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Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Matinee - Halloween

Greetings, everybody, and a very happy Halloween to all of you!

Okay, okay. I couldn't resist posting one of the most talked about YouTube videos of October 2011. It's a great way to kick off Halloween, wouldn't you say?  And, I don't know whose house this belongs to, but kudos to them for doing such a creative and wicked Halloween display!

So, I'm sure that most of you will be celebrating the holiday in a variety of ways.  Perhaps you'll go out trick-or-treating for Snickers bars and snack size bags of Doritos. Perhaps you'll be attending a spooky Halloween party where you can sip on witches brew and dance the Monster Mash. Or, if you're one of those unlucky goblins such as myself who happens to be working all Halloween night, at the very least, you'll be making some money out of the deal.

So, did any of you wonder where the origins of Halloween came from?

While some folklorists believe that the origins of Halloween came from the Roman feast of Pomona (the goddess of fruits and seeds), or in the festival of the dead known as Parentalia, it is widely believed by many historians that the origin of Halloween came from the Celtic festival of Samhain. The festival name is derived from Old Irish and loosely translated means 'summer's end'.

The festival of Samhain was one that according to the Oxford Dictionary of English folk lore was a time for festive gatherings. Medieval Irish texts, and various folklore from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales state that the people who celebrate the festival use it as a setting for supernatural encounters. There is however no evidence that it was connected with the dead in pre-Christian times, nor is there evidence that pagan religious ceremonies were even held.

The Irish myths that mention the festival of Samhain were written around the tenth and eleventh centuries by Christian monks approximately 200 years after the Catholic church inaugurated All Saints Day.

As far as the origin for why the 31st of October is called Halloween goes, well, that first came about in the 16th century, and represents a Scottish variant of All-Hallows-Even. The night before All Hallows Day, a day in honour of all the saints known and unknown, which is celebrated on the first day of November.

Now that you know a little bit about how Halloween came to be founded, we can go ahead with today's discussion. You know that because Halloween falls on a Monday this year that the theme will have something to do with a scary movie. This is a movie that I first watched in my teenage years, and was the very first film for actress Jamie Lee Curtis. And, considering that Jamie Lee Curtis' mother was Psycho actress Janet Leigh, it seems only fitting that her debut would also take place in a horror film.

A horror film that bears the same name as today.

Although released six days before Halloween, 1978, Halloween was really no different than other horror films released before it. Yet over the next thirty years, Halloween would spawn seven sequels, as well as a remake in 2007, courtesy of Rob Zombie. We're going to talk about the film that started this franchise off.

Directed by John Carpenter, Halloween tells the story of a murderer who lives in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Back in 1963, a young boy named Michael Myers (who, I should note is not the same Michael Myers who starred in movies such as Shrek and Wayne's World) murdered his sister, Judith, with a kitchen knife on Halloween night. Myers was only six years old at the time. His sister, fifteen. As a result of his age, and the seriousness of the crime, prison simply was not an option for him. Instead, Michael is sent to Smith's Grove Sanitarium where he is placed in the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance). As a result of the trauma associated with the crime, Myers lapses into a catatonic state for the next fifteen years. In 1978, at the age of 21, Michael comes out of catatonia and on the 30th of October, he escapes the sanitarium to make his way back to Haddonfield. Loomis, still concerned about what Myers might end up doing, follows him to town, hoping to subdue him before he hurts anyone else.

The following day, Halloween morning, 1978, a young girl named Laurie Strode (Curtis) constantly sees Michael Myers in a blue jumpsuit that he stole from a man he killed on the way, and a mask that he stole from a local store along with a knife. He keeps staring at her in various locations. Outside her house or on the street, it seemed as though everywhere she went, there he was.

No wonder Laurie Strode was always so creeped out.

Laurie tries to convince her friends from school, Annie and Linda (Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles) about her visions of Michael, but they don't believe her, and eventually convince her that she must be imagining the whole thing.

By that night, Laurie and Annie both have babysitting jobs. Laurie is looking after Tommy Doyle, while Annie babysits a girl named Lindsay at the Wallace house across the street from the Doyle residence. It is here that things start to go from slightly creepy to full-on fright fest.

It all begins when Lindsay's dog is killed under mysterious circumstances. After that, Annie receives a call from her boyfriend, asking her to give him a ride. So, after taking Lindsay across the street to have her stay with Laurie and Tommy, Annie hurriedly hops inside her car to meet up with her boyfriend. She never makes it, as this clip will show, and fair warning to those of you reading, this clip may not be suitable for younger viewers. You have been warned.

Poor Annie. Never saw it coming, did she?

Of course, we all know that Michael Myers is the one responsible for Annie's death. But Laurie and the others have no clue. That is until Tommy happens to be watching outside the window and reports to Laurie and Lindsay that he had seen someone carrying Annie's body outside, claiming that the person is the boogeyman. Laurie and Lindsay are not very impressed by Tommy's claims, and insist that all he is trying to do is frighten them with some lame, unbelievable story.

If only they really knew.

Some time passes, and eventually, Linda and her boyfriend Bob arrive at the Wallace house where Annie is supposed to be babysitting. Apparently, they haven't heard from her in a while, and they have decided to check and see how she's doing, not realizing that Annie's killer is still skulking around inside. Of course, this is of no concern to Bob and Linda, and they casually stroll inside the house to find Annie.

I'm sure they'll be just fine...

...oops, my bad. I guess they weren't.

By this time, Laurie's thinking 'gee, maybe that little Doyle brat really was telling the truth about some boogeyman being out think maybe I should abandon my babysitting responsibilities to check and see if they're all okay?'

And, so she goes to the Wallace house, wondering whatever happened to her friend Linda, and why the phone suddenly went dead. Did the Wallace family not keep up with the phone bill? Was Linda playing a practical joke? Was Annie in on it all?

Sadly, the grim realization that all of her friends are dead strikes Laurie as she wanders through the Wallace house. She finds Annie's body in a bedroom with a gravestone belonging to Judith Myers lying on top. Shortly after, the bodies of Bob and Linda are found in a closet, hanging like a couple of slabs of beef inside a meat cooler. Laurie is so shocked and frightened by the gruesome discovery that she doesn't realize that the killer is STILL INSIDE THE HOUSE!

Suddenly, Michael attacks Laurie, and tries to stab her with the kitchen knife he pilfered just hours earlier. Laurie manages to avoid the blade and manages to make a daring escape by flinging herself over a stairway railing and runs out of the house, her heart beating a million times a minute as Michael gives chase.

Of course by then, Laurie's realizing, 'The children! I must think of the children! My god, won't someone think of the children?'

And, how does she protect the children? She runs back to the Doyle house where the two children are staying and charges inside, knowing full well that Michael is on her like a heat-seeking missile aimed towards a moving target.

Yeah, nobody ever said that Laurie Strode had street smarts.

At any rate, I'm sure you already know how the movie ends...I mean, with six sequels, of which Jamie Lee Curtis appears in a couple of them, you already know that both the attempted victim and attempted murderer of said attempted victim survive. But, how they survive...well...that's up for you to watch for yourself. A couple of hints involves Loomis, a knitting needle, the removal of the mask, and an ending with a twist.

What you may not know is some of the behind the scenes action that took place on the set of Halloween. The budget for the movie was a modest $325,000, and ended up earning sixty million dollars. A very nice profit for the movie, but because of the strict budget, the props department had to do their best to make the dollars stretch far. Tommy Lee Wallace had four different job titles to his credit. He was the production designer, art director, location scout, and co-editor. He was the one who ended up designing the signature mask that Michael Myers wore during the film. The secret behind the mask? It was a Captain Kirk mask purchased for $1.98, painted white and had modified eye holes so that it looked less like William Shatner and more like...well...Michael Myers.

Many of the actors wore their own clothing for the shoot, cutting the wardrobe budget down significantly. The exception was the wardrobe of Jamie Lee Curtis.  Her clothing was purchased at a JC Penney department store at a cost of just over one hundred dollars.

The filming schedule was also affected by the low-budget. It was filmed over a period of three weeks in the spring of 1978, so as a result, fake leaves had to be used to simulate an autumn theme. Pumpkins were also used sparingly, as they were out of season at the time the film was made. The Myers house set was an abandoned home owned by a church, and the Wallace and Doyle homes were two houses on a Hollywood street. Parents who lived on the street dressed up their children in costumes for the trick-or-treating scenes.

The pay scale for the actors involved in the filming of the movie was hardly anything to write home about, as the low-budget meant low pay. Donald Pleasance managed to earn a $20,000 payout for his role. Jamie Lee Curtis barely made half that amount, at $8,000. As for Nick Castle, the man who portrayed Michael Myers in the scenes where he is masked, the poor guy was only paid $25 a day. That's only about $525 for the entire production.

Hopefully the royalties were more decent. Hopefully.

Believe it or not, Jamie Lee Curtis was not Carpenter's first choice for the role of Laurie Strode. He initially wanted Anne Lockhart for the role, but at the time, Anne was heavily committed to other projects. But when Carpenter had heard of Jamie Lee's famous ties, he knew that it would be great publicity to cast the daughter of Janet Leigh, and that gamble seemed to pay off. And of course, Curtis wasn't the only cast member who had ties to horror film production, as P.J. Soles had a role in the 1976 movie, Carrie.

Donald Pleasance was the third actor to be offered the role of Dr. Loomis. Both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee turned the part down, citing the low pay as the reason why, although Lee would later admit that his turning down the part was an error in judgment.

It's also interesting to note that promotion for the film was on the light side, with many people finding out about the film through word of mouth from people who had viewed the movie before. Nevertheless, despite a lack of advertising, and some rather scathing reviews from critics, Halloween performed extremely well at the box office, and as a result, is probably considered to be one of the best movies filmed during the year 1978.

One common misconception for the film is the idea that the movie is a morality play, and a social commentary piece. The reason being that those who ended up dying in the film were those who partook in various social taboos. Underage drinking, sex, etc. Somehow, Laurie Strode ended up living through her ordeal, and people suspected it was because she was depicted as being 'pure' and 'virginal'. A theory that Carpenter deemed ridiculous. It was simply a horror movie as far as he was concerned. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And unlike a lot of horror movies that were released, Halloween was different in that the death scenes weren't overly gory or bloody. The death scenes were frightening enough, but the fact that the deaths weren't instant, and that we saw the struggles that the victims went through made it even more chilling than having them get decapitated or discombobulated or worse. In that sense, I think the movie set out what it had intended to do...scaring people without the need for excessive gore. It became a real psychological thriller, which are more my speed for scary movies.

Ultimately, Halloween remains one of the more interesting Halloween-themed movies of all time, and it brought star power to both John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Which is why Jamie Lee Curtis' current fate is made even more tragic and scary.

Oh well. That's the way the digestive system flows, isn't it?

I hope you all enjoyed these Halloween themed entries. I had a lot of fun writing each one. We're going back to a more general group of topics starting tomorrow, but for now, I wish all of you a very happy and safe Halloween, and don't eat too much candy. We wouldn't want you to have a nightmare...

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