Friday, October 30, 2020

Movie Review: Halloween (1978)

This was a review for John Carpenter's "Halloween" that I wrote a few years ago after watching it at a nearby theatre.

 "Halloween started as a low-budget horror film about babysitters being stalked by this serial killer, not a man with a backstory but a force of evil."
-John Carpenter, 2001
"Laurie Strode was EVERYBODY'S daughter, everybody's sister and therefore, if you believed Laurie Strode existed, then when Michael Myers comes in you are afraid for her."
-Jamie Lee Curtis, 2001

Made in less than 21 days on a budget of around $300,000, John Carpenter's "Halloween" certainly is tame compared to what passes as horror in today's cinemas but it's certainly a lot more terrifying and memorable than any of those features that came afterwards.

The key to "Halloween" and it's success is simplicity.
While there is nothing groundbreaking about how the film comes across on screen (The most impressive sequence is the first scene, which is one long take, a nod to Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil") this film does look good and there are some shots & moments that are just really awesome to see on the big screen.

The story, as described above by Carpenter, is simple. Three babysitters are stalked and killed by an escaped mental patient on Halloween night, all while his doctor tries to either stop him or kill him.

The writing was an effort between director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill. The story was Carpenter's but Hill wrote all of the dialogue between Laurie Strode & her friends while Carpenter did all of the scenes with Dr. Loomis.

The music, composed by Carpenter, is also simple but so, SO effective. The main theme, probably the best in all of horror movies, still resonates with people 40 years later and can really help set the atmosphere.

One night a couple years ago, I had dozed off while listening to a podcast only to be awoken with a feeling of absolute terror and dread, my heart racing, my breath short. What had triggered this short panic attack was that the "Halloween" theme had started playing (John Carpenter was the guest).

Even if you overlook the main theme, the rest of the music is really good, particularly the theme for when Michael tries killing Laurie. It's just someone hitting the same note over and over again but it works. I usually complain about music getting in the way of a movie sometimes but here it's sauce for the goose.

The performances are all good. Donald Pleasance does a solid job as Dr. Loomis, who would become a staple of the franchise for years to come (For better or worse) and the monologue he gives the Sherriff about Michael is chilling.
Christopher Lee turned down the role and is reported to have called it the biggest mistake of his career.

But of course the real star of the show is Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. She feels like a real person, you don't want to see her die and as she's being chased you really feel for her and are terrified for her.

While Halloween does have some jump scares (a trope which most audiences today hate), they actually ARE very effective and never seem cheap. If anything they're sometimes to remind you of the danger that's so close to all the soon-to-be victims.

And for a movie that really did start a lot of horror franchises that would eventually go off the rails (Nightmare on Elm Street; Friday the 13th), there's VERY little blood in Halloween. Aside from the first murder, the most blood you see afterwards is on Laurie's arm and hand from her breaking a glass door.

The less that's said about the sequels and remakes that followed, the better (Though Halloween 2 is OK and 4 is almost like a soft reboot) and the less we talk about Rob Zombie's remake the happier I'll be. I'll be checking out the latest sequel coming out this Friday.

Often imitated but never replicated, "Halloween" is a testament to a young filmmaker's ambition, simplistic storytelling at it's best, sharp writing and chills that have frightened and will continue to frighten audiences for years to come.

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