Halloween (1978) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence, nudity, some drug use and sexual situations
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Brian Andrews, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Tony Moran
Director: John Carpenter

Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Review published March 9, 2004.  Revised on December 27, 2006.

Although Black Christmas predates John Carpenter's film by four years, Halloween is the one that popularized the formula for almost every slasher movie that followed it, from Friday the 13th to A Nightmare on Elm Street to I Know What You Did Last Summer.  On that note, Iím not sure whether to praise it or condemn it, but regardless; itís still the better than most that would emulate it.  Shot for a mere $300,000, it definitely has a small-budget look and feel to it, but thatís also part of its charm, I suppose.  For all of its vaunted lstatus within the genre, I must admit, I still donít consider Halloween to be an especially well-made film in the end. 

Sure, it is engaging and clever at times, and I do think itís worthwhile viewing, but it is also full of errors in logic and continuity, while also pushing forward a story thatís flimsy at best.  Itís also padded out quite a bit, with many scenes of walking, followed by even more walking, and while the fluid camera work of Carpenter (The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China) makes this feel like a real cinematic experience, the wooden acting and anemic screenwriting wonít allow me to put this film on the high pedestal that so many other critics have done.

Halloween starts off in 1963, where a young boy named Michael Myers walks up to his sisterís room and stabs her to death for reasons unknown.  Off he goes to a mental institution, where he spends the next 15 years, until he manages to escape and heads back into his old stomping grounds.  With a Halloween mask on, he sets about terrorizing several teenage girls of the town, and with the bodies piling up, itís up to his doctor, Sam Loomis (Pleasence), to try to bring him down.

While Halloween is seen as the first of many films to follow (again, Black Christmas seems unfairly ignored by and large), many elements come from homage, and in particular, there are many elements of the Hitchcock classic, Psycho.  From style of the first murder utilizing over-the-head slashing, the correlations are obvious.  Itís also the murder of a relative, and there are sexual undertones in both films that trigger the killing.  Jamie Lee Curtis (Freaky Friday, True Lies) is the daughter of Psychoís Janet Leigh, and Leigh is also the last name of the Sheriff.  The doctorís name in Halloween is Sam Loomis, which is the name of the boyfriend to Leigh in Psycho.  Halloweenís nurse is named Marion Chambers, homage to Marion Crane and Sheriff Chambers from Psycho.  The young boyís name is Tommy Doyle, which is the name of the police detective in Hitchcockís Rear Window.

One could probably draw many more comparisons, but it should be clear that Carpenter is making an evolutionary film to pay tribute to Hitchcockís revolutionary one.  One should respect oneís influences, and Psycho is the real father of the modern slasher film -- low budget thrills, foreboding ambience, and murderer who kills for the sake of sating some unfathomable psychological need. 

Halloween has its moments of suspense, and there is a refreshing b-movie quality to it that lets you forgive many of the bad elements, but I personally feel that Carpenter gets too much credit here for being visionary.  Itís nonsensical, but revels in being so, and has some choice comic relief to alleviate the tension from time to time.  A memorable score by Carpenter keeps the tension high, and in combination to his camerawork, makes something memorable out of a fairly silly idea for a movie.  Simple, but very effective.

-- Followed by Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983), Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5 (1989), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002).  Soon to be remade in 2007 by Rob Zombie.

Qwipster's rating

©2004, 2006 Vince Leo