(Directed by John Carpenter)
(Written by Debra Hill and John Carpenter)
(Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence and Nancy Kyes)
Plot: A psychopath escapes from a mental institution and returns to his hometown, where he stalks and murders teenage girls.
As of 2015, “Halloween” is arguably one of the most cliched movies of all time, as every aspect of this film has been imitated by nearly every horror flick ever made- an impressive accomplishment, as “Halloween” itself wasn’t particularly original even when it was first released. How many times have we seen this kind of storyline? How many times have we seen these characters? How many times have we seen masked killers stab horny teenagers to death? How many times have we seen someone grab a characters shoulder, making them- and us- jump in surprise and fear? Even the alleged original ideas within “Halloween“, such as the ‘Killer POV’ shot, had already been used in “Jaws” and “Black Christmas” and would subsequently become a major staple of the slasher genre throughout the 1980’s. I’m not denying the significance of John Carpenter’s movie, as it is the Grandfather of the Slasher Genre, but I do believe that there is a difference between ‘historical importance’ and ‘masterpiece’. Imitations, parodies and the changing times have caused many ‘so called’ classics to erode and look dated by modern standards. People are polite to “Frankenstein (1931)“, which was terrifying during its time period, but now it’s hard to watch without snickering thanks to different acting styles, over-the-top attempts at dramatic tension and of course…”Young Frankenstein“. I happen to adore “Airport“, which was nominated for various academy awards when it was first released, but todays audiences won’t be able to watch it without thinking of its own parody- the now more popular “Airplane“. So is “Halloween” obsolete by todays standards? Is it only remembered as a classic because of its importance? Or the fact that it was regarded as scary during the 1970’s? Are we just being polite?
No. “Halloween” is still considered a classic because “Halloween” is still f@cking awesome. X2.
The story might be simple and mostly unoriginal, but Carpenter and Hill aren’t trying to weave a complex tale, they’re trying to instill seeds of unease into the audience. The opening scene is a girl being stabbed to death, seen from the killers POV, but we quickly learn that the psycho is a child. That’s a shocking way to subvert our expectations, even if we know what to expect (almost) 40 years later. But we never really find out what caused him to go insane, or whether he was already a disturbed boy. Michael is an unsolvable puzzle, but it’s that mysteriousness which keeps the story from becoming stale. I always thought that Michael knowing how to drive was a plot hole and ignoring valid explanations in later sequels, having Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) lampshade this without an answer ever being given was lazy. Yet I now view this in a different light, as it shows that Michael might be a genius who can figure it out easily. Or maybe he’s some sort of supernatural entity living in a human body, which would fit the boogeyman motif. The ambiguity is unsettling and Carpenter exploits this for all its worth. While he never speaks or interacts with anyone, Michael can act casual, resembling a normal person who is merely dressing up for the holiday. No one really notices him (other than Laurie), making him the perfect predator. He can also eerily blend into the background, sometimes forcing Laure- and the audience- to do a double take. But when in attack mode, his movements are methodical and lethargic, yet he seems to almost be omnipresent. One moment he can be there, staring at you from a distance, but if you blink he might be gone in that split second. Yet my favorite attribute of Michael Myers is how abstract his motives are. He stalks babysitters and kills anyone who crosses him, but why? He builds a shrine to his dead sister using the corpses of his victims, but that tells us very little…or a lot, depending on your interpretation. Once again, this is nothing new, as Billy from “Black Christmas” also never had any concrete reasons for why he was killing people. But Billy was more overtly insane and you can tell based on his phone calls that he belongs in an asylum. Michael is presented as evil personified, a force of death more than a troubled character. The only signs that he has a personality is his tendency to play deadly pranks on people- dressing as a ghost and hiding in the closet was unnecessary, but is almost childlike. It’s simply simply impossible to understand who or what he is, which makes him compelling and creepy at once. Each of these quirks are used in ways to give the audience chills and the unpredictability of the character only makes him scarier. If the story tried adding or expanding anything else, it might’ve distracted you from its core: Michael Myers. For the record, I’m not acknowledging the later revelations about Laurie’s relationship with Michael. That was “Halloween 2” and there isn’t any indication that he had a second sister during THIS movie.
The characters are arguably more simplistic than the plot, but they’re mostly believable and endearing. The kids act like kids and the teenagers act like teenagers. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) might be a virgin- a staple of the genre- but that’s not the extent of her characterization. She curses, smokes and at times seems a little anti-social, but not to the point of being awkward or rude. She’s perfectly normal and Jamie Lee Curtis conveys that realism masterfully. Her friends might be more amorous, but they aren’t sluts- even though this probably helped inspire that stable of the genre- and based on their dialogue and interactions, there is more to them than their sexual activity. You might not remember all of these characters by name and they may even seem a bit generic, but you don’t want to see them die. That works as the basis for the suspense, as Carpenter seeks to make you fear for them. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is probably the most complex of the cast, which made it easy for him to become the protagonist of the franchise. He’s kind of a jerk, although he obviously means well. You get the impression that he’s on the verge of a breakdown, probably due to his ‘relationship’ with Michael Myers. Pleasence is an excellent actor and he keeps Loomis from becoming just another Captain Ahab- which would become another staple of the genre thanks to “Halloween“, even though it obviously wasn’t the first to do this. Once again, simple but effective character writing.
Even though “Halloween” is practically the Grandfather of the slasher genre, the kills are more disturbing than gut wrenching. There are stabbings and Michael has a fondness for strangling, but I would not describe the violence as graphic. This is probably because “Friday the 13th” would subsequently popularize gore within slashers, while “Halloween” was more of a prototype for the slasher genre. John Carpenter builds up suspense masterfully, holding every shot long enough so that it starts to make you uncomfortable, but is sure to move on before it begins to drag. The editor perfectly combines the voyeuristic camerawork with perverse sound design and this constantly reminds us of the danger that the girls are in. I really want to know why Michael’s heavy breathing during those POV shots wasn’t brought back for the sequels, as it added so much to the tension. The music has become iconic because it’s so distinct and memorable, but also nicely contrasts with scenes that rely on absolute silence or ambiance. The scare chords still get to me. While there are ‘boo’ scares, they’re earned because of the effective slow burn build up and they generally make sense within the context of the scene. The characters themselves seem to be on edge, so I can buy it if they suffer a jolt when someone touches them. I’ve seen this movie multiple times and know what to expect, but Carpenter can still make me jump. The lighting is incredible, with my favorite scene being when Michael suddenly appears from the darkness. How did they even do that? The silhouettes of Michael in the background are lit to where you can see him, but not clearly and this made for some freaky imagery. The blueish tint was a nice touch too. The atmosphere reeks of danger and it’s amazing how the filmmakers can make the wholesome town of Haddonfield look sinister with just the score and cinematography. But “Halloween” isn’t just doom and gloom, it also has a very charming holiday themed appeal. I love seeing the pumpkins, costumes, masks, etc. I find this movie to be disturbingly fun, even though I took no pleasure in seeing Michael torment his victims.
I remember the first time I saw this movie and the ‘closet’ scene particularly stood out as terrifying. Laurie tries hiding herself inside, but Michael immediately deduces where she is and starts breaking in. The empowering angles of Michael, Laurie’s shrieking (what lungs!) and the entire situation freaked me out and I asked myself: ‘How can she get out of this‘? Now that I think about it, much of the content of the script is based around intriguing horror-based scenarios that are inherently scary. What if you arrived at a mental institution only to discover that the patients had gotten loose? What if a deranged one tried breaking into your car? What if you kept seeing the same person staring right back at you throughout the day? What would you do? The writing engages its audience using these spooky situations. When someone asks what makes a great movie, the answer will usually be ‘the script’ or ‘the director’ or ‘editing’, but I’ve never quite bought into that logic. To me, great movies are made when there is chemistry amongst every aspect of film-making and if anything was changed, it would throw the project into disarray. The script is not a masterpiece on its own, but it gives the right material for the director to create cinematic gold. Yet he requires the right cinematographer to bring his vision to life, which Dean Cundey provided as the DOP. But without Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace to splice these shots together so that a scene has the right rhythm, these shots wouldn’t flow correctly. Even they need the right sound department though if they want these visuals to come to life, which they had. If there was another director or cinematographer, or the script was changed in any way, or Carpenter wasn’t around to helm this feature, “Halloween” probably wouldn’t have worked so well…Or it would’ve just been a completely different movie. Even the low budget tends to work in its favor, as the grainy film stock seems appropriate for the visual style and atmosphere. If the production values were more pronounced and the movie had a polished look, the imagery might not be as eye popping in its creepiness. But as I said, it all comes down to chemistry and everything about “Halloween” meshed together perfectly and everyone involved in the production was important to its success. That is why it left a major impact on the industry and even after enduring so many imitations and sequels of varying- albeit lesser- quality, it still knows how to frighten those who experience it. I don’t watch it every year around the holiday simply out of tradition, I watch this classic on a yearly basis because- “It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.“
Violence: Rated R. Fairly mild by modern standards, but it’s grisly enough to deserve the rating.
Nudity: There is some nudity and sex, albeit not a copious amount.
Overall: “Halloween (1978)” still gives me goosebumps, even though I’ve seen it- and its imitations- many, many, many times.
DISCARDED MATERIAL (Original Review)
–Note from Author: While not my worst writing at the time, I regret how caustic I come across and I don’t agree with a lot of what I say. Plus, the writing is rather crude compared to the…slightly less crude work I can do now. I cleaned it up a little bit, but what’s the point of dusting off a turd?
Halloween is one of those movies that subpar critics like me hate reviewing. Well, maybe just me. After all, what can a hack like me say that other critics haven’t? From John “The Arrow” Fallon to Roger Ebert, everyone with any kind of credibility has probably reviewed John Carpenters’ classic. How can I compare to Roger Ebert? So I decided I’m only going to dedicate a paragraph or two about how good the movie is. For the rest of the review, I m going to stick with what I do best: Bitching. So Instead of really making a point of how great it is (which it is), I’m going to make a point as to what is wrong with it.
But first, I figure I better state what I love about it. Carpenter is a master of suspense. Whereas most imitations focus in detail the gory murders, Carpenter focuses on the buildup, offering very little gore (even for the time). This is amplified by Carpenters simple, but chilling score. Hell, the music is probably the best thing about the movie, making me wonder what the hell Rob Zombie was thinking when he waited until the end credits to use it in “The sequel to a remake that shall not be named”. He is also a master of manipulating the shadows. People just seem to jump at you, and when Michaels mask suddenly appears from the darkness, my stomach tightens up every time I see this. Carpenter also makes the bold move of having most of the stalk sequences take place during the day. I love how Michael is always kept out of focus, making him seem more mysterious and creepier. I never thought I’d say this, but the day scenes are just as unnerving as the night scenes. Wow. Yet he also seems like a pretty normal guy in terms of his movements and size. It’s kind of a copout how the films make him almost robotic, and is even played by a professional wrestler at one point! It’s also a shame that ”Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers“ fumbled at trying to give an origins story. Anyway, I’m done with giving my personal opinion on the movie.
So let’s nitpick by pointing out the top 10 things that “Halloween” does wrong!
1) Pumpkins apparently can light themselves! This was actually the first continuity error I ever noticed. However, it also is kind of creepy because I could’ve sworn it becomes lit after the first murder.
2) When being hunted by an incredibly strong maniac, make sure you hide in your closet. It definitely can keep super strong maniacs out. But hell, if you have to make an illogical character device, try to make it as badass as this one.
3) Laurie s hairstyle is magic, because it changes every other scene.
4) Apparently kitchen knives are strong enough to pin someone on the wall and hold him above the ground.
5) Michael clearly had to take his car to the repair shop, because the broken window is somehow fixed. God, that had to be awkward.
6): Does anyone know how to the turn on the lights? Would it have killed the writer to have Michael kill the power or something? (This is before he actually does kill the power).
7) A guy actually says ”First I rip your cloths off. Then I rip my cloths off, then I rip Lindsey’s clothes off-” Since when was joking about pedophilia cool?
8) The sudden day to night transition that it takes to get from Laurie’s house to Tommy’s house, despite the fact that the Myers house is within short walking distance to both, and Tommy apparently walks to the school, which isn’t far from Laurie’s house. Can Michaels house teleport too?
9) Just about the entire supporting cast aren’t very good actors. The only good ones are Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie), who while inexperienced, is endearing as the heroine, as well as Donald Pleasence (Dr. Loomis), who brings class to the film. Also, I HATE THE CHILD ACTORS! PLEASE KILL THEM MICHAEL! (Note from Author: While the acting can be rough at times, I no longer feel this way about the acting as a whole).
10) THIS IS NOT ORIGINAL! STOP CALLING IT THE ORIGINAL SLASHER. It borrows most of its innovative techniques (the killer cam) from “Black Christmas”, which was made in 1974. Hell, even ”Jaws” did it in 1976. I really hate how fanboys snub “Friday the 13th“ for being a “Halloween” rip-off when “Halloween“ is just as guilty for ripping off ”Black Christmas“.
Play me off Paul! *insert rimshot*. The beauty of Halloween is that I really don t care about most of these issues. Personally, I’m so caught up in the atmosphere from it all, from the Bava-ish lighting of the night scenes, to the chilling suspense of the day scenes, to the creepy ass killer who we must fear. The film begins with a lit pumpkin, and the Halloween iconography is strong. Indeed, Michael seems to have become the malevolent spirit of the holiday. The film “Halloween” has come to represent what Halloween is all about. Well, that and candy. With that said, as much as I love this, it’s not Carpenters best film. ”The Thing“ deserves that title and will probably never be toppled.
Overall: Halloween is a timeless classic. It helped get the slasher ball rolling and it still holds up to this day. Sadly, it doesn’t work very well as a series. I only consider one entry to be good based on memory, which is “Halloween 4”. The rest vary from decent (the remake), to average(”Halloween 6“), to crap(”Halloween H20”), and the most recent entry just proved that the spirit of the film was gone. But at least we’ll still have this little classic!