Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Halloween (1978 film)

Directed and scored by John Carpenter and written by Carpenter and Debra Hill, Halloween is the story of a young man who escapes from an insane asylum as he returns to his hometown on Halloween fifteen years to kill where his psychiatrist tries to find him. The film is considered the first definitive slasher film in which a mysterious killer kills everyone in sight leaving few to survive as he is eager to kill. Starring Donald Pleasance, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes, Nick Castle, and in her film debut, Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. Halloween is a terrifying and riveting film from John Carpenter.

It’s Halloween eve as a man has escaped from an insane asylum where he was about to be transferred and incarcerated for the murder he committed fifteen years ago at the age of six as he returns to his hometown and kill those in his sight. It’s a film that explores a man who had become psychotic as he killed his babysitter as he then targets a teenager who is babysitting a kid on Halloween while a couple of her friends go out during the holiday. The film’s screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill doesn’t just showcase the motives that drove this psychotic in Michael Myers (Nick Castle) to go insane and then escape the asylum. It also play with the many conventions that would become standard clichés and such for the horror genre as the character of Laurie Strode is just this young woman who is good to people though she smokes and such like other teenagers. Yet, she would babysit a neighbor kid while another friend would do the same and later drop that kid off to Laurie to see her boyfriend.

The script would also play into what kind of person Michael Myers is as his psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is looking for him as he is aware of how troubled and insane Myers is. When he and a sheriff in Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) go on the look for him, there is a great monologue that Dr. Loomis has about Myers and what he did as it adds to the sense of danger that looms. In the film’s third act, Myers would strike as Strode would suspect his presence early in the film as well as the kids she’s watching over where it is clear what she is facing.

John Carpenter’s direction starts off with this amazing prologue set in Halloween 1963 where it is told in the span of a few minutes in almost one entire take. It is a scene that establishes what Michael Myers did at the age of six as it is very startling way to open the film. The film then shifts to Halloween Eve in 1978 on a rainy night where Dr. Loomis and a nurse are about to go to the asylum as the former frets about Myers and having him incarcerated as something goes wrong. Carpenter’s direction definitely play into the air of suspense in scenes where Laurie sees someone from afar and then takes a second look as if he never existed. The usage of the wide shots help play into that suspense while Carpenter would maintain a sense of intimacy with some of the close-ups and medium shots he create throughout the film. Notably in the scenes of Laurie taking care of the two kids as well as some of the chilling moments involving a couple of her friends.

The direction also has Carpenter create some unique long and intricate tracking shots such as the film’s opening prologue where it shown from the perspective of Myers. The moments of violence are quite startling yet Carpenter does something that is even more interesting as it’s about the impact as it doesn’t contain any gore or excessive blood. Another aspect of Carpenter that is interesting is how he play with the clichés as well as not go for the conventional scores. Being the film’s music composer, Carpenter’s electronic-based score that is filled with some unique riffs and melodies as it’s played largely on a synthesizer. It knows when to appear but also when not to appear as it help create mood into the suspense as well as in the horror without the need to overdo it. Overall, Carpenter creates a chilling yet well-crafted horror film about a psychotic killer terrorizing people on Halloween night.

Cinematographer Dean Cundey does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography for many of the scenes set at night with its usage of lighting and mood to help play into its suspense and horror while going for some more naturalistic lighting for some of the scenes set in the day. Editors Tommy Lee Wallace and Charles Bornstein do brilliant work with the editing as it has these nice rhythmic cuts that help play into the suspense and horror without the need to do anything flashy while knowing how to build up the momentum of the suspense. Production designer Tommy Lee Wallace and set decorator Craig Stearns do fantastic work with the look of the homes that the character live in as well as the ruined state of the old house where Michael Myers killed his babysitter.

The makeup work of Erica Ueland is excellent for the look of the mask that Michael Myers wears as it has something that feels very menacing. Sound editor William L. Stephenson does superb work with the sound to help create that air of atmosphere into the suspense and horror.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles from John Michael Graham as Lynda’s boyfriend Bob, Sandy Johnson as the babysitter the young Myers killed early in the film, Kyle Richards as the young girl Lindsay that Laurie would later babysit, Brian Andrews as the young boy Tommy whom Laurie is watching over, and Charles Cyphers in a terrific performance as Sheriff Leigh Brackett who aids Dr. Loomis in finding Myers. P.J. Soles and Nancy Kyes are wonderful in their respective roles as Laurie’s friends Lynda and Annie as two young girls who are more eager to have fun where they definitely become targets of Myers’ wrath.

In the role of Michael Myers, we have Tony Moran as an unmasked version seen from the back and afar in the opening raining sequence as well as Will Sandin as the six-year old Myers. Yet, it is Nick Castle who is brilliant as the killer himself with his mask and menacing presence as he never says a word. Donald Pleasance is excellent as Dr. Sam Loomis as a psychiatrist trying to find Myers as this man that is coping with Myers but also hoping he could be stopped. Finally, there’s Jamie Lee Curtis in a remarkable film debut as Laurie Strode as this young woman that is just trying to be a normal teenage girl as she copes with the presence of this mysterious man and later be confronted by him as she embodies all of the ideas of a scream queen as well as someone trying not to get killed.

Halloween is a magnificent film from John Carpenter. Featuring a great cast, a killer score, an intriguing premise, and masterful suspense that would create many of the conventions of horror. The film is definitely a standard bearer of the genre while as a film itself, it is truly one of the most chilling and inventive films that Carpenter has created. In the end, Halloween is an outstanding film from John Carpenter.

John Carpenter Films: Dark Star - Assault on Precinct 13 - Someone's Watching Me! - Elvis - The Fog - Escape from New York - The Thing - Christine - Starman - Big Trouble in Little China - Prince of Darkness - They Live - Memoirs of an Invisible Man - Body Bags - In the Mouth of Madness - Village of the Damned - Escape from L.A. - Vampires - Ghosts of Mars - The Ward

The Auteurs #60: John Carpenter Part 1 - Part 2

Related: Halloween (2018 film) - (Halloween Kills) - (Halloween Ends)

© thevoid99 2016


Dell said...

Definitely one of the genre giants, and deservedly so. Every time I watch it, the most surprising thing about it to me is how patient the storytelling is despite the fact it's a really short movie. Carpenter was really on his A-game with this one. And that score he composed just might be the eeriest thing ever recorded.

Brittani Burnham said...

I love this movie, that score is so iconic. It's amazing that they had such a tiny budget and managed to freak out so many people. The remakes never did it justice.

Myerla said...

I'd argue that Halloween is a film that made the slasher genre popular and kicked off the craze that included the likes of Friday the 13th and The Burning. Films like Black Christmas and The Bay of Blood were the films that arguably created the blueprint for slashers to follow. Hitchcock's Psycho is also important in this regard

That doesn't take anything away from Halloween as it a staple point of the genre

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-That is one of the reasons I think works. It has that air of patience and takes it time to create these elements that are very scary. Plus, that score by Carpenter is truly one of the most definitive moments of the film or any genre. I think everything he was doing from his first film Dark Star to They Live is pretty much essential and that's a run that I'm sure many filmmakers wish they ahd.

@Brittani-Rob Zombie himself hasn't been fond of his own remake as I haven't seen it nor I have interest unless I decide to do a thing on Rob Zombie. The original is in a class of its own.

@Myrela-I think that is true as I think Psycho was the first film that could be defined as a slasher as Halloween I think was the film that popularized that sub-genre as it is still a definitive horror film.

Alex Withrow said...

Hell yeah. I totally agree, Halloween sets a standard for an entire damn genre. It remains that good. Did you ever hear that recording of an audience watching the film in the theater in 1978? It's awesome.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-I haven't heard of that recording. I'm sure it must've been fun. This film is a standard of horror and it has to be seen by everyone and I'm finally glad I did.