Dir.: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie-Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles and Nancy Kyes
Praised and reviled. Loved and loathed. A product of its time and an informant of the future to come. There is no end to what you will see of the film that placed John Carpenter on the map as a director to be reckoned with. Despite being minuscule in budget and intimate of scope, Halloween is an immortal and universal tale of the intangible forces of malevolence which lurks beyond the caring, paternal hands of light, one we pretend does not frighten us, yet underneath our bravado all of us fear its expansive reach. Unlike with say Escape From New York and They Live, Carpenter and his collaborators just wanted to make a horror movie with no direct aim of political or sociological agenda but it has turned into something academic, almost scientific, where almost every film class in educational institutions around the planet will dissect the themes of the film and its dramatic effect on the world of cinema and those who watch it. Halloween was certainly not the first of its ilk, nor will it ever be the last, but it is considered a worthy milestone in a genre that is otherwise shunned by the narrow-minded.
However, I do not share the common opinion that Halloween is a ‘slasher’. There is a body count, but to me, slashers focus more on the carnage and sensationalism rather than the build up of suspense and the sensation of anticipation plus there is far more emphasis on the viscera than the harrowing emotional response to being stalked by something greater than you could imagine. It is a horror movie that does not rely on eliciting a sense of repulsion or perverse titillation, but one of genuine fear that comes from the recesses of the mind rather than the sanguinated edge of a blade.
Some of Halloweens’ longevity and significance derive from its upfront psychology- violation of personal safety, being pursued by a force that wants to extinguish your life without any rhyme or reason other than personal satisfaction. What runs underneath and parallel to those points are just as insidious, namely the notion that your worst fear can be found not abroad, but in your own country. Similar to Tobe Hoopers’ The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made four years earlier, Halloween displays a trauma infinitely more significant by targeting a personal arena where we all thought we were safe- our own homes.
Additionally, like the tale of Leatherface menacing the hapless teens in the stomping grounds of Ed Gein, Halloween, despite showing implied acts of violence is not actually gory in the slightest. Save for several errant flecks of blood, this movie about a serial killer does not fetishize or focus on the result, but on the tension that leads up that fatal moment. Halloween doesn’t want you to side with the killer the way you would with Jason Voorhees stalking the next bunch of libidinous adolescents, Laurie Strode, her friends and the ever-vigilant Guardian Against Evil Doctor Samuel Loomis are essentially regular people who are just living their lives. To Laurie, Annie Brackett and Lynda van der Klok, October 31st is just supposed to be a night of fun, be it hanging out with each other, smoking up, baby-sitting and having romantic interludes with their boyfriends. None of them ever consider that this night will be their last because the way they see it, their lives are only just starting to bloom. While Laurie herself is a young woman who practices independence, prudence and responsibility a little more than her friends, she nonetheless is not ready when her life is torn to shreds.
Halloween stabs at your insecurity and continues to twist all the way into your very being, turning your warm and comfortable sanctuary into a dark, twisted sanitorium where there is no chance of escape and all you can hear is the breath of Michael Myers breathing down your neck.