Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Halloween (1978)

          Filmmaker John Carpenter secured his legendary status with this brutally efficient thriller, which reigned for several years as the most successful independent film of all time, turned Jamie Lee Curtis into a movie star, and established the slasher movie as a major force at the box office. After Halloween, the formula of horny teenagers getting stalked by mystery men wielding butcher knives became a gruesome cliché, but it Carpenter’s deft hands, the original movie is a merciless exercise in audience manipulation. Co-written by Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, the movie opens with a famously lengthy point-of-view sequence depicting the first horrific episode in the career of demented killer Michael Myers. (If you don’t know the kicker to this vignette, I won’t spoil it for you.) The film picks up years later, when Myers escapes from a mental institution and returns to his hometown for a murderous rampage. Meek babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and haunted psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) stand in his way, so the harrowing narrative asks whether Strode and Loomis can stop Myers’ killing spree before becoming victims. Much has been written about the deeper psychological implications of the movie, and the film is crafted with such a Spartan approach to characterization that it’s tempting to play critical-interpretation games.
          But even without the justification of higher purpose, Halloween is a must-see for its minimalistic style. Cinematographer Dean Cundey uses huge anamorphic-widescreen frames to lend grandeur to simple locations like suburban streets and the interiors of teenagers’ bedrooms; Carpenter creates disquieting atmosphere with simple devices like having the killer enter the soft-focus backgrounds of shots; and Carpenter propels the film with the beloved synthesizer score he composed and performed. Speaking of the music, the main-title theme alone, with its relentless rhythm track and brooding melody, is a huge component of the film’s elemental power. Whereas many subsequent slasher flicks substituted elaborate gimmicks for real inspiration, Halloween features just a few choice contrivances, like grimly artistic murder tableaux and Myers’ creepy disguise, a hood the filmmakers created by modifying a cheap William Shatner mask. Among the actors, Curtis hits all the right notes, moving from shy and sweet to terrified and tough, while Pleasence is entertainingly deranged (“Death has come to your little town, Sheriff.”). An unforgettable demonstration of what a visionary director can accomplish by locking into the right subject matter, no matter how meager the available production resources, Halloween comprises equal measures of high art and low sensationalism. It’s also, not coincidentally, a great ride.

Halloween: RIGHT ON


seth1974 said...


Unknown said...

still scary after all these years. "was it the boogeyman?" "as a matter of fact,it was"

Unknown said...

I saw "Halloween" at age 37. I went into it prepared to laugh and came out frozen in terror. The final shot, which doesn't show what we expect it to show, topped the ending of 1976's "Carrie." But I remember laughing at the ending of "Carrie" (after the shock wore off), but not at "Halloween."