Director: John Carpenter
Year of release: 1978
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 91 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "The night He came home"!
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: At age six a young boy by name of Michael Myers murders his sister with a large knife. Confined to a mental institution from that point on he manages to break free some fifteen years later with the intention of returning to his hometown of Haddonfield to carry on where he left off as a kid.
Pursuing the deranged loon is his doctor Sam Loomis who guessing where his patient is heading tries to alert the Haddonfield Sheriff to the danger.
Michael meanwhile after arriving in town has become fixated on teenage girl Laurie Strode and her friends Annie and Linda who all reside within his old neighbourhood.
Good points: *Although by no means the first movie of its type Halloween is very much the one which went on to be responsible for inspiring what later came to be known as the slasher film. As a result we had the boom period of the newly born genre in the early eighties, something sometimes now referred to as the golden age of the slasher film. Films which were a big part of that such as Friday the 13th were in many ways trying to mimic the success, attention and critical acclaim that Halloween had created for itself. Most of these films to follow failed to garner positive reviews from respected critics of the day but for horror fans like ourselves we have Halloween largely to thank for the slasher genre as it is now. In inspiring so many filmmakers to come it’s undeniably one of the true granddaddies not only of the slasher sub-genre but probably the horror genre as a whole as well.
Such things that have now become common place such as the more reserved and chaste final girl, the seemingly indestructible killer, a mask, young attractive teens being targeted and a madman breaking out of a mental institution are all present and correct here and would later go on to be recycled time and time again (sometimes even in the films own sequels). Not to say of course that Halloween invented all these things which might now be seen as genre clichés or staples but it was one of the first to put so many together to such good effect.
*The villain Michael Myers is a brilliant invention and it’s no wonder he so quickly became a household name and a figure immediately synonymous with horror. I normally aren’t too keen when a killers backstory or motivations aren’t properly explained or established but here we have a rare case where this approach of mainly keeping us in the dark as to his mindset actually works. Indeed when they tried to explain things a little more in some of the latter films specifically number 6 and maybe 5 or even 2 to a lesser extent it didn’t completely work and left a lot of fans unhappy. The simplicity seen here in the first film seems to work best.
Myers is also of course a genuinely frightening and menacing character who succeeds in coming across as evil personified. The boiler suit and in particular the fantastic and iconic mask is a large part of this menace. The mask, basic in some ways though it is incredibly effective and up there with the best around in my opinion.
*In addition to Michael the other characters are strong as well in particular Donald Pleasance as Dr Loomis and Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. As well as bringing very good acting to a type of film not typically known for this they are also very interesting characters.
Laurie is someone that it’s hard not to root for encapsulating perfectly the smart, nerdy, and mild mannered type who although good looking under the initially dowdy exterior doesn’t have a lot of luck with the boys.
Loomis meanwhile is crochety, eccentric and someone who we are never quite sure about as he seems a little mad himself. When talking about Michael he really sells the idea that death itself is at hand and I think it is some of what he says that makes Michael as scary as he is.
The kids under the care of the baby sitters are also important and add to the drama as with them in harms way towards the end it makes things more exciting while at the same time encourages us to rally behind Laurie who serves as their protector.
*The soundtrack is superb and is something that like the Myers mask is instantly recognisable and now iconic in the horror field if not the film world as a whole. The now famous music really adds to the eerie atmosphere and helps ratchet up the sense of fear/dread. It’s so good that Halloween would be a much lesser film without it. It’s hard to imagine it without the classic theme In fact.
Bad Points: *Probably the only real area in which the film is lacking is when it comes to gore and variety in the deaths which add up to a low body count. Many would argue a more subtle less is more approach later seen to good effect in such films as The Blair Witch Project is better. It doesn’t need to rely on throwing buckets of blood around to be effective as everything else is so on the mark. I get that but at the same time seeing a bit of blood and guts is part of the fun so it’s a shame there is so little here. Younger viewers brought up on the post Scream era would probably see this as very tame by today’s standards.
*There are a few very small things within Halloween that bug me a little so I guess I’ll draw attention to them here as I’m so often accustomed to doing in these reviews. These are all very minor nit-picks however which don’t hinder the viewing experience very much if at all.
Mild spoilers ahead: Firstly it always troubled me a little how Loomis doesn’t really give Sheriff Brackett a proper explanation when asked if they should get the TV stations involved in trying to recapture Michael. I think it was TV stations Brackett mentioned anyway, maybe it was call in help from other local police forces, either way Loomis shoots the idea down. He says something about how it would mean people panicking and seeing Michael on every street corner but I always felt it would be more in character for him to agree to Brackett’s suggestion. He was the only one to recognise the true danger that Michael posed and seemed frustrated that others weren’t taking it so seriously so you would think he’d jump at the chance to increase the number of searchers and raise public awareness. Too many cooks would spoil the broth for is as viewers of course so it wouldn’t be as enjoyable if a bunch of extra cops got involved or what have you but they should have come up with a better reason on Loomis’ part as to why he shot it down. Better yet just don’t have Brackett suggest anything like that in the first place.
I think it’s a bit perplexing and unrealistic near the start when Loomis instructs the nurse to drive right up to the gate after they see the inmates have broken out and are loose in the grounds. Seeing how jumpy he was you would think he’d be more cautious and advise her not to drive so close.
There are a number of other smaller issues like how maybe it should be darker when Annie picks Laurie up in the car but these thigs are so small to be of no consequence.
Verdict: Every bit the classic it is billed as this is a true masterpiece and an inspiration to so many other films which came afterward. It’s the first film of its type that I saw and played a large part in me becoming such a fan of the slasher genre.
As was the case with a lot of these more vintage horror films it’s light on blood but that’s really the only area I can mention in which it lacks something. Almost everything else is great from the scary madman complete with awesome mask to the simple yet effective story. Michael aside other great characters in Loomis and Laurie add to the magic as does the superb musical score and theme.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Judith Myers: Stabbed with kitchen knife by young Michael.
2) Mechanic: Killed off camera. Head and shoulders just seen in shot when Loomis discovers the abandoned vehicle.
3) Annie: Strangled in her car and finished off by being stabbed.
4) Bob: Impaled on a knife which pins him up against the door.
5) Linda: Strangled with telephone wire/cable.
Note: You may also want to count the dog as well which presumably was picked up and strangled.