40 years ago, John Carpenter unleashed an unstoppable evil in theaters that brought terror to the aisles and eventually proved to be a dominating force in the horror genre. This was the birth of Michael Myers in Halloween. This is a film that I remember quite well from my youth. Though I could not catch the film in the theater, I recall sitting and watching with my sister and her friends on the television in our house, as Michael terrorized the babysitters in Haddonfield. My sister and her friends were yelling at Laurie, “Don’t drop it! Pick it up! Pick it up!! What are you doing?! Run!!!” Watching the film again recently, the film may not scare me as it did when I was younger but it is a marvel in its style and there is no denying the impact that this film had on theatergoers and the influence it had with other films that followed.
When thinking of a horror film like Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 slasher Psycho the one thing most clear is how well the film was made. John Carpenter’s Halloween is as special as Psycho in that the way Carpenter composes the film helps it stands out over the slew of other films like it. Long tracking shots are something that Carpenter utilized throughout and they were slow and smooth. This is shown right from the opening credits as we are treated to a black screen with only a candlelit pumpkin in view on the left side and the camera slowly zooms in causing a bit of uneasiness to viewers as we creep ever so close to the evil grinning pumpkin. Also, some shots are composed as if the audience is there with the characters and at times it can feel as if we are the killer which makes the audience become even more attached to the film. Such as just after the title scene the camera drifts towards the Myers house, around some bushes and eventually inside the house where an arm reaches for a knife and a mask slips over the camera, the audience is now in the eyes of the killer. The camera moves up the stairs where the young Michael murders his sister and there is nothing the audience can do to stop the knife plunging down over and over again. Perhaps this is how it is for Michael being controlled by evil and there is nothing he can do to stop it.
In the event you have been sleeping under a rock, Michael Myers is one the most iconic villains of horror. He is silent, slowly stalks his prey with no reason, no method, and is seemingly invincible. When watching the film in my youth I thought Michael was just a man, but it wasn’t until later when I realized he was something more, especially with the ending of the film where all we hear is his breathing and knowing he is still there. It would have been best not to have the sequels and just leave Halloween as a standalone film because seeing Michael Myers, not as a man, but as some evil force that is still lurking out there is very frightening and we don’t need to know more than that.
Throughout the film we are treated to Michael standing near bushes, standing across from the school, standing near some laundry and all are very effective shots of suspense. However, what else Carpenter does very well is using foreground to build suspense. For example in the scene where Laurie thinks she has killed Michael (again), she rests wearily on the floor with Michael’s body blurred in the background. Suddenly Michael sits up and then Carpenters music kicks. The scene is highly suspenseful and Carpenter excels in it. In addition, Cinematographer Dean Cundey, who later went on to do more great things in such work as The Thing and Jurassic Park, made wonderful use of light in scenes to help bring suspense and terror. This proved to be highly effective, particularly in my favorite scene, when Laurie stands against a wall next to a darkened doorway, Michaels white mask slowly appears through the darkness and it is terrifying! This is a phenomenal use of light and dark and it is a shot people will remember. Another element that makes Halloween so special is the lack of gore and blood. It was a great choice to not have it as too much can become a distraction and take away from the suspense that the film so wonderfully builds up.
Aside from Michael Myers being a highlight in the film, another character to mention is Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasence. Dr. Loomis has always been as much a highlight to the Halloween franchise as Michael Myers and I love him in Halloween. Just listening to him talk about Michael Myers is engaging because of the way Pleasence delivers the lines.
“I met him, 15 years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this… six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and… the blackest eyes – the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.” – Dr. Loomis
Dr. Loomis can come off as a bit crazy with his talk of the danger in Haddonfield, and this is something that can be seen in later horror films as well with the crazy old man warning others of danger in the area. My understanding is that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were up for the role of Dr. Loomis, but they declined the offer. As interesting as either actor may have been, I’m glad they did not take the offer as it is hard to imagine anyone other than Pleasence in the role.
The score for Halloween plays a large part in the success of the film and John Carpenter took it upon himself to write the score to save in hiring an actual composer as they had a limited budget. This idea paid off in spades as the music has become one of the iconic scores for film. It elevates the film by building suspense and pulls the viewer’s further into the story. Like another classic horror film, Jaws, everyone who has seen the film can immediately connect the score to the film once it is heard. When I was young, I ended up buying the Halloween soundtrack which I listened to on many Halloween nights and anytime I felt like creeping someone out during a drive on a darkened road.
Halloween turned out to be a very influential film to horror films that would come after such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. This would be through the various tropes such as the final girl and sexually active teenagers. Like Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween, the final girl is the one who survives the encounter with the killer at the end of the film and is seen as the more innocent character. From film to film she will usually share similar traits such as being a virgin, avoiding drug use and alcohol, essentially portraying a very clean image. Though there are slasher films that came before Halloween, such as Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and contained a similar final girl, it was Halloween that paved the way for the final girl in horror films that followed. As a matter of fact, films such as You’re Next, took the final girl to a new level and created a stronger character with more background and she is actually the highlight of the film. This is in contrast to the character of Laurie Strode who is just an innocent character who managed to survive the night.
The film has spawned many sequels and reboots, and though none have been able to touch the original in terms of quality, just the very name of Halloween in the title and Michael Myers as the killer is enough to get people to the theater. 40 years later, Halloween has another sequel in the theaters, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning, and I can only imagine this is not the end. Halloween is a film that will always remain as one of the best films of horror and like the ominous evil presence that is Michael Myers, it will never go away.
Directed by: John Carpenter
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Tony Moran