Archive for Debra Hill


Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , on October 31, 2018 by dcairns


I hadn’t seen THE FOG since a screening at my school film society and HALLOWEEN had been viewed since then only on a TV airing, probably in the wrong aspect ratio. I remember as teenagers we found them both utterly unsatisfactory on a story level, and that’s still somewhat true today. HALLOWEEN is the better one in narrative terms: as writers John Carpenter (also director) and Debra Hill (also producer) admit on the audio commentary, their plans for a classic ghost story didn’t come to fruition and they ended up adding more jump-scares, killings and one zombification in order to make a modern horror movie of it.

Still, the atmosphere of both films is very strong (and the jump-scares etc effective). THE FOG in particular begins with weird electronic malfunctionings, alarms going off and lights coming on, a modern take on ghostly manifestations. Later, a character will complain about her dog going mental in the night, which is a more traditional augury of the supernatural, but we never see it happen: what we get is machines reacting.This was in the wake of Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, with its toys coming to life, which MUST have been an influence.

Both films are driven by a purely cinematic logic of foreboding phenomena, suspense, atmosphere, tightening and slackening of tension, music… which is to say, not really any logic at all. And the filmmakers are well aware of this and use Donald Pleasence in particular — apparently the voice of sanity, reason, law and order, society — to drip in the idea that Michael Myers is much more than a lone psychopath, is in fact a manifestation or invasion of pure spiritual evil into the world.

Which is what makes the ending of HALLOWEEN so fine. Pleasence goes to the window to look at where Myers’ body has fallen, but it’s not there anymore: the unkillable killer has performed his final, and most clearly impossible resurrection. The actor asked his director if he should look surprised, or merely satisfied, as if what he always knew has been confirmed. What we see in the film is Pleasence looking at the empty patch of ground, and then up into the night, the dark neighbourhood in general, almost up into the sky.And as Carpenter’s synth tune plays us out, he cuts to the hallway, to the stair, a series of static, empty shots taking us out the door and into a wide shot of the house, a sort of fragmented reversal of the movie’s opening shot, which had taken us indoors and upstairs (in a different house, admittedly) through the killer’s POV. (A minor cheat: though the killer is a little kid in scene one, his viewpoint is definitely at adult height to begin with.)

And then to other houses, ending with the now-shuttered house from scene one. (“The night HE came home,” is the tagline.) And through this sequence, in another exercise of pure movie (il)logic, we hear Myers’ breathing — a terrific piece of recording, the close, cramped effect perfectly evoking the sensation of wearing a mask, which is disturbing and uncomfortable in itself. From being a POV fixed to a defined character, he has now become omnipresent yet invisible. Like God. Or the movie camera.

As Carpenter & Hill’s key invention, the unstoppable knife-wielder, heads out into the movie landscape to be adopted by generations of imitators, it feels, in retrospect, incredibly apt that Myers’ first movie ends thus, with him expanding beyond his mere physical form and becoming everywhere. He’s no longer a man, more an atmosphere, a fog, no longer what the writers called him, “the Shape.” He is now “the Presence.”

Euphoria #35: commuter love

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by dcairns

Perhaps our scientific quest to pinpoint the most jubilant lengths of celluloid footage in cine-history nears an end? Soon we may commence the great work of cataloguing the finest movie moments of Boredom, Mild Concussion, and Dyspepsia. But NOT YET! 

Singing lawyer Ross MacFarlane suggests this piéce de resistance — as he says, perhaps not a “little moment” of happiness, but a spectacular cinematic encapsulation of euphoria itself.

I’d love to see the documentary about the making of THE FISHER KING again. This sequence is being discussed, and at the time it’s relatively small-scale and ordinary. Then Gilliam suggests (light-heartedly, he’s since claimed) the dance thing, and producers Obst and Hill leap upon the idea (to his surprise, he’s since claimed). The budget is immediately blown and quite a lot of balancing has to be done to get things back on track. Gilliam has expressed annoyance at the way the documentary shows Obst and Hill trying to “tame the beast” — himself — in the wake of BARON MUNCHAUSEN. But they did him the huge service of making him bankable again, helping to turn around the industry perception of him as an unreliable maverick, which the shambolic production of MUNCHAUSEN had unfairly caused.

Tom Waits for No Man

The waltz was a logistical arsequake to shoot. Loudspeakers broadcast the music, but as with all railway station announcements, it was reverberated into mush by the highly unmusical acoustics of the building. They ended up with assistant directors counting into megaphones, to give the dancers the necessary beats.

(The Curse of Gilliam continues! He’s halfway through shooting a new movie with — Heath Ledger. Er, good luck with that.)

Anyway, this sequence borrows one of the central notions of the traditional musical, that love or jubilation can transform the world around you into a SHOW. If this were an M.G.M. musical, Robin Williams would burst into song and dance and the crowd would fall into step with him. If it were a Hong Kong martial arts movie, he’d leap fifty feet in the air, bouncing off the central clock and giving vent to a guttural yell. Same thing. I think people were starved for worthwhile film musicals in the ’90s and this scene reconnected them to that ecstatic moment of transformation. Young people who’d never experienced the classical musicals suddenly got a tiny hint of what they’d missed, maybe.

(I don’t remember noticing the waltzing nuns and rabbis before. Sweet.)