directed by John Carpenter
starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Nancy Kyes
It’s arguable whether or not 1978’s Halloween was the first true slasher film or not, many would say Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho laid the foundation, but it’s undeniable that this movie set a standard for the soon-to-flooded genre in the 1980’s. Many of the themes and techniques displayed in Halloween became standard practice of major franchises like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as countless one-off films that never spawned sequels. And before Halloween dove into countless sequels, it started with a film that is now nearly forty years old but still very effective at creating a great atmosphere at an intense pace. Halloween can also be credited with presenting a tremendous score that is widely recognizable and iconic, but also for creating a character that haunted without any reliance upon appearance.
Although I’ve seen Halloween so many times, probably at least fifty since I first sneaked a VHS copy into my house as a kid, something I’ve noticed more and more is how well the movie is shot. The first two segments are a very dark, sinister introduction intended to a provide backstory of Michael Myers as a villain, just before the film transfers to a small town in Indiana in the middle of the day. After that transition, we see long shots of suburban homes, quiet streets lined with fallen leaves, nice cars, and locals all well and conservatively dressed. The soundtrack is soft and subtle, synth-heavy and unthreatening in comparison to the harsher tracks later in the film. The shots of a typical middle-American town offer so much empty space early on, but as the film progresses, things are shot much tighter to give a sense of fear and claustrophobia. Characters are shown through the camera lens much closer, and an excellent shot of Myers chasing Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) up a set of stars is nearly broke in half by a railing at the top of the stairs. Everything in the final thirty minutes of the film makes the viewer feel closed in, before eventually presenting a few open shots familiar to viewers at the conclusion of the film.
Even with its age, Halloween will probably remain effective with audiences because of its simplicity. It is not an in-your-face horror movie soaked in blood or weighed down by a high body count. It’s a thrilling and scary movie because of the faceless and unrelenting villain. Donald Pleasance is fantastic in his role, as is Jamie Lee Curtis, but their characters are hardly fleshed out. What makes the viewer root for the pair is a certain source of evil, presented plainly but still mysteriously. Halloween influenced endless horror movies, but by itself is still a movie that every time I watch it I feel like I’ve forgotten how good it is.