Mr. Arkadin wrote:Let me be clear: I personally don't care for either movie. There are a lot of reasons, I could give for this, but I guess the number one aspect is lack of character depth and a killer who takes on indestructible abilities, which further isolates any humanity from the story.
For me, Halloween, in terms of launching the first "golden age" of slasher films, is really not a member of the genre. From Friday the 13th on, most slasher films consisted of elaborate deaths for their, mainly teenaged, victims. Halloween doesn't rely on this at all (it's been awhile, but I think there are two stabbings and two strangulations), and instead takes its time to build characters. I think Curtis, in her debut film I think, is perfect as the teenaged babysitter. While painted with broad strokes, Curtis still brings an intimacy that is recognizable. I mean, I had baby-sitters like her. PJ Soles, while great, is one of those "in her late 20s" high school students that make up many films featuring "teenagers." (Of course PJ remains "in her later 20s" in Rock and Roll High School, too, and is still great).
I think Carpenter achieves an enormous amount of dread throughout Halloween, and doesn't simply rely on surprise attacks, which is what Friday the 13th and later slasher films almost entirely depend on for their scares. (Just thinking about this, Alfred Hitchcock, who was the proponent of suspense, "showing the bomb under the table," has, arguably, as his most famous sequence, a surprise attack in the shower scene in Psycho). While I'm not sure I believe that Halloween implies that premarital relations will get you killed, if so, it applies equally, and more powerfully in Psycho. In fact, in Halloween both Soles and the other girl (can't remember who she is) are strangled, whereas Leigh is intimately and rather phallically stabbed.
Throughout the film, Myers is referred to as the "boogie man," and that is exactly what he is; he's our worst nightmare. As such, he must be indestructible. Unlike Jason and the Myers in the sequels, this Myers is a direct reflection of the times, aka, the late 70s. No matter how one tries to fight off the boogie man, he's always just around the corner (or under the bed) pretty much sums up the era. (At least for me. Of course, I was the typical "angry" teenager, so the late 70s may actually have been peaches and cream).
I think one can actually follow the general attitude of the times by the slasher film (superficially, of course). The late 70s films were extremely pessimistic, but by the mid 80s the pessimism morphed into a wry humor (with lots of hair), and soon the genre became a parody of itself, tolling its death knell. The genre was resurrected, and actually accepted by the masses--including the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science-- by the slasher film, The Silence of the Lambs--Itself, reflective of the early 90s. The self-aware 90s also brought the Scream series and the turbulent and endless waring 2000s has seen the remakes of the originals, but are far more violent, bleak and violent again. Or so I'm told. I have no desire to see any of them.
But that's kind of the point of the slasher film: they aren't meant for me (anymore). The first batch came around at the perfect age for my friends and me. Almost every week we would go see one of these nonsense films, along with a sold-out theater filled with other wacky teens, and have a blast. Nobody took them seriously. The scares came fast, but never lasted (because they were all surprise attacks) and the film's success was measured by how gruesome the murders were. (Savini in the credits of a slasher film was almost like seeing Scorsese's name on serious film). Everyone knew that the films were "scripted" around the various "set-pieces" (murders) and that the plot was built around them. For the most part, who the killer was, was incidental. (Hence the insane amount of Jason, Freddie and Michael sequels; the killer is part of the title). It helped if the denouement made some sense, but, unlike giallo, the slasher film generally offers no clues, so following the mystery is impossible. But, again, that's the point; the mystery doesn't matter. While comparing giallo with slasher films is understandable, the two are really quite different and are after different audiences. For me, there's no question that slasher films are a subset of the horror genre, where as giallo, having horror elements, is much more concerned with mystery. That's how you can separate Bava and Argento films into the two camps: giallo and horror. (Although the lines are often blurred).
By the way, this lack of mystery with the focus on the various murders is how I can still see Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black as something of a precursor to the slasher film. By revealing why Moreau is murdering the men, taking away any mystery, the film simply becomes a "how will she kill him " exercise, which is almost the definition of slasher. It's much better directed, acted and executed, and while at first one identifies with Moreau, the sympathy changes to her victims when the mystery is revealed to be an accident. With no "why" anymore, it's all "how," with Moreau becoming a deadly psycho with lots of elaborate deaths to concoct: aka, slasher film. (There is a lot more to it, of course, but the basic plotting would easily make a good slasher film. It's something like how The Virgin Spring leads to The Last House on the Left).
I can't imagine watching a slasher film now, even those from the first wave (which are violent, but really in a cartoony sort of way). And I really can't imagine anyone, teenagers included, watching them on home video; at least by themselves. Slasher films don't aspire to be anything but scary, primarily using, what Stephen King lovingly refers to as "the gross out," and if they've succeeded in making you jump, they've achieved their only goal. Teenagers want and like to be scared, the grosser the better. It just is. There's no question that for modern teenaged audiences, the original Friday the 13th et al, are at best quaint but most certainly antiquated. They almost have to be; it's the fate of most exploitation films (in the best sense): short shelf life.
But for me, Halloween rises above being a mere exploitation film, and is one that I still revisit on occasion.
P.S. I like a lot of early Carpenter films. It scared me to death when little Prudence from Nanny and the Professor got shot in the chest in Assault on Precinct 13; Escape from New York is great and I also really like the remake of The Thing. But I think Starman might be my favorite.