John Carpenter, 1978
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis
On Halloween in 1963, little Michael Myers stabs his teenage sister to death in Haddonfield, Illinois. He is institutionalized, but breaks out fifteen years later while being transported to a court hearing. He finds his way back to Haddonfield with his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, close on his trail. The Haddonfield police refuse to believe that there is any danger and Myers, now in overalls and a white mask, roams around town undetected. He spots high school student Laurie Strode and stalks her, as well as her two friends Nancy and Lynda.
On Halloween night, Laurie and Nancy are babysitting across the street from one another, but Laurie gets stuck with both children so that Nancy can go meet her boyfriend. Before she can leave the area, Nancy is killed by Myers. Lynda and her boyfriend arrive at the house Nancy was babysitting in and are also killed. Loomis desperately looks for Myers, who now has free range to stalk and kill Laurie.
I’m going to admit here and now that while I’m a huge fan of most of John Carpenter’s other films, I’ve never really cared all that much about Halloween. It’s strange, because Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love Halloween III and have always wished there were more Halloween-themed horror films. I also love other early slashers, such as Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Black Christmas (1974).
My main issue with Halloween is that it is bland. I think part of what made it so popular and iconic is this lack of complexity or subtlety and while I’m not knocking that entirely, it just isn’t my thing. Laurie isn’t a particularly memorable heroine and while I generally enjoy Jamie Lee Curtis, here she is a sort of average, Every Teen. She plays by the rules, has very little personality, etc. Michael Myers wears an almost faceless mask painted white and has no personality whatsoever. He’s sort of a cross between a modern day Universal monster and a serial killer, but has no stand out characteristics. Carpenter’s score music is memorable, but simple and repetitive.
Halloween was one of the most profitable independent films of the ‘70s and arguably went on to influence an entire genre of ‘80s slasher films. It certainly borrows from Hitchcock’s Psycho in terms of the jump scares but lack of real blood or gore and borrows a number of things from earlier slasher films. As with Black Christmas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there is a Final Girl, one female character left alive, and the focus is on teenagers and their developing sexual identity. Parents or authority figures are barely present. And somewhat like Black Christmas, Halloween is about the danger of the suburbs, the belief that everyone is safe behind their unlocked doors in communities where they know all of their neighbors. Also like Black Christmas, Halloween uses POV shots through the killer’s eyes. This is a typical giallo technique popularized by Mario Bava in Blood and Black Lace, but it certainly caught on with slasher films.
The film hasn’t aged particularly well. The acting is substandard and some of the dialogue is appalling, namely the ongoing conversations about the boogeyman. This was Jamie Lee Curtis’s film debut and she essentially got the role over other actresses because she’s the daughter of Janet Leigh, star of Psycho. As I said earlier, her acting is pretty suspect here, but everyone has to start somewhere. In my opinion, Donald Pleasance is the best thing about this film, though he does have some dreadful dialogue. Hammer stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were offered the role, but turned it down due to the small budget.
This was John Carpenter’s first mainstream film and he worked with some of his regular collaborators, such as producer and co-scriptwriter Debra Hill, production designer and jack of all trades Tommy Lee Wallace, and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Halloween was Carpenter’s first collaboration with Cundey and he certainly helped give the film its famous, atmospheric visuals. He would go on to work with Carpenter on The Fog, The Thing, Escape from New York, etc.
If you haven’t seen Halloween, I would recommend it, even though I’m not particularly crazy about it. It’s an important American horror film and deserves to be seen and assessed by all genre fans. With that said, if you grew up watching it and it scared the crap out of you, you might want to reassess. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray, both of which have a number of special features. This was followed by some increasingly bad sequels: Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), and Halloween: Resurrection (2002), as well as Rob Zombie’s awful remake and its even worse sequel.