People are frightened of criticism.
In movies, it’s thumbs up or thumbs down. 98% fresh or a dismal 12% rotten. A paragraph review in your local paper that a sixty-five year old white man wrote to let you know that the latest Spielberg effort is not nearly as good as the last. It’s a textbook-sized tome that assumes you know Bergman from Godard, have chosen sides in Citizen Kane vs. Casablanca, and would never be caught dead watching Pain & Gain on a Friday night. You know it, I know it – At its best, criticism is pretentious. At its worst, it’s just boring.
Welcome to One Critical Bitch – Your new home for honest, nuanced, not-boring criticism.
And as promised by sassy use of the word bitch, it’s also a safe place for sarcasm, strong opinions, and unafraid conversation about art. Because film – even what you’re watching in the background when you “Netflix and Chill” – is art.
Today is October 1st. Best time to be frightened all year. Let’s start with a horror movie. 31, actually.
It is my mission, for the month of October, to bring you a scary movie every single day.
You may think you hate horror. You may think you only like movies made after 2005 (this is a real thing, and a real problem). You may even think Saw is the greatest horror film of all time (!!). Don’t worry, I can help.
First up, I’m watching:
Fate never changes.
Widely considered the first of a sub-genre that dominated the 1980s in American cinema, I can’t think of a better hulking, knife-wielding, scary stalker to kick this Horror-Thon off.
Of course, there was Texas Chainsaw before it, and the human-on-human revenge violence of Last House on the Left, but Carpenter’s creation was the break-out hit. Mainstream horror temporarily pushed aside Universal-style movie monsters to make monsters of men – or, angry dudes in masks, as I like to call them. John Carpenter’s Halloween set the tropes for the teenage miscreants, punishing violence, and bad parenting that pervades every Slasher movie after it.
It is responsible for hoards of sequels, many terrible rip-offs, and something obsessives like me call The Final Girl* – whom Jamie Lee Curtis will forever personify, even when she shows up in those probiotic yogurt commercials.
But watching it for the umpteenth time today (it’s more than thirty now), I’m drawn on this watch to Myers as the kids describe him: The Boogeyman.
Michael is an escaped mental patient. He’s not technically a monster. But every time a kid sees this guy’s shadow, that word comes flying out of their mouths. And certainly, when the camera is sitting right over his shoulder, watching Laurie Strode walk down the street, he feels like the Boogeyman. In fact, the camera trick rather makes you feel like the Boogeyman, too – two thumbs up for voyeurism.
What is Michael Myers, exactly? In pop culture he’s an icon, in the context of the film, let’s call him “other.” He who jumps in a single bound on top of cars, can drive with ease though he’s never been taught, (spoiler! though, not really…) survives a fall from two-stories up with a bullet in his chest – Michael is the horror equivalent of Superman. Though, unlike the alien origins of humanity’s savior, Clark Kent, the Haddonfield Boogeyman is 100% human – with one or ten social cues missing. This is what makes him, in my opinion, 100% scary.
Watch Michael stab (as he’s known to do) a butcher knife into male victim #1, pinning him up against the wall. As he hangs there, dying, Carpenter doesn’t choose to pull away, but let’s you observe the shock of the moment for the next ten or so seconds. You’re left watching a frame that is as elegantly composed as a painting, as Myers cocks his head to side, thinking hard about the work he’s done. It’s kind of sweet, actually. If you’ve seen 1931’s Frankenstein (and even if you haven’t, you probably know this scene) think of it in relation to the monster throwing the little girl into the pond, letting her drown. There, the implication is that the monster can’t help but misunderstand the difference between a flower and a human life – he means no harm, but his monstrous nature demands it. In Halloween, Michael Myers is the monster giving in to his nature – only an evil, knowing, human one.
Scary. Socially relevant. Amazing.
*I didn’t expand on Final Girls here, but we’ll get to it. Check out Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws for the original definition, and arguably the best walk through of Halloween ever written.
If you like it, watch:
It’s a classic, Boris Karloff is the best, the make-up is killer
Show the kids:
It’s a Disney television movie, but it’s the very best of them. Pretty scary, so don’t say I didn’t warn you