Thursday, February 10, 2011

John Carpenter's Halloween

More than three decades later, the opening sequence of John Carpenter’s Halloween—no longer a mark of vanity, that possessive is now a necessity thanks to Rob Zombie—can still serve as a master class in the art of the slasher film. Has there ever been a more elegant encapsulation of everything insidious and compelling about that entire creepy genre? We’ve got the camera playing the role of stalker-turned-murderer, a teenage girl viciously stabbed following sex, and, in an ingenious twist, the slasher revealed to be nothing more than an emotionally stunted little boy. In a few moments, the film lays it all out for us: sex is death, and the voyeur is killer (these people wouldn’t be dying if we weren’t watching, right?). Everything is pretty obvious from that point on. You can even tell Jamie Lee Curtis’ character won’t die, just because she doesn’t have a date for the homecoming dance. If she can’t find a man who’ll kiss her, how will she find one who’ll kill her?

I sometimes wonder where this kinky, crazy sex-fear comes from, and why it appeals to teenagers in particular—is it the inevitable hormonal stew, combined with the sad knowledge that sex is essentially a kind of death, even if only of one’s childhood? Who knows? What matters is that Carpenter displays a surprisingly restrained touch (this might be the least gory slasher flick ever), and a pleasingly black humour that manifests in weird little touches like Donald Pleasence’s rogue psychiatrist interrupting his hunt for the killer in order to frighten children for fun. The film is witty yet nerve-rattling, and almost as relentless and merciless as Michaels Myers himself. Still, I find myself sometimes missing Carpenter’s characteristic social commentary and political rage, even as I admire the film’s carefully crafted, hermetically sealed world, where all of life seems to consist of a single lonesome suburban street. Depending on my mood, this is either Carpenter at his best or most inessential.

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