As we enter October, the month of Halloween, it's the perfect time to review John Carpenter’s Halloween. It will mark the 40th Anniversary since release, as well as building up to the upcoming of release of Halloween (2018).
While Halloween is by no means the first slasher film (see Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas), it was the first to get a wide release, and served as inspiration for several in that genre (Friday the 13th). There are certain elements that were carried over that have become clichés: sex means death and virgins will survive. However Carpenter himself said it wasn’t his intention about passing judgement on pre-marital sex, but it was about the victims being too distracted to notice a killer is stalking them.
Laurie Strode certainly has more character than just being a virgin; she’s very protective of the children she babysits, and she is able to fight back despite being out of her depth. She’s not perfect either, as she tries to be rebellious when she smokes Annie’s joint and makes silly mistakes in her battle with Michael.
Laurie’s friends Annie and Linda are certainly not one-dimensional. They may be dumb, Linda especially whose trope has become a cliché (blonde valley girl cheerleader, who’s usually ditsy and promiscuous), yet they are still normal girls with personalities that provide some comedy.
What made the film impactful was the atmosphere Carpenter created with hardly any money. With creative cinematography, moody lighting, beautiful opening credits and an iconic haunting score, the film is very suspenseful, keeping everything moving slowly, and hardly any blood is shown onscreen.
You know the killer is there, yet you can barely see so you don’t know when or where he’ll show up. There’s nothing to suggest why Michael Myers is a killer or why he’s invincible: he’s just evil incarnate! He can’t be reasoned with and almost impossible to stop.
The closest we get to any kind of motivation for stalking and killing the babysitters is that it seems he wants to recreate the night he killed his sister Judith. That night Judith was babysitting Michael, and he stabs her after she has sex with her boyfriend. After he kills one of the girls, he places her body by Judith’s headstone. Even then we still don’t know why he killed his sister or why he’s silent and emotionless.
Donald Pleasence gave the best performance of his career as Sam Loomis, Michael’s psychiatrist, the only person who can see how pure evil he is, yet he can’t convince anyone to take it seriously.
Loomis comes across so cold, and you can feel that the 15 years he’s spent with Michael has taken a toll on him, with the frustration he has trying to convince everyone of the dangers of Michael being free. He’s still relatable as you’re with him when he tries to track Michael down and you can detect his determination to protect the innocent even when he’s unfairly blamed for Michael’s escape. Loomis is a truly tragic hero figure.
Jamie Lee Curtis gives a great performance as the young and naïve Laurie. She’s easy to like and fear for when she’s in danger. It’s also great to see her evolve, especially when Michael confronts her, and she does whatever she has to do to defend herself. The wardrobe scene is still one of the scariest moments in horror film history.
It’s very simple yet deeply effective in relying on atmosphere, suspense and characters over blood and violence. Still to this day Halloween is one the best horror films. Happy Halloween!
Written by Jack Parish