I re-wrote the beginning of this review a few times, not exactly satisfied with the words I was choosing to talk about it. Halloween, directed by legendary director John Carpenter, is a film that changed the pace of the horror genre. Although not the first, this movie set the tone for the “Slasher” genre, a family that also includes such films as Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and nowadays, literally hundreds of other films. Halloween is iconic in this regard, setting the trends and standards that are followed by its genre baring compatriots to this day. Pretty impressive for a 35 year old independent film. I’m gonna try to keep most of the praise of this film and it’s impact in this beginning section here because I don’t want that to cloud over the review itself. But at the same time I think it’s very important to mention the sheer impact this movie had made onto film and pop culture in general. Halloween kick started the career of Jamie Lee Curtis and boosted the career of John Carpenter as well. It’s a film I recommend every movie fan to see, just do to it;s sheer importance. But fir the sake of fairness, just because something is important doesn’t mean everyone’s going to like it, so let me get into the review as best I can, with unbiased eyes.
Right from the get go this movie sets a tone. The orange credits rolling over a black background with the chilling “Halloween Theme” playing. It really gets the mood right. There’s a haunting image of a pumpkin that slowly zooms into frame more and more that is both stylistic and creepy. There are a lot of movies that have great starts to them, Dead Snow (2009) for example is one of them. I did my last review on that film and made sure to point out that films great opening sequence. It perfectly sets the horror comedy tone. And just how that opening perfectly fit that film, so does Halloween perfectly get the opening that’s meant to send some chills up your spine. We are then thrown into a well done first person sequence that establishes all we need to know about our antagonist’s back story. Now, like my last review, I’m going to try to make it a habit not to just tell the story of the film, but to analyze things about it that I feel are important. I’m not going to pretend like you don’t know who Michael Myers is or anything like that. Instead I’ll focus on the things that make this film so iconic.
This movies strongest asset is atmosphere, and Halloween feeds on creating a working atmosphere. It’s a very dark movie visually; lots of shadows and blackness. It works in creating a sense of fear in that things are scarier when you can’t see them. Its a motif that goes throughout the whole movie. In a literal sense when the scene is dark to more subtle moments, like the idea of what’s behind the killers mask. His eyes are almost always in pools of shadows, and in his brief appearances throughout the film, you only really get to see Michael for fleeting moments that tease his presence and the impact of it. The fictional setting of Haddonfield, Illinois, is made to look like small town USA and it works quite well. From unsettling music of the “Halloween Theme” to the lighting and the well done cinematography. This film creates an atmosphere that’s both functional and stylish. Now for all the praise, about this film and the atmosphere, I do have to say that there are some things that don;t hold up well. The “Halloween Theme” for example is used, I feel, a bit too much. Of course that;s how something like that becomes as iconic and well known as it is but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a good thing for the film. It kind of gets repetitive as every time the music plays, you know to be on edge. Now one could debate for themselves whether or not it’s entirely a bad thing. One point of view could say it gets to predictable, but another could also say that whether or not your fear is paid off, the purpose of the music IS to put you on edge, and that’s exactly what it does. So it;s really up to your own personal debate on that one.
Now a note on the characters. Jamie Lee Curtis’s character kind of bothers me. Only because I have a problem believing that she’s in high school. But that’s just my own nit picking. Dr. Loomis, portrayed by Donald Pleasence, is to a lot of people the strongest character in the franchise. Mostly because he’s the only one who returns for the majority of the sequels. Now, I won’t really talk much about them until later, it is worth noting that his character in this film is as interesting stark difference to the others. His dialogue is always dooming, and he comes across as if he really knows something the other characters don’t. And that is absolutely perfect. His character actually DOES know things the other characters don’t. He understand what Michael Myers is doing and he alone fathoms the depths of the situation that the other characters and he himself face. He has a very powerful monologue about evil in the film that is just great. He really stands out in the cast and his subtle nuances in his acting and expressions are wonderful. They really deepen his character without actually having to do much.
This film is paced much differently than how a horror film today would be paced. Usually in Horror films, you find that the first act sets up the situations and introduces the characters. Then the second act comes along and we start to see a few of the situations play out, and inevitably there are usually a number of characters killed. Afterword we are faced with act three, the final act and the one that brings home the climax of the feature. It resolves the conflict, the antagonist is defeated (usually) and we are treated to the end of the film. This movie, does none of that. The first act introduces the antagonist first, then the rest of the characters. It then builds up the anticipation with the second act, for now we see that our killer has been stalking Lauri Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) all day. Its slow paced, with a lot preparation and build up. So when things finally to happen and people get killed, we’ve had all this precursor scenes of waiting. And when the final chase scene occurs, and the paths of Michael, Loomis and Lauri meet, it feels gratifying and what happens feels as if there is a lot at stake. The first kill in this movie (apart from the opening which doesn’t count) isn’t happen until over 40 minutes in. And it’s not exactly what you’d expect. I don’t think that a lot of modern film goers can really appreciate slow pacing and good build up. Horror movies today tend to cut to the chase very early and begin to kill off the characters in well lit and bloody sequences that do nothing than to celebrate the gore that’s on screen. As I said this movie is much more subtle and the build up brings an anticipation that I just really love.
Another thing to mention is the lack of blood in this movie. There is very little of it, especially when compared to movies today. Now as much as I just went on about how much I enjoy pacing and story telling over mindless gore (and believe me I do enjoy mindless gore) there is something to be said for plain realism. But of course, there’s two sides to every argument, and one could say that the Merritt of this film is the powerful atmosphere and brilliant pacing that make the kills satisfying. Me, I think there is some truth to both of them. The kills don’t NEED a lot of blood and gore to be satisfying, but at the same time, a little wouldn’t hurt.
Now the last thing I really want to talk about, is the final chase scene. The whole film built up this unease and sense of danger with the atmosphere I mentioned about 1,000,000,000 times (that’s a Billion if you don’t know). You’ve been waiting for the confrontation between The Shape and Lauri. You kind of can’t wait for it to happen. We know something’s about to go down, and with a really well done reveal, our chase is on the way. We get good shots of our killers handy work, and then one of the greatest shock scares in film history. The build up is superb. It takes all those praise worthy things, the lighting, the musical cues, the wonderful cinematography, and just puts them all together with the action that we didn’t get until late in the second act. To me it;s the highlight of the film and a stand out scene in horror history. And of course there’s the ending. Now after 35 years and 8 direct sequels, I;m going to assume that if you;re reading this that you know what happens. But I’m still not going to spoil it if you haven’t. I will say though that this movie really doesn’t stick to the pacing conventions even at the end. So that’s pretty much what there is to say about Halloween, at least for me. I didn’t want to fill it full of information about the movie from a technical stand point. But at the same time I didn’t want to dissect it frame by frame because so many people have seen it by now. For me it was a hard film to review without doing so. But I think I’ve talked about some of the key things that movie does bring to the table. As I said, this movie IS iconic, and definitely deserves the recognition that it gets. Personally I love Halloween and make it a point to watch it every year around the holiday it is named for. It’s a tradition for me. But at the same time I can understand how some people wouldn’t have the same reactions to it today as they would have back then. I actually didn’t see Halloween until my senior year in high school. It was the featured October movie for my Elements of Film class. That’s really where I fell in love with this movie, and I was surprised to see the reactions of the students that were also in the class to what they were watching. You got the usual “Oh my god, how could you not see him?” and similar jeers, but when the movie kicked into gear and the suspense really hit home, those same kids were on the edge of their chairs watching with full attention, gasping and screaming along with Jamie Lee. I think that is a good representation of how well this movie holds up today. These were 17 and 18 year old’s who were used to the blood and guts action adventure films of today. Yet they were still scared at this independent horror film from the late 70’s. That’s why this film is good to me.
Now a quick word about the franchise itself. Halloween became successful and so of course, they did a sequel. Part 2 killed of Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis and ended the story there. Then Halloween 3: Season of the Witch came out and became the most hated installment of the series. Halloween 3 started a new story about an evil corporate cult and had nothing to do with the original 2 films. So hence it was rejected by the fans who expected to see Michael Myers back. Now in defense of the third movie, the series was to be taken to an anthology format, with a different Halloween themed story every year or so. But that never happened. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, was just that. A return for Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis as well. It also marks the series 10 year anniversary, as well as being the beginning of the “Thorn Trilogy” that included Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers and Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. Now to most fans parts 4,5, and 6 started the steady decline of these film in quality and the storyline just got ridiculous, especially part 6. I might get to reviewing that one down the road. Halloween would rest for a bit until the release of Halloween H20, which brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to the franchise. It was the 20th anniversary film and basically erased parts 4-6 from continuity. It had a fitting conclusion and in my opinion is where the series should have ended. Then of course, they had to spoil it with Halloween: Resurrection. Personalty I hate that film like Sylvester Stallone hates Rocky 5. It;s just terrible so I wont talk much about it. Then years later we got the remake by Rob Zombie. The 2007 version of Halloween was of course different than the original, but comfortably so. We get more back story into Michael Myers past and see him more as a child. The sequel, Halloween 2, was a little too different. It became weirder and adopted a bit too much of Rob Zombies style, kind of like Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). If you want to learn more about the Halloween franchise than I definitely suggest you check out Cinemassacre.com. Every year James Rolfe, knows better as the Angry Video Game Nerd, reviews horror movies for the entire month of October. Its a feature called Monster Madness. For 2011 he did Sequel-a-thon, a whole month of nothing but horror sequels. He did the Frankenstein series, the Hammer Dracula films, Nightmare on Elm Street and ended with the Halloween movies. So check it out if you want to get some more knowledge of films and film history.
So in conclusion, Halloween is a must see for horror and film fans. It’s definitely worth a watch and now that one can get it on DVD for cheap (my copy only cost $5), I highly recommend picking it up. For its masterful atmosphere and pacing to its iconic killer and theme music, you just can;t go wrong with Halloween.
Final Score: 84
Better Than – Texas Chainsaw Massacre
About the Same as – Friday the 13th
Not as Good as – Nightmare on Elm Street
- And Here It Is, Halloween (1978) – Film Review (thatfighterguy.wordpress.com)