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 posted my first slasher movie review under an alias on the web. I was studying at that time and watching 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. A decade is a long time and surprisingly enough, I have never got round to reviewing 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 wondred if I could really do it any justice? I always had this on my mind when I thought about putting pen to paper. How do I accurately describe in words something that had such a profound effect on my 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 the things that I personally believe made 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 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 plague my mum constantly, always asking 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 slashers, and it’s an addiction I have carried ever since.
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 becoming an avid collector.
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 I noticed, 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 plot development parts is a brilliant ingredient. Halloween could have walked the fine line of losing its focus during the unraveling of its story, a fate that befell many other genre entries, but there’s a constant feeling of dread that surrounds the characters. It’s almost as if you can sense the fate that’s awaiting them.
Donald Pleasence was not the first choice for such a key role. Carpenter 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’m sure that either could have done a good enough job, Pleasence makes the role his own. Jamie Lee Curtis shines on her debut and I don’t think that anyone has captured the geeky/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. Anyone that has a slightly sensitive side will recognise a piece of Laurie Strode 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 the antagonist behaving normally (probably the most normal in an attempt to divert suspicion) and then all of a sudden they turn out to be a psychopath with a lust for murder. 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 a villain from a whodunit synopsis, 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 rampage 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 make him visible until the climax. There are many samples of this that you can find within the slasher cycle, but none of them do it this well. The framing is artful and the tension is ramped by the enigma of the silhouetted specter. We aren’t shown the notorious mask until the final quarter and 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 that were 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 in that postcard final scene. Carpenter was right in giving us so little exposition and nothing to relate to Myers as a person, because 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, because 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 code. 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 horror director.
Watch it tonight, go on, I dare you…
Final Girl √√√√√
Posted on October 31, 2011, in Slasher, Top 50 Slashers and tagged Donald Pleasence, greatest slasher, Halloween, John Carpenter, masked killer, Masterpiece, my favourite movie, Top 25 slashers, USA. Bookmark the permalink. 119 Comments.