Halloween 


Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill.
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, John Michael Graham, Nancy Stephens, Will Sandin, Tony Moran.

“It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare”

The “slasher film” is now a commonly known sub-genre among horror films and has developed a devoted fan base. Many would say that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960 was one of the most influential and successful of such a film with Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (both in 1974) also cited as a major players. However, there was once a “Golden Age of Slasher film” which ran from 1978 to 1984 and incorporated such iconic horror characters as A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees and, of course, Halloween’s Michael Myers. It’s this John Carpenter film that was the kickstarter for the Golden Age and credited with being the film that defined the genre.
On Halloween night, 1963, a teenager is brutally murdered by her six-year old brother, Michael Myers. After 15 years in psychiatric incarceration, Michael escapes and, with murderous intent, returns to stalk the Midwestern, Illinois suburb where he first struck.After opening on the face of a carved, candlelit pumpkin and Carpenter’s now iconic synthesiser score playing overhead, we are introduced to a young, murderous Michael Myers. It’s worth noting that this entire sequence is shot in 1st person shaky-cam to depict the perspective of Myers. Now somewhat of a cliche in horror movies, Carpenter’s skilful inclusion of it not only makes us a voyeur but also makes us complicit in the murder. It’s the only time we ever get to see things from Myers’ point of view as we then spend the rest of the film trying to evade the unrelenting nature of him.Carpenter has a knack for delivering genuine chills but his real skill is in making the ordinary, “safer” moments just as scary. Most horror directors rely heavily on darkness descending before revealing the spectre but Halloween’s creepiest moments actually come during the daytime – Myers is seen stalking his prey while driving around schools, lurking by a hedge on a packed suburban neighbourhood or, most eerily, looking on from laundry hanging in the backyard. These are the moments where Carpenter shows his mastery of mood and composition.

Without making too many ridiculous comparisons with the aforementioned Psycho, Carpenter does make tribute to the 1960’s classic. Like that film, it creates suspense with minimal blood and gore and the hiring of Jamie Lee Curtis shadows that of Hitchcock’s casting of her mother, Janet Leigh, while Carpenter’s main theme tune has become as synonymous with horror music as Bernard Herrmann’s iconic work. Both scores have been endlessly imitated and work so effectively in their repetitious simplicity.As much as these trademark approaches command respect, however, there is still something clear from the offset; the acting and the dialogue are plain woeful at times. There’s no denying Carpenter’s impressive ability to capture a shot or form atmosphere but, overall, it doesn’t quite hold the impact it once had. This is a common problem when it comes to Carpenter’s work; he was so ahead of his time and constantly trying to realise his visions on a shoestring budget that they don’t often age well and a contemporary audience may well frown upon his films.Speaking of budgets, Carpenter managed to string this thing together for approx $300,000 (with the experienced Donald Pleasance receiving $20,000 of that for 18 minutes onscreen work) and shot in 20 days. With no money for a costume department, the entire cast wore their own clothes and the actual mask that Myers wore was a William Shatner Star Trek mask – spray painted white and the eyes reshaped. It was bought for $1.98 from a local hardware store. This aside, the film went on to gross $70million worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent films ever made.Halloween happens to be one of Carpenter’s most lauded and iconic films but I don’t actually think it’s in the same league as The Thing in terms of it’s unflinching paranoia and sheer terror and I don’t even think it’s as good as Prince of Darkness in terms of it’s concept. That said, Halloween certainly has it’s place among the genre and is quite possibly the most influential of all horror movies. It has spawned countless clones, sequels and remakes and is, understandably, still revered by many.For all it’s flaws, there’s no denying that this was a game-changer. Even though the impact has lessened and some flaws are now glaring, there are many times where Carpenter shows that he was once a true master of his craft.Mark Walker

Trivia: Carpenter approached Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to play the Sam Loomis role (that was eventually played by Donald Pleasence) but both turned him down. Lee later said it was the biggest mistake he had ever made in his career.

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26 Responses to “Halloween ”

  1. Marvellous review Mark, the opening scene from Myers point of view still gives me the creeps. And nice use of the gif.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That is one awesome movie poster you have there. I don’t agree that modern audiences won’t enjoy this one. If it was released today I think it would be still be considered a modern classic like The Babadook or It Follows

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just stumbled across that poster Vern. It stood out to me too. It’s great.

      As for the film, I would hope that audiences today would see the positive sides to the film but I don’t know, man. Some of the acting is very poor and the dialogue pretty bad too. That said, I would at least hope that it would be viewed on how influential it’s been. To be honest, as much as I enjoyed seeing it again after so many years, it wasn’t as strong as I remembered it.

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  3. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen this but it’s very clear in my mind. A true classic in my book, although not the true masterpiece that The Thing is as you say. That opening POV shot and the reveal is still brilliant.

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    • It didn’t hold up for me like it used to, Mark. I still enjoyed it but I felt my attention wandering and the acting didn’t sit well with me. It’s hard to denying it it’s place for the influence it had but definitely not as strong as I expected it to be.
      I’m with you on The Thing, though. That’s Carpenter’s finest in my opinion.

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  4. Fine one Mark. Let me just say I adore this picture. I watching it once every year. I think Carpenter is amazing at creating tension and atmosphere. I do think it holds up throughout the movie. And I totally agree about the acting and dialogue but I honestly believe that is part of the film’s low budget charm. It may just be my nostalgic side though.

    Fabulous review my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers bro! I was chatting to a friend about this recently and “nostalgia” was the very word that came to mind. Can you honestly reflect objectively on a film without nostalgia influencing your opinion? In this case, as much as I enjoyed it, I didn’t let nostalgia creep in and as a result, the film’s flaws really stood out. Can’t argue with Carpenter’s expertise, though. He certainly certainly knows how to create atmosphere. No mistake about that.

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      • I think nostalgia can work positively and negatively. Negatively when you rate the movie well because you remember how much you liked it years ago. Positively when you can look at it through those same lenses. In other words when you’re able to still identify with that first viewing and see it’s influences and feel those same effects. There is definitely a fine line there.

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      • Definitely a fine line, man. When I recently watched The Blues Brothers, I was faced with the same problem. I still rated it highly but really had to question whether nostalgia was an influence. In the end, I still thought the film aged well and was riotously entertaining and still deserved a high score. Halloween didn’t really do that for me. Carpenter’s work on mood and atmosphere is top class but there are too many other flaws that I found hard to ignore. That said, 3.5 is a good score but it’s just not the 5 stars many would still give it.

        I can’t help but compare Halloween and The Shining for their time. There’s only two years between (although probably filmed at the same time considering the length of Kubrick’s shoot) and I think The Shining is still as solid today as it was then. I can’t say the same for Halloween.

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  5. daveackackattack Says:

    One of the things that stood out for me was that Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, Laurie Strode, was sympathetic and likable. Being sympathetic and likable were the main ingredients that made me care about whether the character lived or died. For example Heather Langenkamp in Freddy, Sigourney Weaver in Alien (a horror movie in my mind), Neve Campbell in Scream, Shauna Macdonald in The Descent and even recent actresses Maika Monroe in It Follows and Morgana O’Reilly in Housebound. You can even go back to Linda Blair poor Regan in The Exorcist.

    Films like Friday The 13th, Hellraiser, Hostel never did much for me because I could care less for the characters. I was actively rooting for the killers. LOL.

    In Psycho the big deal was more that a major was killed off in the first 15 minutes than that she was a likable character. Unfortunately you can really only get away with that once. Drew Barrymore getting killed in Scream was a nice homage to that.

    I recently saw this on the big screen and it did hold up well for me but there’s no denying the impact of the movie on the future horror. The music is still iconic although every time I hear Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” now all I can think of is “more cowbell” LOL.

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    • As much as I hated most of the acting Dave, I will say that Jamie Lee Curtis was spot on. Her innocence does make her an appealing presence and your definitely invested in her. I couldn’t care less about her friends and I suppose that the very point your making. It’s hard to invest in characters that are self-important (and bad actors lol). There was plenty of things that worked for me in Halloween but when I compare it to Carpenter’s other works, it’s just not as good for me.

      Haha! Great video, man. I don’t think I’ll be able to hear that song the way again either.

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  6. Nice review, Mark! 🙂 Certainly a classic for its genre but, yeah, The Thing is much better. Also prefer They Live!

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    • Cheers Disco Girl. In terms of its influence, I suppose it is a classic but it’s not aged well at all. I’m absolutely with you on The Thing and They Live. They are two of Carpenter’s finest. Halloween would actually struggle to make my top five of Carpenter films.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aww. I think it has aged okay as far as slashers go. I believe it was third on my list of Carpenter films but I’ve been meaning to watch more of his movies since there are still some good ones that I haven’t seen. Oh… Wait! I’ve now seen Escape From New York! Definitely prefer that to Halloween so I guess it’s dropped to fourth place now. 🙂

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      • Escape from New York is a cult classic. Cheesy as hell at times but it’s so much fun.

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  7. I never thought I’d read “for all its flaws” and “Halloween” in the same sentence but there is a first time for everything. The dialogue is almost inconsequential to the sense of dread Carpenter creates, the pitch perfect pacing, the use of the wide 2.35:1 frame, the unsettling simplicity of the score. Then there’s the influence it had on the genre and other filmmakers. A true classic that’s aged really well in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! I often find revisiting “classics” throws up some problems. I had the same deal when I revisited Serpico. I used to be a huge fan and recently it proved to be seriously dated. Halloween was the same. I can appreciate the influence it’s had and can’t argue with the framing, the use of POV and the superb score. Hugely influential! However, the pace dragged a little for me and as much as the acting may be inconsequential, it took me out the film when I was already drawn in.

      I can’t argue with most of your points, though, Dan. You give strong reasons why it’s still revered by many. As much as I still liked it, I just wish it had that “classic” effect me.

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  8. Good stuff mate. I know we were talking about Carpenter the other day with regard to It Follows but it’s incredible looking at some of the shots you’ve posted how much of a similarity there is with regard to the neighbourhood setting. I didn’t know about the budget or that the mask was a Shatner mask! That’s excellent. Maybe next Halloween I’ll dust this one off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers buddy! Yeah, after our chat, I’ve decided to go ahead with an It Follows post as well. I can’t watch both films back to back and not comment on how much It Follows takes from Halloween. The neighbourhood and the music were quite a big one’s for me. There’s no doubt that it was heavily influenced. I’ll probably post It Follows tomorrow. I’ve got it done but can’t be arsed editing the photos and shit just now lol. 😉

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  9. Good read Mark. I haven’t seen this for a while but I do remember thinking it hasn’t aged all that well. You mentioning Psycho and older horror films reminded me of an absolute gem – have you seen Carnival of Souls? From 1962, I think it is one of the best early horror films ever made, up there with Repulsion. One of the best horror films period IMO

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