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Catching Up with Classics: Halloween (1978)

Happy spoOoOooOoky season, friends! And welcome to October’s instalment of my Catching Up with Classics series. We’re nearing the end (of 2020, HALLELUJAH!) and boy, do I have some treats in store for you.

For now though, we’re taking a trip to Haddonfield, Illinois, to pay a visit to a Mr. Michael Myers.

October’s pick: Halloween

It’s 31st October 1963 in Haddonfield. Judith Meyers is babysitting while her parents are out for the night. Little Michael Meyers, then just six years-old and dressed as a clown, enters the kitchen and takes a knife from the counter. Climbing the stairs, he breathes heavily through his mask. Standing in the doorway of his sister’s room, she turns to ask him what he wants, only for him to plunge the knife into her body, over and over again.

Fast-forward fifteen years to Halloween 1978. High school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) agrees to do a favour for her estate agent father: drop a key off at the now-dilapidated Meyers house, empty for years since Judith’s murder, as he’s attempting to sell it. Skipping off towards school, she spots a strange figure emerge from the bushes, dressed in a boiler suit with his face covered by a Halloween mask. Creepy, but she brushes it off as someone playing a prank – it is Halloween, after all.

As the day rolls on, Laurie notices that the man has followed her to school, appearing outside as if he’s waiting for her. Disclosing the information to friends Annie (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles), the pair laugh off Laurie’s suspicions and instead focus their attentions on their plans for the night; agree to babysit the neighbourhood kids, but dump them all on Laurie so they can invite their boyfriends over to the empty houses. Things will be going bump in the night!

What the three girls don’t know is that Michael Myers – the man under the mask – has escaped from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and has made his way back to Haddonfield to pick off another victim. However, what Michael doesn’t know is that he’s being followed by psychiatrist, Dr Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), determined to stop him from killing again.

As Laurie settles in for the evening, both Annie and Lynda come face-to-face (or, rather, face-to-mask) with the mysterious murderer, and it’s only a matter of time before Laurie meets him herself…

Directed by The Master of Horror, John Carpenter, he was asked to write a screenplay about a psychotic killer stalking babysitters. After getting the green light for the project, Carpenter agreed to direct the film if given full creative control, and was paid $10,000 for writing, directing and scoring it.

It was suggested to Carpenter to set the story on Halloween night, titling it Halloween, and from there the story was developed. In Carpenter’s words, ‘Halloween night. It has never been the theme in a film. My idea was to do an old haunted house film.’

With a budget somewhere between $300-325,000, the film struggled to land any big names, aside from Pleasence as Dr Loomis (known for his role in The Great Escape). Halloween was to be Curtis’ big break, launching her Hollywood career…while Nick Castle – playing the masked Myers – earned just $25 a day. And Michael’s mask? A modified Captain Kirk mask purchased for $1.98.

Opening in October 1978, the film made $70 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent films of all time. As the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and as such there have been 11 further instalments of the story, both backstories for Meyers and sequels to the original.

Has it aged well?

Yes and no? I mean, it’s very ‘of the time’ – the big 70s hair, flares and cars – I’ll give it that. And it’s obvious how much influence the story and styling have had on slasher horrors of the last 40 years. But, for me, that was the weak spot; I wasn’t scared because I’ve seen worse. Send me back in a time machine and I’m sure I’d be terrified!

Hindsight is 2020

One thing I didn’t expect when the opening credits started to roll was boobs – boobs everywhere! And forgive me for sounding like a prude, but so much naked skin!

Promiscuous teens are a staple of slashers nowadays and are always the first to get killed off, strong stereotypes of the genre thanks to Halloween and the like. Critiqued by some for its misogyny and violence against women, apparently others felt sorrow and sympathy for Meyers, which – to me – is the most worrying part.

Classy or classless classic?

I can see the massive impact Halloween has had, on all Halloweens since 1978. Sadly, thanks to one too many teen sleepovers where we were permitted to rent what we wanted, I wasn’t scared, just disappointed. Classy thanks to its legacy, but I wasn’t blown away. Sorry, Mr Carpenter.

My Catching Up with Classics series returns in November with 2001: A Space Odyssey

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