Traumafession:: Unk on Halloween (1978)

Today is Halloween! Happy Halloween! To mark the occasion I thought that I'd travel back in time and share with you all my first glimmer of Michael Myers, which seriously scared the bejesus out of little me. These days the image of Michael Myers and his ghostly pale mask is so ubiquitous it's hard to imagine there was a time when the mere sight of him was a jolting experience that cut like a knife. I suppose one could argue that the expressionless visage from EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) may have been a subconscious influence but for me, personally, I had never seen a figure remotely as stark and uncannily unnerving before. The truth is, when my poor peepers got a load of the guy for the first time, my feet ignored my brain being mesmerized and insisted on their own that my entire body leave the room. Yes, I was too scared to take it in. I ran like a rabbit.

When I was a kid we had a large rec room in the upstairs of our house that we called "the back room." It had bicentennial wallpaper, a ping-pong table (more often used as a fort) and our third parent, the big box TV. We lived in that particular house for four years but they were the important years that bridged childhood and adolescence. For the first two years, the blessed TV was on the left side of the room and that's where I watched everything from THE AMAZING CHAN AND THE CHAN GANG to ZOOM. Later, the TV moved to the right side of the room by the stairs and by that time, my interests focused more around daily half-hour music video shows (we had no MTV!) and those crazy "Aerobicise" exercise programs like the one featured in FRIDAY THE 13: Part 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER. When I first got a gander of Michael, the TV was still on the left side so that tells ya I was still a critter. In fact, I was eleven and I wasn't a newbie to horror either, I'd seen all the classic Universal stuff, withstood countless made-for-TV traumas and may have even endured the climax to CARRIE at this point.

Probably no one did more to attempt to squash the early eighties slasher boom than those lovable jerks SISKEL and EBERT (may they rest in peace). Ironically, no two people inadvertently stoked the flames of my fascination for horror more. My little brother and I absolutely loved SISKEL and EBERT's SNEAK PREVIEWS on Channel 12. This was before VHS exploded and by golly, it seemed like such a privilege to get to watch even short clips of movies for free. For all of the duo's scolding of "dead teenager" flicks, the two were at least level-headed enough to thoroughly champion JOHN CARPENTER's HALLOWEEN. It was during their review that fate made sure that "The Shape" crossed my path. I was somehow able to handle the scene where Laurie Strode hides in the closet with thrilled trepidation but it was a later scene that finally broke me. I think we've all seen it a million times by now but it's when Laurie is resting after a tussle with Michael who is on the ground presumably dead. Horrifically, he then slowly raises up out of her eyesight almost like a vampire rising from a coffin. That's when my fight or flight response said, "Feet don't fail me now" (there's a SISKEL and EBERT review of HALLOWEEN on YouTube that only shows the closet scene but I'm adamantly sticking with my memory of events, perhaps what I saw was an earlier review and the clip is a later confirmation since it concerns the onslaught of horror movies inspired by HALLOWEEN?)

Eventually, I would see HALLOWEEN in its (almost) entirety on TV a couple years later (1981) when I was babysitting (!) of all things. Yes, I was one of those rare boy babysitters you never hear about! What can I say? The neighbors loved me, trusted me with their kids and I loved collecting money while eating granola bars and watching THE LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND back to back. As a paranoid nerd, I had no problem identifying with Laurie and I have to say I really looked up to her too because she radiated nobility to me. As a kid who was bullied at school (and at home, the park, the mall, etc.), I found her fortitude inspiring. If she could go head to head with Michael certainly I could handle a few zit-faced knuckleheads. When we finally got a VCR (one of the first families on the block!), I was able to rent every flick that followed in HALLOWEEN's wake, always searching for that same elusive high (no luck there but THE FUNHOUSE, HELL NIGHT and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME came close). Recently I was asked to do a list of my favorite horror films (more on that later) and I was very surprised to see that half of the films I cited came out in 1981. Now I realize the reason for that is that I first met Laurie Strode that very year and the movie that I once found too scary to view for a few seconds had become ground zero for my horror obsession. Thank you, HALLOWEEN!

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Caffeinated Joe
3 years ago

Loved this! Thanks for sharing – and for calling your big tv your "third parent". I thought I was the only one who thought that way. I have had a tumblr blog/twitter by that very name for several years now. TV truly was My Third Parent!

Happy Halloween!

3 years ago

Yeah, Siskel and Ebert did not like the Friday the 13th series at all. Siskel hated them with a particular passion. I believe that his top 10 worst films lists was comprised entirely of Friday the 13th and Porky's movies.
I must admit that the only celebrity death to really choke me up, ever, was Roger Ebert. He was the reason that I got a twitter account and I completely abandoned it after he died.

3 years ago

Siskel was a schmuck who would obliviously rant about "more roles for young Hispanic girls" while shifting around in his seat and re-crossing his legs, then have the gall to bay and snivel about Hollywood "decadence."

In fact, in his print review of Friday the 13th, he posted Betsy Palmer's hometown and encouraged other idiots to harass her. The harassment would spread to Adrianne King, and Siskel remained *angrily* adamant years later that he was completely in the right on this matter. He was doxxing innocent victims long before the alt-right made it a thing on the Internet.

THAT SAID. His opinion of the film itself is spot-on. If you take the gory murders out of Friday the 13th, you have (quote) "an empty movie." And this is true of way too many shitty, lazy slasher movies.

It's not like Siskel or Ebert hated modern horror movies. They both loved Halloween and Alien. They openly admired Carpenter and Romero. That doesn't mean should have given every movie in the genre, or even ones by those directors, a free pass. (They tore up The Fog pretty badly, if I recall correctly.) When a movie has nothing going for it but Tom Savini of Tom Burman splatter effects, they had a duty to call it out. They blasted Prophecy and The Prowler as poorly-made films. Were they wrong?

Like the song goes: It's okay to not like things, but don't be a dick about the things you don't like. Siskel was a dick about it. Ebert could be, but usually wasn't.

Brother Bill
3 years ago

Wow, so many parallels to my own experience. I was a latch-key kid in the early 80s who would catch Sneak Previews on PBS while home alone, and remember being spooked by that Halloween clip (Sneak Previews was really the only way I could get a glimpse of an R-Rated film at the time).

Oh, and I was a committed watcher of The Love Boat/Fantasy Island block of programming too!