Cinophile – Halloween

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This being the season of sugar, scares and sexy costumes, let’s give a nod not only to the film of the same name, but which defined a huge chunk of horrordom. The slasher sub-genre has been a little slow of late, but you can still expect at least one movie each year that copies its formula. And that all started back in 1978, when Donald Pleasance got top billing and Jamie Lee Curtis was still someone who needed introduction…

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Michael Myers’ mask is a modified version of Captain Kirk from Star Trek. William Shatner has considered this a great compliment. But it was chosen due to the shoestring budget – money was so tight that the actors wore their own clothes. Mike Myers is named after the European distributor of Assault On Precinct 13, John Carpenter’s previous movie. It was a ‘thank you’ for that film’s big overseas success. Ironically, his full name is never mentioned in the film.

 

When Sean S. Cunningham, creator of the Friday The 13th series, speaks about how the legend of Jason and his mom got started, he openly admits watching Halloween a lot and copying a lot of its ideas (and camera angles). Purists can argue that there have been earlier iterations of the ‘bad man stalking young people’ film – stuff like Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left. But John Carpenter wrote down the numbers everyone else would paint by. And Jamie cemented the classic horror protagonist: an attractive, smart, attainable, naive and ultimately survivalist teenage girl next door. Nobody has taken her scream queen yet.

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One reason why Jamie Lee Curtis was apparently hired is because John Carpenter wanted to pay homage to her mother, Janet Leigh, who famously appeared in Psycho. She was the only actual teenager in the cast.

 

The Halloween series has not had the same pop culture longevity as the likes of Jason or Freddy (or even Pinhead). Still, many still recognise Mike Myers and his ghostly facade. Myers is, for all purposes, a total psychopath. The film starts with him, aged around eight, slaughtering his sister. More than a decade later he escapes from a mental asylum and heads back to his old home. Here a chance encounter with the young Lee Curtis leads him to stalk her and her friends, with several ending up quite dead. 

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Halloween became the biggest-grossing independent movie of its time and kickstart modern mainstream horror. It has been overshadowed by films since, but nothing has quite succeeded in defining the genre’s formula as much as this single film did.

 

Today Halloween may seem trite and old-fashioned today. But for the audiences of the late seventies it was an ultra-violent watershed in mainstream horror, and the unstoppable serial killer trope was born. The Eighties would become awash in these films and a string of revivals would keep the slasher afloat across the Nineties and into the 21st century. Sadly the Halloween series never cultivated the sequel cachet and reputation of its contemporaries, and Jason has stolen Michael’s thunder. But even films like Saw would not exist were it not for Mike Myers stalking suburbia.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: October 28, 2013

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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