John Carpenter’s Halloween is the first modern slasher and, therefore, it inspired every other flick of this sub-genre ever since, including the beloved Friday the 13th and Nightmare franchises.
For horror purists, I know that some previous films could be considered as slasher as well: Psycho (1960) represents a prime example. Nonetheless, Halloween had redefined the sub-genre and made it suitable for mass audiences and many forms of exploitation.
Basically, John Carpenter’s low-budget film represents for the slasher sub-genre what The Blair Witch Project (1999) meant for the found-footage style: it’s been done before by Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, but BWP undeniably gave it an unprecedented popularity.
Halloween, which is the turning point of my series on The Classics of Horror, tells the simple story of Michael Myers who escapes a psychiatric institution he’s been locked up in 15 years before, in light of the murder of his sister when he was only a child.
The serial killer on a loose comes back to Haddonfield on a Halloween night to satisfy his blood thirst and kill the local teenagers.
As oppose to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which I didn’t like as much upon second view, Halloween deeply struck me the second time I watched, in order to right this review.
In general, the first film of what would have become a successful franchise based on Michael Myers is just an amazing, unpretentious, entertaining movie.
However, three factors made me fall in love with it.
Firstly, the good characters are extremely compelling. In comparison to the majority of slasher flicks (actually, 99% of the slasher flicks), the three main girls (played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles) are well-rounded and feature different, distinguishable traits. Their ways of speaking resemble closely the way teenage girls used to argue with each other in the late 70s, which provides the film with an extra layer of realism.
Yet, Donald Pleasence as Doctor Loomis – the psychiatrist who took care of Myers for 15 years – is simply eye-grabbing. His performance is fully rounded and features a vast range of emotions which make for a compelling character who, basically, carries an entire sub-plot along by himself.
Another prime character in Halloween is the soundtrack: composed by John Carpenter himself, the score is iconic to say the least and it’s able to deliver a subtle sense of angst that never fades away. Personally, I think the sound design alone makes the film worth watching.
Finally, the cinematography is spotless. Every single shot is a feist for the eye and, in my humble opinion, such a high level of gorgeous cinematography has never been reached since in a non-artsy horror film (with the exception of It Follows, 2014, which indeed constantly pays homage to Halloween).
The combination between music, camera-work and photography creates an overall dreadful atmosphere which doesn’t need Michael Myers on screen to give the audience goosebumps. Some shots that frame Myers from behind, while focusing on other characters are just so simply beautiful. At the same time, long sequences composed by single takes give a realistic impression, make you feel like you’re integral part of the Haddonfield community to the point that you could communicate with Laurie, Annie or Linda.
Besides that, Halloween is just an entertaining flick with a few, tiny, plot holes that can be easily overlooked: for instance, after having been in a mental institution for 15 years, Myers escapes and drives a car, something that, realistically, he shouldn’t be able to do.
If I could only change something about the film, it would be Myers’ behaviour in certain scenes. In the first half of the movie, the villain just stares at people from behind bushes, cars, trees and so on, which is not really scary or unsettling in my opinion.
On the other hand, though, I understand that this specific behaviour humanises his character rather than turning him into an indestructible monster – which, eventually, he became in the sequels.
All in all, I think Halloween should on everybody’s must-watch list and, although not really frightening, it well deserves its spot among the classics of the genre. One last suggestion: if you can get the Blu-ray of this film, please do, it will make your viewing experience unforgettable.