Spoilers get spooked by piano music now.
We’re almost at the end of a classic John Carpenter review series, but before get there I knew I had to revisit this horror classic. I kind of dreaded writing this review initially, because I felt it was never my kind of thing when I was younger. But then again, not only my tastes have shifted I also notice and appreciate other details that were invisible to me since I last saw it. I’m glad to report I was pleasantly surprised and I enjoyed watching this film, because this is the modern horror movie template.
Halloween (1978) was directed by John Carpenter who wrote the screenplay with Debra Hill. The movie actually starts with a young Michael Myers killing her sister in Halloween night, 1963. After spending his life inside a mental institution, he escapes and returns to the town of Haddonfield, Illinois while being tracked by his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence). That’s not exactly the movie, of course. Basically that would be the description of a film in 1978, but this is also one of the films that changed the perspective of horror.
Nowadays, you would describe this film from the point of view of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) as the heroine of this tale in which a escaped mental patient roams the neighborhood looking for young teenagers to kill. Horror films are now marketed to its most popular audiences, the teenage moviegoers. Donald Pleasence, although he gets top billing here, is actually the special guest star – he’s the sage, the priest, the scientist, the wise man that explains why the boogeyman has come to town and has the key (or the gun) to defeat evil. Actually Dr. Loomis acts more like a prophet warning of impending doom: “Evil has come to your town, Sheriff.”
You can see the seeds for every modern movie here. The killer walks and even drives in broad daylight, but is rarely noticed. It only appears to a privileged few, usually a child that nobody listens to or the heroine who first dismisses the sighting when the killer is not there anymore. There’s also the inherent conservative and almost puritan view of sex as the main reason for becoming targeted. The killer preys on every careless and sex-addicted teenager, specially of the female gender. This is part of the formula for becoming a victim in a horror film to this day.
Luck always favors Michael Myers as he seems to drive with a stolen car with a logo from the mental institution around a town that has little to no traffic and never gets noticed even as drives past a store with a blaring security alarm and cops in the area. At this point you might realize that no one really notices him until we’re almost halfway through the movie. Okey, a kid does bump against him but he appears to shrug it off to being Halloween and all. This is because this is one of the modern horror movies in which the priority changed to scare the audience first. Scaring the cast is left as secondary.
The jumpscares in this film are now classic, with jarring chords and creepy piano music giving away the killer’s presence at the critical moments. The killer seems more like an unstoppable force of nature than an fugitive. When the victim finally realizes its plight it’s too late. The doors are locked, the phones no longer work, the neighbors are not watching and nobody is calling the cops. Michael Myers, fully masked even appears behind a bush for Laurie to notice him briefly with all circumstances favoring his disappearance, unnoticed by anybody else.
There’s always a suspension of disbelief required. All parents are completely absent when the night falls. A dangerous escaped mental patient The sheriff allows Dr. Loomis to roam the neighborhood with a gun looking for his former patient. Tommy hides some forbidden magazines from his mother underneath the family sofa (apparently they don’t vacuum that spot?). Tommy’s forbidden magazines are regular comic books, something that will be completely unrelatable nowadays. Also, dragging a tombstone into a house should really be noticed by someone.
Extremely recommended for horror film buffs and fans of 70’s and 80’s movies in general. Today’s audiences (when they’re allowed back in theatres) might find it tame. Without your handy nostalgia lenses, it might even feel like a parody of modern horror films. In context you can see all the modern tropes from today’s horror films before they were overused. Filmed on a budget and still capable of giving you a fright, you can’t deny its legacy even on today’s film. For horror aficionados and aspiring filmmakers, this is an obligatory film school lesson.
That will do for now.