Thursday, June 21, 2012


(October 1978, U.S.)

Let me start out by saying that I hate, hate, HATE the fact that the time of year and my particular place in my film library alphabet will not permit me to write about John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN during the month of October! Let me also say that watching the film in the middle of the work day in June while I'm home sick doesn't exactly have the same cinematic viewing effect as watching it on Halloween night in the dark! I suppose these are two matters that I'll have to chalk up as "things that suck" in life!

So having vented that little bit of frustration, we can now focus on the independent film that any half-intelligent horror aficionado knows to be a true classic. Though can it truly be credited as the motion picture that ushered in the slasher film? I think I'd have to give that honor (if it is, indeed, an honor) to Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) and Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASACRE (1974). What we can, perhaps, give John Carpenter true credit for is giving us a taste of a new horror movie killer and a new horror movie victim. From the moment the film opens, we're not only taken back fifteen years into the past where a seemingly lifeless, souless six year-old boy named Michael Myers (Jewish boy??) hacked his older sister to death on Halloween night, but we're also immediately brought into the present day of 1978 where minimal dialogue between Dr. Sam Loomis (played by Donald Pleasence in his most famous role) and a nurse gives us the chilling notion that in the fifteen years that have passed, Michael has become something far beyond that of a mortal man. Just the mere mention of the fact that "he hasn't spoken a word in fifteen years" by Dr. Loomis gives us that eerie feeling that something is not right. As HALLOWEEN moves along, we learn that Michael is something more than human and quite possibly a murderer who will not die. This fact is what I can attribute to as being a new kind of horror movie killer that Carpenter is showing us for the first time.

I've also mentioned the idea of a new kind of horror movie victim. Young women getting hacked up on screen was not exactly an original idea at this point. However, with the characters of Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut), Annie (played by Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (played by P.J. Soles), we're seeing female characters that are as sexually modern as the time they live in. Unlike the seemingly innocent Marion Crane in PSYCHO and Barbra in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Annie and Lynda have sex, drugs and drinking on their minds; a perfect example of the promiscuity apparent during the 1970s. Although she has thoughts of sex and is seen smoking pot in the car, Laure is more the dependable good girl. Some might even argue that it's because of her goodness that she's permitted to survive Michael Myers murderous rampage at the end.

I think the late Roger Ebert said it best when he said, “There is a difference between good and scary movies and movies that systematically demean half the human race. There is a difference between movies that are violent but entertaining and movies that are gruesome and despicable. There is a difference between a horror movie and a freak show.” He also adds, “As you watch HALLOWEEN, your basic sympathies are always enlisted on the side of the woman, not with the killer.”

Carpenter, while never forgetting that it’s important to scare the living hell out of us with suspense and fear, clearly respects the women in his film, particularly Laurie. HALLOWEEN, unlike too many other slasher films, doesn’t degrade women. I don’t raise this specific issue with the film because I’m looking to score points as a champion for women’s rights and respect in the world of motion pictures, but I deem it relevant because, like it or not, most of the victims in horror films, are women. Carpenter recognizes that his last surviving hero (aside from Dr. Loomis) shall be a woman and he doesn’t seek to disrespect that unavoidable fact. It's also important that I also give Carpenter the proper credit for knowing how to take his time with a horror film and not rush things. Michael Myers doesn't claim his first babysitter victim until approximately fifty-three minutes into the film. It seems that the artist here is purposely building not only the backstory, but also the suspense that‘ll eventually get the pay-off of the horror show rolling. Even when Michael stabs a young man to death in the kitchen, the camera pauses for a moment to stare at the killer as he slowly cocks his head to focus on (and perhaps even admire) the body he's just impaled to the kitchen cabinet door. Take a look...

(again, notice that not a drop of blood is spilled on screen)

Even the town of Haddonfield, Illinois itself is one of the most authentic-looking suburban flavors I've seen on film. There’s a very subtle creepiness to the quiet, deserted streets we see late in the day of October 1978, implying that the honored tradition of our homes, our streets and our families are no longer safe. But certainly, the gory horror film was nothing new in 1978. The early 70's was filled with schlocky grindhouse-type double features that would have likely played only at local drive-in theaters and on 42nd Street in New York City. HALLOWEEN, I might dare say, took the notion of the psychotic killer and gave it just a little bit of cinematic sophistication with dialogue, acting and creepy electronic music (by Carpenter, too). Not since Bernard Herman’s score for PSYCHO have I enjoyed the score of a horror film so much. Carpenter, through what I can only describe as electronic genius, creates the ability to start out one way musically and then pile on an entirely new form of music to accompany the appropriate scene. As an example, the music during the scene where Laurie is being chased by Michael is simple and pulsating, much like the infamous theme to JAWS, but eminates fear because it’s hardhitting, nonetheless, implying that evil is on its way and ready to strike.

Let me close out by saying that for me, the HALLOWEEN franchise begins and ends with the original film. There was a time that I did like HALLOWEEN II (1981). However, as my film tastes matured and so did my intolerance for sequels, I realized that HALLOWEEN II was simply what the movie poster tagline promised and that was "more of the night he came home". More definitely, just not nearly as good. The franchise reboot beginning with HALLOWEEN 4 in 1988 is something I've never bothered myself with...and never will! And so, the fate of Michael Myers in my film collection is left with complete ambiguity. But as I've said before, there is the way things actually happened and they way we often choose to interpret those things.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Laurie Strode: "Was it the Boogeyman?"
Dr. Sam Loomis: "As a matter of was."


  1. I did read your comments not too long after you posted, but I have been preoccupied the last couple of weeks. I was in Lander Wyoming for a week without any internet except a smartphone. Halloween is another one of those great 70s films that I grew up with. I saw it in a theater with my girlfriend (now wife of 32 years) and it scared the crap out of us. The only reason it was not on my Movie A Day Project back in 2010 was that it came out at Halloween time rather than in the Summer.

    What I especially like about the movie is the way the suspense builds. We are given creepy point of view shots and ominous dialogue from Dr. Loomis for almost an hour before the first on-screen killings begin. Anticipation is a big part of this movie and a reason why so many films from the 60s and 70s succeed at creating true horror and films of today fail by shooting their wad from the opening moments.

    No one enjoys a grindhouse gore film more than I but this is definitely not one of those. Like Tobe Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" there is a lot less blood than people remember. The scares come from behaviors and well designed shots. You mentioned the sideways head turn when Michael kills the one kid in the kitchen. Holy crimeney was that messed up and creepy.

    There are several shots where the shape is in the background and we see him looming with just a small amount of light exposure or a spot between shadows. That is all Carpenter, making use of a low budget situation by taking advantage of the settings. The biggest scream in the movie is when "The Shape" sits up after we think Laurie has stopped him. My girlfriend's shriek is still ringing in my ears all these years later. Now it is pretty much de regueur to have the villain/monster pop up for one last shock. That notion is mocked a bit by the post modern self awareness of a film like "Scream", but in 1978 it was pretty fresh (despite being cribbed from "Wait Until Dark").

    Another great thing about the film is the score by Carpenter himself who is not really a musician but can pound out a few well chosen notes with the best of them. The chiming sounds and then dramatic bass of the theme, played in the credits and then during the killings was perfect. You also have the best/creepiest line of dialogue featured, good choice.

    I want to catch up on a few other posts you've had in the last couple of weeks. I know "Harvey" but have never seen it, I have a copy and I want to watch it before I read your review. All Three Hamlets are worth talking about but when I get there it will be the Branagh version that I will expound on.

    I know you are not a musical guy, but "Singing in the Rain" is going to be in theaters tomorrow and it is a joy from beginning to end.

  2. I almost forgot to mention, It was filmed in South Pasadena, one of the two towns I grew up in here in Southern California. Except for the Palm Trees, many parts of the town do look like the mid-west.

  3. The town of Haddonfield, Illinois is one of the most authentic-looking suburban flavors I've seen on film. There is a very subtle creepiness to the quiet, deserted streets we see late in the day in October. Homes, streets and families are no longer safe!