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Author Topic: The Pseudopod Autopsy: John Carpenter’s Halloween  (Read 11099 times)

Bdoomed

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on: December 22, 2007, 10:05:34 PM
The Pseudopod Autopsy: John Carpenter’s Halloween

A shape in the distance, a killer in suburbia, a psychiatrist pushed to his limits and an innocent girl in the firing line. Halloween is one of the acknowledged classics of horror, the patient zero of slasher movies. Now, we take a look behind the scenes, examining how it’s structured, what it says about the times and crucially what makes it tick. Welcome to the Pseudopod Autopsy. Now glove up…


Listen to this week's Pseudopod.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


DarkKnightJRK

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Reply #1 on: December 26, 2007, 09:26:12 PM
I never could get into Halloween. I watched bits and pieces of it and pushed it aside as the usual crappy and cliche'-ridden slasher pic. So, seeing the deeper parts in this podcast surprised me. I might give this one another shot if I see it around again.



gelee

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Reply #2 on: January 02, 2008, 01:22:46 PM
Wow, great review.  I love hearing analysis and interpretation like this.  Keep them coming!
I too had dismissed "Halloween" as a cheap slasher flic.  I'll have to give it more consideration.



Russell Nash

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Reply #3 on: January 15, 2008, 01:15:40 PM
Halloween just never appealed to me.  Maybe I'll have to add it to the list.



Unblinking

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Reply #4 on: September 14, 2009, 06:45:42 PM
I caught most of this one on cable a few years back, but some TSTL actions by the characters made me lose interest.  I don't want to give it away for anyone who hasn't seen the movie, but when characters behave with such little intelligence I can't help just thinking it's natural selection at work.



Sgarre1

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Reply #5 on: September 14, 2009, 08:05:38 PM
Ruined your suspension of disbelief, then?  Or just not that much into suspension of disbelief?

I'm not being glib, I'm actually interested.  When the remake (never saw it) of HALLOWEEN came out a few years I became absolutely fascinated by the reasons given online for the need for a remake - primarily that the original was "boring" (it took me a while to realize that for a certain sector of the online audience roughly 15 years younger than me, "boring" is equatable with "suspensful" - and my transformation into a crotchy old man took one more step down the ladder).  So I'm quite interested in why people dislike HALLOWEEN when they say they do.  This isn't to imply that Carpenter's movie is some kind of absolute masterpiece (almost no movie is), nor that there aren't adequate reasons to dislike it, but it is such a supremely well-designed vehicle ('nother movie that really should be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated, if for nothing else than the depth/breadth of subtle composition), with a story so stripped back of detail as to be akin to a small-town fable, that I always assume people that don't like it just don't like those type of movies (horror films, or, then, the slasher sub-genre).

I mean, I don't remember Laurie or her friends doing anything particularly stupid, but then I expect a certain level of naive nonchalantness from the main characters in a slasher film.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2009, 08:27:59 PM by Sgarre1 »



Unblinking

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Reply #6 on: September 14, 2009, 08:41:07 PM
Ruined your suspension of disbelief, then?  Or just not that much into suspension of disbelief?

Neither, actually.  My favorite movies tend to be SF and fantasy, so I'm definitely used to disbelief-suspension.  And I didn't necessarily think their stupidity was impossible, but it did make them hard to relate to.  Up until that point I was rooting for their survival, but after that I had trouble caring, because they brought it on themselves.

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I mean, I don't remember Laurie or her friends doing anything particularly stupid, but then I expect a certain level of naive nonchalantness from the main characters in a slasher film.

I have one particular action in mind here, but it's a spoiler and so I'm hesitant to post it here, since the purpose of the Autopsies seems to be to encourage people to check out the movies for themselves.



Sgarre1

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Reply #7 on: September 14, 2009, 09:35:08 PM
Aww c'mon!  People can read around a spoiler warning, I assume!



Russell Nash

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Reply #8 on: September 15, 2009, 05:58:17 AM
Unblinking,

Put up a spoiler warning and then change the color, so they have to highlight it to see it.



Unblinking

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Reply #9 on: September 15, 2009, 06:34:36 PM
Alright, I'll try this out.

SPOILER WARNING!!!

Keep in mind that I saw the movie once and it was years ago, so I may be off on details, but the point where they really lost me was when they leave the killer for dead the SECOND time.  The first time is understandable, but after a guy gets up after an apparently fatal injury, why in the heck would you leave him unattended AGAIN!  At the very least I would set one person to watch him so you'd at least have warning before he snuck up on you.  At that point, though it was near the end, I gave up on the characters and was actually a little disappointed that he didn't come back and axe them.   

« Last Edit: September 15, 2009, 06:52:18 PM by Unblinking »



deflective

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Reply #10 on: September 15, 2009, 06:45:51 PM
the best way is to use glow:
Code: [Select]
[glow=black,100,300]text text text[/glow]
it blacks it out until highlighted. eg: text text text



Unblinking

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Reply #11 on: September 15, 2009, 06:51:34 PM
the best way is to use glow:
Code: [Select]
[glow=black,100,300]text text text[/glow]
it blacks it out until highlighted. eg: text text text

Thanks!  I modified it to use that instead of yellow



Russell Nash

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Reply #12 on: September 15, 2009, 08:21:32 PM
That's really the same sort of reason for why I hated Heroes.

I just ended up screaming, "He's unconcious on the ground in front of you.  Just Fucking kill him!!"



Sgarre1

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Reply #13 on: September 15, 2009, 08:48:48 PM
Nice effect!  :D

Well, to be fair, Loomis HADN'T seen him get back up from near-death injuries at that point (I assume you're referring to Laurie's sticking him in the neck with the knitting needle and then sticking him in the eye with the coathanger, and then stabbing him, none of which, technically, are absolutely fatal - although she's justified in expecting the last one to have kept him down).  Loomis catches him strangling Laurie and pumps six shots into him (not sure what kind of gun), sending him through a glass door and out a second stoy window to land flat on his back.

You've got an injured girl there and, despite all your fustering about "evil" and whatnot, you do go and check on him, seeing him unmoving, and then go check on the girl (you feel personally responsible for deaths you're aware of and pretty damn sure there are more you're unaware of at this point).  Most importantly, YOU don't know you're in a horror movie, let alone a slasher film, let alone one of the HALLOWEEN franchise installments.  Being the first film, you have no previous experience of Michael Myers' unnatural abilities.  You think he's evil, but you're sure a gun can handle it (You're so sure that in HALLOWEEN 2 you blow his eyes out with it!) and there's no reason for you to think otherwise, you're not the audience.


So, yeah, TSTL seems a bit harsh.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2009, 08:52:24 PM by Sgarre1 »



Unblinking

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Reply #14 on: September 15, 2009, 09:04:09 PM
So, yeah, TSTL seems a bit harsh.

Harsh, perhaps.  Perhaps I didn't think through all those details at the time.  But justified or not, that was my reaction when I saw it.



Russell Nash

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Reply #15 on: September 15, 2009, 09:11:06 PM
Is this whole conversation going to be like this?  It's a little like reading a CIA report.



Sgarre1

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Reply #16 on: September 15, 2009, 09:24:06 PM
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that was my reaction when I saw it.

Ah.  Got it.

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Is this whole conversation going to be like this?  It's a little likereading a CIA report

[REDACTED] [REDACTED] no bid contract [REDACTED REDACTED] private individual allowed [REDACTED] [REDACTED] torture [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] $500,000 for the privilege [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] quote "I'm going to Disneyworld! [REDACTED] public too stupid to care [REDACTED] [REDACTED].



Russell Nash

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Reply #17 on: September 15, 2009, 09:32:45 PM
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that was my reaction when I saw it.

Ah.  Got it.

Quote
Is this whole conversation going to be like this?  It's a little likereading a CIA report

[REDACTED] [REDACTED] no bid contract [REDACTED REDACTED] private individual allowed [REDACTED] [REDACTED] torture [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] $500,000 for the privilege [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] [REDACTED] quote "I'm going to Disneyworld! [REDACTED] public too stupid to care [REDACTED] [REDACTED].

That answers that.



Ben Phillips

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Reply #18 on: September 16, 2009, 06:13:16 AM
I actually don't think spoiling the end of Halloween really spoils it at all for most modern viewers, for precisely the reasons Unblinking describes.  Your appreciation of the original Halloween is going to be bolstered if you bear in mind that this was the low budget indy film which *launched* the slasher movies per se, AFAIK -- you can point to stuff like Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre beforehand, but not really the single stealthy psycho with a signature weapon, who will not die, constantly popping out of nowhere to slaughter teenagers.  Even though this is one of the very first of its kind, and certainly the direct inspiration for the glut to very soon follow (particularly the shamefully imitative Friday the 13th that Universal used to capitalize on Carpenter's idea without paying him, as far as I can tell), Carpenter is already playing the kind of self-aware mind games with you that would become such a staple later on:  filling the screen with pools of shadow and shooting the scenes such that it seems the psycho could come from here or there, maybe now.. no, now...  okay, definitely now..  no, it's just an angry cat...  etc.

And unlike the nutty stuff that would follow it in this and other horror movie franchises, there is no concrete indication before the final scene that the killer is supernatural in any way, other than the paranoia of Dr. Samuel Loomis -- which really does come off as overreaction, and the cops all tell him so.  Myers is just a serial killer (a similar genre also not fully embraced by Hollywood at the time, AFAIK), one whose intent and whereabouts are unknown by the authorities (Loomis's protestations notwithstanding) until the single night of killing actually starts.  Remember also that Robert Ressler hadn't instituted serial killer profiling at the FBI yet, so certainly such concepts hadn't filtered heavily into the public imagination by way of every crime writer on earth -- so when you watch the cops and say, "Oh, the cops are dumb," and even, "Oh the protagonists are too stupid to live," you do so with horror-movie expectations that writers these days anticipate and cater to a little more.  (Even though for my money it actually robs a lot of stories of realism when no one ever panics, they all immediately assume belief in supernatural concepts even without confirmation of the existence of a supernatural threat -- modern rationality instantly dispelled -- and so on.)

When that final scene of Halloween arrives -- at that point in the movie, as well as film history -- it is the crowning point of the suggestion, "Maybe he really *is* The Boogeyman," this less than a decade after the murders planned by Manson, a figure credited by his followers (and doubtlessly a good portion of the more suggestible public) as having occult powers.  Admittedly, it's hard for a lot of us young'uns to imagine what it was like to see this movie before that trope got run into the ground and every horror antagonist had 100 + 2d100 hit points, but hopefully you can at least appreciate the accomplishment in context, the fact that this early rendition of a tale soon to be repeated ad nauseum is still one of the most tasteful in this respect.



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Reply #19 on: September 16, 2009, 04:53:02 PM
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I actually don't think spoiling the end of Halloween really spoils it at all for most modern viewers, for precisely the reasons Unblinking describes.

Fair enough.  I figured it was better to put a spoiler warning just in case anyone hadn't seen it.

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And unlike the nutty stuff that would follow it in this and other horror movie franchises, there is no concrete indication before the final scene that the killer is supernatural in any way, other than the paranoia of Dr. Samuel Loomis

But Jamie Lee Curtis's character had assumed he was dead at least once and left the body unattended only to be surprised again.  This may not have indicated anything supernatural, but I would've thought she would be thinking about that the next time he goes down.

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Remember also that Robert Ressler hadn't instituted serial killer profiling at the FBI yet
Good point.  I grew up with serial killer profiling movies, so that's likely something I took for granted when I watched this one.

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Admittedly, it's hard for a lot of us young'uns to imagine what it was like to see this movie before that trope got run into the ground

That hits the nail on the head right there.  I didn't see this movie until 2001 or so, and had seen at least a half dozen of its predecessors and cheap imitators so I was already rather jaded with it.  If I had seen it when it first came out I can understand how my reaction would be very very different.  Even seeing it when I did, I still enjoyed most of the movie, which is a credit to its lasting power.



Sgarre1

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Reply #20 on: September 16, 2009, 05:02:14 PM
What's interesting is that HALLOWEEN is the point in movie history (at least in the popular sense) where a lot of little separate streams run together into one efficient vehicle, while specifically ditching certain elements to create an effective sub-genre (although not very, as I'll argue at the end of this typically long and overblown posting).

Part of the slasher model is derived from the Agatha Christie TEN LITTLE INDIANS murder mystery model wherein a large number of characters are killed in one place over a short period of time - of course, this was originally a tour de force for a detective to solve the crime while the crimes were ongoing, but as films like PSYCHO began to up the ante, the focus became less and less on the solving of the murder and more and more on the staging or the violence of the murder itself.  This strand runs parallel with Hershel Gordon Lewis' gore films of the 60's wherein the focus is shamelessly on the death, and the PSYCHO offspring (HUSH, HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, Hammer Films endless series of PSYCHO rip-offs and running into BLOOD AND BLACK LACE - Sei donne per l'assassino- and Italian giallo films etc.) wherein the motivation is provided by a mentally unhinged character, thus needing less "mystery story" justification/logical rationale for the killings (one interesting way this plays out is Mario Bava's 1971 film Ecologia del delitto - TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE/BAY OF BLOOD - where the pursuit of an inheritance is the reason for a cascading sequence of murder set-pieces wherein each killer is killed by the next killer, dead ending in an accidental killing by children.)  So you have all these approaches to the material vieing with each other - is it a mystery, a series of violence spectacles, a police procedural, an out and out gore film? - and a whole bunch of movies rise up in a stew.

So along comes HALLOWEEN, refining approaches from a bunch of film currents preceding it (and especially refining the killer POV/slasher-on-a-holiday themes of BLACK CHRISTMAS - an especially worthwhile and unnerving movie).  The killings occur in a specific locale (although not isolated, thus providing the small town charm and suburban frission - "if only someone would hear her screams!"), over a specific span of time (one or two evenings), on a holiday (thus justifying plot details like characters needing to be somewhere or others not being around - Carpenter's original screenplay was just called THE BABYSITTER MURDERS and was not set on the iconic holiday), in which the killings are being caused by a mentally unbalanced character (no real motivation needed beyond that, so the mystery aspect is jettisoned and no logical pattern expected) being investigated by police (something to cut away to and always good for the last minute save) who is very violent (it's worth noting that HALLOWEEN is not a very bloody movie.  Much like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACARE - despite its reputation - what it does is effectively tweak everything else around the act, including building suspense, so that the violent act seems more violent than is actually shown.  Michael's heavy breathing is just one great little detail).

And then Carpenter strips away all the detritus, gets the machine to run at top form, and plugs into a bunch of smaller points (I've always thought that Michael Meyers is very much Boo Radley from Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, just actually deserving of his scary reputation, and Sam Loomis is such a great noir-detective type, in his way, that it's easy to forget that he's a doctor and not a private eye/cop) and one bigger one - he makes Michael nigh-unstoppable.  And the movie, while not being a logical mystery or detective film, plays off our unnerved feeling about what we're watching, whether it makes logical sense or is supernatural (and here's where being an audience member at that exact moment in movie history time probably helped explain why it was so effective)

I mean, he's a crazy guy, right?  I mean, we saw him escape a mental asylum!  He's big and strong, granted, but he drives a car and has to steal his tools.  And yet - it's Halloween night, and Loomis keeps talking about how Michael is pure evil, and he does seem to be able to always be there and then not be there, and dammit, he just won't stay down! Get him with the knitting needle!  Damn!  Get him in the eye with the hangar!  Damn!  Yeah, stick the knife in him, yeah, that'll do it!  Damn!  And then, just to undermine it, he gets unmasked for half a second, and look, he IS just a guy, an average looking guy at that, not hideously scarred or a monster or anything, and then the mask goes back on and BAM! BAM! BAM! and, okay, now, of course, I mean, he's solid, he goes out the window, okay, now....

But then the girl is crying and Loomis goes back and, of course, he's not there.  I've always loved how Laurie's crying intensifies as the audience sees what Loomis sees - there's no way she can know that Michael isn't there, but instinctually she KNOWS it, knows that evil is real, but she still has to ask Loomis, representative of logic and sanity and safety.  And what's great is how Pleasance responds - not just the famous line itself but the delivery - as if, despite all his blithering about evil, all his panic throughout the film, he didn't actually believe it until it came to this, and still kind of can't believe it.  And the masked breathing recedes into the Halloween night.

It's such a strong ending that it actually, immediately makes any sequel redundant and impotent.  How can any further movie string us along like that again?  We may not know specifically what Michael is, but we know his parameters, and any further explication is just adding detail that diminishes.  

And the same is kind of true of the slasher films that followed in general.  FRIDAY THE 13TH upped the violence ante, exploited the urban legend aspect and made a pathetic attempt at using the whodunit angle (pathetic because Mrs. Voorhees is never IN the damned movie until the end anyway), before having to resort to HALLOWEEN's unstoppability and, eventually, literalizing Jason as the undead.  NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET savvily kept the suburban setting and just went ahead and applied the supernatural/ghost concept to the slasher model immediately, creating a very smart concept that could be exploited in interesting ways.  THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE-type films are a related, but different, beast (as Kim Newman effectively argues in NIGHTMARE MOVIES, the best book on modern horror films I know).  But most slasher films just copied the formula (they're amazingly cheap to make, of course, which was part of the popularity) without understanding it - bunch of people die (as the gore film raises its reductive head again), check.  Killer is rarely/never detected for no good reason, check.  Set it on a holiday or theme, check.  Killer can take more punishment than a human should, check.  And most floundered around from that point on - a lot went with the whodunit aspect when the killer wasn't unstoppable (it does automatically set up a big ending), some tried to exploit the urban legend/real world aspect of FT13TH (THE BURNING, HUMONGOUS) or embraced the follore magic aspect (MADMAN).

But none of them ever fused things as perfectly as HALLOWEEN did.  It's a film that takes place *during* the slide from rational worldview to the irrational.  And I could see why some people wouldn't like that or want that, or even *get* it without knowing the background, especially since so many films have tried to do the same thing, cheapening the tricks in the process.

But Halloween itself is fast approaching.  Watch the film again, late one night, close to the holiday and then take a walk around your neighborhood in the dark and see if it doesn't work its magic, even a little.

(Now who wants to talk about how SAW is just a cynical reduction of the brilliant ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES/THEATER OF BLOOD model?   ;D)
« Last Edit: September 16, 2009, 05:11:32 PM by Sgarre1 »