John Carpenter’s Halloween 1978 Review
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, PJ Soles
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Over ten years have passed since I pencilled my first slasher movie review under an alias on the web. I was studying at that time and writing up flicks when i should have been doing coursework, so i wrote under the name of Chrisie Tuohy – a tribute to my Nan, Cristina, who had died that year. That’s a long time ago and surprisingly enough, I have never got round to reviewing my favourite ever and the one that started it all (for me anyway) – Halloween.
It’s a big task, because it has been covered so many times and I’m not the best writer, so could I really do it any justice? I always had this on my mind. How do you put it to words something that changed your life? Could I really say what needed to be said?
I came up with an idea. I’m not going to cover the same old ground here and instead I will write about the effect that Halloween had on me and why I love it so much and what I think makes it such a classic.
I recorded this on video when I was very young and I remember that apart from being genuinely terrified (walking from the living room to the kitchen in pitch black was a challenge) I was sincerely intrigued. Just what the hell was Michael Myers? Why wouldn’t he die?
It took me a while before we had access to the Internet to learn that there was a sequel (you can imagine my disappointment when the first that I found was part 3 – I mean, where was Mr. Myers?) and so I had a burning passion to understand some more about this pure evil. I used to badger my mum constantly, always talking about it – well she WAS an adult and she had seen it many moons ago, but she didn’t share my passion and couldn’t answer my question, so it became an obsession.
More than anything, I really wanted to relive that experience. I mean was there another film that could terrify me that much? So became my love of slashers before I even knew that they were called that and it’s an addiction I have carried all my life.
Back in those days there was a label called VipCo in the UK and it claimed to be a leading provider of horror movies and video-nasties. In my eagerness, (I had a lot of time) I managed to get the owner’s phone number and used to call him quite a bit. He never really enjoyed speaking to me, but persistence paid off and he pointed me in the way of some more slashers (only the ones he was releasing, of course) and from then my collection began.
I never really got to feel how I did that night, but I have had some great fun courtesy of my favourite past time and I don’t regret a thing.
In the opening, an unseen maniac escapes from an institution and heads back to the town where he murdered his sister when he was six years old. It’s the anniversary of his previous crime and he is back to celebrate it in some style.
Now the first thing you notice having watched so many slashers and not this one for a long time is the cinematography. It’s essential to have creativity in kill scenes and totally expected, but to see such energy during the parts that are there only for the actors to carry the script or just focussing on open locations is a brilliant ingredient. Halloween could have walked the fine line of losing its focus during the development of its players, a fate that befell many other genre entries, but there’s a constant feeling of dread that surrounds the characters and from the first introduction, you can sense the fate that’s waiting for them.
Donald Pleasence was not John Carpenter’s first choice and he was looking to recognised genre heavyweights such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing for the iconic Sam Loomis. Both turned him down (Christopher Lee called it the biggest mistake of his career – although for me that’s accepting a role in Mask of Murder) and even though I think that either could have done a good enough job, Pleasence makes the role his own and it’s probably one of his best performances. Jamie Lee Curtis shines on her debut and I don’t think anyone has captured the geeky and naive innocence and warmth that she delivers so effortlessly. It’s easy to root for Laurie Strode, she’s the perfect heroine. She will fight to defend those close to her, she’s loyal, she’s shy, she’s intelligent and she boasts an under-developed beauty. It’s also very easy to relate to her, I think that everyone who is slightly sensitive has a piece of Laurie Strode inside them and Carpenter’s script captures the essence of an ideal protagonist.
I believe that the reason that Michael Myers was so much scarier than other bogeymen and I think it helped Jason from Friday the 13th Part 2 (before he became a comical character), was that he only lived to kill. In slasher movies that have a ‘guess who is the maniac’ sub-plot, the impact is different because you have usually seen this character behaving normally (probably the most normal in an attempt to divert suspicion) and then all of a sudden we learn that he’s a psychopath with a lust for murder. It doesn’t quite cut it in the same way. Myers on the other hand was terrifying because he hadn’t spoken for fifteen years and his modus operandi was simply to stalk and slaughter random targets. Unlike the murderers that I mentioned earlier, you could never imagine this masked assailant sharing a joke with the person he wants to kill or taking a stroll to the shop to buy a newspaper. This was a pure force of evil, without a motive – and he can’t be compared to someone that’s seeking vengeance for an earlier wrongdoing. This wasn’t about revenge, it was about cold-blooded murder.
Now one of the oldest rules of the Horror category, from way back in the days of Grand-Guignol is that if you really want to make your monster scary, don’t show him until the climax. There are many samples of this that you can find within the slasher cycle, but again none of them do it as well as its done here. The framing here is artful and the tension is ramped by the enigma of the silhouetted spectre. We don’t really see the iconic mask until the final quarter and what is most memorable is that we never get a chance to clearly witness the face that’s underneath it. What could this guy look like? I would love to take a peek at ‘…the blackest eyes, the devils eyes’ as Sam Loomis puts it. Imagination is a wonderful thing and Carpenter allowed ours to run away in to the shadows left by one of the most terrifying fiends ever to stalk the silver screen.
The suspense here is marvellous and holds up quite well even today after I have seen the film a million times. I love the way Myers sits up in the background and looks at the petrified Laurie Strode, it is cinematic perfection and I can’t think of a time where it’s been conveyed any better. Carpenter was right in giving us no motive and nothing to relate to Myers’ persona and we still don’t really know why he became an unstoppable killer. It’s a shame that the sequels never managed to build on the film’s strengths and perhaps this is a motion picture that should never have had a continuation.
Whether or not Halloween started the slasher genre is irrelevant, this is the best example by a country mile and it’s crazy to think that it’s never been improved upon. It’s impossible to come up with another movie that has been imitated as many times and as I said to the girl that I watched it with, you may have seen this all before, but this is where it came from – this is the source. The rest are just wannabes.
You’ve read all the praise before, but for me this is without a doubt the best horror movie anywhere ever. I would also suggest that Carpenter at the height of his creativity was the greatest director.
Watch it tonight, go on, I dare you…
Final Girl √√√√√
Posted on October 31, 2011, in Slasher, Top 30 Slashers and tagged 1978, Donald Pleasence, greatest slasher, Halloween, John Carpenter, masked killer, Masterpiece, my favourite movie, Top 25 slashers. Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.