To tie in with the release of the semi reboot of the same name, John Carpenter’s original horror masterpiece gets a limited theatre run that now includes a twenty-minute interview beforehand with the man himself. It was a great pleasure to hear Carpenter’s creative choices made and the legacy of the now eleven film franchise, despite its humble origins. Moreover though, it was incredible to see a film nearly twice my age on an IMAX screen in the best quality possible.
‘Halloween’ may seem tame by today’s standards, with some campy deaths, an incredibly slow first half and a body count that would make the ‘Saw’ series scoff with derision. While the low budget enhances the atmosphere effectively, the acting is at times laughable, especially from any of the teen characters not portrayed by future star Jamie Lee Curtis. For Annie, Paul and Lynda, the writing is unfortunately generic and stereotypical.
However, despite the more poorly aged elements, ‘Halloween’ is still truly effective in its unnerving atmosphere, phenomenally tense final chase and the creation of the definitive horror boogeyman; Micheal Myers. The silent, unfeeling and un-killable murderer is made all the more chilling when he’s briefly unmasked, showing not a deformed monster or decaying zombie, but an everyman like you or I. This is further enhanced by Dr. Loomis’ (played by stand out actor, Donald Pleasance) ‘devils eyes’ speech, describing his patient as nothing less than pure evil. While further sequels and remakes would blame Myers’ murderous rampage on thorn cults or dysfunctional families, Carpenter makes it clear in his interview, that there was never any logic to his actions, making him more mysterious and terrifying.
Jamie Lee Curtis started her career as ‘scream queen’ following her performance as babysitter Laurie Strode. While her acting is much more reserved than her goofy peers, it’s still a tad over the top by today’s standards. Still, she’s enough of an engaging protagonist that we care for her survival and the tension rises as she’s chased through her cosy suburban neighbourhood. Bringing the fear to a familiar setting is yet another pioneering technique used by Carpenter to make it a relatable and terrifyingly real situation for the audience. Before ‘Halloween’, the victims came to the killer, not the other way around.
The technique of the Point of View camera, while not invented here, is perfected to build tension by putting the audience in Myers’ perspective. It’s used sparingly though and many of his kills come from the shadows. Michael’s iconic white William Shatner mask contrasts brilliantly with the blackness and often leads to us being aware of his presence before the soon to be deceased characters. The long shots of the neighbourhood, particularly highlighting the brown, dead autumn leaves, perfectly create an atmosphere of dread and death. Carpenter’s dual role as conductor here also plays an enormous role in both the frightening jump moments and the unsettling tone. The main theme is used appropriately, but the more ambient shrieks and shrills are what catch you off guard and provide the most disturbing moments.
In review, ‘Halloween’ may be slightly rough around the edges these days, but what it lacks in polish, it makes up for in a truly unsettling atmosphere, frightening score and a lead character that is more a force of nature, than a person. It isn’t a film that can be watched anywhere; without the right mood, it’ll likely fall flat. But if you can’t see it in a gloomy cinema, my advice would be to wait until Halloween night, light up a pumpkin and listen to the ambient noises of children trick or treating outside. It’ll make for the perfect environment to watch perhaps the most iconic horror movie of all time and might make you check your front door lock twice, just in case he’s out there.