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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Franchise of Fear: The Halloween Series Part 1


"I met him 15 years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscious, no understanding and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face and...the blackest eyes...the devil's eyes. I spent 8 years trying to reach him and then another 7 trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boys eyes was purely and simply...evil."--Dr. Samuel Loomis

There's been so much written about John Carpenter's seminal horror classic, HALLOWEEN (1978). It's been analyzed, deconstructed, reviewed, adored, championed and rarely has anything remotely negative been said about it. It's a rare breed among the insurmountable number of horror pictures produced over the decades in that it has lost little to none of its power to scare the hell out of you or raise a goosebump or two. The single most key ingredient to this slasher stew is the embodiment of pure evil, Michael Myers. Inexplicably murdering his sister on Halloween night, he escapes a mental institution years later and begins stalking and butchering a series of teenagers for equally unknown reasons. The appearance and mannerisms of Michael Myers has been branded onto the American horror lexicon like an irremovable tattoo and whose influence can be seen in numerous slasher films that came after including the recent MALEVOLENCE series.

In this Famous Monsters photo with Gene Roddenberry, you'll spy the original Don Post Captain Kirk/William Shatner mask that served as the genesis for Michael Myers

Another key to the success of this murderous predator is his mask that hides the face of the literal embodiment of evil. Referred to in the end credits as 'The Shape', Michael Myers personifies the 'shape' of man's maleficence that lays dormant within the dark recesses of man's psyche. Without rhyme or reason, this 'shape' kills randomly, without remorse and with seemingly no purpose (although the first sequel gives him/it a purpose). In furthering Myers as the walking nature of evil, he's referred to as 'not human' by his obsessed physician, Doctor Loomis. But what would The Shape be without that incredibly spooky, unforgettably frightening visage made from an old William Shatner mask? Over the course of the series, this mask has been tinkered with and drastically altered from one sequel to the next.

Photo: HorrorHound issue 2

Granted, there are a few things in HALLOWEEN that appear to have inspired Carpenter for his own work. One of them is unquestionable and another is negligible. An earlier slasher picture from 1974 entitled BLACK CHRISTMAS bore the POV shots and heavy breathing that would become synonymous with Carpenter's movie. Also, a sequel was proposed to BC that would have been titled HALLOWEEN. The script was very similar to what eventually morphed into the 1978 production. Even so, John Carpenter made the story his own and it's inarguably the directors most accomplished film out of his entire career. If nothing else, John Carpenter will always be remembered for directing HALLOWEEN over everything else.

The stationary shots of Myers blankly watching his intended targets are strikingly similar to likewise evocative shots on display in the obscure SHOCK WAVES (1976). Carpenter also utilized this blankly staring, zombie-like state for his cutthroat avenging angels in his lesser discussed ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1977). Still, on its own merits, Carpenter fashioned a unique viewing experience enhanced by not only a brooding visual palette, but also an audible one as well for his holiday horror classic.

It's difficult to imagine HALLOWEEN without the unmistakably nerve jangling music composed by the director. It's without doubt one of the single most recognizable pieces of theme music ever recorded. In addition, one of the other indelible factors that has solidified HALLOWEEN as a milestone in horror was the resurgence of the 'Scream Queen', or at least the popular use of the term. Jamie Lee Curtis carried the torch till proudly passing it on to Linnea Quigley in the 1980s. With an ending that shockingly announced the killer is still out there (a device also seen in BLACK CHRISTMAS), this little low budget masterpiece chugged along to big box office receipts. HALLOWEEN was a massive success and its popularity meant that a sequel was not far over the horizon and that soon The Shape would be stalking the screen once more.

"The first one still remains the best. I thought 2 also had its share of fine moments. Part 4 seemed to make some steps back to getting things on track. But 5? It was just rubbish."--Donald Pleasence on his career in the HALLOWEEN franchise Fangoria #147.

HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) was an early example of a sequel that was a worthy follow up as this second installment had huge shoes to fill to say the least. It's essentially the same movie but adds some additional elements to its script written by John Carpenter who handed over the directorial reigns to Rick Rosenthal. The nature and historical significance of the actual Halloween holiday is explored as well some mean spirited moments such as children having bitten into apples lined with razor blades (remember those parental warnings before accepting candy from strangers back then?). There's a satanic vibe running through the film on an alchemic level that would be explored in a wholly erratic fashion in a later series entry. The film picks up the very same Halloween night where the first movie ended. It should be noted there's a minor editing faux pas at the beginning. Loomis runs around stating "I shot him six times!!" Yet you hear an extra shot fired from his gun which brings the number of bullets to seven!

Rosenthal aped Carpenter's style to such a degree, one wonders if Carpenter weren't acting as some sort of hands on adviser. So much of what made the original a memorably terrifying experience is recreated here, but with added scenes of gore which were shot in post by none other than Mr. Carpenter himself! Apparently with the onslaught of gory creative kills popularized by the likes of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), it was deemed necessary to beef up the HALLOWEEN sequels violence quotient.

Granted, the added shots of gore aren't on the same playing field as a Jason Voorhees or even Freddy Krueger for that matter, but the showcase of slashed jugulars, a needle in the eye and a vicious hot tub skin peel with a totally naked Pamela Shoop raises an eyebrow, or two. Director Rosenthal was one of those with raised eyebrows as he was thoroughly disenchanted that his movie was tampered with in post production.

The mask went unchanged as Dick Warlock donned the spray painted Captain Kirk mask previously worn by Nick Castle. Michael's mannerisms and murderously creepy candor were expertly retained from the first film, too. Carpenter's script adds the caveat that Myers does in fact have a purpose for his merciless intention to bring bodily harm to Laurie Strode. For the sequel, we learn that Strode is in fact Myers other sister hidden away from him after the terrible incident that starts off Carpenter's original movie. Possibly the single longest night in horror movie history, Michael Myers traces Strode to the Haddonfield hospital mere moments after getting up and walking away from multiple bullet wounds and a fall from a two story house. The score from Carpenter and Alan Howarth was basically a reworking of the original with some added and unnerving musical stings. Brandishing a seven figure budget, the movie was a huge success upon its release in October, 1981--the year of the slasher. Interestingly enough, when the film aired on television, that version contained some differently edited sequences and alternate scenes. With its fiery finale, it would appear The Night He Came Home was finally over...

All three HALLOWEEN 3 photos: HorrorHound issue 8

The third time was definitely not the charm for HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982). It was a complete 360 departure from the previous two entries. The most noticeable alteration was the complete and total lack of the terror trifecta of Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis and fear's fuel--Michael Myers. It was an ambitious and daring move on the part of the producers to take a detour from the proven formula in what was intended as a yearly bid to present an all new tale of terror under the HALLOWEEN moniker. HALLOWEEN 3 may have made less money than the previous two installments, or even other horror pictures released that year, but it did make money. Its association with the HALLOWEEN franchise is the biggest crippling factor against it. Like other movies that exploit a proven formula or title, but deviate drastically from what made said formula a crowd pleaser in the first place, HALLOWEEN 3 boldly (or brazenly) tried something vastly different, but stirred the ire of HALLOWEEN's hellions in the process.

The fragmented plot was very ambitious if extremely outrageous in its fractured fairy tale depiction of an evil capitalist with plans to kill children around the world with the use of an electronic device implanted within three different Halloween masks. Acting as a receiver set off by a catchy commercial, the mask would then melt over the victims face causing every orifice to erupt in a gore ghoulash of insects and reptiles(??). Elements of Samhain, witchcraft, Stonehenge and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS styled robotic assassins(???) are wedged into the bizarre script written by its director, Tommy Lee Wallace. The reasoning behind this insidious plot is never satisfactorily explained, but then the nature of Michael Myers oppressive evil is never explained, either; It just IS.

The level of gore is high in this film and the exploitation potential is quite striking for a major studio release. Not only does it sustain itself on a nasty HANSEL & GRETALish scenario, a less than noble, playboy hero, it also contains one of the most satisfyingly downbeat endings in horror movie history. Both Carpenter and Debra Hill returned as producers and the former contributed to the score along with returning composer, Alan Howarth. The film has earned a new found respect among horrors rabid fan base, but for the time, the overall disdain from the horror community sealed the fate of an all new, all different HALLOWEEN feature every year. Somehow, someway, evil was coming home yet again, only it would be six years for it to arrive.



Aaron said...

Hell of a write-up, Brian! I think the behind the scenes stories are much more interesting that the actual films when it comes to the HALLOWEEN series. I'm dying to see some sort of retrospective on the franchise in the vein of NEVER SLEEP AGAIN or HIS NAME WAS JASON. That's a great picture you included of the original Shatner mask, which I've never seen before. Looking forward to the continuation(s).

venoms5 said...

Thanks a bunch, Aaron! There is a DVD retrospective called HALLOWEEN: 25 YEARS OF TERROR. It's a two disc set. I haven't watched it in a while but it covers the entire series and there's tons of extras.

That Shatner mask photo was in one of my old Famous Monsters magazines. I went through a bunch of old Fangorias and got a bunch of cool behind the scenes stuff for the next part. I had totally forgotten about QT being attached to write the shitty H6 and what his version would be like.

Aaron said...

Oh yeah! I totally forgot about that. I used to have that 2-disc DVD, about five or six years ago maybe? I need to re-watch that. And you're right... I also forgot about Tarantino's supposed involvement in HALLOWEEN 6 during its early stages. I'll be sure to check out your next post when I have some time. I'm a bit tied up at the moment.

Django211 said...

Great stuff! I just showed my wife Halloween. She's from a country where they don't celebrate it. I hadn't seen it in years and I was shocked at how it took its time to set-up the climax. It wasn't really interested in gore as much as it was going for scares and suspense. It also wasn't as scary as my wife originally feared. The documentary on the 25yr disc was also pretty interesting.

I never made it past part 3. After the mask stuff I tuned out and forgot about the series. I might check out some of the later ones including the Rob Zombie version for the perverse thrill of seeing how they messed it up.

venoms5 said...

Hi, Django211. Thanks for the kind remarks! HALLOWEEN and its first sequel still give me the creeps when I see them. A huge key to that spook factor are the soundtracks. Check out parts 2 and 3 of this article if you're interested in familiarizing yourself with the other entries. My opinion is rarely kind from here on out, though. HALLOWEEN H20 is really good and up there with the first two movies, imo. Things hit total rock bottom with Rob Zombie's two movies.

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