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Halloween (1978) Movie Review

Evil has awoken in the small town of Haddonfield. As Michael Myers returns, to pick off teenagers one by one, a lone babysitter needs to face her fears to survive!

Genre: Horror / Thriller

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Loomis, PJ Soles, Charles Cyphers, John Michael Graham, Brian Andrews, Kyle Richards, Nick Castle & Will Sandin.

Run Time: 91 min.

US Release: 27 October 1978

UK Release: 25 January 1979

German Release: 06 July 1979


Welcome to my Halloween Special Reviews, this year obtaining a double meaning, as I am reviewing a few Halloween flicks in time for this year's new Halloween release! John Carpenter’s 1978 original, is the godfather of slashers and one of the greatest, as well as the most influential horror film in the history of cinema. It inspired the creation of movies such as Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchise, plus it haunted my dreams for years! It is not only a staple of independent filmmaking but also one of my favourites to revisit during the spooky season.


— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —


After having been institutionalized for 15 years, for the murder of his sister Judith Myers on Halloween night, Michael breaks out on the night before Halloween. No one knows, nor is interested to find out, what will happen on October 31st 1978, besides Myers' psychiatrist - Dr. Loomis. He knows Michael is going back to Haddonfield, but by the time the town realises it, it'll be too late for a bunch of promiscuous teenagers.

After the release of his second feature Assault on Precinct 13, which garnered mixed reviews from critics at the time, Carpenter was approached by financiers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad to direct a horror flick about a killer, stalking babysitters. Having full creative control over the project, Carpenter, together with his then-girlfriend / producer Debra Hill, began drafting a script, inspired by the Celtic beliefs of Samhain wherein it is said that; on the night of what is now known as Halloween, evil can’t be killed.


With the final script ready after three weeks of writing, the story revolved around a young boy taken hold of by evil itself, institutionalised in a psychiatric clinic for 15, after having killed his sister and escaping back to the town he grew up in, to commemorate his first kill by stalking a couple of teenagers with the intent of ending their life. It is also mentioned several times that Michael Myers is evil itself personified, just like the ending underlining the Samhain belief that the unholy can’t be killed during that night, which added to the terror.


Many details in the screenplay were taken from the director, as well as Hill’s own background experience. The town of Haddonfield was named after Debra’s small hometown where she was raised, while the street names had been taken from Carpenter’s hometown. The plot was also responsible for establishing future horror tropes, such as promiscuous and easy-going teenagers being the first to die by the villains.


A simple premise that was masterfully written plus executed, Halloween was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's flicks and handled just like one of his productions. With non-stop winding tension, suspenseful scares, as well as a slow foreboding narrative, it is one of the best horror pictures ever produced!


The dialogue was split up between the director and producer. Debra Hill, having had experience in babysitting during her teenage years, focused on writing credible conversations for the female characters, while the master of horror focused on Dr. Loomis his lines.

Granted the acting is not perfect. Nancy Kyes plus P.J. Soles lay it on a little too thick at times. Interesting enough, it never bothered me… in fact, it added to the entertainment.


Jamie Lee Curtis was actually not the first choice to play Laurie Strode, the well-behaved heroine in the narrative. Carpenter had actress Anne Lockhart in mind, who could not join the cast, due to other commitments. Hill, on the other hand, when learning who Curtis was, knew immediately that they found their lead actress. Jami Lee Curtis gave a good performance, selling the horror her character goes through, while simultaneously cementing her legacy as the “Scream Queen”.


Donald Pleasence is marvellous as Doctor Loomis, easily giving the best performance of the entire cast! His desperation in trying to find Michael, to lock him up again before anything serious happens, is easily felt by the audience. His casting also gave the movie gravitas, and his role the necessary credibility. Loomis himself is a smart plus driven psychiatrist, whose name paid homage to the character of Sam Loomis, in Hitchcock’s Psycho.


Michael Myers or better known as The Shape was played by several people, most prominent Nick Castle, who is a friend of Carpenter. Castle had no lines, he just needed to appear in frame, stalking Curtis and he did a fantastic job at that! His physic is terrifying, while the slow motions Myers does are haunting. Tony Moran was used as Myers, in a short take, in which the mask was ripped off the killers face.

This is the movie where John Carpenter’s genius shined through, adding camera compositions that focused on objects in the foreground, while out-of-focus movement in the background added to the fright level, suggesting that bad things were about to happen. The surprising lack of blood benefited this feature, while much of the violence was more sombre compared to modern slashers. It all made for an eerie, uncomfortable atmosphere. In addition, the director decided to leave the killer out of frame, until he put on the infamous mask, never revealing his face. This added to the mystery of Michael.


Given the tight budget, the team on set were restricted from using any fancy effects. This, however, led to imaginative trickery being employed. The usage of light and shadow created some of the most suspenseful scenes. The mask used to cover The Shape’s face, was originally a William Shatner Star Trek mask, though painted white and with the eyes widened it became what Loomis describes Myer’s like; evil incarnate, with the blackest eyes!


The iconic piano melody, played in a 10/8th-time signature, was composed by director John Carpenter himself. The melody is among one of the most recognised horror themes worldwide, adding a creepy stalkerish atmosphere to the whole picture. It took Carpenter three days to write and record the complete soundtrack.

 

Verdict: John Carpenter’s classic not only invented the sub-genre of slasher, but it inspired a whole generation of directors. Without Halloween, we would have never gotten horror gems like A Nightmare on Elm Street or the Scream saga. Apart from this being the ultimate choice for a spooky Halloween night, the 70s slasher also focused on building tension and unease throughout the film's length. Carpenter prevented from giving audiences a full look at Michael Myers, until halfway through its runtime, once the iconic William Shatner death mask covers the face. The cinematography combined with the musical score, turns this into one of the best horror flicks, proving you don’t need millions in budget to make an appealing story. An absolute recommendation for the season, as well as a 10 out of 10!


What do you think of Carpenter’s seasonal classic? Do you agree? Thank you for reading & if you haven’t seen this one yet, make it a must this Halloween!


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