John Carpenter’s 1978 horror film Halloween has often been cited as the first major slasher film, and while that’s not exactly the case (Black Christmas, anyone?), it is a seminal entry to the subgenre, establishing many conventions and centering the film around the murderous antagonist Michael Myers.
We meet the little psychopath in the very first shot, a long and continuous steadicam shot from the 6 year old Michael’s point of view as he dons a clown mask and stabs his sister to death. 15 years late, he escapes from a mental asylum to the chagrin of his caretaker Dr. Loomis, and heads back to his hometown to wreak some holiday-themed mayhem.
Compared to some of the horror icons that would follow in his footsteps, Mr. Myers is a subdued individual. He gets his spooks in by standing partially obstructed behind things and staring menacingly at his prey. Loomis and others refer to Michael variously as the incarnation of evil and the Boogieman himself, and parts of the film – like his resistance to physical harm and his heavy breathing over the final assembly of location shots – do suggest that he’s some kind of purely malicious otherworldy force.
Yet in other scenes, Myers seems pretty human after all, occasionally displaying a dark sense of humor (disguising himself as a bespectacled ghost) or inquisitive simplemindedness (cocking his head at Bob’s pinned-up corpse). He drives a car and scopes the hell out of his victims before attempting any sort of assault. And in the final sequence with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), he’s downright inept on multiple occasions. These beguiling moments seem out of place for a horror legend, but that’s partially a result of the film’s 30+ years age and the evolution that Michael’s undergone through the countless sequels and other media appearances.
Unlike many of the derivative slashers that came later (including this film’s sequels), Halloween doesn’t have a large cast of one-note characters who only serve to inflate the body count. Michael Myers’ playing field is much smaller, focusing on a single street and group of friends. The characters still don’t get that much development (saying “totally” repeatedly isn’t development, it’s a trait), but the narrower focus is rewarding in the drawn-out kill scenes that feature Myers strangling his victims before slashing them to death with the most basic of cinematic murder weapons, the butcher knife.
The movie is undeniably slow-paced, and it often replays the same hand over and over again. The film’s build-up consists almost entirely of Michael appearing from behind things with an accompanying blast of synthesizers before disappearing behind them an instant later. Director John Carpenter also composed the music, and while the theme song has rightfully gone down in the annals of horror history for striking the perfect pitches of terror, he repeats the same two musical numbers over and over again, relying on them for too long. Still, this focus on slow-building terror is another thing that sets Carpenter’s film apart from the more gore-centered imitations that would follow.
Halloween is starting to show its age, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is the quintessential slasher film. Stupid teens having sex, getting killed by masked murderers slowly walking after their victims (who senselessly run upstairs) – this is a textbook example of the slasher horror film. It may have lost its edge, but it’s still THE slasher film, and is worth seeing for that fact alone.
Final rating: 7/10
–James A. Janisse
- Did not remember that Blue Oyster Cult was in that driving scene.
This entry was posted on October 8, 2012 by James A. Janisse. It was filed under 7 - 7.5, Genre, Horror, Ratings and was tagged with brian andrews, charles bornstein, charles cyphers, dean cundey, debra hill, donald pleasence, halloween, irwin yablans, jamie lee curtis, john carpenter, kool lusby, kyle richards, moustapha akkad, nancy kyles, nancy loomis, nick castle, p.j. soles, sandy johnson, tommy lee wallace.