Classics of Horror #10 – Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s Halloween is the first modern slasher and, therefore, it inspired every other flick of this sub-genre ever since, including the beloved Friday the 13th and Nightmare franchises.

Halloween 1For horror purists, I know that some previous films could be considered as slasher as well: Psycho (1960) represents a prime example. Nonetheless, Halloween had redefined the sub-genre and made it suitable for mass audiences and many forms of exploitation.

Basically, John Carpenter’s low-budget film represents for the slasher sub-genre what The Blair Witch Project (1999) meant for the found-footage style: it’s been done before by Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, but BWP undeniably gave it an unprecedented popularity.

Halloween 2.jpgHalloween, which is the turning point of my series on The Classics of Horror, tells the simple story of Michael Myers who escapes a psychiatric institution he’s been locked up in 15 years before, in light of the murder of his sister when he was only a child.

The serial killer on a loose comes back to Haddonfield on a Halloween night to satisfy his blood thirst and kill the local teenagers.

As oppose to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which I didn’t like as much upon second view, Halloween deeply struck me the second time I watched, in order to right this review.

In general, the first film of what would have become a successful franchise based on Michael Myers is just an amazing, unpretentious, entertaining movie.

However, three factors made me fall in love with it.

Firstly, the good characters are extremely compelling. In comparison to the majority of slasher flicks (actually, 99% of the slasher flicks), the three main girls (played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles) are well-rounded and feature different, distinguishable traits. Their ways of speaking resemble closely the way teenage girls used to argue with each other in the late 70s, which provides the film with an extra layer of realism.

Halloween 6.jpgYet, Donald Pleasence as Doctor Loomis – the psychiatrist who took care of Myers for 15 years – is simply eye-grabbing. His performance is fully rounded and features a vast range of emotions which make for a compelling character who, basically, carries an entire sub-plot along by himself.

Another prime character in Halloween is the soundtrack: composed by John Carpenter himself, the score is iconic to say the least and it’s able to deliver a subtle sense of angst that never fades away. Personally, I think the sound design alone makes the film worth watching.

Halloween 3.pngFinally, the cinematography is spotless. Every single shot is a feist for the eye and, in my humble opinion, such a high level of gorgeous cinematography has never been reached since in a non-artsy horror film (with the exception of It Follows, 2014, which indeed constantly pays homage to Halloween).

Halloween 4The combination between music, camera-work and photography creates an overall dreadful atmosphere which doesn’t need Michael Myers on screen to give the audience goosebumps. Some shots that frame Myers from behind, while focusing on other characters are just so simply beautiful. At the same time, long sequences composed by single takes give a realistic impression, make you feel like you’re integral part of the Haddonfield community to the point that you could communicate with Laurie, Annie or Linda.

Besides that, Halloween is just an entertaining flick with a few, tiny, plot holes that can be easily overlooked: for instance, after having been in a mental institution for 15 years, Myers escapes and drives a car, something that, realistically, he shouldn’t be able to do.

Halloween 5If I could only change something about the film, it would be Myers’ behaviour in certain scenes. In the first half of the movie, the villain just stares at people from behind bushes, cars, trees and so on, which is not really scary or unsettling in my opinion.

On the other hand, though, I understand that this specific behaviour humanises his character rather than turning him into an indestructible monster – which, eventually, he became in the sequels.

All in all, I think Halloween should on everybody’s must-watch list and, although not really frightening, it well deserves its spot among the classics of the genre. One last suggestion: if you can get the Blu-ray of this film, please do, it will make your viewing experience unforgettable.

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The Classics of Horror #5 – Psycho (1960)

As I previously mentioned in my Rosemary’s Baby review, I have a ‘special’ chapter of The Classics of Horror dedicated to Psycho.

My girlfriend and I, in fact, went to watch the screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece at Grosvenor Park – a quiet oasis in the middle of the chaotic Londoner nightlife on a summer Friday night.

The location itself – which my girlfriend will talk about shortly on her blog – was worth the price of the ticket (22£ each, including a glass of fine wine) and created a mystical atmosphere that added to the quality of the film.

If you’re interested in Nomad Cinema initiatives and want to catch a glimpse of our day at the outdoor screening, check their website and enjoy the photo gallery at the end of this post.

In regards to Psycho itself, I thought to write about what makes it so iconic and inspirational to these days, since its plot, cinematography and general features have been discussed quite a lot within the last… well, 57 years!

Considered as the first slasher flick ever – although the origins of this sub-genre may find their roots back in Maurice Tourneur’s The Lunatics (1912) and countless giallo novels in the late 1880s – Psycho is much more than that.

Its influence spread through various cinema genres, such as psychological thriller, mystery and, of course, horror. Putting aside various attempts on imitations of sorts and a shot-by-shot shameless – and soulless – remake (Psycho, 1998), Hitchcock’s movie has inspired, deliberately or unconsciously, an endless number of directors and filmmakers.

Needless to say, the iconic stabbing in the shower has had tons of reenactments in probably half of the modern horror movies. That specific sequence has been received as shocking and gut-wrenching for the 60s audience but, in all fairness, experiencing it before a big screen and surrounded by an excellent sound system… well, it’s striking enough even today.

Again, the sudden change of main character – typical Hitchcock’s signature – has pushed brilliant directors to try unconventional story-telling patterns.

As if atmosphere, cinematography and music (damn, that score!) weren’t enough, the abrupt switch from one protagonist to the other puts the viewer in an uneasy condition, where the audience feels abandoned within a film universe where there is no one left to rely on.

However, what keeps me – and, I guess, all the cinema lovers – going back to Psycho and re-watch it any time with the same attitude is the character of Norman Bates (masterfully portrayed by Anthony Perkins, in the role that made him immortal). First great horror villain, Bates’ personality and psychology are compelling and captivating to these days. His character, despite the psychiatrist’s exposition scene towards the end of the film, is still a mystery for viewers and critics.

Even though the direction of Psycho is nearly immaculate, in my opinion the success of the movie – as well as its effectiveness – massively rely on Norman’s bony shoulders. Bates is an unsolvable enigma, portrayed in a various range of emotions that make him more and more unpredictable as the movie progresses. He’s also such a quotable villain, whose statements will remain impressed in people’s memories, similarly to Darth Vader’s and Heath Ledger’s Joker’s.

No antagonist in slasher flicks history has ever reached such a complexed and all-rounded characterisation. The invincibility of Myers and Voorhees, the sarcasm of Krueger, the cruelty of Leatherface, the intelligence of Vernon, the pure evil of Pinehead can’t rival with the ‘regular madness’ of Norman Bates.

Hitchcock, similarly to a few directors in cinema history, had also a strong faith in audience’s intelligence and pleasure in challenging it. There aren’t many films, in cinema history, that feature nearly no exposition as Psycho did. Here, the story-telling develops through the characters’ actions and the actions, whereas the dialogues serve as creation of compelling protagonists.

Nonetheless, there is a huge exposition scene towards the end of Psycho, which makes it a bit less timeless than it could have been, although it doesn’t affect the perfection of the film itself.

Needless to say, I strongly recommend this film. If you can, try to find a cinema nearby where they show old classics, so that you can enjoy Psycho to its finest. Cheers!