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Halloween celebrates another anniversary, but is this Blu-ray edition the complete package...?
Criterion / 99 Minutes / 1944 / Unrated / Street Date: October 22, 2013
The anomaly ofPsycho notwithstanding, Halloween will forever be known as the granddaddy of the slasher film. Unforgivable sin or a boon to the independent film industry? So influential was the film that the post-Michael Myers years have seen a steady flow of dead teenager flicks that refuses to subside. But a few notable exceptions aside, Halloween is so much better than the majority of its imitators as to be almost incomparable.
The premise of the film, especially after years of rip-offs, seems deceptively uninspired. Our story begins in 1964, when young Michael Myers inexplicably kills his sister one Halloween night with a very large butcher knife. Flash forward to 1978, and Haddonfield, Illinois is a quiet little town that has relegated the Myers incident to mere town folklore. But this is the night he comes home, and thus begins a new reign of terror. Babysitters, beware!
Yes, on the surface, this seems like every other slasher film ever made. But remember this was the one that started it all (okay, unless you remember Bob Clark's underrated Black Christmas from 1974). Yet what sets Halloween apart from all its imitators is its respect for craft and much-lauded visual style. Director of photography Dean Cundey does an amazing job on a shoestring budget, perfectly capturing director John Carpenter's expert use of striking foreground and background compositions. The start, atmospheric lighting perfectly captures the feeling of Halloween in a small Midwestern town, where every dark corner can reveal a lurking evil.
But what remains most effective about Halloween is Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill's use of seemingly banal small town surfaces to mask archetypal representations of evil. Michael Myers isn't just some psycho in a Captain Kirk outfit, but the Bogeyman himself elevated to mythic proportions. Aided by a simple but very effective musical score (also by Carpenter), Halloween becomes an updated take on Little Red Riding Hood, a grown-up fairy tale that reveals more with every viewing. Our heroine Laurie Strode, played so naturally by then-newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis, makes the perfect foil for The Shape. It is her repression, her constant watching and waiting for something to happen - anything - that allows her to see the monster while all others around her ignore the warning signs. Her pals are all too busy hooking up with their boyfriends to see the threat that stalks them, and most of the adults rationalize away the danger. Aside from Myers' pursuit by his tireless adversary Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance, god bless him!), this is a nitty gritty Freudian confrontation still unmatched in modern horror.
Interestingly, the film continues to be heavily criticized for linking sexual promiscuity with violent death. All of Laurie's friends are amorously inclined, while she alone remains the supposed virgin of the group (although it is worth noting that nowhere in the film is it ever stated Curtis is a virgin, only that she is admonished for being shy). Was there some sort of puritanical message inherent, if not explicit, in the text? Doubtful. It is only through her own innate intelligence and a willingness to observe that which is around her that Laurie ultimately succeeds in conquering - however fleeting - her monster. Far from being nihilistic, the film suggests that while we can never fully conquer evil, we can become aware of it and thrive in spite of its existence. Despite talk of any shameless pandering to misogynistic impulses, I think the "message" of the film, if there is one, is ultimately one of empowerment.