Halloween PosterOne of the most iconic horror films of all time, and the most famous ever made by John Carpenter. It’s an exceedingly well-made, Hitchcock worthy evocation of fear and suspense, although I can’t help but feel there could be a bit more to it overall.

The Package

For many years this 1978 film was the most profitable independent movie ever made. It was the third feature by John Carpenter, who co-wrote it with his then-girlfriend Debra Hill, and cast the veteran Donald Pleasance–the lone “star”–along with CARRIE’S P.J. Soles and, in her first-ever film role, Jamie Lee Curtis. Filming took place in Pasadena, CA (even though the setting was Illinois) over the course of a few weeks, and was reportedly a pleasant and invigorating experience for all concerned.

HALLOWEEN is notable as the first “splatter” film, although in reality it’s far less splattery than any of the exploiters that followed. Those latter films include FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH and its many sequels, HALLOWEEN II, HALLOWEEN III: Season of the Witch, IV, etc, and the Rob Zombie directed remake of the present film, which is better left unmentioned.

The Story

On Halloween night in Haddonfield, Illinois, circa 1963, eight-year-old Michael Myers stabs his teen sister to death. Fifteen years later the adult Michael Myers escapes from a mental institution and steals a station wagon belonging to one Dr. Loomis.

Michael Myers’ old neighborhood is now populated by a lot of teenage girls, among them the virginal Laurie. She’s planning to spend Halloween night babysitting in a house up the street from the now-deserted Myers residence. Michael Myers–or, as he’s identified in the credits, The Shape–has been staking Laurie, apparently because she reminds him of his late sister.

That night Myers kills two of Laurie’s friends and one of the latter’s boyfriends before coming after Laurie. Being the good babysitter she is, Laurie makes sure to protect the kids she’s looking after from Myers. Dr. Loomis is also afoot in the neighborhood, and itching to take down Michael Myers. Loomis eventually gets his chance, but it seems that Myers may be something more than human.

The Direction

Despite the evident low budget, this is one of the best looking of John Carpenters’ films, with stunningly composed anamorphic photography. It begins with one of the movies’ great moving P.O.V. shots (seen through the eyes of the killer, traversing the outside of a house, entering inside, putting on a clown mask and, as seen through the mask’s eyeholes, stabbing a woman to death), accomplished with a superbly utilized Panaglide camera. Note the way the imagery begins with expansive wide shots and gradually becomes tighter and more intimate.

The above is indicative of Carpenter’s extremely careful and calculated filmmaking, with painstakingly crafted suspense that would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud. The suspense works through a sense of minimalism (something the Rob Zombie remake missed) that extends to the spare and simple score. As in nearly all John Carpenter’s films, the music was by Carpenter himself, and is unquestionably his best-ever score.

I’ve always found the narrative a bit undernourished, taking place as it does over the course of a single night and pivoting on, essentially, the heroine crossing the street from one house to another. Still, there’s a damn good reason this film is as iconic as it is, and anyone interested in the evolution of modern horror, or just wanting to see a good scary flick, owes it to him or herself to check out HALLOWEEN at least once.

Vital Statistics

Compass International Pictures

Director: John Carpenter
Producer: Debra Hill
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Cinematography: Dean Cundy
Editing: Tommy Lee Wallace, Charles Bornstein
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, Nick Castle, Nancy Stevens, Charles Cyphers