Director – John Carpenter
Cast – Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, John Michael Graham, Nancy Stephens
Release Year – 1978
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The film that started it all…”the night he came home”. In 1978 the horror community was given the greatest slasher flick of all time, and one of horror’s most iconic figures. Halloween gave us Michael Myers AKA “The Shape”, not a man…but pure evil. John Carpenter’s masterpiece of a film embodies every aspect of fear and tension with a budget of shoestring proportions. One of the greatest horror films of all time, this is a film I can never, EVER get out of my head.
It’s 1963, and Halloween night is underway in Haddonfield, Illinois. Six year old Michael Myers catches a glimpse of his 17 year old sister having sex, and afterwards brutally murders her with a kitchen knife. 15 years later it’s October 30th(my bday), 1978 and Dr. Samuel Loomis is on his way to a mental institution that has been holding Michael all this time. Dr. Loomis is there to transport Michael to court, and put this monster and the evil behind him behind bars forever. Something triggers Michael that night and he manages to not only escape the institution, but leaves in Dr. Loomis’s car. Knowing that Michael is going to head back to Haddonfield(the only place he knows), Dr. Loomis heads to the town and with the help of the local sheriff embarks on a journey to stop Michael before he rocks this quiet community again. Unfortunately, a group of young girls are babysitting on the same block as Michael Myers old house, and one by one become victim to this merciless masked killer.
There is a reason this film is so iconic in horror lore and society, and it is due to John Carpenters amazing direction and screenplay(co-written by Debra Hill). Right off the back you get the immense sense of dread that sets the tone for this film with his use of dark grainy cinematography/sets, and his classic theme song that I’m sure is recognized all over the world. The score sets this film apart from the rest(and it‘s many imitators), and is in my opinion the greatest horror score there is. Sorry Dawn of the Dead fans, although I think Goblin gives this film some fierce competition. This film paces incredibly well, running fluidly from start to finish without ever letting the viewer look away from the screen. Just when you think the film is about to slow down, we get some great scenes with Michael to keep you on the edge of your seat. John Carpenter’s decision to set this film 15 years after it’s opening events is a genius idea, and I credit his selective background material regarding Michael’s institutionalization for the eeriness added to his character. The scene with Dr. Loomis stating that Michael Myers never spoke a word during that 15 year tenure, and sat facing a wall, as if he was staring through the wall honestly gave me chills. Yes, this film is THAT well written.
Halloween marks the debut film for actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who just so happens to be the daughter of actress Janet Leigh. Yes, THE Janet Leigh who was murdered by a knife welding maniac during the infamous “shower scene” in Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. I guess getting chased by guys armed with kitchen knives runs in their family huh? Also a nice gem to this film is the addition of actress P. J. Soles, who starred in the film “Carrie” two years prior. The acting performances from the main female characters in this film were a bit sub-par, but what more can you expect from a low budget horror film from the 70s? The acting isn’t bad, if anything I’d refer to it as “adequate for it’s time”. As we would expect given this film’s sequels, Donald Pleasance put on a fantastic performance as Dr. Samuel Loomis, and actually wound up becoming this franchise’s most notable(and loved) character. It’s a shame he passed on during the filming of Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, but he will live in the hearts of us horror hounds forever.
Now onto the real star of this film…Michael Myers. I cannot explain how much I absolutely love this character, and how he embodies pure unadulterated horror. His background is a horrific one, killing his sister at such a young age and without any admitted reason or motive. The fact that after so much time he returns to the home he committed the horrible crime in, only to terrorize more people just adds to the horror. Once again, unexplained and without motive(as of this film). This is where the real genius in Carpenter and Hill’s writing lies, the fact that we never really find out why he does what he does. I’m personally a fan of this in the case of Michael Myers because it works so well for him. Rob Zombie’s recent remake of this film went into much depth over Michael’s background and I personally balked at that notion. The reason why Michael is so scary is because we know so little about him. Once you find out WHY he does what he does, unless it is some incredibly awesome reason(it wasn’t in Zombie’s remake), he loses his mystery, and loses his creepiness. I’m glad we were left in the dark over this notion in this film. Nuff said on that. The second biggest reason behind the greatness of the Michael Myers character, and the most recognized, is his physical nature. The white mask he dons(which is simply a William Shatner mask painted white) is the creepiest mask a killer has ever donned, and it only worked even better during the night scenes. The scene of Michael coming out of the closet to attack Laurie Strode is what I consider to be the creepiest Michael Myers moment ever, followed by the “sitting up” scene a few minutes after that. Genius! To add to this the fact that Michael Myers has the physicality of the slightly above normal male makes him all the creepier. I personally love Jason Vorhees, but what Jason gains in brutality lacks in creepiness. Michael Myers is the opposite. Jason is a gargantuan while Michael looks like he could blend into society much easier, making him all the more deadly. Lastly is his movements and emotions, also tied into his physicality a bit, but still enough to warrant further mention. One of my favorite scenes involving this is when he stabs Bob and leaves his hanging in the kitchen, only to stare at him for a short period of time with the deadest, most unapologetic stature. Referring to Michael as “The Shape” is perfect, given he really is not a “man”, and moves so fluidly and without emotion it’s as if he has no specific definition to who or what he is. Once again…genius.
I could go on and on about this film, but the best way to fully appreciate what I am saying is to watch the film and see it for yourself. Even if you’ve seen this film many times, watch it again and marvel at what true horror filmmaking looks like. Everything in this film is perfect.
Overall, this is a must see for all horror fans and for anyone looking for good scares they are sure to remember for the rest of their lives. This film is iconic.