Halloween ★★★★

Suburbia is in trouble.

Teenage girls talk about potential dates as they glide across leaf-covered sidewalks, their schoolbooks clutched to their chests. Young children talk excitedly about the spoils of a nearing autumnal tradition while others shudder at the threat of a visit by the bogeyman. The adults are nowhere to be seen, out of the house for the whole night, the fortress left in the hands of kindhearted babysitters and their innocent companions, both of which hunkering down for an evening of popcorn, scary movies and pumpkin-related festivities. But a shadow haunts the night. Not man nor spectral mass, but something in-between.

Halloween likes to tease. Similar to many great films of its kind, it obscures its monster at first. Well, at least after the inciting flashback kill. But it's been fifteen years since that incident and we haven't a clue what the homicidal tyke grew up to be. His psychiatrist (Donald Pleasance) tells us of his creepily abnormal disposition and frequently makes clear how much of a threat Michael Myers really is, but the guy is practically a ghost in the early goings. He haunts the roads, walkways and backyards of the idyllic Haddonfield neighborhood, staring blankly at those he encounters, one girl in particular (Jamie Lee Curtis) grabbing his interest.

The teasing might go a little too far, though. For the first two acts, we are toyed with as Michael appears and disappears. Behind hedges. Behind trees. In doorways. On porches. Outside windows. Characters are lured into solitude, oblivious to his presence as we get a glimpse of the killer standing somewhere in the background. He watches but does not act. It's effective for awhile, but after nearly an hour of this, it becomes slightly tedious.

The only respite from this prolonged lurking comes in the form of Dr. Loomis, Myers' psychiatrist. Pleasance is terrific in the role, obsessive, jumpy and panicked. His scenes normally consist of his character leading the local sheriff around, informing him of the danger that has come to Haddonfield as they stake out the killer's former residence, waiting for him to return. As much as I enjoyed Pleasance's performance, I am somewhat disappointed by how little these asides seemed to accomplish. Michael Myers' motivations and origins are frustratingly vague. The opening scene holds a degree of Freudian implication, but for the remainder of the film, he is described to us by Loomis as just being a dangerous, inhuman maniac ("with the devil's eyes"). How did psychosexual possibilities spurred by a killing at a young age turn into something evil, unearthly and maybe satanic? The explanations are never very satisfying, so it's difficult to pin down what it is I'm supposed to be afraid of. I guess that's where the terror is meant to lie, but it was a consistent point of irritation rather than intrigue.

Shifting things from the hunter, to the hunted, it's time I address our protagonist, Laurie Strode. As a newcomer, Curtis does a really good job of selling us this sweet, smart and also shy character. She's the good girl, but the role feels lived in and never cliched or put-on. Curtis is also believably spooked in the later scenes, but this is where the second issue comes in. It's a relatively minor issue, but it bothered me enough to leave a dent. Basically, we have a series of unbelievably dumb moments from Laurie that I never bought. Avoiding specifics: our protagonist has two opportunities to escape from harm, but chooses to turn her back on a temporarily sedated Michael. Both of these moments had me screaming at the television- not out of fear, but out of anger (maybe too strong a word, but you get the idea). They came off as cheap attempts to set-up an unexpected scare (which in two cases feature Myers swinging his knife and missing an unaware, unmoving target...how?) and they did not at all fall in line with the quality of horror that came before.

And what quality it is! Carpenter admirably draws from atmosphere instead of gratuitous gore to elicit terror. His corridors are dark and ominous, splashed with blue moonlight trickling through thin blinds and the moody aura of the one section of street the film focuses on radiates powerfully throughout the story's duration. We cling to the low light of a statical TV set and the glow of a lonely jack-o-lantern, for the abysmal doorways and empty rooms, sheds and boarded up dwellings house the bogeyman. And in Halloween, the bogeyman is for real and he never dies.

I'm glad to have finally put this classic to rest. It clearly set the table for the slasher genre's golden age, spawning the copycats (Friday the 13th) and influencing original products as far ahead as this year's It Follows. The film is stylistically pleasing and well-made (by a patient, unfrivolous director no less), but perhaps not airtight enough to earn full marks from me.

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