Documentary Review: The Shape Lives: 40 Years of Halloween

Yesterday I watched and reviewed the documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror from 2003. Naturally, I had to watch the 2018 documentary ahead of the newest Halloween film, The Shape Lives: 40 Years of Halloween.

The 75 minutes documentary was written, edited and directed by Dave James. Over the course of 10 chapters, the documentary covers the backstory of John Carpenter (director of the original), Jamie Lee Curtis (who plays Laurie Strode in the original) and Donald Pleasence (who plays Dr. Sam Loomis in the original), as well as the score, the sequels, the influence of the original film and so on.

As a documentary, I appreciate it for how straightforward it is, for the most part. It’s just covering the principle players, the influence, and the history of the original 1978 film these last 40 years. If you’re already a fan well-versed in the history of this film franchise, there is not much new here, but it’s still fun to watch.

In fact, the only new thing I realized while watching this documentary, particularly the portion on Carpenter, is that 1978’s Halloween is somehow the only John Carpenter-directed film I’ve ever seen. Of course, I’ve seen Halloween II, which he co-wrote, but I’ve never seen another John Carpenter film. Nope, not his prior cult classic, 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, and not the string of critical hits he had after Halloween, with 1980’s The Fog, 1981’s Escape from New York, 1982’s remake of The Thing, or even 1988’s They Live, which aside from also being highly regarded, even has pro wrestler Roddy “Rowdy” Piper in it.

I don’t know how this has happened. I need to start binging some of Carpenter’s work.

Two other items worth pointing out about John Carpenter:

1.) John Carpenter is in a rarefied class. How many other people have directed, written and composed their own film? John Carpenter did this for 1978’s Halloween. I went in search of other people who fit this category, and today I learned, Anthony Hopkins directed a film (I didn’t even know he had done that much), as well as composed and wrote it with 2007’s Slipstream. Apparently, Robert Rodriguez is a one-man wrecking crew as 2003’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico was written, directed, produced, photographed, scored, and edited by him. Gee whiz. Charlie Chaplin and Clint Eastwood are the other two that would fit in this small category of virtuoso talents, according to this site.

2.) I don’t get Carpenter. I mean, far be it for me to judge someone else, and who knows how I would have reacted to creating a film that became a critical and commercial success that spawned 12 other movies, and influenced countless others, but it has always been odd to me how little he seems to want to do with it. I mean, yeah, it’s neat that he came back as a producer and composer for the 2018 film, but I don’t even mean participating in the sequels. I mean, in general, he seems to have been one-and-done with Halloween in 1978 (he begrudgingly joined on for the sequel) and if he never had to talk about it for the 42 years since its release, that seems fine by him. Oh well, I guess, it is what it is.

But speaking of Carpenter and the score, I already knew this, but the following is remarkable to me: The famous score, which an executive from the studio wanted him to add after thinking the movie wasn’t scary (even without music, it sure seems like it would be scary), was composed in three days. The actual famous Halloween theme was composed within an hour. The script for Halloween was written in 10 days. The film itself was shot in 20 days over a four-week period. All of it was done with $300,000, which even in those days, was cheap for a film.

Oh, and the best part? Carpenter doesn’t even know how to read or write a note. And yet.

Those are such amazingly short time windows for a film that 42 years later people, like myself, are still enamored with, and for which, as mentioned, influenced scores of films for years to come. And quite simply, created an iconic film, with an iconic character, and an iconic score.

Finally, one last note from the documentary that blew my mind because I find age and time fascinating. When Donald Pleasence played Dr. Sam Loomis in the 1978 original film, he was about 59-years-old. Jamie Lee Curtis, who reprises her role as Laurie Strode in the 2018 release, was about 59-years-old. And she even has that Dr. Loomis quality in the film. That blows my mind. Time, man.

The 21st century has been rough for Michael Myers. First, we got the much-hated Halloween: Resurrection in 2002, and then the two remakes from Rob Zombie in 2007 and 2009. Then we nine years without a new Michael Myers film, the longest stretch in franchise history. Again, the first film comes out in 1978, then the sequel in 1981, the non-Myers one in 1982, and then four and five in 1988 and 1989, the sixth in 1995, the retconnd H20 in 1998, and as mentioned, Resurrection in 2002, and remakes in 2007 and 2009. The longest stretches prior to the 21st century were the six years between the non-Myers film in 1982 and the fourth installment in 1988, and then six years again between the 1989 flop and 1995’s six installment.

So I’m thankful then for 2018’s film, which I’ll dig into at a later point, for bringing Michael Myers back to prominence, and here’s to hoping the next two films (and hopefully more!) continue that streak.

Anyhow, if you’re a fan of Halloween or even horror movies in general since this sort of acts as an ode to horror films, then I’d recommend this documentary. In my opinion, it’s actually better as an overview than the previous one I reviewed from 2003.

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