John Carpenter’s iconic classic of murder and mayhem still stands almost forty years later as considered one of the greatest films of all time. A pioneering achievement that shows how every cliché and trope of the slasher genre can be performed with class and craft. Carpenter’s highly influential slasher is an excellent example of low budget film making. Not only a must see movie for horror fans, but it’s also a perfect example of Carpenter’s directorial talent and a massive landmark for the entire genre that has not been beaten by any horror film since.
The key to Halloween’s genius is simplicity, starting as soon as the opening shot is shown – a nerve-wracking long take which references Psycho in showing a gruesome murder without showing any blood. The plot follows a deranged individual named Michael Myers, who is subsequently locked up in an asylum for 15 years, after brutally murdering his sister Judith when he was just 6 years old. After escaping, his psychiatrist Sam Loomis – a man that claims he’s the only one to even begin understanding the killer – follows Michael back to his hometown Haddonfield, where he continues stalking a group of teenage babysitters on a night that might well be the last Halloween of their lives.
While the story is perfectly simple here, it’s Carpenter’s almost over-powering atmosphere of dread that generates all of the tension. Like any great horror film, events are telegraphed long in advance, yet they still seem to occur at random, never allowing the audience to the chance to second guess the film. With the long steady-cam shots and dark lighting, you find yourself peering into the darkness for Michael to be standing there, watching. This makes for creating some of the most uncomfortable and claustrophobic scenes in horror film history.
John Carpenter took a low budget film and he scared an entire generation of movie goers. He showed that you don’t need high budgets to evoke fear on an audience, because sometimes the best element of fear is not what actually happens, but what is about to happen. What was that in the shadows? What was that noise upstairs? He knows that these are the ways to scare someone and he uses every element of textbook horror that you can use. It seems incredibly rare that modern filmmakers will use lighting and detail to provoke scares, instead they will use over the top CGI effects and rivers of blood. However, it’s the moments when the killer is lurking, somewhere, you just don’t know where, that scare you. And Halloween succeeds like no other film in this field.
As far as the acting goes, it is particularly good for its time. PJ Soles provides much of the humour, Nancy Loomis turns in a pretty decent performance and then there is Jamie Leigh-Curtis who seems perfectly shy and unassured at first. As time will go on throughout the franchise her character will be more prepared for what she is to face. However, the stand out performance of the show goes to Donald Pleasence who was perfectly cast as the determined and perhaps a little unstable Dr. Sam Loomis, who is so eager to get Michael back away from the public.
This film may be considered cliché and slow today, but back then there wasn’t much out there like this. It’s been copied multiple times and ripped off horribly, but “Halloween” will always remain the quintessential teenage horror movie. It still gives you chills listening to Carpenter’s eerie and thrilling music while we watch another victim get lured to their untimely death. To truly appreciate this film in this day and age, it must be viewed as it once was – as something unique.