Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
Plot: A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood escapes on a mindless rampage while his doctor chases him through the streets.
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Rating: NC16 for some violence, profanity, and sexual references
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: MILD)
The most profitable near-perfect horror film ever made in the history of cinema, John Carpenter’s Halloween opened the doors to the ‘slasher’ genre which was populated by memorable films such as Wes Craven’s Scream, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and utterly forgettable recent flicks like Prom Night, and The Strangers.
Unfortunately, it also opened the pandora’s box to (eight!) trashy sequels and a horrible remake by Rob Zombie. Three decades since its theatrical release, the original Halloween continues to terrify viewers, never losing its ability to scare the living daylights out of anyone who dares to watch or re-watch the film.
Halloween features an unknown lead young actress who would later be known as the ‘scream queen’ - Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie). Alongside Curtis are actresses and actors with little-known credentials. Heck, the whole film stars no A-listers; the most famous face at that time would be Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape) who plays Dr. Sam Loomis.
Carpenter takes advantage of this, bringing an innocent, my-neighbor-next-door personality to each of the would-be victims. The Shape or better known as Michael Myers is the epitome of evil as described by Dr. Loomis in the film. Donning an eerie white mask whenever he goes, he picks his preys and methodically goes for the kill when they are most vulnerable, whether naked in bed or alone in the car.
Ironically, for a film regarded as the first true ‘slasher’ flick, Halloween has almost no gore, and most of the violence happens off-screen. Yet the fact it remains so scary is a testament to Carpenter’s remarkable ability to frighten viewers with the minimalist use of film techniques.
The most obvious of all is Carpenter’s original synthesizer score (which till now is synonymous with horror). With just a high-tempo, rhythmic piano beat, he punctuates every scene with an ominous mood, elevating the suspense to vertigo heights.
Most of the time, Carpenter plays with viewers’ fear of The Shape lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce. The director reduces ‘jump scenes’ to a few quality shocks; this is more effective than an earthquake of ‘boos!’ that plagues modern horror movies.
Halloween has two of horror cinema’s most celebrated sequences: the ‘point-of-view’ opening scene of the murder of Myers’ sister by a young Myers; and The Shape’s merciless pursuit of Laurie across a dark street from one house to another. The open-ended conclusion is a chilling reminder that ‘evil does not die’.
Despite the appalling sequels, Carpenter’s Halloween stands alone as an undiluted achievement of great storytelling and unmatched horror. The terror will linger on for days; you can lock your doors but you will still not feel safe.
Verdict: Not just a masterclass in building dread, it is also one of the most influential horror films ever made.
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