John Carpenter’s all over the internet so it must be Halloween
Halloween must be John Carpenter’s favourite holiday. It’s the one time of year when the quasi-retired pothead puts down his Xbox controller to give countless interviews about Halloween and horror. As avid a fan of his movies as I am, especially his early, scary ones, I’m not sure there’s really anything more that he or anyone else can say about them. I did, though, find this comment to The AV Club rather interesting:
“People say things like, ‘The rule is that you never show the devil.’ I’ve heard that. An actress lectured me on that once. But if you have a good-looking devil, and it looks convincing—well, yes, you show it! You kidding? It’ll scare the shit out of the audience. If you have a stupid devil, then you don’t show it. That’s why I always worry about rules. You know, rules for horror. It’s just not that easy or simple. But when I say horror is essentially the same, I mean its purpose. Throughout the years, it’s been to scare you. Its purpose is to take away the reality of your life for a little while and scare you in safety—in the safety of the theater. That’s its purpose.”
In Halloween, Carpenter clearly withheld the devil from view as much as he could, while in something like The Thing its very raison d’etre was showing dogs splitting apart and tentacles and arms being chewed off by gaping chest-maws and creeping spider-heads. Of course, The Thing had the brilliant effects work of Rob Bottin and Halloween had a Captain Kirk mask.
But Carpenter’s point about showing the horror reminded me of a quote Clive Barker once gave about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It seems Barker was quite upset when he got to the part in the novel where Kurtz delivers his final words: “The horror, the horror.” Barker desperately wanted to know what “the horror” actually was. It wasn’t enough that Conrad expected the reader to imagine the horror. Barker wanted it spelled out for him, something which he says influenced his own writing. Clearly, Barker would have had no issue with The Thing.
These thoughts, messy as they are, all come while I’m doing my semi-annual viewing of the entire Halloween series (minus the Rob Zombie remakes, which I simply cannot abide). I watched Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers last night. The former was far more entertaining than I remember, in part because I recently listened to the Movie Crypt podcast in which hosts Adam Green and Joe Lynch are joined by Return/Revenge star Danielle Harris for an unofficial movie commentary track.
Her recollections of making Halloween 4, in particular the rooftop finale, gave me a bit more appreciation for what is otherwise a fairly paint-by-numbers affair. Donald’s Pleasance’s Van Helsing-like Dr. Loomis is still the best thing in the movie, so completely does he commit to the reality of the story. Of course, the first two Halloween films are slashers par excellence and I like to think of them as one film (after all, Halloween II is simply an extension of the final act of the first film, one long post-credits sequence), while I’ve never really cared for Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I know its gotten a bit of a critical resuscitation of late, which is often qualified with the notion that if it had simply been called Season of the Witch, and unconnected to Halloween, people would have loved it upon initial release. Maybe, but I still don’t think it’s a good or even interesting movie, and it’s certainly not a Halloween movie.