Logline: A masked killer returns to his hometown to kill.
Note: This review originally appeared as part of my October 2015 horror film reviews. I have made some additional changes.
John Carpenter’s Halloween is an immortal classic. This independent, low-budget horror film is known as the first modern slasher flick. Made on a budget of just $325,000, the film grossed $70 million worldwide and became the most successful independently produced film at the time. Halloween spawned numerous sequels, a remake, and a slew of imitators but none have equaled its brilliance.
The story is incredibly simple. It is the camera angles and movements, expressionistic cinematography, and musical score that combine to make Halloween a masterful horror film. Michael Myers, or ‘the Shape,’ is terrifying because he is a blank face on which we project our deepest, primordial fears. He is evil incarnate and has no apparent motive.
In the film’s unforgettable opening, the camera adopts a first person perspective that allows the viewer to see through the eyes of the killer as he brutally stabs a teenage girl. This aspect of the film has been copied countless times. At the end of this brilliant sequence, the mask is pulled off and the killer is revealed to be a six-year-old Michael Myers. Many people forget that this is the only sequence that utilizes the point of view shot. For the remainder of the film, the grown-up Michael is seen standing or walking ominously in the foreground or background or he simply intrudes into the frame. In one of my favorite shots in the film, Michael emerges from the shadows and attacks an unsuspecting Laurie.
Carpenter’s minimalist style works perfectly. Halloween relies on suspense rather than blood and gore. The film’s finale in which Michael confronts Laurie, does not disappoint. The final frames show uninhabited spaces where Michael was present earlier in the film with his heavy breathing audible on the soundtrack. This montage seems to suggest that evil is everywhere and will never die. The film’s final shot is the same as its first: the ominous and decaying Myers house. It is Carpenter’s final touch to what is a masterpiece of horror.
The film was written by Carpenter and his then-partner Debra Hill. Hill was responsible for the naturalistic dialogue among the teenage girls. Making her feature film debut, Jamie Lee Curtis is solid as the bookish Laurie Strode. As Dr. Sam Loomis, the legendary Donald Pleasance is fantastic. Credit must also be given to Nick Castle as ‘the Shape.’ His movements are perfect. Tommy Lee Wallace was a production designer and editor on the film. It is was his idea to use a William Shatner mask for Michael, which was spray painted white and became the killer’s signature.
One cannot discuss Halloween without mentioning the iconic musical score composed by John Carpenter. Like the story, Carpenter’s music is simple but extremely effective. The score consists of a piano melody that complements the film’s mood perfectly. Musical cues often announce Michael’s presence. The film and its music are inseparable.
Halloween is a wonderful display of cinematic craft. It is also proof that in cinema, the story does not matter as much as the way in which the story is told. I watch the film nearly every Halloween and am enamored each time. Like Michael Myers himself, Halloween will never die.
Rating (out of ****): ****