Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: October 25, 1978
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Dean Cundey
WRITERS: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
MUSIC: John Carpenter
I’m being completely honest when I say that I cannot really remember the first time that I saw “Halloween”, director John Carpenter’s original horror masterpiece. I want to say that it was one of the countless films that my dad and I watched together because I do remember when we watched a marathon of the film series one year during Halloween. No matter when I saw it for the first time, though, the only thing I can say is that this is still a film that scares the hell out of me.
Anyone who watches horror films while growing up can tell you that there was that one monster that still gets to them even today. For some, it’s the dream stalking Freddy Krueger while for others it’s the machete wielding Jason. Some people can’t get over Pinhead from “Hellraiser” and for many others, it’s the sadistic first appearance of Chucky from “Child’s Play”.
For me personally, that monster is Michael Myers, the serial killer that decides to escape from a mental hospital to terrorize Jamie Lee Curtis and her friends. This character had such an impact in the first film that even the lesser sequels got to me.
I think it all has to do with the mask. It is nothing more than a pale, emotionless face staring back at you with nothing but blackness in the eyes. Even thinking about it as I’m writing this kind of makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
The movie begins in 1963, when a young Michael kills his sister while dressed as a clown. He apparently has no motive and is sent away to a mental institution under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis. Once he turns 21, Michael is about to be transferred to another location, except he actually causes a massive breakout instead and returns to his home in Haddonfield, Illinois.
Once there, he targets a group of teenagers and by the end of Halloween night, he will have changed the face of Halloween forever. Loomis follows Michael to Haddonfield and enlists the aid of the local Sheriff. Loomis knows that Michael is pure evil and will stop at nothing recapture or kill his patient.
I think another factor about Michael that freaks me out is that we never learn (in this movie, anyway) about why he is targeting the teenagers. Like with his sister Judith, there is no motive other than the theory from Loomis that the man is simply and purely evil. Not having a motive or at least a mysterious one is always more frightening than simply saying that he was beaten or came from a broken home (I’m looking at you, Rob Zombie).
The film is also noted for being the one of the original slasher flicks, but in reality it barely has any blood in it at all. Carpenter uses lighting and tone to establish a scary atmosphere. He is a director who knows that the power of suggestion is far more powerful than actually showing you the blood and guts.
The performers are all fantastic to watch as well. Curtis is so good in the role that you know she is the lead straight from the beginning. The movie is one of the earliest examples of a horror film that gives us one of the first “virgin” heroines of horror with Laurie Strode. However, it is also worth mentioning that Carpenter always said that this was merely a coincidence and that he did not mean to imply that she survives because she is pure in some way.
The other great and now classic portrayal is Dr. Sam Loomis, played perfectly by veteran actor Donald Pleasence. The good doctor is obsessed with catching Michael, much like Van Helsing as he tries to stop Dracula. Pleasence plays Loomis with the calm voice of a trained psychiatrist, but also with an urgent twist because he knows that Michael will kill again at any moment and with his riveting monologues, we get the perfect idea of the evil that drives Michael.
Carpenter was able to shoot a modern horror classic with a simple budget of just $325,000. The film went on to gross $70 million, creating a movie that was eventually preserved by the United States National Film Registry for being culturally significant. It also spawned one of the most famous villains to ever grace the screen and even today, I have a hard time watching this film alone and in the dark.