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Murray Leeder
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 110
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The 1970s represented an unusually productive and innovative period for the horror film, and John Carpenter'sHalloween(1978) is the film that capped that golden age -- and some say ruined it, by ushering in the era of the slasher film. Considered a paradigm of low-budget ingenuity, its story of a seemingly unremarkable middle-American town becoming the site of violence on October 31 struck a chord within audiences. The film became a surprise hit that gave rise to a lucrative franchise, and it remains a perennial favourite. Much of its success stems from the simple but strong constructions of its three central characters: brainy, introverted teenager Laurie Strode, a late bloomer compared to her more outgoing friends, Dr. Loomis, the driven, obsessive psychiatrist, and Michael Myers, the inexplicable, ghostlike masked killer.

    Film scholar Murray Leeder offers a bold and provocative study of Carpenter's film, which hopes to expose qualities that are sometime effaced by its sequels and remakes. It exploresHalloweenas an unexpected ghost film, and examines such subjects as its construction of the teenager, and the relationship ofHalloweenthe film to Halloween the holiday, and Michael Myers's brand of "pure evil." It is a fascinating read for scholars and fans alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-906733-86-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
    (pp. 7-24)

    Halloween’s title sequence features a glowing jack o’ lantern framed by blackness, starting in the left of the screen but getting closer and closer until its left eye fills the frame. Following this,Halloween’s action starts on October 31, 1963 in Haddonfield, Illinois, in a long, unbroken subjective camera shot. From the perspective of an unknown character, we watch unseen as a teenage girl makes out with her boyfriend on the family couch. As they withdraw to an upstairs bedroom, the figure enters the house, withdraws a butcher knife, dons a mask lying on the floor (a masking effect over...

  4. CHAPTER 1: Halloween: How It Came into the World
    (pp. 25-36)

    Despite the fact that the canon of American independent cinema has tended to exclude or marginalise horror films (Sexton 2012), they have been an attractive prospect to independent filmmakers since at least the 1930s. It is no secret why: horror films are generally relatively inexpensive to make and can attract an audience in the absence of a big-name star. Furthermore, a horror film can serve as a calling card, a basic test of competence and technical skill, for a young independent film-maker aiming to capture the attention of the studios. In the decade beforeHalloween, this was proved again and...

  5. CHAPTER 2: The Haunting of Haddonfield
    (pp. 37-56)

    Michael Myers is not a ghost. That much ought to be obvious. As Phil Hardy writes, ‘Despite all the talk of the bogeyman … there is nothing of the supernatural in the film. [The killer] is a creature of flesh and blood who bleeds when stabbed, who can be stopped by bullets, yet who obstinately refuses to die’ (1986: 329). Be that as it may, there is nonetheless much of the classic ghost story aboutHalloween, and much of the ghost in Michael. On the Laserdisc audio commentary forHalloween, Debra Hill even states, ‘This is a haunted house movie....

  6. CHAPTER 3: ‘Black Cats and Goblins on Halloween Night’: Halloween and Halloween
    (pp. 57-70)

    For a film calledHalloween, there is remarkably little trick or treating depicted in it. The few exceptions take on a special interest as a consequence. Early in the film, Laurie spies a group of children trick or treating in her neighbourhood, dressed in archetypical costumes: an angel, a cowboy, a witch, etc. Laurie stops and smiles at them and utters one of the film’s most curious lines: ‘Well, kiddo, I thought you outgrew superstition.’ On the commentary track, Carpenter himself admits to not really understanding the line, authored by Debra Hill, but adds, ‘It sure does work’. It works...

  7. CHAPTER 4: Parenthood, Adolescence and Childhood Under the Knife
    (pp. 71-82)

    The fact that theHalloweenwas made by relatively young film-makers may explain how overall youth friendly it is. Speaking of the ill-fated Annie and Lynda, Danny Peary opines: ‘Compare the teenage girls in Brian De Palma’sCarrie(1976) with those inHalloweenand you’ll discover that De Palma still bears hostility toward teenage girls from his adolescence while Carpenter likes them despite their idiosyncrasies’ (1991: 125). While I am not sure if is fair to attribute this motivation to De Palma, the point stands thatHalloween’s girls are drawn with a good deal more detail and affection. This is...

  8. CHAPTER 5: A Very Sinister Doctor and a Cosmic Monster
    (pp. 83-94)

    As we have noted, Dr. Sam Loomis shares the name of John Gavin’s character in Psycho. If a structural likeness between the two Loomises exists, it is that they are nominal heroes who are nonetheless unable to accomplish much of anything until each film’s end, when they arrive to stop the villain from killing a young woman. It is tempting, however, to situate Loomis in relation to another character inPsycho: Dr. Fred Richmond (Simon Oakland), the psychiatrist who steps into the narrative at the tail end to deliver a lengthy explanation of the manias of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)....

  9. Conclusion: ‘Purely and Simply Evil’
    (pp. 95-100)

    In theHalloweensequels, the word ‘evil’ practically becomes Loomis’s catchphrase, resulting in such gems of bad dialogue as ‘We’re not talking about any ordinary prisoner! We’re talking about evil on two legs!’ (fromHalloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers[1988]). It is used three times in the first film, all by Loomis: ‘The evil is gone,’ Loomis says after Michael escapes from Smith’s Grove, and later he tells Brackett about realising that ‘What was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil’, as well mentioning Michael’s incapacity for telling the difference between good and evil. Throughout...

  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 101-110)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 111-112)