Wednesday, February 26, 2014
THE NIGHT HE CAME HOME
How bad? I’m watching every damn shark movie I can get my hands on and branching out into Christmas-themed horror movies and - today’s subject - slasher movies. There’s some hope for me, though. When I seek out slasher movies, I go for the older ones before excessive gore and torture porn became standard for the genre.
My first love will always be giant monster movies and I have little doubt I’ll eventually get to binge-watching vampire, werewolf and Frankenstein Monster chillers. In the back of my mind, a nagging voice tells me I have not watched nearly enough Sasquatch and Yeti thrillers. But, for this bloggy and the next one, I’m concentrating on those slash-happy killers who jump-started the genre in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
I never saw the original Halloween (1978) in the movies. At that time, my craving for horror was being fulfilled nicely by Stephen King and other prose masters. When I finally watched the movie, it was on a small-for-2014 television screen via rented VHS tape or on some dawn-of-cable channel. I can’t remember which.
The plot is simple and the more terrifying for it. Michael Myers, six years old, brutally kills his older sister with a butcher knife on Halloween. The boy, who never speaks and whose violence defies explanation, is sent to a mental hospital with the intent he will *never* be released. Fifteen years later, on Halloween, he escapes and returns home.
Michael stalks teenager Laurie Strode [played by Jaime Lee Curtis] while killing her friends and anyone else who comes between him and his intended victim. He is pursued by Dr. Samuel Loomis [Donald Pleasence] and the town sheriff (Charles Cyphers), but, for fear of inciting panic and warning Michael, the town isn’t alerted to the threat walking its streets.
I liked Halloween when I first saw it. I was most impressed by how director John Carpenter showed us often-subtle glimpses of the now-adult Michael, always wearing a greyish-white mask. I thought such unsettling moments built the suspense of the killings to come and the inevitable attack on Laurie. Compared to the torture porn gore of later films, Halloween shows restraint. By allowing the audience to imagine rather then see every bloody violation, the movie is all scarier. It’s a genuine chiller.
I adore Jaime Lee Curtis. I especially love her in this film where she plays a beautiful and perky young woman who senses something is off in her town but doesn’t realize the magnitude of the situation until very late in the movie. Once forced to accept the horror of that situation, she strives to keep her own fear under control to protect the children she is babysitting and to protect herself from
Michael. As the haunted Loomis, Pleasence delivers a performance just over the top enough to work.
This time around, I watched Halloween on Blu-ray on our large flat screen TV. That’s the way to watch this classic movie. While they are still subtle, those glimpses of the stalking Michael were much more effective than on my original viewing. I got the movie through my library system, but I’m going to put this version of Halloween on my Amazon wish-list. It’s a keeper.
Two years after Halloween, Curtis starred in Prom Night , an American/Canadian slasher film with more than a few similarities to Halloween. In Halloween, the bloody murders begin begins with six-year-old Michael Myers killing his older sister and returning for more slaying fifteen years later. In Prom Night, the ten-year-old sister dies when she tries to join the “murder game” being played by four slightly older children. The girl’s murder is blamed on a known rapist who is horribly burned in a car crash trying to escape from the police. The older kids make a pact to never tell anybody what really happened. Six years later, those four kids are marked for death.
The occasion is the high school prom. Kim [played by Curtis] and her brother Alex [Michael Tough] are attending. This prom would have been the first for their sister. Kim and her date Nick [Casey Stevens] have been voted prom queen and king. Unknown to Kim, her date is one of the kids who caused her sister’s death.
Directed by Paul Lynch and written by William Gray and Robert Guza, Jr., Prom Night makes something of a mystery of who is stalking and killing the kids and - shades of Halloween - anyone else who gets in the way of the stalker’s vengeance. There are a number of good suspects, including the recently escaped rapist and Kim’s parents. There are some decent clues/tipoffs to the killer’s identity, but the revelation is still jarring.
Unlike Halloween, the murders in Prom Night are devoid of suspense. Viewers can pretty much tell who is going to die and when and how. The best leading-up-to-murder scene comes when uber-bitch Wendy is hiding from the killer in the school auto shop. I’ll come back to that auto shop in a moment.
Curtis gives her usual fine performance, but, given my adoration of this actress, I might be mildly biased. I even watch her Activia commercials.
Leslie Nielsen and Antoinette Bower give leaden performances as the parents of Kim and Alex. Equally unimpressive are Anne-Marie Martin as Wendy, David Mucci as the thug she recruits to get vengeance on Kim for “stealing” Nick from her and virtually everyone else in the movie with two notable exceptions.
Sheldon Rybowski plays Seymour "Slick" Crane, an underclassman with a van, an unending supply of pot and a personality that’s cocky and charming. Joy Thompson plays Jude, another of the four kids marked for death. Desperate for a prom date, Jude brings Slick to the big event. The off-beat couple has more chemistry than any of the other couples in the movie and were fun to watch.
My daughter Kelly, who graduates from The Ohio State University in May, came home as I was watching Prom Night’s auto shop sequence. The first comment she made was...why wasn’t Wendy setting off the car alarms to alert people who might come and help her. I had to explain that car alarms weren’t common in 1980.
Prom Night was worth watching once. I don’t think it would hold up to repeat viewing. Still, even though Prom Night isn’t very good, even though it never spawned a true sequel - there was a “re-imagining” in 2008 - the film led indirectly to one of the longest-running and most successful horror movie franchises. Before we discuss that, let’s go back to my daughter.
When I caught Kelly up on the film’s plot, she said it sounded like a rip-off of I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). I told her - incorrectly - that Prom Night had come first. I’ve repeated this erroneous claim since. My penance will be to watch I Know What You Did Last Summer, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) and the direct-to-DVD I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006). I am an obsessive old coot...and a terrible tease.
What long-running and successful horror movie franchise came about as an indirect result of Prom Night? For that answer, you’ll have to come back tomorrow. See you then.
© 2014 Tony Isabella