Movies

What Went Right With… Halloween (1978)?

Poster for Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s Halloween is a horror classic. Sometimes incorrectly credited as the first slasher movie (Black Christmas beats it by 4 years) Halloween is still genre-defining. Its popularity directly lead to all the Friday The 13‘s and various other “killer versus teenagers” flicks popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Spawning 12 sequels including some attempted reboots, it seems there’s something about an expressionless serial killer that stands the test of time and scares people even to this day (although not in the hands of David Gordon Green and Rob Zombie). Maybe it’s the idea of a motiveless crime by a “killer kid” or the idea of innocence (childhood) versus the ultimate evil (murder) being juxtaposed that endures. In either case, the straight-forward, no-nonsense plot makes for a great watch, especially in 2021 and 2022 where we have two upcoming sequels (all of them unwanted in my opinion).

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis, these two are undeniably iconic characters. This movie put Curtis on the genre path (she appeared in back-to-back horrors The Fog, Prom Night, and Terror Train) and although Pleasence starred in numerous British horror films from Death Line to From Beyond The Grave, most people will know him from his contribution to the Halloween franchise. Regardless of what else these two appeared in prior (and in some cases after) this movie, both actors were cemented into mainstream horror history with this film.

Halloween opens in Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween Night 1963, where a kid dressed in a Halloween costume butchers his older sister with a carving knife. With a Back Christmas-esque P.O.V. shot, this technique is used to better effect here. That being said, the camera slightly hits the architrave at one point and the parents look at the young Michael for too long (to the point their facial expressions and stance becomes unrealistic) but seeing minor issues is what happens when you’ve watched a film twenty or thirty times.

Watching this movie on 4K blu-ray, I have to say that, like most 4K transfers of old film (and especially John Carpenter 4K’s) Halloween is clear but grainy. Unfortunately, I think we’ve topped-out in terms of quality for lots of old-school movies. I guess it depends on the quality of the original film stock and whether you digitally process it like Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But I digress.

Seeing Halloween for the umpteenth time and in high resolution, I can’t help but notice, for lack of a better word, problems, problems that I didn’t notice as a kid. The schoolgirl characters are too old to be in high school (Jamie Lee Curtis barely fits on her bed in one scene!), Dr. Loomis’ delivery of “the evil has gone!” sounds like soap opera, Laurie Strode’s friend Lynda, ad-libbing about all the books she forgets sounds false and excruciatingly long, and Linda’s boyfriend dies the quickest death from an abdomen knifing, in fact Bob’s line “I’ll be right back” now reminds me of Wes Craven’s Scream! Bob at one point jokes about having sex with the character Lindsey, an 8 year-old girl (“First I rip your clothes off… [Don’t rip my blouse, it’s expensive you idiot!] …Then I rip my clothes off, then I rip Lindsey’s clothes off, yeah I think I got it.”). This is either a joke or Bob is a paedophile, but in either case, did the earth stop spinning because of this line? Nobody cancelled the film or the writer and it’s still lots of people’s favourite movie. But I digress.

When watching this film in the present day, there’s definitely some slow parts but the third act from the knitting needle to the coat hanger to the balcony is still tense and a great ending to this archetypal slasher. Whatever issues I can see as an adult don’t really matter because Halloween is a childhood favourite of mine so I’ll always look at it with fondness. I’ve purchased this movie on every format available over the years and it’s an annual watch in my house this time of year (although it was filmed in May). Back to the 4K version, you can see every detail including the weather (it’s quite summery looking with leaves sprinkled around the place). It’s not exactly Lady In White which is one of the most autumnal or Halloween-looking films of all time (probably until that gets released in 4K). But I digress once more.

Given it was an independent movie, Halloween looks impressive and feels like a mid-budget studio picture. With a reported budget of anywhere between $300,000 to $400,000, the movie grossed around $70,000,000. This small budget to high reward horror has been copied numerous times, from Scream, The Conjuring to Split, and every time it’s the small-scale original that’s the best. Every “Halloween” made after this movie (aside from the diversionary and original Halloween III: The Season Of The Witch) has been average to outright garbage, with some of them, for some unfathomable reason, being so overrated that it makes you wonder if critics have even watched the original.

Written by John Carpenter and the late, great Debra Hill (producer of classics such as The Fisher King, The Dead Zone, and Clue but also the shite World Trade Center) this is such a simple idea which is perhaps why it worked so well. Arguably if someone says the word “Halloween” now, do you think of the film before the seasonal holiday? That would be quite the achievement. Incidentally, Hill was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey so maybe that inspired the film’s fictional location.

Halloween is also famous for its simple yet iconic theme tune and score written by Carpenter. Like many John Carpenter themes, they add both to the film’s aesthetic and John’s list of talents…

The Halloween theme is also a pop culture staple. It has for instance, been sampled in hundreds of Hip-Hop tracks including a few Horrorcore joints (most of which don’t even appear in WhoSampled’s website). Here’s Gangsta Pat and $uicideboy$‘ offerings…

Even Carpenter’s first few notes that play when you open the Shudder app instantly evokes this classic movie rather than the actual Shudder theme…

John Carpenter has made many classic films and they’ve varied between horror, sci-fi, action, drama, and comedy; Assault On Precinct 13, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Starman, They Live… too many to list here, but it’s undoubtedly Halloween, John’s third full-length feature (second if you count Dark Star as a student film) and first major cinema release that most people will think of when you mention his name. This is an almost perfect horror film that has stood the test of time. No matter who attempts to reboot it, add to it or rewrite it, no film-maker has ever come close to the atmosphere of the original. This movie is…

Hallowed.

Writing: 7/10

Directing: 9/10

Acting: 7/10

Score: 9/10

Overall: 9/10

2 replies »

  1. “Bob at one point jokes about having sex with the character Lindsey, an 8 year-old girl (“First I rip your clothes off… [Don’t rip my blouse, it’s expensive you idiot!] …Then I rip my clothes off, then I rip Lindsey’s clothes off, yeah I think I got it.”). This is either a joke or Bob is a paedophile, but in either case, did the earth stop spinning because of this line? Nobody cancelled the film or the writer and it’s still lots of people’s favourite movie.”

    Yeah, that line always caught me off guard and I’m surprised more people haven’t pointed it out.

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