Feelin’ Spooky: Halloween (1978)

By Christian DiMartino

John Carpenter’s Halloween is what you expect and ask for from a slasher movie. It is also, more than likely, the best of the bunch. Halloween is a treasure, and a classic; a film that I have seen a zillion times and always manage to find myself getting caught up in. Like, really caught up in. There are flaws in it, sure, but the movie succeeds in so many other departments that I could give a damn less. It’s a great ride.

Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, I have seen this film a plethora of times and know its entire layout. I have also seen this at a drive in, the way it, let’s face it, was kinda intended to be seen. The real beauty of Carpenter’s film lies in it’s simplicity. Think about the way that Steven Spielberg made Jaws, and the techniques he used to keep us on our toes and frightened (though, the craftsmanship was kind of an accidental success in that film). A similar tactic approach is used in Halloween. We don’t get to see our killer much at first, but we know he’s there and he’s lurking in the shadows… or in plain sight (more on that in a minute). But at every turn we feel his presence, and that’s what’s so scary.

I’m a paranoid person who grew up in a house not by many other houses. So walking to my car at night, for example, was usually pretty scary. Perhaps because I’ve seen too many movies, or perhaps because the feeling that you’re being watched is scary in itself. Halloween is a film that plays upon that fear, no matter how irrational a fear it might be, and it strikes that fear into our hearts. Mind you, there are moments where our killer, Michael Myers, is just lurking around Illinois in his William Shatner (have fun in space!) mask, and nobody finds him all that suspicious… but eh, small potatoes.

The film is simple- not extra plot threads, plenty of ambiguity, and yet it all feels beautifully contained and truly frightening, and Carpenter managed to achieve this in 90 minutes or so. Part of what is so frightening about Michael Myers is that nobody knows what to make of him. He’s deemed The Boogeyman because he kills people without motive. He never speaks. He just follows people, and occasionally gives out a moan. Carpenter wanted to originally do a different Halloween story with every movie. But this film was obviously such a smash, and its ending such a cliffhanger, that the world couldn’t get enough of Michael Myers. Hence why, over 40 years later, the world is still in the Michael Myers business.

The film opens in Haddonfield, Illinois in 1963. In the middle of the night, a little boy named Michael Myers, without rhyme or reason, killed his sister. Rob Zombie remade this film in 2007 and it provides a backstory as to why and it was an admirable move, but at the same time, must everything require an explanation? I get it, but being left in the dark on this detail is part of what makes it so creepy. Anyways, cut to 15 years later and Michael breaks out of the institution that’s been holding him all of these years.

Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance, in a vastly underrated performance), who has been treating Michael, is more than aware of what this nut job is capable of, so he sets off on a mission to track Michael down to his hometown. All the while, we find a group of teenagers as they smoke and drink and babysit and such. The central focus, in terms of these characters, is Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, in her acting debut) who is also babysitting, and gets more than she could possibly imagine from Halloween night whenever Michael starts targeting her and her friends.

The reason as to why would be explained in Halloween II, and it was that Laurie was actually Michael’s sister. This movie though has since been erased though, since I guess we can do that now. Anyways though, I imagine that when everyone was making this film, they couldn’t have known how big it would be. They couldn’t have known that they’d still be showing up to this franchise 40 years later. Of course I mean Jamie Lee Curtis, whose Halloween Kills, maybe the… 11th (?) total film in the series, premieres Friday. Laurie Strode has seen some pretty interesting days, for sure. As for Curtis though, this wasn’t just a lucky break. She is of course the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh and that would be enough to give you a name in Hollywood, but JLC happens to be a beaut and a knockout of an actress.

There is something endlessly intriguing about Michael Myers, and in particular, this movie. Halloween is a masterclass in suspense, from the way Carpenter crafts and unveils the story to his score, which was beyond snubbed from the Academy Awards (obviously they don’t go for this sort of thing, but come on). Some of the teenagers are annoying, but that comes with the territory. They make stupid decisions, but by now, that’s just a requirement of the script. Picture just about any slasher movie you enjoy. Halloween was the film that got that ball rolling, and honestly it’s a film that holds up marvelously.

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