I consider myself relatively new to horror films, having only recently developed the fortitude to sit through them. I am not an aficionado, but I am finding enjoyment in a good scare. So this Halloween, I decided to go back to one of the classics that brought the fledgling slasher sub-genre, to the average Joe…like myself.
Halloween is set on the night of the titular holiday, in the sleepy (fictional) town of Haddenfield, Illinois. As a young boy, Michael Myers murders his older sister and is committed to a mental hospital. 15 years later, he escapes and returns home to stalk a group of teenage girls who are babysitting that night. Dr. Loomis, his assigned physician, tries to track down Myers before he can commit a string of deadly murders. By today’s standards, the plot is familiar and you can predict who will bite the dust and who will survive. But bear in mind that Halloween was one of the first films to usher in what are now deemed as horror clichés, such as the “boogeyman” and the final girl. We wouldn’t have a lot of the horror we have today without the pioneering work of John Carpenter on this film.
One of the things I found most interesting about Halloween is its portrayal of the killer. In the first scene, we see the murder of Judith by a young Michael, but we see it from his perspective. This forces a sense of immersion as we are made to witness the grisly act and the expression of terror on the victims face – you participate whether you like it or not in Halloween. A lot of the build up is done in broad daylight, leading up to the events of the night to come, and it is here where Halloween surprisingly creates a state of tension and uneasiness. We, along with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) catch small glimpses of the faceless mask of Myers around town, watching her from a distance. The sense of foreboding builds even though we have seen the “boogeyman” – his presence alone has an air of inevitability. Perhaps it is the very fact that we see the killer in daylight. He is unafraid, still, and silent. He just watches, and it really creeps you out.
The film was made on a shoestring budget and this frugality is reflected, to the movie’s benefit, in many ways throughout. The cast is small, and mainly consists of teenagers and children. Adults and figures of authority are mysteriously absent, providing no safety net for the babysitters and seemingly stacking the odds in the favour of Myers. The desperation this provides only increases the tension. Halloween, while being a slasher horror, forgoes lots of blood and gore leaving much to the imagination with superb lighting that makes you doubt every shadow and plead with the main characters to turn some lights on. It also makes it doubly terrifying when the pale shape of the killer’s mask emerges from the darkness.Then there is the bone-chillingly minimalist theme (also composed by Carpenter) that accompanies the appearance of Myers on numerous occasions. The primary tune is played using only a few notes on a piano and is downright unsettling. Just have a listen to the opening credits:
Halloween had me on edge for most of its runtime. It got at my nerves and managed to scare me quite a bit, and I enjoyed that. Critics have since analysed many themes present in the film, and if you delve deeper into articles, you can see how it undeniably had a great influence on horror in the years afterwards. It’s John Carpenter who we have to thank for that; his deft directing skills make Halloween a fantastic horror film – a suburban slasher for the masses that still stands up today.