At some point in early October, I stopped by Facebook and the top post in my feed was from ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer, wherein he asked what the reader’s biggest cinematic blind spot was. My initial answer has been my go-to for a long time: Gone with the Wind. (I own a copy of the Blu-ray, and I still haven’t seen it. I have no excuses.) But as I thought more, remembering what time of year it was, I realized that I had two other answers: Halloween and Suspiria.

A local colleague of mine had the same reaction as my wife regarding John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 horror film: “How have you never seen Halloween?” (No one in my immediate circle gave me guff for Suspiria.) The film that introduced everyone to Michael Myers is one I thought I knew very well, primarily through cultural osmosis. Having seen Wes Craven’s Scream, I understood the basics of the story, and I’d even seen a couple of brief clips from the film. (As I soon learned, those clips are from literally the last 5 minutes.) And having read the work of critics like Roger Ebert, I knew enough about Carpenter’s many nods to a prototype of the slasher genre, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

I didn’t actively avoid watching either of these films. I’m not a huge horror fan, in part because I don’t enjoy the buckets-of-blood mentality evinced in many pinnacles of the genre. I can admire some horror films, but rarely consider them among my favorites. But something about the concept of slasher films is too gruesome to me to really enjoy. Even the 1960 one-two punch of Psycho and Michael Powell’s unnerving British thriller Peeping Tom are films I admire and appreciate, without being films I want to revisit.

[This article contains major spoilers for Halloween, Halloween (2018), Suspiria, and Suspiria (2018).]

Heading to Haddonfield

But with the release of David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018), I realized I could only go into that film by watching at least the original. (I thank Green and fellow writer Danny McBride for ignoring the many sequels, which I have also not seen.) Now that I’ve seen the first Halloween — and if you, like me until recently, have not seen the 1978 original, please know that I’m about to spoil a 40-year old film, so strap in — my first takeaway is that I was being too skittish for too long when it comes to gore. Because there’s barely any here.

If only I’d known! What struck me as I watched Halloween was that my perception of the series has been largely shaped by the original’s climax, as well as the gore-fueled expansion of the slasher genre in the 1980s. There are a whopping five murders in Halloween, one of which happens entirely offscreen. The others are as bloody as the shower scene in Psycho; frankly, this is an overall less bloody film, because at least in Psycho, you see…well, you see chocolate syrup. But it’s meant to be blood.

I won’t go over the plot of the original film here — it’s the ultimate version of “Masked man terrorizes an innocent young woman” subgenre of horror. What I do want to highlight, and what I had not expected, is how masterful Carpenter and his director of photography Dean Cundey are in depicting Michael Myers’ stalker-y point of view. The film is only 91 minutes, and much of the first hour shows either Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) telling anyone who will listen that Michael Myers is a terror who must be stopped, or it shows Michael Myers watching his prey. The latter sequences take up the bulk of the movie, and are consistently very unnerving. Though none of the Halloween movies have massive budgets, the $300,000 John Carpenter had to make this film forced him to be creative in turning Michael into a figure of palpable evil.

Halloween and Suspiria

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

When I sat down for the new Halloween a couple weeks ago at a pre-release screening, I wasn’t exactly excited, but I wasn’t dreading the film. What I began to be wary of was the reaction from the rest of the crowd. Pre-release screenings can be a mixed bag, if only because the crowd reaction can be alienating if they’re into something you don’t like, or vice versa. I was especially wary because most of the audience were clearly Halloween superfans, based on seeing T-shirts featuring Michael Myers and even the Silver Shamrock logo. (A Google search tells me this is in relation to Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, which doesn’t feature Michael Myers.)

By the end, I was surprised that I responded more to the new Halloween than a lot of fans. On one hand, there was in-movie applause at various references or callbacks employed by Green and his co-writers. On the other, when the end credits began, there was a very palpable pause before some people began applauding. Walking out of the theater, I heard people saying “Yeah, I…was kind of let down!” Having only heard snippets, I can’t say for sure how much of this was reflective of the entire crowd versus just a few dismayed viewers. (And the new movie’s box office suggests enough people liked it.) But I walked out wondering how much of my appreciation of the new film was inspired by not being a superfan.

It helps that the script almost instantly emphasizes that within this film, only the 1978 original is canon. Not even the 1981 sequel Halloween II fits in, even though it begins directly after the 1978 original. When Allyson, Laurie Strode’s granddaughter, is asked by a friend if Laurie and Michael are siblings, she quickly shoots it down as a “silly rumor”. And Michael, we learn, has been incarcerated in Smith’s Grove Penitentiary for 40 years, since being apprehended in 1978. In the 40 years between films, Michael hasn’t changed much, as you might expect (or hope). Laurie, on the other hand, is profoundly affected by what happened in 1978, having shifted to the opposite extreme. She’s essentially become a survivalist, with a house in the woods that doubles as a fortress for when — not if — Michael Myers comes calling once again. It’s a choice that’s alienated her family, but proves to be awfully savvy once the inevitable occurs.

The clean, stripped-down quality of the first Halloween isn’t present in the sequel, because how could it be? When you follow up a classic, you can’t help but tread the ground it created, instead of breaking some ground of your own. Though I’m a neophyte viewer, seeing the first film only a couple days before the new one meant I instantly recognized some of the ways in which the new film inverts some memorable surprises. In the original, Laurie is in a high-school class listening about fate when she glances out the window and sees a car driven by Michael Myers (at that point, unknown to her), stalking her. In this one, Allyson’s in class listening to a lecture on fate when she looks out the window and sees…Laurie. In the original, Michael Myers topples out a second-floor window only to mysteriously vanish into the night. This time, Michael sends Laurie out a second-floor window only to find that she’s vanished.

There’s not much more in terms of equating the two; instead, these moments feel like they’re meant to grant Laurie power that she didn’t have originally. It’s…a bit of a stretch, less because Jamie Lee Curtis falters (she doesn’t; she is predictably wonderful to watch), and more because the script doesn’t dive deep into Laurie’s mental shakiness. We sympathize with her, and root for her, without feeling like she’s any more dimensionalized than she was in the original. It’s a great performance in a good film that can’t help but feel like a carbon copy. It’s a good enough copy, but a copy nonetheless.

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