Tuesday, October 14, 2014

31 Days of Horror: Halloween

A scream queen is born in Jamie Lee Curtis as she battles Michael Myers in Halloween.
In addition to our regular programming, every day this month, Last Cinema Standing will be bringing readers recommendations from the best of the horror genre as we make our way to Halloween. This should not be treated as a “best of” list but more as a primer. You can read the full introduction to Last Cinema Standing’s 31 Days of Horror here, and be sure to check back each day for a new suggestion.

Day 14: Halloween (1978)

I may be jumping the gun a bit on this one, but if we are going to talk about masked killers stalking promiscuous teens, it really starts with Halloween. Victor Miller, a co-writer of Friday the 13th, has said this was the movie he was trying to emulate, and for low-budget, high-value thrills, you cannot beat this John Carpenter masterpiece.

If we measure a film’s impact by its legacy, Halloween has an enviable resumé, and this one movie gave us three indelible icons of horror: Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis, the villain Michael Myers, and John Carpenter’s pulsating score.

The daughter of Psycho star Janet Leigh and Some Like It Hot star Tony Curtis, this was Jamie Lee Curtis’ first feature film. To this day, her performance as Laurie Strode epitomizes the virtuous teen forced to confront some form of enduring evil. She is the ultimate “Final Girl” – that old horror movie trope that says after everyone else is dead, there will be one girl left to take on the killer. Curtis may not have been the first to tackle this kind of role, but her mix of vulnerability and resiliency defined it.

And for every hero, there must be a villain, and to a lot of minds, it is hard to top the relentless, ghostly presence of Michael Myers. His blank face, famously a William Shatner mask painted white, has haunted dreams (and sequels) for more than 35 years. It is an image anyone who has seen the film can conjure up in the blink of an eye. As real as he is, there is nothing human about him, no reason, no compassion, nothing but the glowering face of a pitiless void.

Then, there is the maestro, Carpenter, who put it all together with co-writer and producer Debra Hill. Carpenter had successes before and after Halloween, but nothing he has done matches the pop cultural resonance of this little horror movie. This is the movie people see in their nightmares, and when they do, there is a good chance they hear the music as well.

As much of a collaborative process as making a movie is, one thing Carpenter can take sole credit for is the score. The same way we know the Jaws music means lurking danger, we know the Halloween music means maniac. It is instinctual. It is a look-behind-you melody, instantly recognizable and endlessly evocative.

The power of symbols and icons such as these has a tendency to dilute over time. Overuse and misappropriation have that effect. But all the sequels, remakes, and parodies in the world cannot dim the brilliance of this gold standard of horror.

Tomorrow, we check in with the third and final entry in our series on teen slashers with my favorite horror movie villain.

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