What better way to wrap up our month long look at some of my Halloween Favorites then by taking a look back at one of the all time great horror flicks and a bonafide classic that is appropriately named after my favorite holiday. John Carpenter’s Halloween is recognized as a masterpiece of suspense and terror and while it wasn’t the first film that fits the definition of slasher, it did start a horror trend that gave birth to quite a few other classics during the following decade and beyond. It’s also simply one of the quintessential horror flicks to watch on All Hallows Eve!
The story starts out in sleepy Haddonfield, Illinois where 6 year old Michael Myers (Will Sandin), for no apparent reason, takes a butcher knife to his teenage sister Judith (Sandy Johnson) and brutally slaughters her. Fifteen years later on the eve of Halloween, Michael (Nick Castle in costume, Tony Moran when briefly unmasked), who has been incarcerated in the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, awakens from his trance-like state and escapes the facility with his psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (the great Donald Pleasence) in pursuit. While no one believes him, Loomis is certain he knows where the escaped Myers is going…home. And Haddonfield is exactly where the soulless killer is heading and soon teen babysitter Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) and her friends are going to be trick or treated to the most horrifying night of their lives as evil returns to their little town and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. Despite Loomis’ warnings, can Myers be stopped on the night HE came home?
John Carpenter takes this simple concept…from a script he co-wrote with Debra Hill based on a story idea presented by producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad…of a killer stalking a small town and turns it into a masterpiece of suspense and terror as he establishes not only that our killer has, overtime, become a soulless vessel of evil, but gives him a likable batch of typical teens such as Laurie and her friends Annie (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) for us to fear and cheer for, as this fiend targets them for the slaughter. He then uses his camera lens and the cinematography of Dean Cundey to create tension setting shots of Laurie and her friends innocently going about their lives while Michael, or the car he stole, lurks in the background letting us know evil has found them while they remain blissfully oblivious. When Myers begins his carnage that night, we get shots that are filled with shadows from within which evil may lurk and more shots of Michael and his haunting white mask peering in windows or from behind trees watching his unaware prey. And once the audience is drawn in, we get to watch Michael start to eliminate this likable cast in brutal fashion leading to an intense last act that is literally one long stalking chase as Laurie tries to fight back and escape the mysterious killer who has targeted her as his next victim. The legendary director cranks up the pace after a deliberately slow burn and really gets our hearts pumping as the film heads toward it’s haunting conclusion. Carpenter stages all these scenes perfectly and we are with Laurie through one close call after another as the seemingly unstoppable boogeyman is relentless in his pursuit of the babysitter and her young charges (Brian Andrews and Kyle Richards). If his keen direction isn’t enough, Carpenter himself wrote and performed the haunting and now legendary score which really intensifies the atmosphere and accents every scare.
The cast are all good. Pleasence creates an iconic character as the frustrated and desperate Dr. Loomis, In her first film role, Jamie Lee Curtis gives us simply one of the greatest horror movie heroines of all time as Laurie. Nancy Kyes and cult favorite P.J. Soles are endearing as Laurie’s horny gal pals and Charles Cyphers is convincing as a small town sheriff who is more doubtful then concerned…until it’s too late. There is actually little gore in the film, but what bloodshed we do get is well executed, though it is sound FX that really make these kills effective as Michael’s knife makes impact with his unsuspecting victims. The sound is chilling as is his victim’s struggles when the killer simply uses his bare hands to finish them off. Which in my opinion is even more horrifying. Whatever flaws this film has, they are minor and it is a text book example of how to make a low budget horror, achieving a lot with very little.
Whether the film is an allegory on the dangers of teen promiscuity or simply a damn good horror flick, it all comes down to Carpenter’s camera and how he uses it that creates a lot of the tension and suspense. While today’s generation brought up on more blunt and visceral horror may find this too tame, I think it is truly the masterpiece of horror that it’s reputation suggests and quite possible changed horror films forever. A classic and one of the greatest Halloween season flicks of all time.
“Was it the Boogeyman?… As a matter of fact it was…”
A classic 4 carved pumpkins!