What hasn’t already been said about John Carpenter’s horror opus? Arguably one of the most purely influential films ever made, after 40 years it remains the blueprint for countless scary movies since a young Michael Myers first slipped on a clown suit and harshly critiqued his sister’s babysitting skills. While no means the first slasher movie ever made (it’s pre-dated by Black Christmas and Mario Bava’s Bay Of Blood to name but two) it’s the one that cemented the rules of the sub-genre, sort of making it the Goldfinger of it’s kind.
The plot is so minimalist, it’s almost funny. Years after being incarcerated for the murder of his sister on Halloween night, Michael Myers escapes and heads back to his home town. There he follows awkward teen Laurie Strode (an endearingly gangly Jamie Lee Curtis essentially creating the “final girl” role template required for such stories from the ground up) and her friends around as they go about their daily tasks. As the sun sets and the trick or treaters stock up on sugary diabetes fuel, Michael levels up his endless stalking to brutal murder and Laurie finds herself in a hellish fight for survival against a relentless, silent foe who may not be entirely human. Only his former psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (a magnificently bug-eyed Donald Pleasence spouting so many warnings and ghoulish hyperbole, he might as well be Michael’s publicist) may have the key to ending the rampage, but can he warn anyone in time?
Let’s first adress the elephant in the room when it comes to discussing every classic horror movie with a few years on its clock. If there is a chink in Halloween’s armour, it’s how influential it really is. As so many films that followed (not to mention it’s own sequels) imitated it into oblivion, to a new viewer it’s over familiar tropes frequently lapse into unintentional comedy. But that’s not really fair on the move.
Watched with fresh eyes, Halloween is an impeccably crafted, intelligent treat, a masterclass in cinematography, screen composition and timing. Every inch of the widescreen format is utilised to it’s utmost, Michael lurking in the background of every other scene, seemingly never less than 50 feet from his intended victim at all times since he first lays eyes on her. During the night scenes the inky blacks of night are bottomless, threatening to reveal the dead-faced, bone white of Michael’s mask at almost any time. It’s nerve racking stuff, hightened no end by Carpenter’s ridiculously iconic score.
Removed from the Michael/Laurie, brother/sister lore heaped on it by it’s own part 2, Halloween is even scarier. Michael’s obsession with his prey made utterly random, as he circles her like a shark in a boiler suit, slicing through her friends like a fucking virus until he gets to his prize. He’s a blank, yet fascinating presence. An admiring tilt of the head here, a thoughtful pause there. It all hints to something more going on in that unfathomable head of his.
The 70’s were a maturing of the horror genre, movies like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen had moved their stories from old dusty castles and cobwebby mansions into the modern day, terrorizing upper class city goers, but with Halloween it plows into suburbia like a ground to air missile with a huge butchers knife sellotaped to the tip. Horror now was literally living next door. And yet with the casting of Pleasence as Myers’ very own Van Helsing, there’s still a neat throwback to the Dracula’s and Frankenstein’s from the Universal and Hammer eras of terror.
For Carpenter it was the start of an almost unmatched string of 4 or 5 cult movies that still inspire filmmakers to this day, for the horror genre a brand spanking new icon in it’s shadowy assassin and for us, a genuine bona fide classic that endures, like Michael, seemingly forever.