Friday, 1 November 2013

10 Great Moments in John Carpenter's Halloween

1. The Crane Shot

The opening prologue of Halloween is justifiably celebrated for the use of the Steadicam, or more specifically, the panaglide, a camera which seemingly floats in and around the Myers' house like a silent assassin. My favourite moment in this whole sequence comes right at the climax when a confused 6 year old Micheal Myers is unmasked and Carpenter in a tremendously stylish bit of direction pulls his camera back to frame Myers and his parents in a striking high angle crane shot.

2. "Every town has something like this happen..."

A campfire ghost story as told by Haddonfield's cemetery caretaker... I remember over in Russellville, old Charlie Bowles, about fifteen years ago... One night, he finished dinner, and he excused himself from the table. He went out to the garage, and got himself a hacksaw. Then he went back into the house, kissed his wife and his two children goodbye, and then he proceeded to... Carpenter's inspiration for Halloween was Hitchcock and Psycho, and like Hitch's signiture film, Halloween is often perceived to be more explicitly violent than is actually is. Carpenter in fact found the subsequent slasher movement's taste for gory throat-slittings and other assorted splatter rather distasteful and to underscore Carpenter's sense of good taste, has an ever so slightly irritated Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) interrupt the caretaker's tale before it reaches it's bloody crescendo...

3. Night Falls on Haddonfield

In a film full of expertly edited shocks, Halloween has a wonderful jolting edit some 39 minutes into the film when Carpenter jump cuts from the failing light of a late dusky evening to full on inky black night. Rather than a more subtle transition from evening to night, Carpenter's choice of cut is momentarily disorientating - moving from a master shot of a Haddonfield avenue to a shot further along the avenue from inside The Shape's prowling car. For me this is Halloween's very own bone-to-satellite moment and with all the character-building out of the way, the film at this point gets down to business.

4. The Thing (From Another World)

Aside from Halloween's debt to Psycho (and Suspiria as Carpenter acknowledged on the Criterion laserdisc commentary), two other films feature prominently during the course of Halloween - the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet and Howard Hawks' 1951 production of The Thing From Another World. In retrospect, the inclusion of The Thing has become one of Halloween's most famous in-jokes, although it seems unlikely that Carpenter was planning to remake the film as early as the Spring of 1978. It's interesting to note that the direction of The Thing From Another World was credited to Howard Hawk's editor Christian Nyby, but Hawks' wrote, designed, produced and most likely directed the film over Nyby's shoulder. For Halloween's first two sequels, Carpenter delegated directing duties to Rick Rosenthal and Tommy Lee Wallace yet Carpenter was still heavily involved in the production and filming of both films.

5. Nancy Loomis gets sexy

Simply put my favourite character in Halloween is Annie Brackett played by Nancy Loomis, one of the film's doomed babysitters. Unlike the virginal Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) or the bubble-headed Lynda (PJ Soles), the character of Annie is smart, hip, funny and sexy. Actress Nancy Loomis (real name Nancy Louise Kyes) appeared in Carpenter's previous film Assault on Precinct 13 and most likely Carpenter wrote the part of Annie with Loomis in mind, the actress grabbing some of the funniest dialogue in the film ("Laurie, Mr. Riddle is eighty-seven!") as well as a great moment when her boyfriend Paul teases her over the phone about her being a vamp ("I think that's all you think about!") and she replies, "That's not true, I think of lots of things. Now why don't we not stand here talking about them and get down to doing them"

6. Haunted Planet

Only two brief clips of Forbidden Planet are seen on the Doyle TV set but the most significant borrowing from the film is Louis and Bebe Barron's pioneering electronic soundtrack. In the sequence where Tommy hides behind the curtain to scare Lindsey, he spies out the window a silhouette of The Shape (or what he believes to be the Bogeyman) carrying the corpse of Annie. In a moment of inspired genius, the strange and eerie atonal music from Forbidden Planet, quietly heard playing on the TV set in the background now swells up on the soundtrack to make an powerful and unnerving marriage of image and sound.

7. "Death has come to your little town"

When John Carpenter first met with Donald Pleasance about appearing in Halloween, Carpenter remembered the actor's reluctance to play the part of Sam Loomis. Fortunately, Pleasance's daughter convinced her father to make the film resulting in a resurgence of the English actor's career. Pleasance is quite brilliant in the film as the slightly sinister psychiatrist but Carpenter deserves much credit for giving the actor some wonderful dialogue. In one of the film's most famous scenes, Loomis describes his nemesis to a sceptical town sheriff: "I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall - looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff..."

8. Shut the door !

I'm usually not an obsessive viewer who can spot film goofs and gaffes but this moment from Halloween always has been shouting back at the screen. In the scene where Bob and Lynda arrive at the Wallace house, Bob grabs Lynda from his van, sweeps her up in his arms, and in his excitement to get it on with his girlfriend, leaves his van door open ! In a later shot, the van door is closed - a continuity gaff or perhaps a conscientious neighbour. Unfortunately for Bob, his van door is the least of his problems...

9. The Art of Death

In one of Halloween's most chilling moments, The Shape pins Bob to the door of a cupboard with a kitchen knife (feet dangling off the floor no less) and gazes at him for some minutes, and in a strange canine way, tilts his head from side to side, perhaps admiring this frozen tableau of death or perhaps registering some sexual confusion that Bob is clearly not a girl - the objects of his sexualized violence.

10. The Shape Emerges

Finally no word about Halloween is complete without mentioning one of the film's chief architects Dean Cundey whose lighting and camerawork give the film a truly frightening dimension. One of Cundey's most inspired moments is a shot from the final act of the film which perfectly illustrates Michael Myer's enigmatic credit name The Shape: as Laurie quietly sobs in a corner of the landing, Myer's emerges out of a pool of darkness, at first as a strange ghostly disembodied face, the white mask eerily lit by Cundey's subtle blue gel lighting. A cinematic icon is born.

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