Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, John Michael Graham, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, Nick Castle
There’s this fellow named Michael Myers with the blackest eyes…the Devil’s eyes…oh, come on, you know this story surely? OK, moving on then…
It’s always difficult to go back to the beginning of a long-running franchise and evaluate the original film with any degree of objectivity. We’re often led to interpret it through the lens of everything that followed, and that makes writing an honest appraisal of a movie like HALLOWEEN so difficult. The fact that it’s universally and rightly hailed as a modern horror masterpiece and a watershed moment in independent cinema does nothing to ease the pressure.
Perhaps the most important thing to note in watching HALLOWEEN all these years later is just how little the movie provides in the way of an explanation for the sheer terror we’re witnessing. At this point we don’t know Michael is Laurie’s brother; we certainly have no inkling of the insane Thorn cult connection that would be grafted on a decade later; in fact, until the final moments of the film, there’s no real evidence to suggest that the Shape is at all supernatural, inhuman, or immortal. He’s just a cold, methodical killer driven by an unknown psychological impulse to murder babysitters and anyone else who gets in his way. Why did he crack that night in 1963? Why did he kill his sister? Why did he wait fifteen years and then escape to cause more mayhem? There is no explanation, no reason – and that is why we still find HALLOWEEN so scary nearly forty years after its release.
There is no explanation, no reason – and that is why we still find HALLOWEEN so scary nearly forty years after its release.
Most readers probably know the various bits of the legend, from the launching of Jamie Lee Curtis’ career as a Scream Queen, to the brilliant choice of a pasty white William Shatner mask for the killer’s emotionless face, to the inclusion of famed character actor Donald Pleasence as the somber voice of doom and relentless pursuer of his one-time patient. Haddonfield comes alive in this movie as well; its leaf-lined streets and party-minded high schoolers feel real, genuine, not at all ‘Hollywood’ choices in casting or performance. And when the murders begin – for the most part bloodlessly and with more suspense than gore – they shock and sicken because of the normality of the community we’ve come to know. Haddonfield invites us by its very warmth and reality to come home with Michael and watch this nightmarish reign of terror descend on that familiar middle-American town again and again.
There’s also no denying the incredible power behind John Carpenter’s unmatched musical score. Most fans know the story about the advance screenings that omitted the music and fell flat with audiences before the score was completed, turning a run-of-the-mill indie suspense film into a box office juggernaut as unstoppable as Michael Myers himself. The title theme and related leitmotifs are burned into the brains of generations of horror fans, and are as elemental in their effect on our psyche as Bernard Herrmann’s legendary PSYCHO score.
For fans, it’s worth seeking out the television edit of the film at least once to see the extra footage shot during the production of HALLOWEEN II for TV airings of the original. While they slow down the pace a little, they add a few very exciting bits for Loomis and Myers continuity fans – just fast-forward through the useless “P.J. Soles borrows clothes from Laurie” scene.
Its power is in a direct attack on our senses; in this way the Shape calmly stepped forward and advanced on us with unwavering determination.
Michael Myers quickly took his place in the pantheon of undying slasher stars, but we all know that his subsequent appearances never lived up to the power and promise of this first great film. As soon as the story moved forward, we demanded to know why he killed and what he truly was. And just like comedy, true horror can never be explained. Its power is in a direct attack on our senses; in this way the Shape calmly stepped forward and advanced on us with unwavering determination. Michael Myers is the embodiment of pure evil, and evil knows no reason…nor does it need one.
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