Black Christmas might have been a form of inspiration for the genre, but John Carpenter’s Halloween got the formula absolutely dialled. Clever camera work, a killer to fear and a strong story based on suspense meant that 1978 was somewhat a milestone in the genres history.
The plot of Halloween needs little introduction. We begin the harrowing tale through the eyes of one Michel Myers, a deranged child whose opening act is the murder of his sister with his iconic goliath kitchen knife – why? Well that is all part of the magic.
The story resumes after the title sequence in modern day, well modern day 1978 anyhow. Back at the scene of the crime in the small town of Haddonfield we get introduced to a trio of college co-eds, one of whom is Laurie Strode played by a very young Jamie Lee Curtis. Whilst the three describe their plans of shagging and babysitting we discover, through Donald Pleasance’s usual eccentric and doom-ladened performance, that there evening is going to be somewhat ruined. He describes, to anyone that will listen, and with great dread, that Michel has escaped from the maximum security facility he was held in and is heading home. Needless to say his hospital treatment hasn’t made him a new man and despite the police being on the case, no one is ready for what is inevitably going to go down.
Now if you take a minute to consider my synopsis, and then think of how many times you have seen such a plot play out in other movies. It’s a lot isn’t it? And that is how influential this movie is.
The reason I was keen to review this movie now, was, not only to introduce the film to my somewhat horror deprived partner, but to see how well it stands up by modern standards - is it really that definitive experience to the next generation?
Simply put yes - not for any pretentious reason, or a feeling of nostalgia I just can’t let go, but simply because of the fantastic atmosphere it creates, and the tension which mounts as Michel cuts a bloody swathe through the idyllic community.
The killer is a fantastic, and well worthy of the horror icon status he holds. His silent presence, his blank featureless mask which reflects his soulless husk of a body, not to mention his no-nonsense attitude to his ‘work’, all lead to a killer whose savagery is only matched by his cold calculated methodology. Whilst this is a slasher movie by the modern definition of the word, the plot actually straddles the home invasion genre line, which is responsible for creating that tense, foreboding atmosphere I have spoken about. It’s not the body count, which is actually quite low, but the fact that the whole scenario is quite believable. If babysitters were running around the street being chased by some masked knife-wielding maniac in a boiler suit, things would seem chaotic for sure, but when he’s inside your house cutting up your friends and from the outside everything seems calm it really makes you want to pause the movie and check your front and back doors are securely bolted.
The music supports all the above, a synthesiser sound track which is a simple but again manages to unnerve. Finally come the final pieces of the puzzle as to why this movie is so frightening, but many of its clones, including most of its sequels, fail; the confident camera work. Amazingly no jump scares to be found, somehow this movie creates its shocks and chills by Michel being in so many shots, just standing, voyeuristically watching his victims silently, just out of focus. Chilling to say the least.
Overall ‘Halloween’ has consistently been one of the few horror movies held in high esteem by all fans of cinema, not just genre fans, and with good reason. It was a unique horror piece, which was genuinely frightening, without the need for the violence which began to divide critiques and movie goers in the decade that followed. Tense and atmospheric, there are few slashers that compare, even with 30 years of replication. If you haven’t seen it - please do, and if you’ve not seen it recently then I encourage you to revisit it as I have.