By Jake Heethuis
With August 28th, and the release of Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2, quickly approaching, I figured 1978’s Halloween deserved a quick revisiting.
With Halloween, John Carpenter ushered in a brand new generation of Horror. It would be damn near impossible to count the films, throughout the 80s and 90s, that found inspiration in John’s little film that could. Everything from Friday the 13th (1980) to Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996) have tried to capture that magic in a bottle again. While several have succeeded, it’s important to pay tribute to the omega that got the ball rolling.
Carpenter is, of course, the director of such film classics as Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, remake in 2005), The Fog (1980, remade in 2005), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982, a remake itself), and Christine (1983). Though many of his films have done stellar at the box office, Halloween has always been considered his masterpiece. No surprise considering that it’s spawned nine sequels, this August’s H2 being the latest, and is still considered one of the most successful independent films of all time. It’s box office gross topped $55 million, which equals around $176 million by today’s standards. Numbers like that were astonishing back then for an indie film. Carpenter’s taboo shattering spring board certainly deserves a second look.
Halloween opens with a POV shot, one of the most copied in film history, that thrusts us into the shoes of a stalker. We’re forced to endure the terror as six year old Michael Myers murders his seventeen year old sister, Judith, on Halloween night, 1963. Devastated, his parents ship him to Smith’s Grove – Warren County Sanitarium where he is put under the treatment of Dr. Samuel Loomis, played to perfection by the late Donald Pleasence.
Here, the film skips ahead fifteen years, where it’s made abundantly clear that Loomis has long given up on helping his patient when he says “I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… Evil.” It’s interesting to note the actual events endured by Myers inside Smith’s Grove were, remarkably, left untouched until Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake.
Myers, now 21 years of age, escapes from the sanitarium and embarks on a murderous trip back home, to the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois. By now, the town has finally put the tragic events behind them, after fifteen long years. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis has convinced himself that Michael is heading to Haddonfield to finish what he has started, but can’t seem to convince anybody else… until discovering a dead motorist on a direct route. Upon reaching Haddonfield, Loomis enlists the help of local Sheriff, Leigh Brackett. The two men search the town for Myers, starting with his childhood home. There, they discover the half eaten remains of a neighborhood dog. Loomis stakes out the house, sure that Myers will return before beginning his night of carnage. How wrong…
Myers has actually been following a group of teenage girls since school was dismissed. We’re introduced to Laurie, Annie and Lynda. Laurie, played famously by Jamie Lee Curtis, is the strait laced virginal character, now notorious in horror films… While Annie and Lynda are your stereotypical party girls who walk on the wild side. It’s revealed that Annie and Laurie are supposed to baby sit on Halloween night and because the children’s houses are just across the street from each other, they should do it together. Lynda and her boyfriend will tag along as well.
Because of Myers’ obsession with these babysitters, the project was originally called The Babysitter Murders. The producers were so convinced that Halloween had to have been used in a film title before. To their amazement, not only had there never been a feature film called Halloween, but the word “Halloween” had never even been used in a title.
Laurie happens to spot Myers, called “The Shape” in the script, several times throughout the day. Initially worried, her friends and family convince her that it’s most likely just a Halloween prank. She spots him outside her classroom window, on her walk home from school and again outside her bedroom window. As night draws near, Laurie goes to babysit young Tommy Doyle. This is where the film really takes off. Laurie and her friends don’t know it yet, but they are in for a bloody good night as Myers plans on leaving body after body in his wake, while donning the scariest mask in slasher history… actually a modified William Shatner mask from his Star Trek days. Can they survive Myers’ growing vengeance, will Brackett get his man, or will Loomis save the day?
While the word “spoiler” may not apply to films over thirty years old, but I refuse to ruin the ending. Reading above, the plot may seem lame, unoriginal and retold far too often, but just take into account that this was the first. Carpenter didn’t need blood and guts to tell a horrific tale of terror. He uses lighting, mood, suggestion and imagination to capture a nightmare on celluloid.
In 2006, Halloween was inducted into the Nation Film Registry, a preservation project started in the late eighties. It ensures that future generations get to experience the greatest that American cinema has to offer.
While the series has it’s low points, namely Halloween 3: Season of the Witch and Rob Zombie’s Halloween, the original will always remain a true classic, the peak of American horror and this reviewer’s absolute favorite. Everybody should own this one, you’ll want to study it over and over and over again.
About the Author: This is Jake’s third article for Elder-Geek.com.
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Director: John Carpenter
Presented by: Compass International
MPAA Rating: R
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Release Date: October 25, 1978