“Everyone’s Entitled To One Good Scare” (#51)

Masks on, listeners! This October, we’re celebrating Halloween by celebrating Halloween — the iconic horror film that unintentionally concocted the formula for an entire genre. John Carpenter’s 1978 chiller was made on a shoestring budget and went on to become the most profitable independent film ever made. It also launched horror’s most enduring villain, the tight-lipped but heavy-breathing Michael Myers, and the career of Jamie Lee Curtis, crowned the genre’s official Scream Queen.

Curtis returned to her blood-spattered roots in 1998’s Halloween H2O, co-starring Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, and Michelle Williams, in the 90s slasher revival spawned by Scream. Now, in 2018, she once again portrays Laurie Strode, the “Final Girl” who made her famous, in David Gordon Green’s new spin on this cinematic classic.

The podcast welcomes wife-and-husband duo Chelsea and Dan to discuss all matters of splatter, then looks back at the original Halloween in observance of its 40th anniversary. After countless knock-offs and a string of subpar sequels, is Halloween still worth hallowing? Or does its violence against nubile babysitters come off as much less enlightened four decades later? And is Halloween H2O still the franchise’s only decent sequel? Come for the Carpenter, and stay for the Cool J, as we cower in the closet all over again!

Listen to the podcast here or on iTunes.

My love for late 90s slasher movies is well-documented. It was spawned by Scream and more or less ended with Halloween H2O and The Faculty, since those were the last decent horror films Kevin Williamson was involved in, and nobody else quite captured his sensibility.

I saw the original Halloween once or twice, and I recognized it as the classic that spawned the Final Girl trope, but also probably took it for granted. No slasher villain has ever been able to inspire so much terror by doing so little. Freddy Kruger has knives for fingers and an elaborate dream invasion schtick. Jason has had to go to space, Hell, and Manhattan. All Michael Myers needs is a simple mask and a butcher knife, and he never says a word. A tilt of the head is the most personality he displays, and he has no motivation. He’s the best embodiment of pure evil we’ve got in film.

Because The Shape is such a blank slate, you can read Halloween any number of ways, including the moralistic psychosexual reading that has Michael “punishing” teenagers for having sex. That’s certainly true in later slasher movies (that took their cues from this one), but Halloween itself is less priggish. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode isn’t rewarded for being a virgin — she’s rewarded for being smart, and paying attention. She retains an earnest connection to childhood that her friends have abandoned, in favor of booze and boys and, in Annie’s case, cynicism. Michael Myers starts killing when he’s just a child, and we sense his development is stunted there. It takes someone who can still level with a child to escape him. Laurie sees the world the way a kid does — spotting the Boogeyman hiding behind the bushes. Her friends are never listening or looking. Both Michael and Laurie are watchers, which, in Halloween, is a kind of superpower. He watches her, so she watches out for him, and John Carpenter’s brilliant low-budget cinematography is self-conscious enough to feel like it’s watching everything.

I come away thinking Halloween is pretty brilliant — which only tarnishes the lean, mean Halloween H2O slightly in comparison. Halloween H2O does conclude with a terrific showdown between Michael and Laurie, arming the ultimate Final Girl with an axe. The slasher genre has always favored smart, capable women over male protagonists, but Halloween H2O gives us a particularly satisfying dose of female empowerment, ending with Laurie chopping off her brother’s head. The 2018 Halloween may look and feel more like the original than the slick, 90s-drenched H2O, but it demotes Laurie from damaged but functional headmaster of a private school to a total basket case. Do fans really want Laurie’s one brush with The Shape 40 years ago to completely derail her life? This doesn’t at all feel like the sensible, observant Laurie Strode we met in 1978. She’s just a nutcase.

I’m happy to go on the record and say that Halloween H2O is, far and away, the best Halloween movie since Carpenter’s original, untouchable classic. Come at me.

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