When Charlie Chaplin started to assemble the accoutrements that eventually came to identify his character, The Little Tramp (the bowed cane, the mustache, oversized shoes), he was simply trying to put together an amusing look. He had no way of knowing he was creating an icon that, to this day, remains indelibly etched in the minds of millions, even those who are not movie buffs.
Birth of an icon
Like Chaplin, I’m sure the creative team behind the 1978 classic, Halloween, had no idea they were giving birth to a legacy of their own. While Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is justifiably the granddaddy of the slasher movie, Halloween marked a major step in its evolution. The relentless killer, the string of hapless (teenage) victims, are staples of what is now a saturated sub-genre, and in the thirty-six years since its release, Halloween remains one of the best of its kind.
Director John Carpenter is a true student of film. The long, unbroken take at the beginning of the movie, an homage to the opening shot in Touch of Evil, is a motif repeated throughout the film. Long, steady tracking shots create a sense of unease, as if something is about to jump out at you from an approaching wall or tree.
The score, written by Carpenter, is simple and elegantly creepy.
Appreciation grows with time
Looking back on the film and the flood of copycats that followed in its wake, you come to appreciate the skill that went into the making of Halloween. After the murder at the opening, the real mayhem does not begin until late in the movie. Carpenter uses the first fifty minutes to crank up the tension and nail us to the edge of our seats. He also tosses in a couple of effective flinch moments that never fail to get your blood pumping.
The bloodletting that became the norm in subsequent movies was often nothing more an attempt to shock and to appeal to baser instincts. Using the tricks of his trade (i.e., the language of film), Carpenter succeeds in terrifying without the carnage. The only blood we see in Halloween is a little trickle on the side of Jamie Lee Curtis’ arm.
Horror of misogyny; misogyny in Horror
Of course, once Halloween became the template and later movies began to push the envelope, the critics pounced and the charge of misogyny soon followed. In quite a few of these films, the promiscuous kids get knocked off while the virgin survives the bloodfest.
Whether Halloween deserves to bear the brunt of this criticism is an argument certainly open to debate. The ancestor, however, has little control over its progeny.
It’s happening at the cemetery
This Saturday, October 18, you can catch Halloween at a truly apropos venue: the Sunnyside Cemetery, on Willow Street. Lola’s Outdoor Retro Cinema and Long Beach Cinematheque have teamed up to present this 1978 classic, fully restored and remastered. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.
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