And all I got was a super-bloody lesson in cultural history, media decline, and medical ethics.
Do kids still see Halloween? Film historian David Thompson says horror dates faster than any other genre, and the original 1978 film—the one John Carpenter directed, in which Jamie Lee Curtis gets trapped in the closet—was released 34 years ago this month. Back then, Hitchcock was alive and horror-standard-bearer Psycho had been out for 18 years (Carpenter gave Donald Pleasence's rogue analyst the same name as Janet Leigh's boyfriend, and genre-savvy audiences snapped up the reference). Since then, parody and familiarity have made Psycho harmless and respectable, a prized artifact in the Museum of Formerly Scary Things. Nobody sees it because everyone's already seen it.
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So, do kids still see Halloween, Psycho's most influential offspring? I hope so. Watching it despite orders not to from parents or babysitters should be a rite of passage for anyone born after 1980. The original and parts of the ensuing seven sequels—not including two remakes by Rob Zombie—are good, streamlined, scary fun. The bad guy, Michael Myers, is just a nut who can't stop murdering people in his hometown, because he's crazy and unkillable and his movies make money. His Ahab is played by Donald Pleasence, who is also crazy and unkillable, in addition to being an ineffective psychiatrist. They do battle in and around the fictional southern Illinois town of Haddonfield. Their conflict is static—except for the in-name-only third sequel, which is about a crazy toy tycoon—but the films span 24 years of American history (there hasn't been a new addition to the original franchise since 2002.)
This is notable: The only other series of films to age with the landscape of America over anything approaching such a span is the Godfather trilogy. Those movies are about the mafia, but also efficiency, power, and splendid self-isolation. Could the Halloween movies also be about... things? Maybe! I recently sat down and watched all eight movies back-to-back in the hopes a subtext would emerge. It didn't, not exactly. But three basic premises were asserted over and over again: the media is in decline, medical professionals don't know what they're doing, and mental illness is something to be feared.