Halloween (1978) Review

Time: 91 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis
Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode
Nick Castle as Michael Myers/The Shape
P. J. Soles as Lynda Van Der Klok
Nancy Kyes as Annie Brackett
Director: John Carpenter

On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims.

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With the latest Halloween movie coming out less than a month away, I decided to have another look back at John Carpenter’s horror classic, Halloween. Halloween was revolutionary for film, especially for the horror genre. Even with a smaller budget and a simple premise, they really caught lighting in a bottle with this.

Getting some of the worse elements of the movie out of the way, some of the dialogue can be really bad, especially when it comes to the teenage characters, it’s like someone is badly trying to imitate teenagers from the 70s. With that said it’s a minor issue. The film does also set all of these characters up to be one dimensional bags of blood to be stabbed by the masked killer, something that other slasher movies following it would be doing as well. Since it was the first to do it I guess I don’t have too much to complain about. A lot of the clichés and tropes that would happen would be because of this movie, for better or for worse. No, Halloween wasn’t the first slasher film to be made. It was however one of the first slasher movies to introduce the idea of a killer coming to a familiar location instead of going to a place where the killer is (like Psycho or Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Halloween is about an hour and 30 minutes long and that was the right length, it doesn’t drag and even in the scenes where nothing much is happening, Michael Myer’s presence will usually be felt during it. Halloween is quite a simple movie, with a limited amount of locations, a simple premise, a straightforward killer, yet all of it works, it’s simplicity is the key to its success. The portrayal of Michael Myers is really effective. The only bit of backstory that we get about him is from Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) who describes him as being pretty much pure evil and you completely buy it. Making it even more intimidating is how Myers seems absolutely unstoppable. He doesn’t run when chasing after people and when he kills he’s not over the top with it, he walks slow, he kills silently, the only sounds from him are his deep breaths. From what I understand the sequels and the remakes try to make an explanation for him, however while they might be able to explain why he acts how he does (which does take away from him as a character), nothing can really explain his immortality. I much prefer the pure evil explanation for him.

Donald Pleasence is fantastic as Sam Loomis, the doctor who is the only person who truly knows how dangerous Michael Myers is. True there’s not much to the character but it’s by far the best performance in this movie. Jamie Lee Curtis makes her debut acting performance here as Laurie Strode and she does pretty okay in her role, nothing great but nothing bad either. It’s worth keeping in mind that she essentially became the first “last survivor” character in a slasher film, so a lot of the tropes with that sort of characters started with her character. She’s at least better than most of the other actors. Most of the actors are pretty bad, especially the teenage characters.

John Carpenter’s direction was one of the main reasons why Halloween works so well. Halloween has a budget of about $300,000, which even then in the 70s was pretty low and yet he did so much with that budget. Sometimes you can feel some of the restraints with the regard to things like the sound design is not always the greatest but most of it is fine. Something about how small scale it feels really adds to this movie, you feel much more confined to what is going on. The cinematography is absolutely masterful, the use of wideshots was really effective, especially for building tension and suspense. Carpenter made Michael Myers a real presence throughout the movie, even when he isn’t killing anyone. In fact, him just standing somewhere in the background is really effective, way more effective than just him killing people. The kills are actually pretty tame for a slasher film but they are pretty effective. They aren’t overly bloody or gory and are usually somewhat in the shadows, fitting in with the rest of the movie and not being a typical bloodfest (which the movies would eventually become). The cinematography is only made better with the use of John Carpenter’s score, which is absolutely excellent. I don’t think Halloween would have been as iconic or effective without the score. Every time that main theme comes on, you are just wondering what’s going on, whether Michael Myers is there or what’s happening next, and only continues to build tension and really sets the mood. The design of Michael Myers is simple but effective. A William Shatner mask and a jumpsuit is all there is to his physical appearance and yet it remains one of the most iconic horror costume designs ever 40 years later. As for the scares, most of them didn’t affect me but that’s just me, I’m difficult to be scared. It does have some jump scares but all of them are effective, it’s not cheap at all and even the fake out jump scares are pretty effective.

Halloween is still a horror classic to this day and it’s easy to see why looking back at it. John Carpenter’s direction of this simple premise was really effective and led to a huge change for the horror genre (for better and for worse). It’s actually the only movie in the long series that I’ve watched but I can’t imagine any of the sequels being even close to living up to the original. The sequel coming this year will be ignoring all other sequels and it looks like it will at least somewhat close to being at the level of the original, which is saying a lot considering how great the original is. 40 years on, John Carpenter’s Halloween still remains a classic.

3 thoughts on “Halloween (1978) Review

  1. Pingback: Halloween Movies Ranked | The Cinema Critic

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