Directed By: John Carpenter Released: October 27, 1978
Happy Halloween! In the spirit of this spooky holiday, it’s only right to talk about my second favorite horror movie. It would be 1st if John Carpenter hadn’t made The Thing.
I love Halloween (1978) so much. It inspired an entire genre of slashers after. Halloween created a new character type, the Final Girl, that will be replicated and even perfected in later films of the genre. Michael Myers is one of the most terrifying movie monsters to have ever been conceived. Even the build up to the ultimate confrontation is well paced and makes you feel for these unfortunate teenagers who are just trying to have a good Halloween. The framing is perfect, the pacing is tense, and you are glued to your screen all the way to the end.
Here’s the thing about horror, it’s subjective. If you hate clowns, you probably think Poltergeist is terrifying (don’t worry, I’ll review that another day) and if you can’t stand snakes then you hate Anaconda (or Snakes on a Plane) so what scares you can vary. For me, it is the fear of the unknown, at least in films. If you can’t predict when a scare is coming (looking at you, jump scares you can read a mile away) and where it is coming from, I get creeped out. Halloween exemplifies this fear. The Shape (what Michael Myers is known as) is a terrifying presence whenever he is on screen, and he can appear from almost anywhere. Now another aspect of “unknown” horror is it can’t be “random”, there’s a distinct difference. There are ways some slasher flicks have explained this, such as Freddy occupying dreams or Jason…being supernatural…maybe. Michael is the same way, though the film does an excellent job of feeding you hints about an upcoming kill way in advance. Notice how the car wasn’t locked when Lindsey came home? It’s a small detail, but gives so much to the horror. Halloween pays it’s avid viewers with such hints, and it makes the film as a whole so much more satisfying.
For being Carpenters third ever film (he directed Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13 a few years prior), he was far ahead of his time in terms of directing. He took a shoestring budget (only $325k, nothing in terms of film) he was able to use every dollar elegantly. Filming around a neighborhood, very cheap effects (if any at all), long shots to add tension, and a main villain who was just a tall dude in a painted Captain Kirk mask. All those these factors blend together to give you this visceral, personal and scary movie. Even just the idea of looking out of the window and through the blinds you can see a man staring at you, then you blink and he’s gone. Or his use of POV (point of view, if you were wondering) shots of someone in a car watching girls on a street makes you feel unnerved, as though you were that person stalking the street. These ideas are simple, but very effective.
I also should give credit to a horror trope that you have seen a hundred times if you watch any horror movies but was conceived by Halloween. The slasher isn’t a new idea, as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre predates Halloween by four years (1974) but no one had given us what is known today as the “Final Girl.” Think…well, just about any slasher flick. Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Alien. Scream points out how often this trope is used. But they all stem from Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee-Curtis). As a concept it’s well established now, but it’s effective for a reason. As an audience you understand why the Final Girl is able to win over her attacker, she’s the only one of her friend group or of just those around her that are not distracted in some way (most of the time because they are *ahem* busy) and can outsmart the monster. Thankfully Jamie Lee-Curtis is incredible and looks scared out of her mind most of the time she’s being stalked.
The central reason why I love Halloween though does lie in how incredibly cool The Shape is. He has no explanation, no elaborate backstory of woe, and doesn’t need to. He kills people, on Halloween. And no one can stop him. Nick Castle is the man behind the mask and he was rightfully picked for the role. His presence is imposing and his lumbering around the town is horrifying. He does have the tendency to just sort of show up in places, and no matter how hard you look you won’t find a plausible explanation of how he got there. There are plenty of times where you can, but when he pops out from behind the couch after just being seen outside, I can’t tell you how he did that. But I don’t need to, I’m too busy being scared. The Shape truly is my all time favorite movie slasher, he wants to kill and nothing can stop him.
Before I end this, I want to just detail one of my all time favorite openings in cinema. The artistry that goes behind such a simple introduction to not just the film but as a set up to a concept still leaves my jaw on the ground.
You start with a shot of the front of a house. Then you start to walk closer. You are seeing it through the eyes of someone, but you don’t know who. Said person sees a jack-o-lantern, then walks to the side of the house. A couple is getting a little too comfortable on the couch. They decide to go upstairs. The figure watching looks up to the window, then moves to the side of the house. In the back door into the kitchen, they turn the light on and take a large knife from a drawer. You can tell they are wearing some kind of costume. Coming to the stairs, they move back as the boyfriend comes downstairs and leaves. All while not hearing any noises beyond the ominous music. Once he’s gone, the figure walks up the stairs. Silent, they see a clown mask on the floor and pick it up. Now you can only see through the eye holes, and they approach the girls room. She is topless and doing her hair, she isn’t expecting company and is completely vulnerable. She’s only able to exclaim “Michael!” before she is stabbed repeatedly by the attacker. She falls, dead, and the person known as Michael goes downstairs. He leaves the house as a car pulls up. Now a man goes “Michael?” and takes the mask off. The audience how sees that they were following a young boy, who is now standing out front, wearing a clown costume and holding a bloody knife. Unexpected is the word I would use here. And so scary, a sister stalked and killed by her little brother, with no explanation as to why. That is how you open a horror movie.
Thanks for indulging me on my rant as to why I love Halloween. It’s easily one of my favorite horror movies, and seemed appropriate to talk about today of all days. What do you think of the horror classic? Is it also one of your favorites? Or do you think it hasn’t aged quite as well? You can tell me below, and I’ll be back with more reviews soon!