In the summer of 1980, one of the most influential movies of my life was unsuspectingly unleashed into theaters. No, it wasn't “The Empire Strikes Back,” or even “The Shining,” two of the biggest-budget movies released that year, although both of those films are incredible.
No, it was a low-budget slasher flick that took the world by storm that year … Sean S. Cunningham's “Friday the 13th.”
Now, I was only approaching my 12th birthday that summer, and I knew there was no way in hell that my parents were going to let me go see it. The controversy surrounding the movie and its graphic content had reached full-blown mainstream access, even without the Internet's existence. Critics from every newspaper and on TV were appalled at the film's violence, while word of mouth was stirring about how scary and bloody it was. Fangoria Magazine devoted front covers and numerous pages each issue about the film, highlighting its graphic special effects and horrific content.
Heck, there were even reported boycotts of the film from parents and religious leaders, lambasting the film for its sex scenes, nudity and, most of all, the many realistically graphic murder scenes.
The movie and its notoriety became one of the biggest media stories of the year – the little, small-budget slasher flick that shocked and outraged a lot of people, becoming one of the biggest financial hits of the year.
And meanwhile, kids like me all across America were hearing and reading the stories, sharing gossip with each other about how bad, bloody and scary we heard it was.
And after all the hype and hoopla, after being told by my parents that I absolutely would not be allowed to see it, I knew there only one thing I had to do: See the damn movie, at any cost.
So, I did.
And I gotta say, my life changed forever.
I vividly remember watching it for the very time. Filled with dread before it even started. Peeking through my fingers during the opening scene. Jolting out of my seat throughout the movie as the suspense built. Gasping at some of the murder scenes. And finally, screaming like a little girl during the film's shock ending.
It was every bit as terrifying, gruesome and unforgettable as I had hoped it would be.
And, it was exhilarating.
Now, I know the generations after me would probably watch the film now and scratch their heads over my fawning for this film. Yes, the film is now dated and somewhat cheesy, and some might find it today to be a little slow in parts and filed with horror movie clichés. But you have to understand something … for its time, this movie was a stunning revelation. It broke many barriers and crossed many lines. It wore its low budget like a proud badge of honor, it generated unbearable suspense and created so many of what we today call horror movie clichés, and it was shocking in its unbelievable special effects for its time (pre-CGI).
And most important of all, it scared the ever loving crap out of me.
At that point in my young and naive life, with only a handful of viewed horror movies under my belt, I was convinced that no horror movie was ever going to be better than that.
And then, I was proven wrong. Thanks to a local video store and the gift of a used video cassette player, I was finally able to see the one movie that I had been dying to see since it came out in 1978. The one horror movie that I heard and read so much about, the one that actually received a ton of critical praise, the one that was built into my brain as being so scary that even looking at the film's poster would give me chills.
Four years after its release, after it terrified the nation, I finally got to see “The One.”
And “The One” is John Carpenter's classic, “Halloween.”
And after finally witnessing it, I not only knew that is was going to replace “Friday the 13th” as my favorite movie, it would forever be the greatest horror movie I would ever see. And today, exactly 40 years after its original release, it is still “The One.”
The Boogeyman. The Shape. Michael Myers. Pure, unadulterated evil. The mask. Those soulless, blackened eyes. The music. The terrifying opening, the relentless stalk-and-chase sequences, the harrowing ending. The lighting, the camera shots. This movie in every aspect is The Perfect Horror Movie.
Honestly, I could spend days and thousands of pages declaring my love for this movie, because it deserves it. No movie has ever impacted me like “Halloween.” It is deceptively simple story, about a little boy overcome with evil for no rhyme or reason, who kills his sister, is institutionalized, escapes on Halloween 15 years later and returns home to continue his killing ways. He randomly picks his victims, taunts and torments them before striking and then methodically goes in for the kill, with no passion or remorse.
He is a human shark wearing an expressionless mask, toying with his food before he eats. He has no anger toward the people he kills, he just simply kills them because they were there. The movie offers no long-winded explanations or provides any colorful background or origin story as to why he does what he does … If you're unfortunate enough to cross his path, then you're simply his next victim. And it doesn't matter where you live, or how fast you run or where you hide; once he decides you're next, you're fate is sealed.
And no one can save you. Not your intelligent and resourceful friends, not your parents, or even the authorities. And the fact that he can strike anywhere, at any time, even in a safe, small quiet suburban area, even if you're behind locked doors and you have weapons to defend yourself with. It just doesn't matter.
THAT is what makes “Halloween” so terrifying, and the greatest horror movie ever made.
I will have much more to say about these two legendary movies in future installments. And next time, I will be talking about the next boogeyman that forever impacted my horror loving life.
One, two, Freddy's coming for you...