USA | 1978 | Directed by John Carpenter
Logline: An escaped psychopath returns to his childhood neighbourhood, terrorising and killing several people whilst his doctor desperately tries to warn the local sheriff of the killer’s intent.
“Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts
, covens of witches with all of their hopes,
you may think they scare me, you’re probably right,
black cats and goblins on Halloween night . . .
trick or treat!”
For nearly three decades Halloween was the most profitable independent low-budget feature ever made (excluding the porn feature Deep Throat). Then The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999 and blitzed the box office with its clever marketing campaign. Then along came Paranormal Activity, another "found footage" flick made on the whiff of an oily rag, to became the most successful low-budget horror movie ever produced.
As genuinely frightening as both The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are (actually the third in the PA series is the scariest), and as “realistic” as both those supernatural movies are, neither of them possess that elusive, but utterly resonant, slick uber-chill factor that exudes from Halloween’s effortlessly spun nightmare fabric. Halloween is the ultimate boogeyman bad dream. Forget all the ludicrous sequels (though I’ll admit that Halloween 2 - more of the night He came home - is a guilty pleasure), and the less said about Rob Zombie's travesties the better!
A small cast on a small budget with style to burn; cinematographer Dean Cundey’s creeping Panaglide (the precursor to the Steadicam) camerawork and deep shadowy lighting, Carpenter’s shocking use of Nick Castle as The Shape (mostly Michael Myers in silhouetted long-shot, or edging into close-up frame), and, of course, the movie’s most memorable element; Carpenter’s brilliant and unnerving piano/electronic score.
Laurie Strode (played with hysterical aplomb by Janet – Psycho – Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis) is our Final Girl, Donald Pleasence is Dr. Loomis, a man driven by the fear of what Michael Myers is capable of. And therein lies the beautiful rub; Michael Myers is the boogeyman. “That was the boogeyman?” Laurie mumbles in a shocked stupor, “As a matter of fact, that was.” Loomis states matter-of-fact, then walks across to the balcony where Myers has just tumbled over after having been shot at point blank range several times in the chest. Loomis peers over the over edge, and stares in disbelief at the impression on the grass where Myers had landed. He’s gone. Vanished. Into the night. The nightmares isn’t over … This man is evil incarnate.
Halloween (which had the working title of The Babysitter Murders) was influenced by a couple of earlier 70s movies that featured an unknown, or masked killer who offed numerous people in creative fashion over the course of a night or so; Bob Clark’s Black Christmas and Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve, but Halloween was the movie held responsible for spearheading the stalk’n’slash genre; at the very least making the term “slasher flick” a household phrase used by concerned parents as their impressionable teenagers head off to the local drive-in to make out under the reflected light of a flashing blade.
In the wake of Halloween came Friday the 13th, Terror Train, Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, Hell Night, and dozens more. But what sets Halloween apart from all of its imitators (putting aside for a moment that Halloween isn’t wholly original) is its palpable mood and atmosphere and that it actually features very little on-screen bloodshed, as well as a relatively small body count. The horror that permeates the movie is more about terror than graphic violence. Carpenter cleverly eschewed having to spend money on elaborate special effect set-pieces so he could afford to play with the fancy camera equipment, and much of the movie’s overall effect is the result of the prowling, fluidity within the mise-en-scene.
And that mortifying musical motif that re-occurs throughout the movie; da-duh-duh, da-duh-duh, da-duh, da-duh, da-duh-duh, da-duh-duh, da-duh, da-duh …
As Sheriff Brackett says to Dr. Loomis, “It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”
“Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream …”