Thursday, 31 July 2008

Horror That Made Me #2

It might be inevitable that, as I reach the Top 2 in AiP’s countdown of the “Horror That Made Me”, the movies in question get pretty famous indeed. And, in terms of the amount already written about them online, in books or anywhere, perhaps none are more famous than...

Halloween (1978)

Simply put, the influence of John Carpenter’s masterpiece cannot be escaped. Halloween was released the year I was born – 1978 – and, truth be told, I like to think of it lingering there in the background the whole of my life, just out of focus like The Shape itself. In fact, I came to Halloween relatively late in my horror education, around the age of 15, following years of late-night Hammer horror and 50s sci-fi in black-and-white. Until then, I’d thought horror had to revolve around a giant radioactive insect, a vampire or anything flashy and supernatural. I’d shown little interest in Halloween... After all, what could be so scary about some guy in a mask?

What’s perfect about Halloween, then, is that it’s built on the kind of safe and distant horror you love (and I loved) as a child. Just look at the films that play on TV in the background throughout: The Thing from Another World and Forbidden Planet... They couldn’t happen on your street. But then a new horror arrives in the Shape of Michael Myers. And nothing is safe anymore.

My strongest memory of that first viewing of Halloween is its slow but transfixing build-up, haunted by the presence of Myers just out of shot on the street corners of Haddonfield as the young trick-or-treaters gear up for a night of fun. The scene that scared me the most is when our heroine, Laurie, finds herself trapped in a closet as Michael Myers batters at its flimsy door. “She’s dead!” I thought. “There’s no way out of this!” (Of course, there is – and it’s an eye-poking doozy.)

Then, when it was all finally over, I switched off the TV in my bedroom and heard my mum and dad coming upstairs. Turns out, they’d caught the last twenty minutes and couldn’t tear themselves away before coming to bed, despite their general lack of enthusiasm for all things horror. I knew then that Halloween was something special.

Lesson learned: The scariest monster is a man with a knife.

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