Revisiting a Horror classic
John Carpenter’s Horror Masterpiece “Halloween”, turns 42 years old today
On October 25, 1978, a small horror film was released and it would change the face of the genre. “Halloween” has frequently been grouped together with all the other slasher films that populated theaters throughout the late-1970’s and early-1980’s. However, while “Halloween” is rightfully considered the father of the modern slasher genre, it is not a member. This is not a gruesome film and there is surprisingly little graphic violence and almost no blood. “Halloween” is built on suspense, not gore, and initiated more than a few of today’s common horror/thriller cliches. The ultimate success of the movie, however, encouraged other filmmakers to try their hand at this sort of film, and it didn’t take long for someone to decide that audiences wanted as many explicitly grisly scenes as the running length would allow. By the time Halloween’s sequel was released in 1981, the objective of this sort of movie was no longer to scare its viewers, but to gross them out. The film starts out in a creepy fashion with a brutal murder, and never lets up from there. Every frame drips with atmosphere. Who cares that it was filmed during the spring in California instead of during the autumn in fictional Haddonfield, Illinois? “Halloween” was the film that earned Jamie Lee Curtis the infamous title of “Scream Queen.” She plays Laurie Strode, the virginal protagonist. Curtis’ interpretation of the gawky, awkward Laurie is frequently overlooked in analyses of the movie and its genre, but she effectively conveys the feelings and aspirations of a shy, insecure teenager. The film opens with a long, single-shot prologue that takes place on Halloween night, 1963. A young Michael Myers watches as his older sister, Judith, sneaks upstairs for a quickie with a guy from school. After the boyfriend has departed, Michael takes a knife out of the kitchen drawer, ascends the staircase, and stabs Judith to death. The entire sequence employs the subjective point-of-view, an approach that writer/director John Carpenter returns to repeatedly throughout the movie. Only after the deed is done do we learn that Michael is only a grade-schooler.
The bulk of the movie takes place fifteen years later. Michael, confined to an asylum for the criminally insane for more than ten years, escapes on the night before Halloween. His doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), believing Michael to be the embodiment of evil, tracks the killer back to his hometown of Haddonfield. From there, it’s a race against time as Loomis seeks to locate and stop Michael before he starts again where he left off in 1963. Michael’s primary victims are Laurie and her two best friends, Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles). Throughout the film, Michael is shown gradually closing in on the girls, until, in the final act, Laurie is involved in a face-to-face fight for her life. Much has been made of the fact that the key to survival in “Halloween” is being a virgin. The three girls who have sex with their boyfriends (Judith Myers, Annie, and Lynda) don’t survive their encounters with Michael. Laurie, who has nothing to do with boys, does. Co-writers Carpenter and Debra Hill have stated numerous times that this was not a conscious theme, but, ever since “Halloween”, the standard for slasher films has been that sexual promiscuity leads to a violent end. Nick Castle plays Michael, wears a painted white Captain Kirk mask, we only once very briefly see his features, and this makes him all the more frightening. He kills without making a sound or changing his expression, and his movements are often slow and zombie-like. Carpenter is exceedingly careful in choosing the camera angles he uses to shoot Michael. Before the climax, there’s never a clear close-up of Michael, he is always concealed by shadows, shown in the distance, or presented as otherwise obscured. This approach makes for an especially ominous villain. Subsequent Halloweens delved more deeply into Michael’s origins and his connection to Laurie, but, in this one, he remains an enigma, and the lack of a clear motive makes his actions all the more terrifying. “Halloween” is one of those films where the attention to detail is evident in every frame. It’s a credit to Carpenter that, no matter how many times you’ve seen the movie, the tension builds to a horrifying level by the climax of the film. The final body count in “Halloween” is surprisingly low, but the terror quotient is high. This is the kind of impeccably crafted movie that burrows deep into our psyche and connects with the dark, hidden terrors that lurk there. “Halloween” remains a modern classic of the most horrific kind.
By Ken Warren, 2017/18
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
Watch the 1978 “Halloween” movie trailer
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