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The Longest Pov-Shot in Horror History

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Halloween is almost impossible to watch with a straight face now — not because it’s bad (quite the opposite), but because of what I call the ‘Casablanca effect’: every line, theme, plot point, musical cue, etc., has been imitated, homaged, ripped-off, remade, quoted, cited, referenced, and satirized so much that the original seems like a cliche.

We begin in Haddonfield, Illinois, 1963, with the longest POV-shot in horror history (Halloween’s descendants have truncated it to momentary hand-held ‘KillerCam’ shots from the bushes) as little Michael Myers goes inside on Halloween night and stabs his sister to death. (For those of you who caught it, this is a wonderful homage to, and twist on, the Psycho shower scene — homage in that we never actually see the knife enter flesh, twist in that, instead of Hitchcock’s eleventy-seven camera setups, it’s a single shot, partially obscured by Michael’s mask through which we’re watching.)

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Fast forward to 1978, as Michael escapes from the mental institution to which the obsessed Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) has been fighting to keep him confined. Michael steels a car and drives back to Haddonfield. Introduce Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), the smart, perceptive, and responsible teenager who unwittingly set a very low standard for the survivor character in later slasher flicks: she’s a virgin. Somehow later imitators overlooked all of her positive qualities which allowed her to survive in the end, and instead created a formula in which survival is directly proportional to one’s sexual experience.

Now, recounting the plot past this point is a bit futile, since the rest of the movie is largely Myers moving around slowly, killing at random, until finally he menaces Laurie, baby-sitting two kids on Halloween night. And I’ll be the first to admit that the story drags, because the main characters are given very little to do through the middle section while Michael is killing the irresponsible teens: Loomis is standing around near Michael’s old house, waiting for him to show up, and Laurie is doing innocuous baby-sitter things while occasionally getting the jitters. In fact, she doesn’t know she’s in danger until the last ten minutes of the film, and doesn’t meet Loomis until the final two minutes.

But the good points far outnumber the bad points. Carpenter skillfully sets up those tricks that have since become the worst cliches (and were well on their way to that status before Halloween): the bad guy who disappears when you look away, the kid who nobody believes, the small-town cop, and most especially, the killer that no one wants to remember, here in the all-American town of Haddonfield where every door creaks ominously.

A note: You have to view this film independent of the rest of the series. Forget what you learn later about Michael’s motives; in this film, he has no motive — aside from the pure evil that fills his banal, silent brain. I suppose that’s been one of the problems with this series: ‘pure eeh-vil’ is not very exciting, nor does it have the endearing qualities that turn the villain into the audience favorite — the witty lines, the sense of fair play, etc. Michael ain’t Freddy, which is why a series of movies revolving around Michael never gripped the American imagination like Freddy did.

Aside from the basic premise of ‘the killer who comes back,’ A Nightmare on Elm Street also imitated the thematically-meaningful schoolroom discussion (in Halloween, it was the discussion on fate; in Nightmare it was Shakespearean quotes relating to bad dreams); the Myers house looks an awful lot like the house on Elm Street, inside and out.

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