Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis

“I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.” (Dr Loomis, Halloween)

There are a sacred handful of films that will forever be considered horror classics, films that revolutionised the genre and influenced the creation of countless others that followed in its wake. Look inside the wallets of Night Of The Living Dead, Psycho, The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and you’ll find they’re all card-carrying members of this elite club, but John Carpenter’s Halloween was the one who went to the printing shop and had the cards designed. Shite metaphors aside, the influence Halloween had on horror is one that continues to this day, largely because it was the first film to successfully introduce the slasher genre to the mainstream public.

Woody Allen wasn't very inconspicuous when he tried to be a ghost

While it’s often wrongly credited as the first ever slasher movie (the likes of Black Christmas, The Driller Killer and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre came before it), there’s no denying that Halloween was the first to nail it and the one that would inspire the endless stream of low-budget slashers that followed it (a stream that would flow right through to the present day). Its simple premise – a babysitter stalked by a faceless, unstoppable killer – made it easy for the viewer to relate and as such made it terrifying to the teenage audiences that came in their droves to see it. Simply put, Halloween changed horror cinema forever.

It tells the story of Michael Myers, a young boy who suddenly snaps one Halloween. Putting on a clown mask, Michael grabs a kitchen knife and goes upstairs, stabbing his older sister over and over. When his parents get home and find that young Mike’s turned his sister into a human colander, he’s sent to a mental asylum for the rest of his life.

That lamb vindaloo was coming back on young Michael. That's right, we make jokes about boys shitting themselves here

Naturally, someone sitting in a cell of 90 minutes would make for a fairly shit movie, so Michael (now aged 21 when we catch up with him) has the common courtesy to escape the asylum and head back to his home town of Haddonfield to raise some hell again.

Halloween is bloody impressive given its shoestring budget. Jamie Lee Curtis and the actresses playing her friends had to go to a charity shop to buy their own outfits, director John Carpenter also composed the music on a cheapo piano and synthesiser, the cast are complete unknowns (other than Donald Pleasance, who plays Michael’s doctor Sam Loomis) and there isn’t a special effect to be seen throughout. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) this, it’s one of those rarities – a horror film that remains genuinely scary more than 30 years later.

The awesome Donald Pleasance would appear in five Halloween movies in total

Michael Myers is the perfect bogeyman. With his expressionless white mask (a painted William Shatner mask, incidentally) it’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking. He doesn’t just kill like Jason or other slasher villains do, he stalks his prey, watching them and waiting for the right moment to attack, catching them off guard then studying how they react as they die. He’s chilling.

Even his mere presence in the background is enough to cause a fright, a fact taken advantage of by John Carpenter’s clever direction. During some indoor scenes there are occasional subtle glimpses of the white mask outside the window as he stands in the darkness. This keeps the audience on edge and puts them in the odd position of actually hoping to see complete darkness outside. What other film makes its viewers NOT afraid of the dark?

"I really need to get this wardrobe fixed"

Halloween may be near-perfect but there are one or two tiny elements that make it fall just short. While the young Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastically believable in the lead role of Laurie – giving a real girl-next-door feeling that greatly adds to the film’s authenticity – and PJ Soles is funny as her friend Lynda, the same can’t be said for the third member of the group, Annie (played by Nancy Loomis). She’s so wooden they might as well have put a charity shop skirt on a table and wheeled it alongside the other two, and while her character’s fairly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, she’s the sole reminder that we’re dealing with a low budget film here. Her stupidly hammy facial expressions during her strangulation scene are ridiculous, cheesy garbage and as a result she ruins what should have been a classic moment in horror cinema.

This is made up for by the amazing Donald Pleasance, who steals the show as Dr Sam Loomis. The only real star in the film, Pleasance only signed up for the movie because his daughter was a big fan of Carpenter’s previous movie, Assault On Precinct 13, but it’s a good job he did because it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.

While it could be argued that the point of film reviews is to give opinions on – among other things – the likes of plot development, to say much more about Halloween would be to spoil it. It’s the sort of film where, if you’ve been lucky enough to come this far without finding out what happens, you should track it down as soon as possible and enjoy it. All you really need to know is that it’s a true horror classic and is essential viewing for any fan of the genre.

WHERE CAN I GET IT?
There are loads of ways to get Halloween so here are a bunch of links:
UK DVD

UK Blu-ray
UK DVD box set (Halloween 1-5 and H20)
US DVD
US Blu-ray

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Sharktopus (2010)

Director: Declan O’Brien

Starring: Eric Roberts, Kerem Bursin, Sara Lane

“There is a way we can stop this thing. Virgin sacrifices. Yes, the Mexican Fish & Game Commission assures me the only way to appease this beast is to offer it a beautiful virgin, preferably 18-25 years old. I repeat: Sharktopus wants our virgins. ” (Captain Jack, Sharktopus)

For those who don’t know, the slew of “mutated animal” creature features that have been doing the rounds for the past few years is partly thanks to the folks at SyFy (formerly known as the Sci-Fi Channel), who help fund them in return for exclusive premiere rights. That’s why many of them seem very similar.

What happens when the Sharktopus meets a normal shark? He fucks him up, basically

Take Sharktopus, for example, and compare it with Dinoshark, which I reviewed recently. Both films feature mutated sharks, both films have atrocious CGI scenes where the shark in question attacks and both films, for some reason, take place in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. I’d like to think money’s probably exchanged hands between the filmmakers and the Puerto Vallarta tourism board, but considering the films are essentially saying Puerto Vallarta is packed with killer mutant sharks I’m not so sure.

Anyway then, Sharktopus. As you may be able to deduce with your keen mind, it’s about a half-shark half-octopus monster. Rather than hatching from ice like Dinoshark did, Sharktopus is the result of a dodgy biological experiment to create the ultimate killing machine. Naturally, it breaks free and heads to Mexico– where the women are hot and the budget is cheap – meaning it’s up to the scientists who created it to stop it.

Not a good time to lose your head! AHAHAHAHA! Oh dear, I may actually be the most original writer in history

The big boss of the scientists (played by made-for-TV maestro Eric Roberts) wants Sharktopus kept alive because he’ll lose his contract with the military if it dies, so he hires Andy Flynn (Bursin), an ex-Iraq War veteran, and offers him a whole heap of money to catch it without killing it. And if you think he’s not going to change his mind later and instead blow it to smithereens when it gets out of control then I appreciate your optimism but you’re obviously delirious.

Some of the deaths in Sharktopus are actually fairly impressive, especially given the sort of off-camera rubbish we’ve been “treated” to in other movies of its ilk in the past. Expect to see some decapitations, tentacle impalement, and of course the odd chomp or twelve to keep things moving along. There are even times where the Sharktopus leaves the sea, using its tentacles to waddle along the coast in a big up yours to the snarky “well, why don’t you just stay out of the water” argument people often use during shark movies.

Let's be honest, this is cool as fuck

The most curious moment for me is the scene with the two ship painters sitting on scaffolding above the water, painting the side of a boat. The Sharktopus attacks them both, but as the second one dies he yells “Nooooo, not like this”. Are you kidding me? Being killed by a Sharktopus is clearly one of the most awesome ways to go. Imagine your wife at your funeral talking to people:

“I’m sorry to hear about Jake, ma’am. You have my deepest condolences.”
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say.”
“If you don’t mind me asking ma’am, how exactly did Jake leave us? Was it a heart attack? In his sleep?”
“No, he was pulled into the sea and eaten whole by a Sharktopus.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, ma’am, that is fucking epic.”

Of the countless killer animal films currently doing the rounds, Sharktopus is one of the better ones… not that that’s saying much. The CGI effects and story are still hokey garbage but at least there are some clever death scenes in there, which is more or less what these otherwise mindless films are all about.