For the final day of my week-long Halloween-inspired horror film review-a-thon, I’m writing about that great classic of horror films—John Carpenter’s Halloween. I’m sure most of you have seen it (perhaps even all, since you’re all reading this because, presumably, you like horror movies), and I admit that this film is different from the others I’ve reviewed this week in that this is probably the third time I’ve watched it. The others were initial reactions from the first viewing. That fact colors the scope of this review, but let’s jump in anyway.
The film was made in 1978, and there are plenty of aspects that show its age (besides, you know, wardrobe and general lighting and all that). The dialogue can get pretty silly, the actions of the characters sometimes make no sense and seem so clichéd to our modern eyes, the villain seems to be omnipresent in a way that defies time and space, etc. But even after all that, the movie is iconic. The white William Shatner mask of Michael Myers has struck fear into the hearts of moviegoers for decades. When viewed with the proper timeframe in mind, the film is wonderful. But I’m not here to talk about how iconic Halloween is. I’m not even going to talk about how despite its sexuality and violence, the film is actually quite conservative in its message (since Myers seems to target high schoolers who are sexually active—and even Jamie Lee Curtis’ character isn’t a victim of violence until after the scene with Annie in which she reveals that she has a crush on a boy and therefore “thinks about those kinds of things” after all).
What I want to say is that this film holds up. It still has weight to it. There are real scares and creepiness and terror despite the fact that we all know about Michael Myers and we’ve all watched the film several times. In particular, the ghost scene. Just after Bob and Lynda have had sex, Bob goes for beer and ends up getting killed by Myers. And then: Myers stands in the doorway, a white sheet draped over his head like a ghost. Placed over the sheet are glasses pried from Bob’s cooling body downstairs. The scene drags on, with Lynda getting slowly pissed that “Bob” isn’t responding to her, doesn’t answer her when she pulls her sheet below her breasts and asks if he likes what he sees. The tension is slowly, expertly increased as the scene progresses—and it culminates in the moments just before Lynda’s death, when she turns to use the phone and, behind her but still captured by the camera, the shuffling Myers-ghost begins to amble toward her. I knew it was coming. I’d seen it before. And yet suddenly my heart was pounding and the only thing that kept me from shouting at Lynda to turn around was that I remembered my children were already asleep. It’s an excellent scene that epitomizes the slow build-up of tension that Carpenter weaved through the film (and it’s no secret that this style of horror is my favorite).
The other scene that captures an essential element of John Carpenter’s mastery of his craft is the final scene. Michael Myers has just been stabbed multiple times, shot about six times, and fallen from the second story of a rather large house. But when his psychiatrist looks down from the balcony, Myers’ body is gone. Aside from the trademark music, the viewer hears quiet but heavy breathing—as if a man is breathing through a mask. The noise crescendos as the camera zooms out, first to the house, then to other houses, then to the neighborhood itself. We realize, the viewers, that the apparently “silly” omnipresence of Michael Myers throughout the film is being toyed with here by the director. Myers is omnipresent. Because now he’s gone—we don’t know where he is. HE COULD BE ANYWHERE. It’s terrifying, sure. But what I like about that scene is that is shows Carpenter’s propensity to be artsy. (Another example could be the opening sequence that ends with a young Myers flanked by his parents as he holds the knife with which he has just murdered his own sister—specifically the fact that the actors all just freeze as the camera pans out. It’s unrealistic but artsy and purposeful). The thing about Carpenter, though, is that I never get a sense of pretentiousness from his films. In other hands, these artistic flairs could be seen as attention-grabs. But with Carpenter you just get a sense that he’s telling a story that he wants to tell, that he loves telling. It’s that love that comes through the screen, even in a horror film like Halloween.
Alright. This one has gone on quite long enough. If you’ve never seen John Carpenter’s Halloween, go see it. I’ve spoiled it by this point, surely, but c’mon. The thing came out in ’78. It’s your own fault.
I’m excited to announce that I bought the collection of Halloween films, so I’m going to watch all of them (culminating in the second of Rob Zombie’s reboots). Those reviews will come out as I watch the movies, but they won’t be daily like the past week.
Follow me on Letterboxd to see what I’m watching. I’ll be updating my profile with all these films and their ratings shortly.