Halloween (1978) – Review
- Directed by John Carpenter
- Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
- Starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes and P. J. Soles
We’ve all seen our share of slasher flicks, a mostly trashy horror staple which over time like any sub-genre has developed it’s own classics and clichÃ©s. John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ is seen by many as being one of these classic slashers and possibly the first of them (though someone’s bound to correct me on that). As a fan of early John Carpenter I was very interested to see ‘Halloween’ and though it’s by no means a bad film it unfortunately falls into that odd category of movies that were new and interesting when they were first released but which have been ripped-off and parodied so much since that they have, through no fault of their own, aged badly.
The plot is simple enough, Michael Myers murders his older sister in a rather creepy POV sequence which suffers from that odd the-arm’s-not-quite-in-the-right-place syndrome but makes up for it by ending on the rather surprising reveal that we’ve not been looking out the eyes of a man or teenager but those of a small child. Fast forward a few decades and Donald Pleasence, as Myers’ psychiatrist, is on his way to give evidence to secure his continued confinement in the mental hospital where he’s lived since murdering his sister (the medical diagnosis is that he is…pure…evil). Pleasence arrives, of course, to find Myers escaping from the hospital and doing a runner for his old home town. Myers then sets about stalking three teenage girls and you can see where it’s going to go from there.
The build up to Myers inevitable kill spree is handled extremely well. He is always seen from a distance and for short spaces of time, his closer presence always signalled by his creepy, laboured breathing behind his expressionless mask. Even the opening credits are unnerving, all you see is a pumpkin on one side of the screen and the credits on the other, your eye naturally goes to the changing credits but you keep looking back at the pumpkin wondering if you imagined it or whether it actually is getting closer to the screen and by the time it’s progress is fast enough to be noticeable you’re so unnerved it’s actually quite scary – let me reiterate that, this film manages to make a slow moving vegetable scary. ‘Halloween’ has a great understanding of suspense and atmosphere, both of which it builds with a skill completely absent from too many horror movies, so that by the time the killings finally happen the sense of dread is palpable.
So far so good, audience creeped out, villain menacing, victims primed and ready, let the murders begin. Unfortunately it’s here that ‘Halloween’ goes down hill, the murders when they come are, by modern standards, fairly tame. The first victim is strangled in a way that was probably pretty damn nasty in 1978 but in 2009 isn’t too bad, another is impaled on a wall with a kitchen knife but this too isn’t all that unpleasant or, critically, scary. Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ has the same problem, the birds are really scary until their killing people when, in that case, they’re often quite funny. The introduction of a supernatural aspect to Myers in the final confrontation is also a bit disappointing since, though it allows for sequels and makes him even more threatening, it makes no bloody sense and isn’t alluded to whatsoever at any point in the movie leading up to it, it just happens and we’re meant to accept it and go along for the ride.
But like I said at the beginning of this review this is by no means a bad movie. It’s very well made and though the murders are a bit of a let down the final scene following them, simply a series of shots of apparently empty rooms with Myers’ heavy breathing playing over them, is creepy as hell. The most disappointing thing about this film is the comparative tameness of the murders, and that’s only a problem because I’ve seen other, more modern, slasher films most of which were ripping this one off at some point or another (in ‘Scream’ they actually watch and talk about ‘Halloween’ in the beginning. Incidentally Carpenter pays homage to classic sci-fi ‘The Thing From Another World’ in a similar manner in ‘Halloween’, the movie was later to become the source for ‘The Thing’, Carpenter’s 1982 remake and arguably his best film).
Overall I give this film a solid cool, it’s extremely well made and does manage to be scary most of he time but it just hasn’t aged well and what should be climactic terror is faint disappointment. If you don’t tend to be a big fan of horror you could probably still get a kick out of this since it’s unnerving but not too terrifying or violent, and if you’re a horror fan you owe it to yourself to see this. I’ll certainly add ‘Halloween’ to my DVD collection at some point, though that’ll be after I get my hands on ‘Assault on Precinct 13′, but that’s a review for another day…
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