Halloween (1978)

Halloween, 1978; directed by John Carpenter; starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, PJ Soles

How could we not cover John Carpenter’s Halloween on Halloween?  The movie made the careers of both director Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis.  It was yet another successful salvo in showing how very profitable independent, budget filmmaking could be.  And it became an iconic, instant classic.

In the early 80s the slasher film became a big trend in horror.  Titles like Slumber Party Massacre, Silent Night Deadly Night and of course the Friday the 13th movies filled the multiplexes.  The rules of these films came together rather quickly (and were cleverly skewered by Wes Craven’s wink and a nod slasher semi-satire Scream in the 1990s).  Rules like those who indulge in pleasures of the flesh die, while those who stay “pure” and demure may survive.

Many, if not all, of these rules were established by Halloween.  Often considered a slasher film, there are actually very few deaths in this film.  It’s enduring power and reputation exist largely on Carpenter’s ability to keep the suspense and tension sustained through out its 91 minute run time. Having seen the movie many times myself, I am still surprised when re-watching it manages to get me to jump .  The most recent viewing even had us yelling things at the screen like, “don’t go there!”  and “what the heck are you doing?!”  and especially “turn on a damn light already!”

Halloween opens showing a murder from the then youthful murderer’s point of view.  It then cuts to that same murderer – the ubiquitous Michael Myers – escaping from an insane asylum over 15 years later to return to his hometown and wreak havoc there.  All the while he is pursued by Dr. Loomis, the Dr. who spent 8 years trying to help Myers – before deciding that Myers was beyond help and pure evil – and then the following 7 years trying to keep him locked up.

Carpenter does a great job setting up and building tension as we see Myers spying on Curtis’s Laurie Strode over the course of the first 40 minutes or so.  That iconic mask (a William Shatner mask, no less) just keeps appearing outside windows, through the bushes and in the station wagon that keeps following Laurie and her friends.  Sure the acting is a bit uneven (check out the sometimes flat often shrill delivery of lines by Lauries friend Annie, who’s babysitting down the street, and who makes us wonder why Laurie would be friends with her in the first place) and it has more than it’s share of “why are you doing this?” moments – especially in keeping the lights off.

But it’s skill in building suspense, giving us jump scares and even it’s creepy iconic score – rivaled only by The Exorcist’s Tubular Bells – combine to make this a film worth seeing and re-visting every halloween for horror fans everywhere.

Dr. Vorhees