Tis the night before Halloween and so what better film to review than Halloween!? What do you mean that would have been a better choice for tomorrow? I have a far more horrific movie to review for Halloween night don’t you worry. What could possibly be more of a horror than Halloween? Well lots of films if I’m being honest, but none are more horrific than the one I have planned. For now though, here’s my review of the original version of Halloween.
If Psycho and Bay Of Blood are the original slasher movies then Halloween is the one that popularized the genre. Whilst Bay Of Blood splashes the claret about in all sorts of imaginative ways Halloween attempted to take the genre in a more grounded direction. True the films that came after this relied on gore and inventive kills they all took the unstoppable killing machine format from Halloween. Michael Myers is the original modern slasher movie villain.
The story of Halloween follows two strands. One follows a Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence) as he attempts to track down the deranged Michael Myers after he has escaped from the mental institute he was held in for the murder of his sister 13 years earlier. The other strand follows bookish teenager Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she prepares for a regular night of babysitting with the slight issue of some man in a mask stalking her about town. Eventually all sorts of murder kicks off and Laurie has to fight for her life.
What makes Halloween stand out from it’s future impersonators is that the focus of the film isn’t on the body count and the gore. The killings don’t really begin for nearly an hour in and the whole film spends it’s time slowly building the tension. Myers is a passive stalker for most of the film, watching Laurie from across the street or as he passes in a car he somehow learned to drive whilst imprisoned. Dr Loomis is struggling top convince people that there is a real threat in their town which only helps to add to the tension and suspense.
Most slasher movies these days have the killings start right off the bat and gradually the cast is dwindled down in a predictable fashion as the story progresses to the overly strong female lead saves the day, usually with the help of a barrel chested potential boyfriend figure. Laurie is not a strong person. She is a shy, lanky but intelligent girl who doesn’t have a boyfriend to save her. She mentions liking a guy in her class but he doesn’t come swooping through a window to save the day. This builds to us being more in touch with her for the films finale as we know she has no safety net and must survive using her wits. Imagine Ellen Ripley without the built in levels of badass and moxie.
Whilst it is very fair to say that outside the always superb Donald Pleasence most of the performances are poor at best this is really quite the norm for this genre. Jamie Lee Curtis gives it her all though and at least sounds like a human being when talking unlike the various other characters put here in the film to end up on the sharp end of a kitchen knife. Criticising the performances can be a little unfair though. the films budget of $325,000 didn’t allow the room for any big name stars or top level actors. the fact Carpenter somehow managed to get Donald Pleasence on board must have been a real coup for him. It certainly added some weight to the film.
Despite the low budget the film is shot very well with a predominant use of handheld camera work. A lot of the time we’re seeing events from Myers perspective and even when we aren’t the camera often stay at quite a distance in order to make the audience feel like voyeurs to Laurie’s life, much like Myers. It’s a rare thing in this genre for the film to attempt to place you in the shoes of the killer but that’s what Halloween does from the very first scene, a long POV shot of the child Michael Myers murdering his sister. The film’s lighting is dark and foreboding throughout the last half, no-one seems to switch a light on in Haddonfield it seems. This serves to help build the impending dread and quite quickly you’ll find yourself looking to the shadows for any signs of Myers. Something that will pay off at the films finale.
John Carpenter is always at his best when restrained by budget. When the studios started throwing money at him things went well for a while and we got The Thing (which has it’s original film make a cameo here), They Live and Escape From New York which were all great. Eventually he ran out of fresh ideas and we started getting Ghost Of Mars, the remake of Village Of The Damned and Escape From L.A. All turgid wastes of a great talent.
Halloween is a genuine classic and whilst it has aged a fair bit the staples of the modern slasher are all there. It really bring home just how tired the modern slasher movie has become when a film over 30 years old has all the same hallmarks. Sure Wes Craven tried to mix the genre up a little with A New Nightmare and the Scream franchise but at the end of the day they still have the exact same format as Halloween and the previous originators of the genre, Psycho and Bay Of Blood. I certainly recommend watching this over the remake from Rob Zombie. Whilst his film isn’t pure tripe it is vastly inferior to the Carpenter original.