Halloween, not to be confused with Halloween or Halloween, is one of the grandfathers of the modern slasher genre. While other films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho came out before it with great success, it was this John Carpenter film that proved so efficient that, to this day, many modern slasher films structure themselves on the formula established in it. And it is for good reason.
Watching this film I was a little worried that it might have aged poorly, and thus the scares and suspense just wouldn’t hit as hard as they were intended to, but to my surprise they had aged very well; particularly the suspense. What this suspense creates is an atmosphere the likes of which you don’t often get to experience in horror, which is one utter isolation in spite of the story being set in a populated neighbourhood on the one night of the year people are going around and doing things. In fact one of the scarily realistic moments of the film occurs when Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), the final girl being pursued by Michael Myers, bangs on a neighbours door pleading for help, only for the neighbours to open the blinds, wave her away and turn their lights off. I mean if you watch enough true crime, you will start recognising how often interviewees or detectives bring up the fact that if one random stranger in the street had intervened then the whole thing could have been prevented, and yet no one stepped up. So, cynical as it may be to include in a film, it’s also rather effective when that film is a horror one.
Yet the highlights of this film aren’t the big bay offs, but rather the slow burn and atmosphere that sets it all up. A surprising amount of this movie is set during the day and consists of people searching the streets for Michael Myers, a search we experience through the eyes of Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasance). Contrary to the claustrophobic environments most movies of this type try to create, a lot of time is dedicated to showing how wide and open the town it takes place in is. The result is that a lot of the early parts of this film turn into a game of eye-spy, as Michael could be lurking around any corner. It’s a game that rewards you since, if you look hard enough, you’ll notice Michael in a couple shots he’s not supposed to be in. Lurking. Waiting.
What also contributes the the suspense of this film is how often it gives us Michael’s perspective on things. Many modern slashers depict the victims running, screaming, hiding and losing track of the killer. In these instances the suspense is derived from not knowing where the killer is or when he will strike. Contrary to this, the suspense of Halloween comes from the vast amount of dramatic irony it provides; The audience almost always knows where Michael is and what he’s going to do, with the victims being blissfully unaware he is even within the vicinity. Not only do you get your normal slasher suspense from this perspective, but you also get the disturbing notion that you really shouldn’t be seeing things this way. It almost feels wrong that you get to know more than the victims do about their own circumstances.
A lot of this comes down to how immersive the film is, due to how it dedicates a lot of time to establishing the mundane normalness of life in the town. No one there is special. Nothing special happens. It’s just full of normal people doing normal things and, oh no, now a serial killer is there. I even mentioned this in my review of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which you can read here) because of how invasive it feels for Michael to even exist in an environment that feels so real and mundane. Therefore it’s not just the horrible things that Michael does that makes him threatening, but simply the fact he inhabits the town at all.
So despite the absolutely shocking amounts of lore that this movies many sequels and remakes would go on to provide the series, what made it a success in the first place was it’s simplicity. You don’t root for Laurie Strode’s survival because she’s such a compelling an interesting character, but because she’s so ordinary that it could just as easily be you in her shoes. She’s a blank-slate character, a typical teenage girl, with literally no drama going on in her life other than the vague notion the has a crush on some guy called Ben who we never hear, see or meet. Resultingly, it’s incredibly easy for us to relate to her and put ourselves in her position.
Now there are a few silly bits to this film, such as seeing Michael drive around in a very distinguishable car with the sticker of the institution he escaped from plastered over the doors, and Doctor Loomis gleefully smiling to himself after scaring the crap out of some young children in order to keep them away from a spooky house. But for the most part this movie has aged so incredibly well that I’d go as far to say it could still get a scare out of people who haven’t seen it before. And no, not because Michael throws himself at the screen and a loud musical cue plays the moment he does so, but because the film makes you watch this guy creep innocent girls to their death with the most subtly and effective score playing over it imaginable.
I’ve seen this film too many times to still be scared by it today, but I still feel creeped out by the perspectives it gives us, and oddly more glued to the screen because I know exactly where Michael is than because I’m anticipating his next surprise attack. And the fact I still feel those things all this time after my initial viewing of it is what, to my mind, makes it one of the best horror films made. So yes, I would highly recommend Halloween… John Carpenter’s 1978 film, that is. As for the others? We’ll have to wait and see.
I would like to review all of the Halloween films, similarly to what I did with Godzilla ones. So, although it may be slow going for the first few titles, I am going to start my ranking list again. Below is the list of Halloween films ranked from best to worst… Even though, y’know, I’ve only reviewed this one so far. Got to start somewhere:
- Halloween (1978)