Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis
“I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.” (Dr Loomis, Halloween)
There are a sacred handful of films that will forever be considered horror classics, films that revolutionised the genre and influenced the creation of countless others that followed in its wake. Look inside the wallets of Night Of The Living Dead, Psycho, The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and you’ll find they’re all card-carrying members of this elite club, but John Carpenter’s Halloween was the one who went to the printing shop and had the cards designed. Shite metaphors aside, the influence Halloween had on horror is one that continues to this day, largely because it was the first film to successfully introduce the slasher genre to the mainstream public.
While it’s often wrongly credited as the first ever slasher movie (the likes of Black Christmas, The Driller Killer and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre came before it), there’s no denying that Halloween was the first to nail it and the one that would inspire the endless stream of low-budget slashers that followed it (a stream that would flow right through to the present day). Its simple premise – a babysitter stalked by a faceless, unstoppable killer – made it easy for the viewer to relate and as such made it terrifying to the teenage audiences that came in their droves to see it. Simply put, Halloween changed horror cinema forever.
It tells the story of Michael Myers, a young boy who suddenly snaps one Halloween. Putting on a clown mask, Michael grabs a kitchen knife and goes upstairs, stabbing his older sister over and over. When his parents get home and find that young Mike’s turned his sister into a human colander, he’s sent to a mental asylum for the rest of his life.
Naturally, someone sitting in a cell of 90 minutes would make for a fairly shit movie, so Michael (now aged 21 when we catch up with him) has the common courtesy to escape the asylum and head back to his home town of Haddonfield to raise some hell again.
Halloween is bloody impressive given its shoestring budget. Jamie Lee Curtis and the actresses playing her friends had to go to a charity shop to buy their own outfits, director John Carpenter also composed the music on a cheapo piano and synthesiser, the cast are complete unknowns (other than Donald Pleasance, who plays Michael’s doctor Sam Loomis) and there isn’t a special effect to be seen throughout. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) this, it’s one of those rarities – a horror film that remains genuinely scary more than 30 years later.
Michael Myers is the perfect bogeyman. With his expressionless white mask (a painted William Shatner mask, incidentally) it’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking. He doesn’t just kill like Jason or other slasher villains do, he stalks his prey, watching them and waiting for the right moment to attack, catching them off guard then studying how they react as they die. He’s chilling.
Even his mere presence in the background is enough to cause a fright, a fact taken advantage of by John Carpenter’s clever direction. During some indoor scenes there are occasional subtle glimpses of the white mask outside the window as he stands in the darkness. This keeps the audience on edge and puts them in the odd position of actually hoping to see complete darkness outside. What other film makes its viewers NOT afraid of the dark?
Halloween may be near-perfect but there are one or two tiny elements that make it fall just short. While the young Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastically believable in the lead role of Laurie – giving a real girl-next-door feeling that greatly adds to the film’s authenticity – and PJ Soles is funny as her friend Lynda, the same can’t be said for the third member of the group, Annie (played by Nancy Loomis). She’s so wooden they might as well have put a charity shop skirt on a table and wheeled it alongside the other two, and while her character’s fairly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, she’s the sole reminder that we’re dealing with a low budget film here. Her stupidly hammy facial expressions during her strangulation scene are ridiculous, cheesy garbage and as a result she ruins what should have been a classic moment in horror cinema.
This is made up for by the amazing Donald Pleasance, who steals the show as Dr Sam Loomis. The only real star in the film, Pleasance only signed up for the movie because his daughter was a big fan of Carpenter’s previous movie, Assault On Precinct 13, but it’s a good job he did because it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.
While it could be argued that the point of film reviews is to give opinions on – among other things – the likes of plot development, to say much more about Halloween would be to spoil it. It’s the sort of film where, if you’ve been lucky enough to come this far without finding out what happens, you should track it down as soon as possible and enjoy it. All you really need to know is that it’s a true horror classic and is essential viewing for any fan of the genre.