Books have been written about this film – serious, scholarly works that go in depth into John Carpenter, every shot, the film’s view of society, all that sort of thing. The geniuses at Red Letter Media have just released a commentary for this, too (the thing that inspired me to rewatch it) which is full of trivia, comedy, and analysis. Chances are you’ve already seen it. So why should you read this?
I don’t know. It’s not like I’m the first – or the hundredth, or the thousandth – low-rent film blogger to have a go at this either. Unless you’re one of the three friends of mine who reads this site regularly, these words will disappear into the ether. But, you might be about to watch this film for the first time and your Google search is broken for the first ten pages. Who knows? Also, I’m going to be reviewing the entire series, and I don’t think there are too many sites who’ve made it as far as part 6, with Paul Rudd, or that one with Busta Rhymes in it, where the house was covered in webcams (part 8, a quick search tells me).
The first thing you’ll notice is how this doesn’t look anything like the legion of films which followed in its footsteps (not just the sequels, but the other slasher franchises). It’s full of long, slow shots, panning across empty suburbia. The music and the colours (which make it look like a cold Midwest Halloween, but was actually filmed in California, the autumn leaves being a prop) set up a feeling of dread better than “generic metal soundtrack X” and a few jumpcuts could ever hope to do. The main house used in the film wasn’t a prop, but a real dilapidated home they found and were able to film in.
The plot is simple. Young Michael Myers kills his elder sister on Halloween and is sent to an insane asylum. 15 years later he escapes, heads back to his old town and decides to kill babysitters, focusing on Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). There’s no explanation, no more backstory than is absolutely necessary, and no understanding. He’s just a force. Chasing him down is Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance)…and that’s it.
Does anyone really care about backstory? Was Hannibal Lecter more frightening when we knew nothing about him, or after “Hannibal Rising” when we’d got his entire life story in boring, excruciating detail? Is Michael Myers more scary or less after we’ve been told all about his life both in the sequels and the 2007 “remake”? Prequels, backstory…it’s all bunk, to squeeze money out of characters that we like because we know nothing about them. “Halloween” works partly because of what it doesn’t tell us.
It’s difficult to have a personal reaction to such a famous film. Even if you’ve not seen it before, you’ll recognise plenty of the scenes from being lifted for other, lesser horror films or from the many parodies. But it provides moments that still can give you the chills. Seeing Michael across the street, just in the middle of a normal suburban day, no loud music or jump-scares, is still a great moment. It doesn’t follow “the rules”, either, for instance Michael is unmasked at one point, and it’s not a big deal – an absolute no-no in the prop fetishisation world of 80s and 90s horror. There’s barely any death, and what there is is incredibly tame. A few frames of nudity. There’s just atmosphere.
Really, you don’t need me to tell you about this film. It’s a classic, forever enshrined in the pantheon of great horror cinema. It’s not perfect (s-l-o-w pace, even when it doesn’t need to be, Dr Loomis spends half the film stood next to a bush) but the way it works, while the sequels get progressively stupider, is testament to its quality. We’ll be reviewing the series, and as I recall I quite enjoyed a few of the later ones.
Rating: thumbs up (obviously)