Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter directs Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles and Donald Pleasance in this slasher classic where mute spree killer Michael Myers returns to his hometown for a night of murderous carnage.

I’m going to get into trouble for this review. My wife loves Halloween. Where as I’m a little more ambivalent to the Michael Myers franchise. And that schism of thinking isn’t really permitted in our marriage. We had wedding vows that contracted I must show unwavering fealty to her slasher favourites. I think I watched this the first few times comparing it to its contemporaries and found it lacking. There’s none of the dark fantasy of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Your Texas Chainsaw Massacre is gorier, gloopier and intense-ier. Scream is funnier. Candyman more mythic. Hellraiser more mindfuck disturbing. Friday the 13th has more titties. Evil Dead has Bruce Campbell. Halloween just feels to jaded eyes simpler, slightly unspectacular.

Now… for many… that is part of its allure. The original Halloween is a pristine genre film, fuelled by uncut voyeuristic stalking and neat jump shocks and a unique in 1978 warping of suburban normality. A lot of the above series took what Carpenter achieved with his elegant gliding camera and persuasively creepy score and iconic masked ghoul and then upgraded all of it with creature FX bells and whistles. The grammar of modern franchise horror was being established here. It is a synoptic text. Whether these modifications by other filmmakers who used Halloween’s simplicity as a jumping off point are improvements is down to your own taste, I guess my horror palette was defined by violating trees and souls being torn apart… so The Shape popping in and out behind bushes and laundry for an hour feels a little… basic. Ketchup when you’ve got a bottle of Mesquite BBQ or Garlic Mayo on your condiments shelf already.

The violence is PG-13 (only five people bite it!) and the canter is of a leisurely spook story. I’ll admit seeing it at the Prince Charles Cinema a few years back on the big screen at least broke me out of my average opinion of it. Watching Carpenter’s cinematic confidence on 35MM wowed me in a way the small screen flattens out. They even had a hulking Michael Myers waiting for us in the back row on exit.

And you get PJ Soles wearing her red cap. Donald Pleasance hamming it up as the exposition spouting scientist/ dirty mac Captain Ahab hunting / obsessing about a troubled mental patient / evil incarnate avatar {delete as applicable}. And the biggest name to breakout in slasher horror history, Jamie Lee Curtis herself. She’s a perfect movie star – DNA to personality – and while H1 doesn’t utilise her comedy chops, she is the correct balance of fresh likability, convincing vulnerability and desperate pluck.

Do I find Halloween scary? No. Does Myers get the monstrous imagination pumping like Freddy or Leatherface? No. While it doesn’t sate my demonic lusts I can now appreciate its milestone importance and effectiveness as a Friday night thriller. And that ominous synth theme music really thumps.

8

2 comments

  1. Pingback: John Carpenter’s Halloween: Movie Review
  2. Sam Simon · January 20

    Interesting review! I think that you referred to a number of other solid horror movies (apart from Friday 13th: that is really bad) and there’s nothing wrong in thinking that they are as good as Halloween! Still, I cannot stop rewatching, the score alone is something unforgettable! And Carpenter behind the camera is such a master…

    Like

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