While Nightmare on Elm Street came to be the series that would make me a horror geek, Halloween was my first true horror franchise, early stepping stones that I will always remember and thus shall be paying tribute to the franchise over the remaining days this month.
The Early Years: Halloween 1-3
For most horror franchises, it is not uncommon for the first entry to be the best. It’s tad unfair that this first entry is not only the best in its series but probably one of the best in the slasher subgenre.
While the full slasher boom was a few years away, Halloween was right at the front of the American boom. These types of movies had been common in Europe most notably Italy’s giallo films, but there were also a handful of thrillers from Britain and other countries about men wearing ski masks stalking young, beautiful women. The American touch that many other slashers would follow suit with? Make it a holiday.
It helps that from an early age to present day, Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of year. I love the cooling off of summer, the lingering days before daylight rapidly dwindles away in winter and enjoying nice country-road drives when the leaves abandon their limbs and fall in a colorful cascade of natural change. A movie that partly captures the spirit of that time of year was catnip to young me.
The first movie is often praised for its lean storytelling, and while the movie plays everything pretty straightforwardly (maniac escapes local institution then goes on killing spree Halloween night), it does find time for the movie just to linger on certain moments that really makes the world this killer force is about to invade feel lived in. Laurie (a role, like the killer, Curtis can’t seem to escape) and her friends all seem like versions of real high school teens (partly helped by the fact the movie had a woman in the writer’s room, natch).
The tension is greatly accomplished by two key factors: music and cinematography. The usages of negative space in Halloween could be demonstrated to a film class for artfully using the concept to create dread for where the killer isn’t/could be at any moment. The score , in its wonderful simplicity, is what we would come to expect and respect Carpenter for: tonal, haunting, paced to match mood and wonderfully rich yet simplistic.
Like a roller coaster the movie slowly builds up to the first murder portrayed in a POV shot of young Michael, eases up a bit and then goes relentless for the last third of the film putting Laurie through the wringer while also having her find the courage to fight back during multiple occasions. The finale leaves the viewer breathless and the resolution far from certain maybe being one of the best horror movie endings of all time. Alas these killers never do stay dead.
Halloween 2 (1981)
While I get that for many Halloween 2 is the beginning of a steep decline in these films, I gotta admit it has a lot going for it and honestly growing up I almost liked it as mush as the first.
This is a sequel that knows right where to pick up – exactly moments after the first movie ended. Laurie has been rushed to the hospital and Michael is continuing to stalk her.Some people don’t like adding to Michael’s backstory , or linking him with a sister. These people don’t know good story telling, because look, if we are going to keep on getting more movies, let’s at least try to form a weird cohesive narrative out of it all (otherwise we just have a bunch of times a maniac showed up in a mask and took out a different set of teens- and that’s Friday the 13’s territory). It probably does not helped I was raised on comic books and their convoluted continuity.
Also while not the first, it’s definitely an early example of a horror movie using a popular song in a different context: Mr Sandman.
Depending on the horror fan, might not necessarily be an overall plus, but the kills got a tad more intense this time around. Michael is an uncaring force of evil and this movie does well to show how merciless and unstoppable he can be.
Carpenter had it right though- this should have been the end. It ends a solid show down, it contains the horrors of the evening all to one night and lets the movies work one as rousing solid entry into the overall horror cannon and the other a worthy followup to the story.
Now for something completely different.
This was actually one I actively avoided as a pre-teen/early teen years. Why would I invest time into something so disconnected, especially knowing there were other chapter continuing the Michael Meyers saga? To be fair, I had not seen this entry until college and with some booze had a great experience.
Cult Classics are an enigma. Get to be too popular and then it’s not really a cult anymore- looking at your Nightmare Before Christmas memorabilia. Thankfully the cult of Tommy Wallace’s (who learned a good bit by helping Carpenter) Season of the Witch is still on the smaller side (alas it is growing).
What sells this movie is how worlds (literally in a fictional sense at least) this film is from the first 2. No slasher killer, no stalked babysitter, no instead we get a slightly drunk Doctor playing detective disastrously while getting caught up in a plot that involves a stolen piece of Stonehenge, druids and killer masks. This is some bonkers stuff. Oh and it has a terribly great earworm for the masks promoted in the film.
This bizarre movie cements why the first 3 Halloweens all for very different reasons are among my favorite horror in different categories 1 is a great slasher and a personal horror favorite, 2 is the rare slasher sequel that’s better than most other slashers out there in general and 3 is a hard left into madness and entertaining bat-shittery. It should be noted that beyond that gimmicky Halloween song, the actual score to Halloween 3 is quite solid work from Carpenter.
Michael Meyers will return in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers
So while it may seem like there’s nowhere to go from here but down, in some ways I am even looking forward more to discussing the following entries over the next 2 days because less has been discussed regarding them in the franchise.