HALLOWEEN and IT FOLLOWS: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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Halloween_It Follows

HALLOWEEN and IT FOLLOWS: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen John Carpenter’s Halloween or David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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When sitting in my seat at New York’s Angelika Film Center and David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows was about to begin, I was wondering, based on all the hype, if I might be witnessing today’s generation find their “Halloween“. Once the film was over and now after repeat viewings, I feel that these films are a lot alike in many ways. Whether Mitchell’s flick will someday be considered a true classic, like Carpenter’s masterpiece, only time will tell. The two films, though have a lot in common and whether they are revered on equal levels at some point, it is worth looking at those similarities now…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

John Carpenter’s classic Halloween has a young boy murdering his own sister on Halloween night. Fifteen years later Michael Myers breaks out of Smith Grove Sanitarium and returns to his home town of Haddonfield, Illinois with his psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) in hot pursuit. Michael randomly picks high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)…remember, it wan’t until Halloween II that we found out she was Michael’s baby sister…and begins to relentlessly stalk her and her friends. Michael leaves a trail of bodies in his wake as he tracks down young Laurie while she babysits on Halloween night.

It Follows has some sort of vengeful entity passed on to pretty college student Jay (Maika Monroe) through sexual intercourse. This demonic entity relentlessly stalks Jay, taking the form of anyone it wishes and only she and the one who passed it on to her can see it. It will stop at nothing to kill Jay…unless she passes it on to another through sex…as she and her friends seek to somehow evade or destroy it.

There are stark differences in plot details, but basically both flicks have a young woman targeted and stalked by a relentless, malevolent force.

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THE ANTAGONISTS

One of the things that makes Halloween so effective is the randomness of it’s killer. Evoking the feeling it could happen anytime, any place, to anyone. Michael Myers is an average little boy who on one Halloween night, takes up a knife and slaughters his sister. He is immediately incarcerated and over the years, remains a silent vessel of some kind of growing, intense evil that is never explained. For no outward reason, he chooses to escape and return home the night before Halloween, 15 years later. He picks Laurie Strode at random and just starts to follow her relentlessly, then murdering her friends before finally coming after her. He can be slowed down and injured, but apparently not stopped. Whatever Laurie and Dr. Loomis throw at him, he keeps getting back up. He wears an ominous Halloween mask and never speaks, nor seems to take any outward pleasure out of his violent acts. He is just an malevolent juggernaut that won’t stop until he gets what he wants. His motives and what drives him are a mystery.

The unnamed entity of It Follows is similar in many respects. Jay is seemingly picked at random by Hugh (Jake Weary) to have the entity passed onto. Once it has been, it pursues Jay relentlessly. Unlike Myers, it can assume any guise as it does. Sometimes it is in the form of an old woman, sometimes a tall man and even appears as Greg (Daniel Zovatto) and his mother, when Jay passes it on to him and it comes to kill him. It’s true form may be more demonic as the wound it gives Paul (Keir Gilchrist) appears to be claw marks. While the entity seems far more supernatural than Myers, and can only be seen by it’s victim, it also seems like it can be physically wounded and slowed down, though not stopped. It is methodical and patient much like Haddonfield’s infamous killer and also never speaks or seems to truly revel in it’s acts. A big difference, though is the entity will only kill it’s target. It only harms someone else, as with Paul, if they directly get in it’s way. In this, Halloween‘s Myers leaves a far larger body count.

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THE FINAL GIRLS/HEROINES

Here is a point where there are some vast differences, probably more due to a sign of the changing times, but Jay and Laurie are very different young women, despite their mutual resilience. Laurie Strode is the quintessential girl-next-door. She’s dedicated to her school work, very pretty, but dresses conservatively and she is still quite the virgin. She is also very shy around boys. Jay Height, on the other hand, is a few years older and is not only a sexy young woman who is very comfortable around boys, but very sexually active as well. The whole plot of It Follows is started with a sexual encounter she has in the back seat of a boy’s car…on only their second date. Again, it’s almost four decades after Halloween, so the portrayal of women and youths in movies has changed and the society they grew up in, is a lot different than it was in 1978. For example, from the brief meeting with Laurie’s dad, we can see she comes from a good, loving home with caring parents. She’s courteous and polite. Jay, in contrast, comes from a broken home with an alcoholic mother. She curses and is promiscuous and rebellious. With her mother almost always in a stupor, she has only her friends to turn to. Unlike Laurie, there is no Dr. Loomis waiting in the wings to save the day, either.

Both films carry the time-honored horror film themes about the dangers of casual sex, that their respective heroines’ peril represents. In contrast, the virginal Laurie survives, while her horny friends die, while not only does promiscuous Jay’s fate remain uncertain, it is casual sex that got her in trouble in the first place.

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THE SETTINGS

Here there are equal parts similarities and differences. Both film’s have a suburban setting, but very different suburbs. Haddonfield is more of a Norman Rockwell all-American neighborhood with white picket fences, well manicured lawns and trees everywhere. Jay lives in rundown, suburban Detroit where paint is cracking, there are old beat-up cars in the driveways and not every house looks lived in. Where Carpenter used the Halloween time of year to establish a mood, with leaves blowing and cloudy fall days giving way to nights filled with pumpkins and trick-or-treaters, Mitchell uses the desolate look of a dying community to give his chiller it’s feeling of desolation and isolation. Jay’s neighborhood is disturbingly void of activity both day and night while Haddonefield is filled with playing children. It gives us the feeling that Jay and friend’s are all alone…we rarely see an adult…while Halloween gives us an almost idyllic family community unaware and unprepared for the evil that has entered it’s peaceful streets. Two separate methods of using settings to establishing fear and dread, which both films have in abundance.

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THE OPENING SCENES

Both movies have great opening scenes that really establish the mood and tone. Halloween opens on October 31st, 1963. We see pretty Judith Myers being watched as she makes out with, then makes love to, her boyfriend. After he leaves, the observer takes up a kitchen knife and we find it is Judith’s little brother Michael, who then brutally slaughters his nearly naked sister for no apparent reason. His horrified parents arrive home in time to see their little boy standing outside the house holding a bloody knife and staring blankly into space.

It Follows opens with a pan across the Detroit neighborhood as the sun sets when pretty Annie (Bailey Spry) in lingerie and heels bursts out of her house. She looks terrified despite assuring her inquiring neighbor she’s fine. The girl runs back into the house and emerges with her keys, blowing past her concerned father and getting in her car and leaving. We then see her alone on a beach, lit only with her car’s headlights, tearfully telling her father on the phone that she loves him. As she looks in the distance in terror, at the tree line lit by her car’s red break lights, we get an intense feeling of dread even before we cut to the following morning with Annie’s body lying in the sand in a horrifyingly brutalized condition.

Both openings are perfect for setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding.

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THE ENDINGS

Here’s where Halloween really comes out on top. Carpenter’s classic and Mitchell’s films both have ambiguous endings, but only Halloween really pulls it off. After a very intense battle with Michael Myers, Dr. Loomis comes and shoots the masked killer repeatedly till he falls off a balcony and hits the ground…presumedly dead. As Loomis tries to comfort Laurie she asks if it was the ‘Boogie Man’…Loomis replies with an ominous “As a matter of fact it was.” We then see that Michael’s body is gone. It’s very effective and leaves us chilled long after the credits roll. He’s still out there…somewhere. A perfectly spooky open ending with a classic line that still resonates.

It Follows drops the ball a bit by not quite knowing when to stop. Jay and friends have an intense battle with “It” as they lure it into the high school pool where Paul finally shoots it while it’s underwater and trying to drown Jay. Jay looks over the edge of the pool to see it ominously filling with an expanding cloud of blood. Is it dead? We’re not sure. Then the film goes on, having Jay return home and finally sleeping with Paul, who has crushed on her for years. They ask each other if they feel ‘different’ and decide they don’t. After Paul’s declining to pass it on to a pair of hookers…if it’s even still following them…the film cuts to Paul and Jay walking down the street holding hands while there is another person in the distance behind them…and then just ends. It’s supposed to leave us feeling unsure if the entity was defeated or not, but just seems abrupt. The added sex scene with Paul is motivationally unclear, especially after Jay was so guilty over what happened to Greg. It gives us the impression that the story is going to continue, but then just ends. It’s more abrupt than ominous and personally, left me unsatisfied. In my humble opinion…and while I respect the filmmaker’s vision…I would have ended it as Jay looked into the blood-filled pool. The sex scene with Paul doesn’t really add anything and doesn’t further the story. It also gives the intense pool scene a feeling of not having gone anywhere and deflates it’s impact as the film continues on with a new plot point that doesn’t resolve anything either.

Carpenter knew to end Halloween at the right point, while we’re still catching our breath. Mitchell let’s us wind down and then continues the story a bit before his ambiguous ending and thus it gives the appearance of just ending suddenly…and un-satisfyingly. Basically the only real stumble he makes with this film.

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MISC.

There are other similarities. Both films have excellent cinematography and shot framing. John Carpenter’s shot framing has always been impeccable and the moody yet vibrant cinematography of Dean Cundey really makes it effective. Cundey uses shadow brilliantly and Halloween truly looks like the holiday it represents. David Robert Mitchell sights Carpenter as an influence and it shows. Much like Bereavement‘s Stevan Mena, Mitchell has learned well from the master and he frames his shots exceptionally. He is backed up by some sumptuous digital cinematography by Mike Gioulakis, who like Cundey, knows how to use light and shadow to his advantage and he gives the rundown streets of Detroit a sense of hopelessness that fits along with the film’s mood.

Also adding atmosphere for both film’s are their electronic scores. Carpenter’s score for Halloween is legendary and it brilliantly highlights what’s going on in the film, setting the mood for every frame. The same can be said for Disaterpeace’s electronic score for It Follows. A bit more complex than Carpenter’s perfectly minimalist score, it also adds a lot of mood and atmosphere even adding ominous touches when the film is in quieter moments, as Carpenter did with his keyboards.

Finally, both films got gradual releases that slowly expanded from the weeks of their premieres. Staggered releases weren’t uncommon in the 70s and Halloween slowly expanded it’s release and thus it’s reputation grew and began to precede it, as it was regionally released across the country from late October through November. It Follows was supposed to have a small four theater release in mid-March…which is when I saw it in NYC…and then open on VOD a week later. It did so well in those four locations that the VOD release was postponed and the film added more and more theaters over the following few weeks till it achieved a full wide release on 3/27/15 and a solid gross for a low budget film originally slated for VOD.

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So is It Follows the Halloween of today’s generation? By way of comparison, in many ways, it is. The true test will be years from now when we see if horror fans still revere and talk about it or…if it turns out to be a ‘horror of the moment’ and fade away with the next big thing. Only time will tell. Personally, I think it falls a few steps short, but is still a solid and refreshingly offbeat horror flick that should stand the test of time well, if not quite as importantly regarded as Carpenter’s classic masterpiece.

-MonsterZero NJ

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5 thoughts on “HALLOWEEN and IT FOLLOWS: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

  1. Pingback: WITHOUT WARNING and PREDATOR: A COMPARISON IN HORROR! | MonsterZero NJ's Movie Madhouse

  2. Pingback: HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: HALLOWEEN HOTTIE OF 2015…MAIKA MONROE! | MonsterZero NJ's Movie Madhouse

  3. The black and white still featured on the “Views and Opinions” banner up top is on the tip of my tongue…what film is it from?

  4. Pingback: DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR! | MonsterZero NJ's Movie Madhouse

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