Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This Film Contains Elements Of Shock And Suspense

Above is the opening bumper for the TV premiere of Halloween. That 1981 broadcast was my first time seeing Halloween and watching this intro again for the first time since that night, I find myself reliving the tingle of excitement of knowing that I was finally - finally! - going to see this modern classic. Almost thirty years on, this bumper makes me think of how much has changed since then in regards to how we watch movies.

First of all, it's outrageous to imagine that once a film left theaters that not only would it take years to be able to watch it at home but the only way to see it would be edited for television, pan and scan, and with the usual shitload of commercials. Can you imagine a horror fan today too young to see an R-rated movie in the theaters having to wait until 2012 to see Paranormal Activity for the first time? And then to have to see it on NBC or whatever? They'd laugh in your face as they downloaded it from the internet.

Make no mistake, though - in '81 I didn't think seeing Halloween on TV was cause for any disappointment. I mean, how else was I going to see it? Sure, it was a compromised way to watch it but I didn't know anything about pan and scan vs. letterbox (I don't even know if those terms existed at the time) and enjoying horror classics with commercial interruptions wasn't a problem. Having seen very few horror films in the theaters at that point (and no R-rated ones), most of the horror movies I saw as a kid were on commercial TV and they scared me just fine.

We had no cable, no VCR - it was all broadcast TV so I had no other expectations about how I would eventually see Halloween because there were no other options. It was just a matter of being patient and waiting for it to make it's TV premiere. But man, what incredible patience we had to have back then! On the upside, all that waiting helped movies to build a real mystique. Over the course of the three years that I had to wait to see Halloween, I gathered all the info about it that I could from magazines, reviews, and older kids and adults who had seen it. By the time I saw Halloween, I already had the whole movie in my head.

Speaking of which, the other thing that kills me about this bumper is how in twenty-two seconds it gives away nearly every single big scare in the movie! Fans complain about modern trailers giving everything away but they've got nothing on this! And this ran right before the movie was about to air! As far as my enjoyment of Halloween goes, though, it must not have ruined anything for me because I know I proceeded to jump out of my seat for the whole movie.

The two hours that Halloween ran on NBC that night comprised one of the great horror movie experiences of my life. It's unreal now to remember how a network broadcast of a film once was considered to be a huge event. We're so spoiled today, I can't ever imagine going back to that time but it made watching movies something indelible to me, and something not to take for granted.

I've owned Halloween in many different home video formats and in many different editions since then but what I really would love is to own a copy of the film as it ran that night with every commercial in place. In the meantime, though, that bumper - more of that night's programming than I ever thought I'd see in its original form again - will have to do. Just seeing it again puts a big jack o' lantern grin on my face.


Wings1295 said...

It is a different world, for sure. I have said that the reason I still get excited when a movie is on TCM or cable is that it must stem from when we were kids and HAD to watch movies when they appeared on TV.

Just popping a flick into the DVD player doesn't bring the same excitement as catching it when it airs, commercials notwithstanding.

And yeah, movies come out on DVD, pay-per-view, etcetera, mere MONTHS after they are in theaters these days. SO different!

MrJeffery said...

Good post and I love the video.

My Mom said she watched this broadcast by herself and it was the scariest thing she'd ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Makes me wonder, do networks still premiere horror movies? I thought they pretty much all now go through the premium channel (AKA Showtime and HBO) route.

Jeff Allard said...

Wings, it's crazy - I explain to my son how when I was a kid, there was no such thing as owning a movie, or taping a movie or show on TV, or DVR, or any of the things that we take for granted now. He's only four so he doesn't quite get it but it's amazing to me how things have changed over the past thirty years or so. While I love the instant access to films that we enjoy today, there's something to be said for the virtues of having to wait and when a movie aired, to actually have to be in front of the TV ready to watch it and not just tape it to scan through at a later time.

MrJeffrey, thanks - I'm sure me and your mom were among thousands, maybe millions, of fans who saw Halloween for the first time that night. That's another thing about how TV used to be - everyone had to be watching the same thing at the same time. Now with DVR, TiVO and other options, TV viewing is fragmented in a way that it wasn't before. Maybe sports events still get people watching at the same time but as far as regular programming goes, everyone watches according to their own schedules.

And PoT, that's a good question - one I was going to ask myself in the blog. I don't know if networks still premiere horror films, or any films for that matter. I mean movies obviously show up on network TV eventually but as far as there being a 'movie night' like there used to be, there probably hasn't been anything like that for ages. Like you say, it's all about the premium channels.

senski said...

This is such a wonderful post, Jeff.

Movies on the three major networks were such a great way to transition into the "real thing" of seeing them in the cinema. Commercials allowed you the opportunity to run off to the bathroom, but the network was in control of the telecast; no pausing or rewinding. Children learned that, when you wanted to see a movie in the theater, you had to be well-behaved and plan in advance if you were to experience it in its entirety. When cable came to my small town in 1981, the surprise of seeing commercial-less movies (not to mention unedited one) took some getting used to.

When cable and vhs became a factor, we discovered how those network films were edited for content and commercials...and were shocked by them all over again! And how important it was emotionally to watch a movie that wasn't interrupted, as Serling used to say, "by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper." Still, the commercial breaks taught you how to graduate to the adult stuff.

Finally, on the promo itself - while I'll grant NBC that they had to show you something, giving away the moment when Michael sits up in the background is just criminal.

Timmy Crabcakes said...

I'm pretty sure this was my first viewing of Halloween as well.
If I remember right I watched it with a girl I had a HUGE crush on who also liked horror movies... so I was kinda distracted.

I remember expecting it to be a lot more violent than it was, and thinking that all sorts of stuff must have been cut out...

Bob Ignizio said...

And let's not forget that they shot extra footage just for the broadcast TV version. Sure, there's almost always a deleted scene or two when a movie comes out on DVD, but no movie has to add in stuff just for network TV anymore. There were scenes in this, 'Blazing Saddles' and 'Superman' that I still fondly remember only from the TV airings. Now they show pretty much all the gore, blur the nudity, and bleep the swear words, but otherwise show the uncut movie on TV. It's a different world.

Matt-suzaka said...

I love that spot, and the warning..."Shock and suspense!" I always loved when you had a warning for a film on TV from back then. It really piqued my interest as a young lad and got me all excited, while getting me all scared too!

I remember a time when it was an event to watch the Star Wars trilogy on network television. And how about the yearly showing of The Wizard of Oz?! It really is different now...that was really the only way to watch those films.

Awesome post!

Jeff Allard said...

Senski, Knob, Bob, Matt - thanks for all the comments. I think it's unanimous that we live in a drastically different world now! I think it's also unanimous that we all harbor a lot of affection for those older times.

While it's wonderful to be able to pull a movie out of your collection to watch any time you want or to know that if you happened to miss a film in the theater that it'll be on DVD to rent or own in about three months, I think it has diminished how we regard movies in some ways.

My son loves a lot of movies but I can't imagine him loving a movie like I loved Wizard of Oz as a kid. And a big part of why Oz was such a big deal to me was that it only aired once a year. For generations of kids (and their parents, too), time stopped for those two hours when Oz was on. You had to be home in front of the TV on that night or else you weren't going to see Oz again for another year.

That's an unfathomable concept for those who have grown up in the era of home video and cable but I think it instilled a greater appreciation of movies among those who know what it's like to be completely at the mercy of what's on TV or what's playing at the theater.

I also think that horror movies were scarier when viewers didn't have so much control. I think that once horror movies became able to be popped in and out of a VCR or DVD player or be paused or rewound or fast-forwarded, that some part of the genre's ability to frighten its audience was lost.

Will Errickson said...

You really captured that special childhood thrill of watching movies on TV! I saw THE EXORCIST on TV in the early '80s, and of course it wasn't until I was an adult and saw the uncut version that I finally realized what the fuss was about. I remember yelling out to family members who were in another room, "Hurry up, it's coming back on! You're gonna miss it!" In the age of DVR, Tivo, internet streaming, etc., you don't hear that much anymore.

Phillyradiogeek said...

My parents had a very old, very worn-out copy of Halloween on VHS that the whole family watched to death (no pun intended) for years. I have that copy now, and the picture is very dark and grainy, almost like a home movie from the 70s.

When I see the film on TV now, which is digitally restored and such, I can't believe how different it looks, how much brighter the cinematography looks. I actually prefer watching the old VHS tape instead. The darkness and graininess adds to the terrifying feel of the film. I may have the best copy of the film available :)

Jeffrey Allen Rydell said...

This post should be titled "The Night HE Came Home!", dontcha think?