FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS: PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978)
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Pete Dudar, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome back folks, to the conclusion of this month’s FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. This installment will decide the winner of the battle of the iconic horror movies. It’s PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978).
So, which one of these two is the better movie? That’s what our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters assembled here tonight plan to find out. So far, HALLOWEEN leads 3 to 2. But this time, anything can happen.
Okay, it’s Round 6. “Which director does a better job at the helm? Alfred Hitchcock, or John Carpenter?”
NICK CATO: Can I say that this is a stupid question?
MICHAEL ARRUDA: You can say whatever you want.
L.L. SOARES: Someone has to say it. It’s about time it’s someone other than me!
NICK CATO: Okay, then. STUPID question!
It’s Hitchcock. No one had created that type of suspense before he unleashed Bates on the world. Carpenter doesn’t come close.
DAN KEOHANE: I think it depends on what you want out of the movie.
L.L.SOARES: What is this, a psychology class? Pick a director!
DAN KEOHANE: Easier said than done. This is one question I can’t honestly answer one way or the other.
L.L. SOARES: What—did you change your last name to Dudar?
PETE DUDAR: Hey, stop giving me a hard time!
DAN KEOHANE: Hitchcock is a master at the subtle, without getting boring doing it. Sure, the first third of THE BIRDS (1963) is pretty dull before it rockets up to its intense level, but that’s the exception.
L.L. SOARES: Hey, I love THE BIRDS! There’s not a dull moment in that movie. It’s called “building a story.”
MICHAEL ARRUDA: THE BIRDS is overrated.
(L.L. SOARES punches a wall in disgust)
DAN KEOHANE: Carpenter is just having a ball, and it shows in this film (and most of them). He’s got the fast-paced thrill ride down, without ever having to rely on over-the-top gore to cover his blemishes.
L.L SOARES: So, you’re going with Carpenter?
DAN KEOHANE: Nope. I can’t decide.
(L.L. SOARES screams loudly)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: We are really having a hard time making up our minds today.
PETE DUDAR: I told you this thing was impossible!
MICHAEL ARRUDA: I have to admit, this is a very tough question. Which director does a better job at the helm? I don’t know.
L.L. SOARES: Not you, too!
MICHAEL ARRUDA: This one needs examining.
Let’s start with Alfred Hitchcock. In 1960, he’d been making successful movies since the 1930s, and really had just come off an amazing decade, the 1950s, where he became one of the most celebrated and popular movie directors of his time. Needless to say, when he made PSYCHO, he was at the top of his game. And with PSYCHO, Hitchcock doesn’t disappoint. It’s one of his best efforts.
He does nearly everything right in PSYCHO. You’ve got the infamous shower scene, the most famous sequence from the movie, but there’s so much more. I love the sequence after the shower scene, when Norman Bates cleans up after his “mother’s” crime. The end sequence where Vera Miles and John Gavin arrive at the motel is also memorable.
But you can make the argument that John Carpenter did an even better job at the helm of HALLOWEEN. For starters, HALLOWEEN doesn’t have the same strong story PSYCHO has, and yet, it’s an incredibly scary movie, and most of the credit for this belongs to Carpenter. The opening murder scene is a gem, shot from the point of view of the killer looking through a Halloween mask. The whole sequence is superb, from the actual murder to the revelation that the killer is a little boy.
The scene near the end, where we believe Jamie Lee Curtis has killed Michael Myers, and he’s lying down “dead,” and Curtis is sitting in the foreground, exhausted, and it’s silent, and in this silence, Myers sits up, turns his head, and the music blasts, and we’re on our way again. It’s a phenomenal scene.
And there are so many neat scenes where Myers appears like a phantom in and out of the shadows. One second he’s there, the next, he’s not. It’s a masterful job by John Carpenter.
You can’t take away what Hitchcock did with PSYCHO, but I’ve seen him better (NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959, Hitchcock’s previous film and arguably his most ambitious, includes many more of Hitchcock signature touches). I know some people don’t consider HALLOWEEN to be Carpenter’s best work, but it’s up there.
L.L. SOARES: Of course it’s up there! Who doesn’t consider HALLOWEEN one of Carpenter’s best movies? That’s a ludicrous statement! HALLOWEEN is the movie that put Carpenter on the map and made him a household name.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Yes, I know that, and you know that, but there are some people who feel otherwise. I know people who think THE THING is Carpenter’s best film, for instance.
L.L. SOARES: Hell, I think THE THING is his best film. But that doesn’t mean HALLOWEEN isn’t great, too. In many ways, HALLOWEEN is more iconic and important to horror movie history.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: PSYCHO has such a strong story, that even with a lesser director, the film may have been a hit. I don’t think you can say the same for HALLOWEEN. Without John Carpenter at the helm of HALLOWEEN, that movie just isn’t the same, and I doubt it would have been the classic it is today.
L.L. SOARES: You’re selling Hitchcock short! The story is so good it would have still turned out well without him?? But HITCHCOCK did make PSYCHO and nobody could have done it better. Why dismiss the guy because he did a great job? What kind of logic is that?
MICHAEL ARRUDA: I’m not dismissing him. He did a terrific job. I’m saying the story itself is so good, a lesser director could have made a decent film out of it, on the strength of its story. Terence Fisher, for example, Hammer Film’s best director—no Alfred Hitchcock, mind you, but a talented director all the same—could have made a very good film out of PSYCHO.
L.L. SOARES: Yeah, I’m sure he could have. But it wouldn’t be the same.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: So, after some thought, I’m going with John Carpenter on HALLOWEEN.
PAUL MCMAHON: Sorry, Michael, but I just don’t see it that way. I’m going with Hitchcock.
Hitchcock is regularly listed among the best directors of all time, while Carpenter is listed among the best “horror” directors.
As innovative and groundbreaking as HALLOWEEN was, it wasn’t Carpenter’s best work. He doesn’t really break with conventional filming techniques or storytelling rules. Hitchcock made tons more unorthodox and unexpected decisions in PSYCHO.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: I don’t know about that. I’m not taking anything away from Hitchcock’s work on PSYCHO, but I think Carpenter does break with conventional filming techniques in HALLOWEEN. There are so many cool scenes in HALLOWEEN thanks to Carpenter’s direction, like Michael Myer’s mask appearing in the darkness where you see only the mask, or the aforementioned opening murder scene.
PAUL MCMAHON: Good scenes, but Hitchcock’s work on PSYCHO is better.
L.L. SOARES: Look, this one is a no brainer. I love HALLOWEEN and I think it is among Carpenter’s best films. It is powerful, it triggers a great response, and it’s a director at the height of his powers. I am not going to say anything bad about Carpenter in this context. He did an amazing job.
But Alfred Hitchcock was one of the top five directors in the history of cinema. I just watched PSYCHO again recently, and it holds up very well. It’s atmospheric, powerful, and strongly acted. Hitchcock is just in another league when it comes to directors. He was an artist.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Okay, after six rounds it’s HALLOWEEN – 3, PSYCHO -3. We’re now neck and neck.
PETE DUDAR:This is getting exciting.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: On to Round 7. “Which film has done more for the genre?”
I’ll start by asking where would the genre be without PSYCHO? While it’s technically not a horror film…
L.L. SOARES: Says, who? It’s a goddamn horror film. A horror classic.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, it is scary, and did an awful lot to make horror movies more mainstream. It made them more adult. Alfred Hitchcock was not a kid-friendly director. Kids didn’t flock to see his films. Adults did. When he directed PSYCHO, he expanded horror’s audience. In other words, a lot of the folks who went to see PSYCHO were not the same folks who would have gone to see FRANKENSTEIN or KING KONG.
L.L. SOARES: I complete disagree. People who love great movies would have gone to see all three of those.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: He also reinvented the conventions of the movies. His lead actress is killed midway through the movie. What’s up with that? The “hero” Norman Bates, turns out to be the killer. What’s up with that?
Where would the genre be without HALLOWEEN? We wouldn’t have had to suffer through all those awful slasher movies had HALLOWEEN not been so successful. So, maybe it’s hurt the genre! Actually, I’m kidding. It helped the genre because it made a ton of money, and it led to John Carpenter getting a lot of financing so he could make a lot of other cool movies!
I think they’ve both helped the genre, since they both established franchises and iconic characters, Norman Bates and Michael Myers. Today, I think you hear more about HALLOWEEN than you do PSYCHO. I think HALLOWEEN has done more for the horror genre directly because it’s a horror movie, pure and simple. PSYCHO is really a mystery that has a lot of horror elements.
L.L. SOARES: Horror elements? That means it’s a damn HORROR MOVIE!
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Ever so slightly, I give the edge to HALLOWEEN.
DAN KEOHANE: They both exploded the genre, but in their own respective decades.
Both were unique when they came out, and both got a somewhat apathetic audience’s pulse revved up, opening the door to more films and books.
Both of them equally helped the genre.
PAUL MCMAHON: There was a very slow build of slasher movies after PSYCHO‘s release in 1960.
When HALLOWEEN came out in 1978 the slasher sub-genre really took off. PSYCHO may have kicked things off, but HALLOWEEN got them going.
L.L. SOARES: You people are high!
Without PSYCHO, there would be NO HALLOWEEN! While Michael Myers does have a supernatural component, he also started out as a little boy with psychological problems. No matter what he became, he began as a psychopath. Just because a movie is older doesn’t mean it’s less relevant. To be honest, the opposite is probably more true. PSYCHO was the pioneer, the trailblazer. It made the word “psycho” a part of our language. It made the serial killer film a mainstream genre.
HALLOWEEN is more the little engine that could. It was a small, low-budget movie that overcame its humble beginnings. I remember it was in theaters for over a year when it first came out. It seemed to stick around forever. It was a smash hit, as commercially important to the horror genre in its way as PSYCHO was.
But Michael is right in one respect. HALLOWEEN spawned as many horrible rip-offs as it did worthwhile horror descendants. It worked because Carpenter did it, but way too many bad directors proved that it wasn’t easily replicated.
They’re both great movies with different strengths, and I am still pissed off that you’re making us choose between them, because they’re both just as vital to the horror genre. But which one has done more for horror? The fact that there’s any debate baffles me. It’s PSYCHO. Period.
NICK CATO: While HALLOWEEN paved the way for countless imitators in the 1980s slasher film uprising, PSYCHO (1960) was the model and is STILL imitated to this day.
I disagree with Michael and Paul, and I say PSYCHO has done more the genre.
L.L. SOARES: Now there’s a smart man!
MICHAEL ARRUDA: That means this round is a tie. Wow, this is going to be interesting.
It’s now time for the eighth and final round, and if one film should win this round unanimously, then that film scores a knockout and wins the entire bout, regardless of the score up until now.
And the final question is: in your humble opinion, if you had to choose, which film, PSYCHO or HALLOWEEN, is the better movie?
PAUL MCMAHON: PSYCHO.
Constructed better, stronger and with so many twists and turns that even today people viewing it for the first time are surprised by how it develops. I’m going with PSYCHO.
PETE DUDAR: PSYCHO was a groundbreaking masterpiece. Filmed in 1960, Hitchcock’s black-and-white adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel reminded post-war America and the baby-boom generation that crazy people were, in fact, our neighbors.
HALLOWEEN, on the other hand, is a whole other candy-apple. PSYCHO is loosely based on real-life killer Ed Gein. HALLOWEEN is the logical progression of an urban myth, one about the ‘babysitter killer.’
As I said earlier, in terms of story and characterization, PSYCHO wins, but in terms of longevity and ability to still deliver sheer terror, my vote goes to HALLOWEEN.
NICK CATO: I’m not sure which film Pete just voted for.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Join the club.
NICK CATO: Technically PSYCHO is the better film, but again, HALLOWEEN holds up better to repeated viewings and to me isn’t as slow moving. If I had a butcher knife pointed at my head I’d go with HALLOWEEN.
PETE DUDAR: So, it would take a butcher knife to your head for you to make a decision, and you guys are giving me grief!
L.L. SOARES: At least he’d be able to make a decision if forced to. If someone put a butcher knife to your head, it would just let out all the confetti and sawdust.
PETER DUDAR: No it wouldn’t (sticks out tongue)
L.L. SOARES: I happen to have a butcher’s knife handy if you need help making a decision, Pete!
DAN KEOHANE: No butcher’s knives needed here, although an axe might come in handy.
L.L. SOARES: I have one of those too. Right here under my seat.
DAN KEOHANE: I’m sure you do.
Anyway, overall, for me, it’s PSYCHO.
But HALLOWEEN is a close second. (smiles)
NICK CATO: If anyone needs help making a decision, it’s Pete.
PETE DUDAR: I stand by my answers.
L.L. SOARES: What answers? (Laughter)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: I love both movies, but if I have to pick which one is better, without an axe to my head, I have to go with— PSYCHO.
PSYCHO has the stronger story— it has an amazing story, while HALLOWEEN has just an average plot. It has one of the best all-time performances in a genre film: Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. Bates is a much more interesting villain than Michael Myers. It has a stronger cast. While I like Jamie Lee Curtis a lot in HALLOWEEN, no one else in the cast really delivers a strong performance.
Sure, I think John Carpenter’s directing effort is second to none in HALLOWEEN, but Hitchcock is strong throughout. Carpenter put HALLOWEEN on his back and carried it to the finish line. Hitchcock didn’t need to carry the film all by his lonesome.
True, I prefer Carpenter’s music score over Bernard Herrmann’s score, but by percentage points.
I prefer HALLOWEEN on a lot of points, actually, but taken as a whole, especially because of its incredibly strong story, I find PSYCHO to be the better movie.
HALLOWEEN shows off John Carpenter’s directing talents, his music score, and a fine performance by Jamie Lee Curtis.
PSYCHO shows off Alfred Hitchock’s directing talents, Bernard Hermann’s music score, Anthony Perkins’ powerhouse performance as Norman Bates, strong performances by Janet Leigh and, in a supporting role, Martin Balsam, and a deep, resonating script by Joseph Stefano based upon a novel by Robert Bloch, a story credit that HALLOWEEN just doesn’t have.
The numbers favor PSYCHO, and so I’m going with PSYCHO.
L.L. SOARES: Look, I already made my case. HALLOWEEN is above-average for a slasher film. It thrust John Carpenter into the public eye, and rightly so. It’s a classic of its kind. And I hate having to compare it, and I hate having to saying anything negative about it, because I do think it’s one of the best horror films ever made.
But it’s a no-brainer, folks. PSYCHO is the better movie. It’s close to being a perfect movie.
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, that’s it for Round 8, and PSYCHO has won the round. I can’t say that it won unanimously, due to a couple of obscure answers, but that’s no matter. The two movies were tied 3 ½ – 3 ½ going into the final round, and so the final tally is PSYCHO – 4 ½, HALLOWEEN – 3 ½.
The winner of tonight’s bout is PSYCHO!
But that certainly was a close one! I really had no idea what would happen until the last round. Which made this one a real nail-biter.
Thanks to everyone who participated. Thanks for making this FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHT a good one!
Good night everybody!
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Peter N. Dudar, Daniel G. Keohane and Paul McMahon