Note: The following archive review of John Carpenter's 1978 classic, "Halloween," was written in October 1998. Not to toot my own horn, but the act of reading it years later makes me (1) cringe and (2) notice how much my writing has strengthened in the intervening years. If you can get past my amateurish and admittedly inept reviewing style, it should be noted that my feelings for "Halloween" will always remain the same. (Updated 2008 review can be found here.)
I have probably seen John Carpenter's horror masterpiece, "Halloween," more times than any other film (the first time being when I was all of 4-years-old), and it will always be the best horror film ever made, in my eyes. None of its six sequels (and counting) have been able to even remotely capture the style and brilliance of the original. I simply cannot imagine a genre picture being better than this one.
"Halloween," starts off with a prologue set in 1963, all done in an elaborate, one-take POV shot, in which 6-year-old Michael Myers grabs a butcher knife, makes his way upstairs, slips on a clown mask, and goes into his teenage sister's room and stabs her to death.
Switch to October 30th, 1978, Myers, now an adult, escapes from a mental hospital, returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, and on Halloween night, goes on a murder spree, singling out three friends, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), Annie (Nancy Loomis), and Linda (P.J Soles), two of which are babysitting. Meanwhile, Michael Myers' psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), knows he will strike again, and goes searching for him.
John Carpenter's "Halloween," is the quintessential horror film, perfectly executed, atmospheric, suspenseful, and terrifying. Yes, it is a "slasher" movie, but I'd like to think that it is so good that it surpasses that dubious label.
There are many reasons why "Halloween," was and still is an effective film. One of the big reasons is Carpenter's clever use of the foregrounds and backgrounds of all of his shots. If you look really good at the backgrounds of all of the scenes, you will often see something lurking around, including Michael Myers himself. Many pictures have copied this approach, but none have been able to do it so successfully.
Another reason it is so enthralling is that the story is very, very simple, and is actually a sort of "slice-of-life" movie, when dealing with the teenage girls. There are no "big" scenes between them. Instead, it just sort of observes them in their normal life. It just happens to be while they are being stalked by a serial killer. In recent horror movies, there is always a mystery to who the killer is, and this 90's-style approach is getting old fast, even though I am a big fan of "Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer
," and "Urban Legend
"Halloween" also has the most memorable music score I've ever listened to. Like 1960's "Psycho," the score, when heard, is always paired with this movie, and even those people who have never seen it probably can hum it. It's sort of like in, "Psycho." Many people remember the shower scene, even if they've never actually seen the movie.
Despite being a slasher film, "Halloween" surprisingly has next to no gore or on-screen violence. Because of this, it proves that horror pictures do not need to have graphic violence to be a scary experience (something 1981's highly inferior, "Halloween II," should have realized).
As most people know, this is the film that made Jamie Lee Curtis a star, not to mention being labeled a "Scream Queen," and this is actually one of her best performances, even though it was her feature debut. Donald Pleasence, who died in 1995 after making, "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers," also was linked to his role as Dr. Loomis more than any other in his life. P.J. Soles, as the promiscuous, big-mouthed Linda, is often very funny, and a standout. And Michael Myers...well...no slasher villain will ever be able to compare to him.
John Carpenter's "Halloween," is a nearly flawless thriller, but it is also simply a great motion picture. Period. It is everything a film in this genre should be: intelligent, stylish, and horrifying. "Halloween," is a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable experience. Watch it in a pitch black room while you're home alone one night, preferably on the namesake holiday. I dare you.