Agreeing to join in @TheMarckoguy’s #MonthOfSpooks finally gave me the push I needed to check out one of the all-time horror classics and erase a shameful gap in my movie-going records. This Halloween, I finally sat down to enjoy…er…”Halloween”.
John Carpenter’s 1978 classic (released in 1979 in the UK) is a masterclass in lo-fi, high creativity cinema, resulting in a film so iconic, it defined not only the slasher genre and its tropes but also set the confines within which parodies and homages would operate for decades to come.
In 1963 Haddonfield, a young Michael Myers brutally and without apparent motive or remorse murders his sister on Halloween night. Fifteen years later, Myers escapes from Smith’s Grove Sanatorium and heads back to his hometown pursued by his psychiatrist Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) who believes Michael will kill again.
Packed with suspense, “Halloween” is tense and frightening without ever having to rely on extreme violence and gore. Carpenter is wise enough to know that less is more, using the relatively modest $300,000 budget creatively to deliver the chills and thrills. From the use of POV to put the audience uncomfortably in the killer’s place to the unsettling undercurrent of vulnerability lurking within suburbia’s snug little houses and white picket fences, the restricted resources time and again become the mother of invention, resulting in a more potent cinematic experience.
Jamie Lee Curtis – here making her feature debut – is a real find, a genuinely high calibre scream queen, originating the role of the ‘final girl’, a trope which would go as far as to spawn its own movie. That she was the daughter of Janet Leigh (of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”) was no doubt a huge boost to the film too. Accompanying Curtis on her debut was the veteran presence of Donald Pleasance, lending the film a vital gravitas and credibility and ensuring the grisly goings-on feel grounded and serious.
As well as co-writing and directing, Carpenter also provided the score for the movie and the synthesiser-driven eeriness is one of the film’s strongest elements, giving even the most mundane suburban scenes an air of foreboding. Even over the potentially cutesy pumpkin-centred opening credits, Carpenter’s relentless theme twists everything to a darker, more sinister angle.
Whether viewed as a subtext-packed morality play of the dangers of pre-marital sex or – as Carpenter insists – just a damn good horror movie, there’s no denying that “Halloween” retains its power as an effective slasher movie. Simply put, there wouldn’t be a “Scream” without “Halloween” and most of Randy Meeks’ ‘Rules’ are lifted directly from this film. No doubt that’s why the kids in “Scream” are watching “Halloween” during the final party bloodbath. But even that meta reference wasn’t original – “Halloween” itself has its own moment of meta foreshadowing as Laurie and Tommy watch “The Thing From Another World”, a film that Carpenter would remake himself a mere four years later.
“Halloween” is, on its own merits, a great horror movie but its influence on the genre which continues to the present day is what elevates it to an absolute classic.