Film Review: Halloween (1978): John Carpenter’s Classic Redefined Horror and Still Scares Today

Halloween is the story of a young boy (Michael Myers) on Halloween night, 1963, who slays his sister in a quiet suburban town of Haddonfield, Illinois. He is institutionalized only to escape 15 years later, heading back to his home town to terrorizing the teens on Halloween. Only Dr. Loomis, Myer’s psychiatrist, has any idea where the killer is headed and is hot on his heels.

Halloween Proves That True Horror Doesn’t Need a Big Budget

The budget for Halloween was extremely small, but the effectiveness of this film’s simplicity is significant. It cleverly relies on the “boogeyman” factor to frame its impending danger, using the shadowy figure of “the shape” (as the boiler suit clad Michael Myers is known) in the periphery to create an ominous sense of foreboding, building a horror that is felt more than seen for most of the running time. The power of Halloween comes predominantly from what the film makes the viewer aware of while the soon-to-be victims amble about, happily oblivious. We see Michael Myers standing just inside the frame, perhaps only an arm or and out of focus profile shot, while Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her babysitter friends have fun, completely unaware.

The menacing persistence of Michael Myers, an unspeaking and unstoppable force of evil, is an unusual character. He does not speak; his motives are never known, but his relentlessness in pursuing and slaughtering the merry teens of his hometown create such an honest sense of dread while you watch that it is easy to see how this film spawned a library of sequels. It is a master of build up, and does so for the most part in daylight. The Myers character appears and then disappears just as quickly, symbolizing such a predatory menace that the audience is placed on edge and kept there, wondering when he will strike and when he will simply stare.

John Carpenter’s Directorial Skill Crafted a Newfound Horror Experience

Halloween was Jamie Lee Curtis’ first starring role, launching her career and qualifying her as the go-to actress for strength under duress (as well as providing some of the best onscreen screams of any horror movie). This classic was directed by John Carpenter, a master of horror, who has brought cinema many seminal works including The Fog, They Live and the woefully underappreciated The Thing. His directorial approach is grandness on a small scale. His unique eye can create a sweeping and big screen feel for the tightest of shots and the smallest of budgets. In Halloween he uses the camera as an unrelenting voyeur, floating into and out of scenes and making the audiences feel as though they are walking around the autumnal town bearing witness to such horror. It is as effective as it is unnerving.

Halloween shaped many of the horror films that followed in its footsteps and has endured as one of the greatest horror films of all time, not simply because it can easily scare, but because it taps into very core of what scares most people – someone or something lurking in the shadows with every intention of “getting them!”

For such a low budget and simple premise, Halloween is as scary as they come. The performances may cause a chuckle from time to time, and Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis could very well be the worst B-movie performance of that era, but once the recognizable music theme starts and the camera begins to drift toward a house or an unaware teen, the chuckles are quickly replaced by the heavy sound of tension building up inside. Myers never utters a single word and moves slow enough that anyone walking at a brisk pace would be able to outrun him…but, despite that, Halloween remains a terrific nail biter.

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