John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher horror film is a cult classic which is equally enjoyable today as it was in the 70’s. Its Halloween night and teenagers on a quiet suburban neighbourhood are stalked and brutally murdered by Michael Myers, a former problem child who lived in the area until he stabbed his older sister to death. After 15 years incarcerated in an institute he escapes and heads home to a town which has nearly forgotten him and moved on. Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance), the doctor who was assigned to him throughout his incarceration, is the sole torch bearer to warn the town about the evil about to strike them. When nobody believes him and there’s only a hesitant sheriff ready to lend a hand, is it too late for the teens that Michael has targeted?
Written and Directed by John Carpenter this low-budget film surpasses a mass of other horror films subtly creating tension and fear using some classic techniques rather than a wash of fake blood and gore. Even 40 years later, some multimillion dollar films can’t get close to this film and could certainly learn a lesson or ten from it.
The plot is pretty much ‘no thrills’ and simple, which is something that modern films could learn a lot from. Start with a good idea, expand it, work with it, and stick to it. There’s no need for the multiple confusing twists and turns that some modern films use for their own downfall. Acting is great, in fairness the main focal points are Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, but they both come off as convincing. Other actors carry themselves off well too, but they are the supporting cast for a reason, which they do a fine job of, supporting the continuality of the film and acting as the ‘other’ gut to the Curtis and Pleasance character arcs.
Mise-en-scene is top notch throughout, and it’s this, with the accompanying haunting score, which really amps up the fear factor. Parallels have to be made to other greats of film history for what Carpenter has done her. Take Hitchcock for example, some of the lighting and framing of shots which appear in Halloween are reminiscent of scene’s in Hitchcock classics like “Psycho” (1960), where the ordinary and mundane can look frightful with the right lighting from the right angle.
The audience is invited to follow some innocent teens, in part lead by Jamie Lee-Curtis in her acting premier, as they experience terror they weren’t ready for. Although they act as a vehicle for the film, the audience gets a voyeuristic experience from clever camera shots framed to be the killer’s point of view too. Positioning the audience as occasional killer, occasional victim, gives us a level of additional knowledge which intelligently makes us feel cleverer than the victims, while we are only a moment away from experiencing the same scare and shock as the victim when Carpenter turns our expectations around. There are times where you could literally shout at the screen to warn the victims before the knife lands its ripping blow, only to be toyed with, with it either not happened as we expected, or for doubt to creep in and it actually does happen.
This is a true masterpiece of cinema and really helped to reinvent and define a genre. It’s spawned hundreds of copy-cat films, some decent (and some not-so) sequels and it’s even been rebooted in the last ten years – still, this original version of Halloween from 1978 I as good today as it was when it was released.
I could write about this film all day long, I have before for a dissertation, so keeping my review on this short is painful and challenging. Hopefully I’ve captured a few key points to put across how highly I rate this film. I rarely-to-never award a film 10 out of 10 because I’m a tight Yorkshire man and feel that 10 would be perfection. There are some goofs in this which didn’t need to be, I forgive them and feel it adds character and humanity to the film rather than detract from the ride. I’d absolutely give this 9 out of 10. You will not be disappointed.