“Halloween” Movie Review

Big budgets don’t always have to equal great horror movies; in fact, some are great because of their restraints. Consider this classic to be among the top of them. This horror slasher thriller was originally released on October 25th, 1978, almost 40 years to the date. Made for the extremely low budget of around $300,000, it became inredibly profitable by grossing over $70 million at the global box office. Critics managed to warm up to it and it managed to spawn a huge multimedia franchise and create several established tropes within the horror genre for years to come. Directed and co-written by John Carpenter, the project originated when a pair of independent producers came to Carpenter to write a slasher film, having been impressed by his previous effort Assault on Precinct 13. The screenplay was written with producer and then-girlfriend Debra Hill over the course of 10 days, after which it became very difficult to cast the roles with the limited budget. This also meant that almost all of the props and costumes used in the film were everyday or inexpensive items one could get for very little. The story follows Michael Myers, a mute serial killer with virtually no emotion or ulterior motive, and had been imprisoned for murdering his older sister as a young boy. After breaking out of a psychiatric ward on Halloween night in 1978, he then makes his way to the small town of Haddenfield, Illinois, to kill a group of teenage babysitters. One of those babysitters is Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, a bookworm who immediately notices Michael following her. She then attempts, for the next 91 minutes, to avoid his wrath while Michael’s former child psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis makes his way as fast as he can. Interestingly, the first time I actually watched this film was on Halloween night last year, which effectively made me no longer want to go trick-r-treating. I had always been a big fan of John Carpenter, with his 1982 film The Thing being my favorite horror movie of all time. And I mainly wanted to rewatch and review this classic because of the new soft reboot-sequel hybrid by David Gordon Green hitting theaters this weekend. So this has been something of a longtime coming for me, and now we’re in the appropriate season to be taking a critical look at it. And I must say, despite turning 40 years old later this month, the original Halloween still holds up as a remarkably frightening, effective thriller. What is it about Michael Myers that makes him so terrifying of a villain? Simple; he’s the ultimate manifestation of pure evil. He’s not Laurie’s long-lost brother or whatever any of the cheap sequels tried to opine later on. In fact, he’s just credited as “The Shape” in the original script, and it makes sense; he doesn’t really need a personality to become a viable threat. As Dr. Loomis puts it in a haunting monologue, “I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.” In her feature film debut, Jamie Lee Curtis is actually pretty great as Laurie Strode, even she herself can’t watch her own performance. She’s pretty much the only one of her friends with much restraintNick Castle may be completely silent and unemotive as Michael Myers, but he is still an incredibly imposing figure to be scared of. The influence he had on other big screen villains is completely apparent with his stoic nature and practically unstoppable physique; he may as well be the Boogeyman. The best performer is former James Bond villain Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, a man of reason stupefied beyond explanation by the evil of Michael. He’s able to deliver the dialogue with convincing concern and conviction, sure of his mission but terrified of the potential results. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Halloween reveal this as a John Carpenter film through and through. Dean Cundey makes use of the then-newly invented Steadicam to great effect, establishing a strong and unsettling atmosphere. His use of widescreen also makes for great fare, creating a big canvas that practically has you searching for Michael in each frame’s corner. The film opens with a startling 3-minute tracking shot of The Shape’s first kill, establishing that anything can happen in the suburb. The editing by Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace is superb in its focus on tension and atmosphere over explicit gore. The two elements come together in a particularly spooky scene when Michael pins a body to the wall, and he just tilts his head to observe it. What makes The Shape even more scary: His iconic mask was just a William Shatner mask that they spray-painted, but now it’s unmistakably his. Since the budget was so low, Carpenter couldn’t afford to hire a real composer, so he was left to write the score himself. Despite claims that he can’t read or write a single note of music, the main theme has became almost as iconic as the film itself. With a basic, repetitive piano melody serving as the backbone, the swelling of eerie strings and ambient background noises. Other tracks include sudden bursts of dissonant chords on the synth, which usually telegram when The Shape is about to strike. It also makes effective use of Laurie’s sobs and Michael’s Darth Vader-like breathing to create a sense of unease, one which will likely last long after the credits roll. No wonder he was able to finish recording the soundtrack in just 3 days time. My respect for this film increased quite a bit after I read that Carpenter made this for virtually no money. The fact that all of the parties involved committed to finishing it, AND that it launched a massive franchise is a testament to its lasting power along with other slashers of its era. But unlike most of its contemporaries, this film is truly deserving of its impact on the horror genre and pop culture in general. Halloween is beautiful and hauntingly powerful in its simplicity, with plenty of autumn chills to spare. Although not quite as good as The Thing, this film is indeed up to par with the best of John Carpenter’s storied career. Each time I watch it, it keeps me on the edge of my seat as Laurie, Michael, and Dr. Loomis face off on the spookiest night of the year. And it’s just one of many great traditions of that day.

 

 

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