Scene Sound Off: Halloween

Halloween is a classic film, a staple in horror cinema. What Halloween does so amazingly well is build an impending sense of tension and dread. The source being Michael Myers, a mysterious voyeuristic figure that spends the first half of the film eerily receding in the background with an unwavering stare. Michael Myers waits until nightfall to wreak havoc, but he bleeds into the suburban daylight, like an off-putting smudge on a perfect painting, as he wanders around town beforehand. It is in the following scene where we see Michael eerily preying on the little town of Haddonfield, particularly his most prized victim Laurie Strode. This scene brilliantly depicts the quiet terror of our villain, as Laurie feels the unsettling tension of being followed.

The scene begins with Laurie and her Annoying Friend #1, Annie, walking through the halls after school. Annie’s sarcastic line helps further establish Laurie’s bookworm and good-girl character- “Look at all the books you have. You need a shopping cart to get home.” Laurie’s friends don’t care much for doing homework. The camera follows them as they walk along the neighborhood road. The girls walk towards the camera as if it is pulling them towards it. The camera stops as Annoying Friend #2, Lynda, catches up to them.

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After they cross the street Laurie exclaims that she forgot her chemistry book. She turns around, her stare lingering at the road behind her, as if she’s had an uneasy feeling pf someone following her all along. Sure enough, a car pulls around the corner. The audience recognizes this as Michael’s car that he stole. The famous piano-tinkling theme starts playing. The driver is just an unrecognizable shadow. Laurie recognizes the car from seeing it linger outside of the school window earlier.The other girls think it’s a classmate, Laurie replies “I don’t think so.” But Annie and Lynda heckle him about his driving. The car makes a sudden stop. The girls wait, wondering if they’ve provoked him enough that he’s going to come out and confront them. But the car drives off, and the music score fades away as he turns the corner.

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Laurie, Lynda and Annie talk about how they’re going to babysit that night and their plans to meet up. As if to signal the impending doom of the nighttime, the haunting score plays again. The girls walk past the camera, and the camera turning and lingering still on their backs as they walk away and the neighborhood swallows them up. These shots from behind almost feel as if we are Myers himself, watching them walk off and planning for where we will appear next.

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Laurie soon spots Michael standing and staring at her from behind some hedges, ever so briefly. The mask is seen from far off, an odd white face that is hard to tell exactly what you’re looking at. In many shots in the beginning sequence where Michael is seen in daylight, we either see glimpse of him from far away, shrouded in shadow, or close-up but his head out of frame. Every time he appears in the daylight he is sticks out like a sore thumb, with the drab greys of his clothes and human-like white mask against the placid suburban background. From the odd or quick angles and faraway shots, Carpenter creates a fearsome aura around this furtive and chilling character. The infamous mask incredibly and effectively contributes to this.

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Laurie identifies the figure as the guy from the car. Though there was no way from the shot of car driving to see who was in it, Laurie knows that she is being followed. Though he is gone just as quickly as he was seen, and Annie tricks her into thinking it was a potential suitor, Laurie now acknowledges that her feelings of being watched must be more than suspicion.

This scene demonstrates how the out-of-place Michael Myers infects the beauty of the idyllic setting of Haddonfield on that cheery Halloween day, soon to become a fearsome Halloween night. The audience gets a beginning sense of this character’s terrifying power. As the camera sweeps throughout the neighborhood, our eyes scour for a sign of the mysterious follower, just as Laurie does. Watch the scene below!

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It Follows: Suburban Horror Dream World

It Follows is one of the greatest new horror films to come out in recent years. It uniquely subverts the tropes of horror classics past while having a look, music, and plot elements that homages them. The teens-having-sex-and-then-dying trope is in the quintessential staple of slasher films such as Halloween and Friday the 13th. It Follows takes that trope and subverts it into something completely new and nightmare-inducing.  It’s villain is an STD that manifests itself. You must pass it along to someone by having sex with them. Or else, you will be followed by a creature (who could look like someone you know, or a stranger) and if they catch up with you, an untimely and gruesome death will follow.

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What is unique about It Follows, aside from its inventive plot, is that it takes the iconography of horror films past to create a timeless suburban slasher fairy world. Main characters drive vintage cars, living rooms have old televisions, the ones with the rabbit ears, on which they only watch old black and white horror films. It is an odd retro-futuristic mix, for we clearly see 2015 cars in the background as well. Also, one character has a tiny shell compact that is like a small Kindle. (It’s not real—I checked. Wish it was though!)

One scene uses this lack of modern technology to completely echo A Nightmare on Elm Street. Our heroine, Jay uses her landline 1980s style phone to call her neighbor that lives across from her, who she fears is being followed by the mis being followed by the dangerous “It”. She stares helplessly out the window waiting for him to pick up. We recall the infamous Johnny Depp death scene, where Nancy Thompson stares helplessly out the window as she tries to call her across the street neighbor and boyfriend.

The closeness of neighborhood friends reflects the story of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the small suburban community which horror is wreaking havoc upon, but that scene outright homages it. Think how different that scene would have played out with an iPhone. Would we have still called to mind that horror classic? It Follows has deliberately placed us in this other-world.

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Of course, any film about suburban horror will recall Halloween. But the shots of something walking and stalking is clearly reminiscent of the film, and echoes Michael Myers languidly following or slowly receding into the background. But it is the difference of music that marks an interesting distinction between the films.

Rich Vreeland’s lusciously surreal synthesizer score does what John Carpenter’s score did in Halloween but in a different method. (Though the scores are a bit similar) Though the shots are similar, the feeling the music gives is quite different. Carpenter’s infamous score is creepingly slow and atmospheric. It offers a quietly gripping tension. You know something is prowling somewhere.

Rich Vreeland’s pulsating rhythms fill you with a more imminent dread, a heart-pounding plunge down the roller coaster and going on the run. Michael Myers lurked in the shadows, but what is following you is here in broad daylight and you better run.

As the years go by, we wait for new horror classics but that is rarely delivered. We become nostalgic for the classics past. The looks of those films will forever be permeated in our culture. This causes us to wonder if horror films will ever be able to escape that and establish its own new look? It Follows chooses to soak itself in an overall nostalgic look, as if it could easily place itself on a shelf with those classics and not be mistaken for a modern film. It Follows uses elements in technology used, story and camerawork from horror classics to create a horror dream world. This is used quite effectively, for not only does It Follows echoes films of horror past, but manages to stand on its own as a potential new horror classic.