Halloween

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: John Carpenter

REVIEWED: 11-02-98

Who could have predicted that the low-budget pic Halloween would have a profound influence on an industry, not to mention on the concept of Halloween itself? Certainly not director John Carpenter, nor its initial audiences, who left theatres with a paranoia that a lunatic was probably lurking in their homes. The story's simple: Michael Myers, a child killer, is institutionalized then escapes 15 years later to run amok in his hometown. Carpenter, however, takes this premise and delivers the goods with wit and style. Jamie Lee Curtis is Laurie, a nerdy teen who's stuck babysitting on Halloween while her buddies party. Donald Pleasence is Dr. Loomis, the psychologist who knows that no amount of St. John's Wort can ever make Myers a happy camper. As Pleasence wanders around, looking for Myers, Curtis has her hands full with two imaginative youths who ramble on about the "bogeyman." Before she knows it, the "bogeyman" (Myers) is in the neighborhood and after her. What follows is a succession of narrow escapes and near disasters for Curtis who can't shake the knife-wielding killer. Here, Myers is effective not because of his savagery, but because he so easily and stealthily invades the place everyone should feel safest in, their home. Visually, there's nothing distinctive about him, which adds to his mystery. His white, expressionless mask and lack of motive gives him an eerie "everyman" quality. Rounding out the package is the setting of a dark Midwest middle-class neighborhood. As Curtis flees though the streets, screaming her head off, it's evident that in the suburbs no one can (or wants to) hear you scream. Not entirely without some laughable or dated scenes, Halloween remains an original that continues to inspire a genre and probe middle America's fears about what's really lurking in the laundry room after midnight.

A bad sequel to a good movie, Halloween II begins moments after the killing spree. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is rushed to the hospital, but the nutty Myers is hot on her trail. Donald Pleasence reprises his role as Loomis, but he and Curtis are wasted here. The main concentration is on gross-out effects and lame chase scenes. During the course of the film, it's learned that Michael and Laurie are related, explaining his obsession with her. This, however, is an inane angle that weakens the first film yet serves as fuel for future sequels.

The strength of Halloween III lies in the fact that the studio actually had the audacity to bill it as an actual sequel. There's no slasher, no Curtis, nothing remotely connected with the other films. There's even a scene where the original Halloween is shown on TV, proving that this is an altogether different universe. Nonetheless, this sci-fi-based story about a man bent on destroying kids is fun stuff and even better than subsequent chapters in the series. Replacing Myers is Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), owner of Silver Shamrock, a company that produces bestselling Halloween masks. It's no wonder these masks are selling well as their TV ads are played incessantly with a maddeningly catchy jingle. The plot unfolds when it's learned that anyone wearing these masks on Halloween and watching a special broadcast will have a deadly trick played on them. Backing him up is an army of robots and his own personal knowledge of the occult. The result is quite entertaining, despite the fact that audiences were tricked into expecting a slasher and instead got robots. Not to be overlooked this time of year, III is an oddity that surpasses expectations with its unpredictable quirk.

Myers returns in Halloween IV, the first of three horrid non-Curtis films. He's been comatose for 10 years, but guess what? He wakes up on Halloween! Why? To return home and kill more people (especially little niece Jamie, daughter of Curtis' character, Laurie)! As Frankenstein's creature was reduced to a foolish hulk in its later films, so is Myers in this picture. The mysterious stalker has become another Jason, which is disappointing. Pleasence returns as Loomis, ranting and raving as he does best, but the whole effort is trite and unoriginal.

Michael's back in Halloween V and he still wants to kill his niece. This time it should be easier considering the two share a telepathic link, but the lethargic maniac can't seem to catch the little girl. There's momentary suspense, but nothing special. The end is ridiculous, as a man in black comes to the aid of an imprisoned Myers. This sets up the next sequel that's even worse.

In Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, his target is great-nephew, baby Stephen (son of Jamie who's aged some 15 years since Revenge). This is a mess that deconstructs everything that made the original intriguing. Michael's psychopathic tendencies are explained (sort of) and mystic druids are introduced to make things even more convoluted. Pleasence is back, which is a plus, but this ends up as the sad swan song for the great character actor. Hokey yet stylish in some areas, this is another variation on the indestructible killer that's instantly forgettable.

--Mike Emery

Other Films by John Carpenter
Escape From L.A.
In the Mouth of Madness
Prince of Darkness
The Thing
They Live
Vampires
Village of the Damned

Film Vault Suggested Links
Don't Open Till Christmas
Invasion of the Blood Farmers
The House on Haunted Hill

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