I saw John Carpenter’s The Thing for the first time a last year, and became kind of obsessed with it. Since then, I’ve been renting other John Carpenter movies, but I haven’t liked anything I’ve seen nearly as much. I just saw Halloween, which is supposed to be one of his best, and…eh. It was certainly okay, but I’m not exactly sure why it’s supposed to be so special. Maybe it’s because so many of its tropes (the final surviving girl, the killer in the mask, slaying the villain and having him come back over and over) have become cliches — but were any of them really such great ideas in the first place? The way the teenagers keep getting killed whenever they express sexual desire is pretty entertaining, and Carpenter’s eerie synth score is creepy. The camera movement is very fluid, and the perspective-of-the-killer shots are fun — especially in the opening scenes where Michael puts on the mask and you see through his restricted vision. But the psychologist nattering on about how ultimately bad, bad, bad Michael Myers is just kind of tedious, and the movie’s efforts to turn a serial killer into some sort of primal force of eldritch evil seem overblown and dumb. I guess that’s really where the film loses me; if you’re going to have a supernatural villain, have a supernatural villain. If you’re going to have it be a bad guy, have it be a bad guy and expend some effort on making him seem actually dangerous. As it is, Myers inability to kill Curtis just seems like incompetence — he keeps missing her with the knife, and she then beats the crap out of him over and over. The only thing that makes him at all credible as a threat is that he keeps getting these totally un-earned do-overs, coming back from the dead for no apparent reason. It’s like the movie couldn’t come up with a really dangerous threat, so has to fall back on special pleading. (Texas Chainsaw Massacre does a much better job having villains who are really scary but vulnerable. The murder scenes also manage to be a lot more shocking and visceral.)
I also finally saw the Japanese horror classic Ring-U recently — and that was a whole lot more satisfying. The evil is more clearly occult, and while it’s not exactly what you’d call coherent, it does have a poetic consistency. The plot involves a video; once you see it, you have one week to live. The tension created by the time limit, and the character’s desperate efforts to find out what’s going on, are much more suspenseful than the random, sudden violence in Halloween — where the viewers know that something bad is going to happen, but the victims generally don’t. The mix of eldritch magic and modern technology is very well done, and the pacing is perfect — we don’t see how the curse works until the very end of the movie, and the payoff is suitably bizarre and eerie. Halloween also doesn’t have anything anywhere near as weird as the scene where the Ringu heroine stands up to her waist in water at the bottom of a well caressing a child’s skeleton. You’ve gotta love that.