With the week that’s in it and all that, what better time is there for me to harp on about one of my favourite franchises of all time – Halloween. It should be assumed, should be the norm but spoilers are gonna follow! I was seven years old. Seven years old when I found out what real fear is. Halloween night in 1995, myself, my brother and his friend stayed up late to watch John Carpenter’s original classic, Halloween. Of course as still is the case,numpty here is the only one who managed to stay awake late enough and so I would up watching it on my own. And it scared me, no doubt. But the other two woke up eventually, I talked about how creepy the film was. Normal as you like. Then I tried to sleep.
The relevance of all of this is simple – for all of the horror films I had seen before and have seen after (considerably more after!), only one has stayed with me as far as my bed. What should have been a site of solace and refuge had been penetrated. That’s music. That mask. I can vividly remember telling anyone who’d listen, even my grandmother on one occasion when I refused to sleep, that the film didn’t scare me. The mask did. What I later found out was a modified Captain Kirk mask (maybe it would’ve been scarier had I known!) was to haunt me for years.
I can never properly convey that fear to others. As youngsters most of us saw IT or The Shining and all of those films had their moments and scares, but none had the complete package and general unnerving quality of Halloween. John Carpenter made his name with films like this and The Thing where he played upon real fears. The killer next door, the paranoia of an unknown plague, he has always known how to tap into our mind’s darkest corners. As a kid, I wasn’t experiencing any of this, not consciously anyway. No my problem was still just that mask, but I didn’t realise at the time it symbolised all of the above. The unknown, and the unknown not carrying emotions or feelings. Just blank autonomous menace.
I did mention this being my favourite franchise at the beginning, but I guess I do have to point out the shakiness of the sequels now. Halloween 2 was a cash grab. Two years after the first film production got rolling on a sequel. Carpenter is not a fan of follow ups and declined the directing gig, writing with Debra Hill and reportedly directing reshoots only. It’s a good flick… With an awful mask. The original prop was neglected something fierce and as a result the fresh and new white death of the first film is non existent. The third film detoured from the series in the hope of the franchise taking an anthology structure but poor box office saw a 1988 return for the titular Michael Myers.
Moustapha Akkad, so tragically lost in a bombing incident in Jordan some years ago, was the driving force behind Halloween for better or worse maintaining its popularity through the years. 1988 then saw the return of Michael Myers to the series, Akkad realising the cult following the masked ghoul had drawn together. Halloween 4 : The Return Of Michael Myers was the last film in which the series anyway resembled the first two films, capturing the spirit and spook of the original film exactly ten years on, the only thing that got worse was the hairstyles. And yet, when I watched it only two or three years after being turned into a car crash of fear by the original, it didn’t scare me. The mask, it was awful. The original had well been lost since the prior sequels and so a new design was commissioned and it just got a whole lot wrong. Mr. Myers looked damn near happy! Even the lobby posters and subsequent cover art reused stills of the old mask and paintings based on them, such was the awe inspiring power of that latex wonder. The story prevails that originally, production designer Tommy Lee Wallace had two masks to put forward in the first film. One was a clown mask, á la John Wayne Gacy, which he emerged from a bathroom wearing. There were chills, giggles, mild panic. Then he appeared with the mask we all now know and love on. Nobody said a word, silence engulfed the room.
Why am I raving on about a rubber mask? Well it is Halloween and it is a crucial part of this series. But if I were to relate it back to my fondness for old school filmmaking and how much of the craft has been lost today, I can’t stress how much can be learned by watching this series and paying close attention to the mask and to the treatment the directors and cinematographers give it. Halloween 5 : The Revenge Of Michael Myers saw a truly disgusting iteration of the mask. Not even close to the previous film – presenting a huge continuity issue given it was a direct follow up – and rarely if ever do we see it being used creatively (sneaking into shot behind characters, bouncing into reflections etc.). The next film, Halloween : The Curse Of Michael Myers, actually came closest with a franchise-best attempt at returning to the original mask and Billy Dickinson making an admirable attempt to make it scary again through use of unnerving lighting situations and a healthy dose of subtlety.I won’t even acknowledge Halloween : H20 and Halloween : Resurrection here, they know what they did. But watch the mask. In the first film, watch that scene on repeat. You know the one, Laurie Strode has just found her closest friends butchered in a twisted game of Cluedo around the house. She cowers backwards towards an open closet. Slowly, slowly. Cue cinematographer Dean Cundey and a masterstroke. Blue bulb – dimmer switch – the quintessential he’s behind you. Ah, they just don’t make them like they used to!
I don’t know if all Haddonfield Heroes feel the same as I do, but I have to say even before writing this piece I thought this obsession with a bloody mask was a little nuts. But watch the films, see what I see. From a time when filmmaking was still an art, look and appreciate just how these people managed to make huge things out of the smallest.
And remember – It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.
Image courtesy of DeviantArt.com, user DTWX