It’s very hard to sit down and write about a film that is so important and meaningful to your life, a film that, along with the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, changed my perspective of what horror cinema was truly about. It started when I was a young boy of 13, and I was starting to get over the Freddy Kruegers and Screams and decided that it was time to delve into the deepest of horror pits. This one was on top of the list, and I bought it on a fullscreen VHS way back in ’96. Even with the shitty quality, I watched it in a trance, and for a movie that had no slapsticky situations or blood, I was truly terrified. The Shape had taken over my life, and no matter how many shitty sequels and badly-made remakes come, they will never be able to take away the magic and horror I feel when I watch this film.
This, of course, is owed to John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Knowing they had a limited budget, they decided to base their technique from their biggest influences, directors like Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Howard Hawks, and decided that by the use of camera angles and lighting could create something more frightening than any gore show could. Carpenter was a true filmmaker, one of the few working in low-budget horror, and his talent shines through here, as every angle, every dolly, has a meaning, and is there to frighten. You could blame the fact that in the sequels the quality went down because of the over-necessity on typical slasher conventions, but to me the ruin came in the use of directors that were no match compared to Carpenter. If you want proof, just look at the opening sequence in which young Michael Myers kills his sister. It’s composed of three long, extended shots, all which lead us from a peeping tom, to a horrific murder of a young woman, to the final horrifying reveal that it was a child doing everything. Talent like this is rarely seen in low-budget horror films, or higher ones for that matter.
The movie itself has a very good cast. The stand-out is obviously Jamie Lee Curtis, who is able to be plain and vulnerable but at the same time realistically beautiful and resourceful. It was a breakthrough role that, for a few years, crowned her as the queen of scream, until she decided to go Hollywood. Donald Pleasance also shows up as Loomis, in what would be Myers’ constant nemesis. Sometimes his performance can seem campy, but then again, very frightening, almost as frightening as the killer. When he talks about the horror he sees behind Myers’ eyes, you believe every word of his without really flinching. The rest of the cast is still pretty capable, particularly Nancy Kyes as Annie Brackett and PJ Soles as cheerleader Lynda, who may be your typical disposable teenagers, but are still fun to watch and, in the case of PJ and her perfect pj’s, is quite a treat to watch.
Michael Myers is a character onto himself, although we know of him the least. He walks in the shadows but strikes like a force of nature, creating the prototype of the archetypical slasher monster, even if that is simply a modified William Shatner mask. Even with all the great murders, however, the scariest sequence in the whole film, and probably the history of horror, begins with Laurie finding her friends dead, all through the unmasking of Myers. It’s the textbook example of how to create suspense in horror, with it’s low lighting, surprise attacks, and violent outbursts of violence created by Myers. You know Laurie doesn’t have a chance, and you just hope that she’ll be able to maintain a step ahead of the monstrous killer.
You can’t do a Halloween review without mentioning the score. Inspired by Goblin’s work on Deep Red, it is probably the most important element in the entire film, and probably what made the film such a huge success. It’s iconic, and as the film, it strikes and it’s fierce. Michael Myers would go on to become your typical immortal monster, turned into a family killer, the product of a Druid cult (hahah!), and remade as a professional wrestler. A lot of the terrifying essence, the evil inside of a human being placed on display, might have been lost on the series, but to this original film, he will always be the most terrifying boogieman in filmdom. There is always a debate within me about which is the greatest horror film of all time, between this one and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and while both are very different, both are essential. And while TCM might be more raw, like a punch to the face, Halloween is like being strangled by horror, it’s slow but terrifying, and it’s impact on horror, film, and my life, can never be underestimated.