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Halloween

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Halloween
 
John Carpenter I 1978 I USA
 
 

When nightmare master John Carpenter made Halloween, his second feature film, back in 1978, he certainly never imagined that it would become one of the most influential films of all time. With a minimal budget (300,000 dollars it was), an unknown cast, a very short shooting schedule, but with abundant talent and enthusiasm, John Carpenter totally revolutionized the horror genre and turned his very own and personal invention into a praised cult object. He proved that with very little money and lots of confidence, great things could be done.

Apart from becoming the most successful independent film of that decade, it was the film that influenced and inspired many directors to create their own horror movies and just follow the trend. Halloween was the one, the only, the classic that started it all; movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday 13th, Child's Play and Scream simply followed the concept which this film suggested and went on to become successful horror franchises in their own right. It even spawned seven sequels (an eighth one may be on the works), but lamentably they were all clearly inferior and failed to be as good as the original.  Halloween is a movie that has been endlessly copied, ripped off, done homage to, cited, quoted, referenced and imitated in such a way that it's become unbearable. Every musical note, every theme, every plot point, every rule the movies set and every scare it's given has since then been seen somehow, someway, somewhere. Scenes that are seen in the film may remind viewers of scenes they may have seen in more modern horror films, and it is because of this evidence that all the things Halloween showed have now been turned into a cliché, which definitely proves that it has been very influential. 

To sum it all up, what Halloween did was to build its own sand castle; and from then on all its shameless successors and imitators merely had to do was to provide their own small amounts of sand. 

The film commences on Halloween night with 6-year-old Michael Meyers brutally murdering his elder sister with a kitchen knife and his parents finding out. As a result, he's then sent to an institution for the criminally insane where hopefully he will recover. Some years later, when Michael has grown into an adult he escapes from the institution and drives to the small town of Haddonfield. There, he begins stalking a group of three babysitters, and the first one to see him is Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis in her first major role), who thinks she's hallucinating. Meanwhile, doctor Sam Loomis (note the subtle homage to Hitchcock's Psycho), who has been studying Michael as a patient for years, goes on a search determined to find him whilst inevitably the killing spree begins. 

The thing that makes Halloween so special, the mere thing that makes it so immortal is its ability to scare the living hell out of its audience. What it skillfully does is malevolently play with our doubts and fears, and that's a quality that makes it so much more real and frustrating, since it's something that we know of. John Carpenter uses the theme of horror as a means of communication; horror is something we all feel and are constantly aware of, which is precisely what makes it universal. Therefore, the same thing affects us all, when we see the murderer approaching the victim, we let out a wail of terror, when the door suddenly creaks open, we scream, and since he's conscientious of all of it, Carpenter doesn't let moments like these escape out of his hand. Halloween also uses old themes such as the interminable eternity of evil or the murderer on the run and includes them in the story to make it even more interesting to great effect.

It isn't until the third act of the film that the director shows the murderer fully exposed, and by doing this, he masterfully builds a fine web of suspense before we see him, gradually creating an unsettling atmosphere for both the main characters in the movie and for us, the audience. Prior to this moment of the film, when we see Meyers we always see him hidden behind something, and his white mask, for instance, is never shown in a close-up until the already mentioned moment occurs. This proves to be extremely effective because we, just like the main characters, are kept wondering what he looks like and what his actions will be next. For most of the movie, Carpenter works on the building of the tension, but not on the release of it. Many times we observe Meyers following people from his point of view, while they're no even aware that it's happening. We hear him breathing under his mask, we follow his every movement, and we feel his presence, yet it's hard to determine who he really is. Throughout the movie the tension is astoundingly kept, which is what makes the appearance of the murderer or a killing even more terrifying.

As for the movie itself, it's excellent. The acting, thought slightly amateurish, is convincing and adequate for a movie like this. Jamie Lee Curtis delivers a strong performance as the ever-doubting Laurie and, just so you know, she started to be known as the Scream Queen by horror geeks as she later appeared in lesser horror efforts such as Prom Night or Terror Train from then on. Donald Pleasance, however, is top notch. The characters are all well developed to a point that we know what their concerns are and when they get killed we do actually mind, (well sort of, anyway). One of the things that most struck me when I saw the movie for then first time was the eerie score, which was composed and conducted by Carpenter himself. Suiting the mood of the film perfectly, it gives the film a very uneasy atmosphere, and for a horror film that's just what you need. The pace is slow and delicate, even for a horror film, but this is not a weakness whatsoever, as it makes the anticipation for something to happen very overwhelming. Every night shot has a blue tone to it, which is one of the most startling things about Dean Cundey's great cinematography. Also, the use of the point of view shot is used to unbelievable effect here, as we can see the murderers intentions from right behind his mask. The lack of blood and gore is one of the most vital things in the film. By not making abusive use of it, Carpenter however tries to work on complex scares that put the audience on the edge of their seats instead of using disturbing images for simple shock effect. It is surprisingly bloodless, and that's why it concentrates more on the story than on the gore to great effect. Halloween is a stylistic, extremely well crafted and genuinely terrifying film.

At the end of the day, Halloween works on two levels. One, it is one of the most effective and horrifying films ever made. Two, it was a film that did so many things for the horror genre that if it hadn't been released, horror films wouldn't be the same now. Overall, Carpenter created one of the scariest and most spine-tingling films that has managed to pass the test of time, a film for the ages that is essential viewing for any horror buff.  And isn't that what we watch movies for? To excite us, to shock us, to make us laugh, to scare us? If that's the case, let me just say that this picture does it -- and sublimely.

[92]

Reviewed by Pablo Hernandez, 2003