same level as the original.
The many references to the sequels is at odds with a film that was seemingly conceived as a character study of the effects of trauma on the victim and their loved ones. That being said, the film is dedicated to Moustapha Akkad, the producer behind the original and the sequels. To be fair his vision was more focused on bloodshed and gore in the latter films, more akin to “Friday the 13th” than the original “Halloween“.
At times it is a sequel that perfectly compliments the original, but really could have been far more satisfying with more substance outside of the main characters.
While Halloween 2018 has issues it is still the best of the sequels, but could have been so much better if the focus had been far more on Laurie and her family.