“The emergence of the slasher film wasn't the result of gradual evolution, but a big bang. And that big bang was Halloween.”
During the late 1970's, in a culture freshly exiting from a lifestyle of free love, and a culture that sat on the cusp of becoming a working class society; pure evil was reborn. The evil created would redefine modern horror movies for years to come. John Carpenter's horror masterpiece, Halloween (1978) taught moviegoers a lesson in how to survive horror movies, unlike any other movie before its time. This movie perfectly embodied the fears modern society had during this time resulting from the Cold War, the repercusons of the freedom movement during the xties, and the new advances in technology.The presence of a movie like Halloween in mainstream society was not culturally accepted right off the bat. Many reviews during this time dogged the movie for being, “gritty” and “grisly.”
Nevertheless, there were many different people who also knew this movie would be one for the ages. In a time where this movie seemed to be doomed for receson, due to the fact that movies like these were not well received, there were eyes that watched in horror and realized this movie had staying power. They discovered even in times where there were problems and cultural fears, there could be a perfect example to show the world, what our fears are, and to discover we can survive.Why is it this movie had such a cultural gnificance during this time? Why has it lasted and been named the premiere example of slasher films? Sure it has plenty of gnificant points about it that made it popular, but they may not have necessarily been the reason it lasted like it has. The thing that made it last was the time in which it was released. “Before the late 1970s, Americans had an enemy who haunted their dreams at night. Many Americans feared the power of the Communist nations, and feared the posbility of either a nuclear war, or an invaon.”
Every ngle generation before this time had someone to fear. The 1940's was the threat of Nazis, the 50's was nuclear disaster and the 60's was Vietnam. Then during the 1970's there was not one main, overwhelming threat to America. Then came in the slasher films with the birth of Micheal Myers and eventually Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Pinhead, who took the traits America feared most and shoved them right into our awaiting faces.What these killers represent is what we all know and fear. These killers were extremely difficult to kill and always seemed to pop up just when you think they have been taken care of. This phenomenon embodied many of the same tendencies of America's past enemies. Just when we felt that our enemies were vanquished, they came back stronger than ever. Also, no matter how hard you run away from these killers, they always seem to find you. Just like in past wars, if we pull out, there is always the chance they will find us and strike again. Finally all of the victims in these films are generally teenagers (except for those few and unfortunate adults that get in the way). Teens are incredibly impresonable and can be ealy swayed to think one way or the other. Just like during the times of WWII, in which the Nazis attempted to sway teenagers to think the way they did, which we, as Americans, meant you were as good as dead. So by looking at these ideals, we realize why this movie has been as successful as it has been and why it was culturally gnificant at the time.This movie represents a lot of things. It represents the rebirth of American slasher films, it launched the careers of many famous people, and it also allowed a closer look at the cultural and phycal manifestations of the time. This movie also proved that films made do not have to have an enormous Hollywood budget in order to be successful. This is truly a Cinderella story (as ironic as it is to compare a slasher film to a Disney movie.) Halloween, one film that was raked through the coals and somehow, with the help if its fans, was able to come out victorious. Halloween is a perfect look into a cultural window in order to view the times we once lived in.The Swingin Seventies.The culture of life in the 1970's had many fascinating aspects, but none was more present than the unbelievable sense of paranoia. It seemed as if there was a stronger sense that something was stalking the normal unsuspecting common folk. America was on the backde of the Watergate Scandal, which was a political scandal during the mid 1970's. A group of people broke in to the Democratic National Committee in Washington D.C. This scandal led to the eventual regnation of Predent Richard Nixon, in August of 1974, which made him the only predent to regn during his time of office. This incident also led to several of Nixon's administration officials. Being sent to prison. This terrible tragedy that befell America made normal people paranoid. Watergate caused the
American public to question who they could trust in their fragile mental state. They had grown up, as many other generations had, believing everything they were told by the government. The government acted as a watch dog for the country, telling them what was safe and what was not. The citizens believed what the government said with every fiber of their being, because the government would never leave America in the lurch or do anything to betray them. But due to the Watergate Scandal, Americans learned the hard truth of the big brother government. The government is full of “people” just the same as anyone else. Due to this event they knew government officials were just as likely to make mistakes or to turn their backs on people, as anyone else is. This was a huge blow to the confidence of Americans and they haven't really trusted government nce. This led people to a state of paranoia, not knowing what the government would do to them next.Following this time was the infamous Jim Jones mass suicide event. Jim Jones was the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple, which made national headlines after the mass suicide of almost 1,000 Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana. Members of the People's Temple also killed 5 other non-Temple members at an airstrip in a nearby town. Jones started the Temple in the 1950s and moved to San Francisco in the 1970s. The incident in Guyana was one of the biggest mass murders and suicides in American history. Among the dead was Leo Ryan, who was and still is the only Congressman killed while in office as a Congressman in the U.S. After Ryan died, the cult followers, along with Jones, drank kool-aid mixed with poison, and all died.This event, as well as many others led to what was the most crucial and perfect moment for this movie to be released to the masses. The national feeling of creepiness surronding this entire event caused people to be afraid. According to John Carpenter, people wanted to be afraid, but of something they knew was not real, “One of the things that I noticed that happened earlier was this Jim Jones buness. This religious leader who had all of his followers drink this kool-aid and died. There was this, you know, kinda bizarre feeling in the country that things weren't quite right. I think that Halloween came at about the time where people just wanted to have a safe scare, so 78 was the right time.” I Met This Young Child.
To ensure that the concept of this movie is truly understood and how this movie represented a time in life, we need to understand how the movie went. The play by play of the movie goes as follows. On Halloween night in 1963, a x year old boy who we later discover is Michael Myers, stabs his ster with a kitchen knife at their house. He is then sent to Smith's Grove Sanitarium in Warren County. He is placed under the immediate care of Dr. Loomis. Loomis watches Myers grow incredibly evil over the course of fifteen years. Myers then escapes back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. While there, Myers secretly stalks three friends, Laurie, Annie, and Lynda on the night of his escape. That night, Laurie is picked up by Annie as both babytting that night, (Halloween). Annie, who plans to meet up with her boyfriend drops the girl she is babytting (Lindsay Wallace) to the home where Laurie is babytting Tommy Doyle. Annie is killed by Myers before making it to her boyfriend. Lynda and her boyfriend are also killed after having sex. Laurie hears a strange noise at the house where Lynda was with her boyfriend. Upon arriving she discovers her friends dead and is then attacked by Myers. After stabbing him with a knitting needle, and clothes hanger and a knife, Myers still comes back for more. Finally, Loomis, who has spent the whole movie in search of Myers, sees Tommy and Lindsay running down the road screaming and enters the house. He fires 6 shots into Myers and then Myers falls out of a two story window. After making sure Laurie is okay, Loomis looks out of the window to discover that Myers is gone.The theme muc from Halloween, which has become incredibly iconic, begins to play. The camera pans around to different parts of the house as well as outde. All of the rooms are empty, proving that Michael Myers could be anywhere, including your own backyard.Cultural Reception.
The aftermath of this movie was bigger than anyone ever expected. After many trials and tribulations of peddling this movie from production company to production company, Carpenter and Debra Hill could not find a company willing to release the movie. So they took a completely bold and almost unheard of move: they released the film themselves. Under the production company named Compass International Pictures, Halloween hit theaters in a limited release hoping to at least break even in the box office. But only time and the fans would tell if this movie would boom, or bust. Following the release of Halloween, the face of horror entertainment had changed forever. This movie could ealy be condered “ahead of it's time.” This is due to the amount of criticism this movie caught at the time of its release. In one review by Kevin Thomas of the L.A. Times said, “Although the plot may be full of holes, Carpenter draws upon the resources of the camera to overcome them with case.” He goes on to discuss how the movie makes the audience feel like “voyeurs,” alluding to the camera angles and techniques that are used to take the audience on a journey through the eyes of the killer. Thomas goes on to explain the purpose of the movie. “With its tree-shaded small-town American setting, Halloween does function metaphorically for the insecure times in which we live in.” This shows that even this negative review understands that this movie represents all of the fears people have during this time. It is assumed that even though it is a mirror image of society, it is something
society does not want to see. It is almost as if they do not like to be reminded of what they are afraid of, and that is exactly what this movie does.Even the acclaimed movie critic Roger Ebert, did not exactly know how to take this movie. In his 1979 review of this movie he states, “We aren't seeing the movie, we have it happen to us. It's frightening. Maybe you don't like movies that are really scary: Then don't see this one.”
He recognized it was incredibly scary and urged people not to see it for this reason. A lot of this deals with the same thing the last review did. People did not want to see the very things they are afraid of, happen in front of them.Then finally, like an answer from the horror movie gods, the first potive review arrived. Tom Allen of The Village Voice praised the movie, claiming it was “A Sleeper Hit That's Here To Stay.” He discussed that the stayed power of this movie was not only due to the killer, but to the three main girls as well. “They speak more intelligent dialogue and are more attractively contemporary than the hundreds of blabbering idiots all of the Universal, Columbia, and Paramount youth films in this year.” He goes on to say this movie works so well because it breaks all of the rules the “purists” dislike, such as the camera technique and suspense driven plot. All of these qualities worked together in order to make this movie work well, and Tom Allen recognized this. This has gone on to show this movie has staying power, and it has been listed in the line of horror movies as “Pre-Halloween” and “Post-Halloween.” Here Come The Cherry Bombs.
There are many different aspects of this film that represent the culture it was set in. One of the most well known, as well as the most shown movements in Halloween, was the feminist movement. According to How We Got Here: The 70's:The Decade That Brought You Modern Life (Whether You Like It Or Not), by David Frum, “In the dark days before feminism, no respectable woman would ever t at a bar, even in the company of a bevy of girlfriends. Feminism ejected that worrisome old taboo.”
That old taboo being women in charge of their own lives. Even an all girl rock band like The Runaways made a huge splash into the feminist culture. Their first hit ngle “Cherry Bomb” explained and introduced the world to a new type of sexually explicit girl, the Cherry Bombs.With books like sterhood Is Powerful
and Sexual Politics
written at the start of the decade, feminism started to reach a larger audience than ever before. Most efforts of the movement, especially aimed at social equality and repeal of the remaining oppresve, sexist laws, were successful.Also a perfect aspect of the growing feminism in this society is due in part to muc. Many punk bands consting of only girls showed up on the scene during the 1970's. A few of these bands were The Runaways, Fanny, and The Raincoats. These women represented a cultural shift in the way even muc was comprehended during the era. These bands were seen as rebellious and against the social norm, which allowed them to create a social uproar and cult following of women eager to burn their bras and join the new form of muc known as chick rock. These women fought for equal rights of women just as many other feminists did, but they did it through song.Yes, the 1970's was a good time to be a woman, even in the horror movies. Halloween introduced mainstream society to the idea of the “Final Girl,” which is the lone survivor. In Halloween and other slasher films that proceeded it, there is always seen with the one lone main character who rises up from the ashes of the killer's attack and walks away triumphant. However, there is another thing in common with these movies. They are always women that survive. Jamie Lee Curtis' performance in Halloween brought on a sense of empowerment to women, showing they can survive what the boys can not. Agreed that there are many women that get slashed and gashed in these films, but I feel this speaks to exactly what feminists wanted to tell. The women who met their demise were all engaging in activities that feminists felt was demeaning to women. To quote William Congreve's play, The Mourning Bride, “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned.”
These lone heroines in these movies are definitely women scorned. They go from sweet little innocent girls to fighting for their lives with cynical madmen. But in these movies, whether people would rather see it or not, these women can and do handle these tuations better than the men could have.Get Down Tonight.
America in 1978 was also recently recovering from the very highly protested War in Vietnam. As a culture looking for their niche, people in the 1970's became enveloped in the disco fad and eventually this led to an age of promiscuity. This highly promoted free sex, drugs and gender bending. This was the dawn of a sexual age that wasn't like anything that had ever been seen before. Also with the dance clubs known for playing disco muc, called “discotheques,” there was a growing number of sexually explicit movies and books known as pornography like Flesh Gordon
and The Devil In Miss Jones.
Although pornography had existed in many previous years, this was the first time that a wide acceptance occurred in watching these films. Porn shops were opening where people could view these films and buy sexual items without the judgment of others. Usually, a cultural phenomenon like this would only be openly embraced by the younger members of society, but older people were also getting into the fads. Thus the term “The Swinging Seventies” was born.According to Projected Fears, a cultural reflection book written by Kendall Phillips, “...older adults (were) also embracing the sexual revolution of the 1970's.”
There were many parents and older figures that protested sexually open acts, and the concern was constantly growing. Many older generations were still highly against this growing fad and many protested against it. In Halloween, the permisve age was highly represented as Michael Myers always seemed to attack his prey while they were engaging in sexual activity or right before it. Usually the parents in movies such as this act as a ngle voice of reason that helps (or at least attempts) to steer the children in the right direction. However, due to the growing fad of “swingers” these parents become just as guilty as their children. In comes Michael Myers, who almost acts as a story right out of the Old Testament. If you are bad, than bad things will happen to you. In (Numbers) 31:17 and 18 in the Bible, “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”
Impure women and questionable acts have been condemned even during the times of Jesus Christ. Everyone has done something bad and hoped not to get caught doing it. The worst act most teenagers commit would cause no more than getting them grounded or posbly spending a night in jail. With Michael however, it might get you killed. This is where the irony of the subject comes into play. Many who protested this movie were parents. So in effect, they are protesting against a figure that punishes the same behavior they punish (but in a slightly more hateful way i.e. stalking and slashing).It leaves one to wonder on the state of Michael Myers sexuality. He was 6 years old when he went in to Smith's Grove Sanitarium. He escaped 17 years later, leaving Myers 23 years old. Before he
kills couples, he always stops for just a few minutes to watch them engage in illicit behavior. It leaves some to wonder if Myers, as well as the other things that are wrong with him, also has a huge amount of sexual frustration as well, that he chooses to express via slashing and gashing. This shows the true danger of sexuality and how sexual represon can have serious effects on this psychological makeup
of people. To The Good Ole Days Sorta. During the late 1970's, a cultural backlash was beginning to develop and perpetuated to an age of true nostalgia. With shows like Happy Days, and Laverne And Shirley, there were portrayals of mpler times, the 1950's culture. This most likely was because of all of the cultural misguidance during this time. The 70's was a time, like I said, of society searching for what they would be known for.Movies also highly portrayed 1950's and 1960's life. Such hits like Grease and Animal House relied on a sense of a mpler time, in contrast to typical 1970's life. They show that in these movies, no matter what insane antics came their way, they always seemed to have the answer and did not worry about a thing. During the 1970's, due to all of the uncertainties, it would not have been easy to assure people they all had the right answers. This is why the American public sought for a definition in their culture, and turned to the pages of their past in order for an answer. The setting of Halloween, which is Haddonfield Illinois, is right out of the typical 1950's handbook (except for the whole masked killer thing.) As you see Laurie and her friends walk down the street, they are surrounded by homes complete with white picket fences and mple minded citizens. This makes the town they live in very iconic. The reason this place is so iconic is because the town represents any town. Michael Myers could live and stalk any normal town in the United States, looking for his next kill. Although this movie was set in the present day, (1978) it had a nostalgic feel. This showed the audience even in times of uncertainty, humanity can overcome adverty. Also, one of the many things that makes this movie so effective, especially during the time of its release, was that people were used to seeing movies where the murders are happening somewhere else. In Halloween, Carpenter makes a conscience effort to show the audience that this could be right in your own backyard. Always Around The Corner.
Throughout history, through movies, stories and tall tales, the boogeyman has always been shown as a being that has stalked people's thoughts and dreams. One thing they all have in common, is that the boogeyman embodies the chaos that exists in the culture at the time. When this chaos is unleashed on people, all hell breaks loose. These boogeymen almost stand as a symbol of successfully paying attention to the rules in a set society. All of the victims, except for a few people that accidentally get in the way, have broken a rule or so that deemed them guilty of something.In Halloween, the boogeyman has been reincarnated as a tall and dark figure, with a white, pale, emotionless face, and “the blackest eyes, the eyes of the devil.” (Dr. Loomis from Halloween) Michael Myers is highly represented like an immovable object. Nothing will stop him from killing who he is after.Throughout the movie, Tommy Wallace, who is the child that Laurie is babytting, constantly questions Laurie as to whether the boogeyman is real or if he is just something a couple of bullies used to scare him. According to the bully at Tommy's school, the boogeyman would come out only on Halloween, and kill children who did not believe. Laurie constantly attempts to convince Tommy the boogeyman is not real, but every time she says it, it is not enough for Tommy. He remains convinced he is real. While running away form Michael's knife wielding, Laurie says to Tommy that she has killed him. Tommy looks her way and announces to her, as well as to a culture, and a nation, one of the most famous quotes in the history of slasher movies. “You Can't Kill The Boogeyman.” Then Michael Myers was shot and fell out of a window. Laurie found herself wondering if he really was the boogeyman. Laurie says to Dr. Loomis, “That was the boogeyman?” Dr. Loomis answers, “As a matter of fact, it was.” Scariest Holiday Of The Year.
nce the 1978 release of Halloween, the rules of modern horror have changed. It left a legacy the likes of no-other horror movie have seen nce Frankenstein.
And the actual set of rules for surviving a slasher movie have been set. To quote Projected Fears, “If imitation is the ncerest form of flattery, then John Carpenter is the most flattered man in horror.” Following Halloween, we saw the release of many other horror movies begin to draw off of the success of this movie. The directors of such movies as Friday The 13th ,
A Nightmare On Elm Street
figured out how Halloween got it's success, and decided to make it happen for themselves. Halloween made gnificant use of
first person camera perspectives, unexceptional settings in normal and unsuspecting towns, and female heroines having what it takes to survive the rivals of the killer's tyranny, all of which now define the slasher film genre.The horror parody Scream explicitly mentions that Halloween was the beginning of the slasher era, a clip of it is played during the now infamous scene in which Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy,) explains the very specific rules of surviving a horror movie (no sex, no drugs or alcohol, and never under any circumstances say “I'll be right back.”). These rules were first set up, unintentionally by John Carpenter in Halloween.Halloween later was followed by seven sequels, and an eventual re-imagining of the film in 2007, as well as a sequel to that in 2009 by director Rob Zombie. The sequels for Halloween worked much like the sequels to other horror movies during the time.The End??? In concluon, Halloween was a cultural phenomenon representing much more than a film. It represented a time of uncertainty, promiscuity, and apparent danger lurking around any corner. Many people saw a deep social critique present in Halloween. The films of the 1970s and later the 80s spoke to the conservative family values advocates of “Reagan America.” From this reading, Myers can be seen as "patriarchal avengers" who "slaughtered the youthful children of the 1970's, especially when they engaged in activities that are frowned upon involving sex and drugs. Other critics tend to downplay this interpretation, arguing the portrayal of Myers as a demonic, superhuman monster inhibited his influence among conservatives.
All in all, this movie; no matter whether you see it as a conservative and culturally gnificant way to view a time in the past or the perfect choice to scare that girl you are on a date with in order to get her to cuddle closer to you, this movie has received success that will live long after us and the people that created it. Knocking on the door 35 years after its original release, we still as Americans, and as a society as a whole remember vividly “The Night He Came Home!”
By Jake Fackler.
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