Contrarian Viewpoint- Halloween Edition

I’ve been seeing a number of best of all time lists for horror movies since it’s that most beloved time of year for horror movie fans. However, I’ve noticed that the majority of the lists look very similar with slight variances only in order of the films. But basically the top five is the top five on all lists. And while it is absolutely reasonable to assume intelligent viewers and critics will come up with similar results; I think there is something to be said for lesser critics just parroting what is the mainstream accepted opinion on films. So as I was reading these lists one film in particular stood out to me as being particularly overrated.

*yaaawn*


Halloween. I really and truly feel that this is one of the most overrated horror films. It is always lauded as one of the top horror films of all time; a designation I very much disagree with. And perhaps it is due to my age, I wasn’t watching horror movies until Halloween was almost 25 years old. But, to that point, The Exorcist is older and was truly unique and frightening. Halloween just looks and feels dated. It is bloodless, it is plodding and I don’t enjoy it. An analogy: the earliest laptops or cell phones were very important and milestones for the technology. However, no one uses those in lieu of newer models. Halloween is that older technology. It was great for its time, but there’s no denying that there are better options out there.

Halloween is almost a totally bloodless film. And I really don’t care for the argument that ‘off-screen blood/violence makes the film scarier’. No, it does not, it puts significantly more pressure on the director to use other means to make a film frightening without using violence . There’s the scene where one of the misfortunate coeds is displayed on the bed with Michael’s sister’s headstone. She clearly has had a crew member put a small streak of stage blood across her throat. The skin is clearly intact beneath the blood syrup. The blood is bright red, yet viscous and not moving. Now, while my formal training is not in blood pathology, I at least know that coagulated blood does not look like corn starch syrup with red dye in it. And for such a major artery, there’s a tiny amount of blood.

Horror films work when we connect to the films. We identify with the characters and their fears become our fears. Now, the further removed from our reality a movie goes, the less scary it becomes. And the details of a film are what establish the reality. Not putting gratuitous gore in a film can be a directorial choice. Blair Witch Project is a film that is very successful in making an effective, frightening film with most of the scares coming off-screen. The first person perspective of the film, though, changes so much of what the director can and cannot do. Off-screen violence is so much more effective with a film focused on the character’s own perspective. It’s harder to make a traditionally framed film that effectively doesn’t show violence. Jaws is another film that is noted for keeping the shark off-screen and scaring us more with what we cannot see. Although, Spielberg has said that mechanical shark difficulties and malfunctions made it a necessity to film scenes without an actual shark. However, while this works for Jaws to build tension, the shark eventually becomes a huge part of the film in its climactic scenes. Imagine the finale of Jaws if the shark and blood were kept off-screen … … … … … … Oh sorry I fell asleep from boredom just typing a description of Jaws with off-screen blood. Horror films with off-screen violence are like porno films with off-screen nudity (soft core snoozefests). The lack of gore in Halloween is mostly due to directorial inexperience and budget/time constraints. John Carpenter did not turn down special effects masters because he envisioned a film where stab wounds produced no blood. He did not have the budget or time to make a more thoroughly realistic film.

I realize the film’s plodding action and non-stop shrieking was not nearly so cliched at the time. But, watching it now, the last half hour really dragged along. It’s assumed by any modern viewer that Jamie Lee Curtis will survive the ordeal and eventually prevail. However, the films still spends half an hour to communicate this. Granted, when the film was made these so called “rules of horror” about virginal heroins and killers never being dead were not established and thus would’ve never crossed the mind of a 1978 viewer. However, we cannot erase our knowledge of the stereotypes of horror films. I cannot view Halloween having all of a sudden not seen 100 films with the same plot set up. The movie makes for very dated viewing.

I am not saying it was not an important film. This movie and Friday the 13th were almost singlehandedly responsible for the de-marginalization of horror films as a whole by showing what commercial successes the films could be. Not to mention spawning the entire slasher genre that ruled cinemas for a decade. But I go back to my technology analogy. Just because the Atari was the best of its time and a milestone of computer technology does not mean that it need be ranked every year more highly than a Playstation 3. Halloween just does not deserve the all time status it is awarded.

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