"The night HE came home!"
A six-year old boy brutally murders his sister on Halloween for no apparent reason. He is institutionalised in a mental hospital where he is to spend the rest of his life under the watchful eye of Dr Loomis. However fifteen years later, he manages to escape a few days before Halloween and returns to his town of birth to kill again.
Where do you start? Reviewing Halloween is almost impossible since it's one of the essential films for any horror fan, hell for any fan of cinema in general, to have watched. It's become more than just a film but it a part of contemporary culture as we know it. What hasn't been said about it already? You should need no introduction for this film. I'll only be repeating myself from the countless scores of reviews over the years since it was released. I'll make the best of it but let's face it: no one should even here if they haven't seen Halloween before. There are few films which have the ability to continue to shock the viewer decades after release. No matter how many times you may have seen Halloween, it's still got the ability to send shivers down your spine.
Halloween is a stream-lined horror flick which heads in one direction and keeps going that way. There's little fat to trim. There's little waste on the screen. Everything is designed to keep the scares flowing and the suspense building to the final third. Characters are not superficial. The plot is simple. The pace is brisk. It's almost the perfect combination of elements. The basic story itself has been watered down so much over the years that unless Halloween is the first slasher film you've ever seen then it will hardly cry out with originality and you'll no doubt see a lot of things coming. But on the flip side, the material will always seem fresh as long as there is a capable hand behind the camera to guide it along. Director John Carpenter created the ultimate horror film here by focusing on the thing to which most modern horrors fail to get right - the suspense.
Halloween introduced the cinematic world to Michael Myers. Before he was watered down with tepid sequels and misguided re-imaginings, Michael was an unstoppable and unexplained phenomena. There's little back story to him apart from the opening scene. What we do get is just enough to give the character an extra dimension. But it's what isn't revealed about him that's the most startling. We know that he's human as we see him as little boy at the beginning but everything about his manner and presence throughout the rest of the film tells us that he's not. In fact much of Halloween's impact lies in what the audience isn't spoon fed. It has got scenes of punctuated violence when Michael starts the killing but there's a small body count and there's very little gore (if any). Halloween was never about cheap scares, creative kills and a high body count and it's just something that its sequels, rip-offs and imitators turned up a few notches. Carpenter is careful how he shoots Michael and uses a variety of camera angles to keep him off-centre of the scene. He's partially concealed or he's lurking in the background for the majority of the film - it's only in the finale where he finally gets some close-ups. He's an ever-present factor though and despite his lack of screen time, you know that he's lurking off-camera.
Although heralded for its use of the killer's POV, Halloween wasn't the first horror to utilize it but it perhaps may be the most effective. Whilst we don't see Michael that often, we are constantly seeing what he sees. It's got an unnerving effect on the audience and creates constant uneasy feeling throughout. This technique places the audience in the film so we're not just watching the events unfold - we're becoming an active participant in them. This makes the final third even more terrifying as we finally see Michael emerge from the shadows, almost as if he's just walked in front of us for real. He's slow, silent, methodical and downright scary whilst doing it. He can't be reasoned with. He's just got one thing in mind and nothing will stop him. The fact he doesn't make a sound throughout the film, save for some heavy breathing, gives the character a worrying dimension. There's one shot, near the end of the film, in which Laurie has just stumbled upon the bodies of her friends in the bedroom. As she stands sobbing in front of the door, Michael's white mask gradually enters the shot from the darkness, his white mask emerging like a phantom of death. It's one of the greatest shots I've ever seen in horror and still manages to send shivers down my spine to this day.
As well as the way in which Carpenter uses visuals to convey this character, it's the character of Dr Loomis which does the most for Michael. Donald Pleasance stars in his most iconic role as the slightly mad shrink who sees the pure evil in Michael. His constant ranting and raving to anyone who will listen to him about how Michael has no emotions, no sense of right and wrong. As well as building up Michael as a monstrous threat through his own words, Loomis shares many of the characteristics that we'd associate with a psychopath such as the paranoia. But he's just one of the many solid characters in the film.
We couldn't examine Halloween without looking at Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode character. Such a likeable heroine, she is thrust into this nightmare situation without the faintest clue of what is going on. The character is so ordinary and plain but in the best possible way. We never think for a moment that this is some mega-bucks actress playing the role of a 'scream queen' but of an actual real person going through these horrific experiences. She can scream like the best of them but she's not just a dumb helpless female. She's resourceful but not elaborate in what she does to fight off Michael. She does everything that the ordinary person would do in her situation and is still unable to escape. The other supporting players all do their required jobs but the last mention must go to Nick Castle who plays Michael Myers. He gives Michael a physically graceful presence which does wonders to enhance the whole supernatural angle that the film plays off.
One of the most influential films ever made and a landmark horror film, Halloween is every bit as terrifying today as it was back in the day. Its simplistic ability to tap into a deeper fear allows the audience to experience everything that the characters on screen are experiencing. A finely-tuned scare machine right from the get-go, Halloween is THE definitive horror film. Its impact may have lessened over time due to the countless imitators that tried to emulate its success, but for me it's still the greatest horror film ever made.
Director(s): John Carpenter
Writer(s): John Carpenter (screenplay by), Debra Hill (screenplay by)
Actor(s): Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers
Duration: 91 mins