Horror Movie Month! "Halloween" Review

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Horror Movie Month! "Halloween" Review

Rating: R (violence, sexual content, nudity, and strong language)
Length: 91 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 25, 1978
Directed by: John Carpenter
Genre: Horror/Thriller

In 1978, a small indie film directed by John Carpenter was quietly released in New York and Chicago. At the time, most critics dismissed it as a part of the splatter film genre, and it was doubtful that the movie would recoup its budget of $325,000. However, due in part to a review in the Village Voice, the film would later receive positive comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" and make $47 million in the United States.

Horror buffs will easily recognize the above events as the story of John Carpenter's classic thriller "Halloween." For those who are new to the horror genre, it may be difficult to believe that this horror masterpiece was initially overlooked. Even those who have never seen the film probably know the plot's setup: A six-year-old Michael Meyers kills his sister with a butcher knife on Halloween night. Fifteen years later, he escapes from a mental institution and returns to his hometown with the intent of killing again. While his doctor attempts to find him, Michael terrorizes some local babysitters and their charges while wearing a white mask.

Michael Meyers has become an icon among horror movie characters for good reason. Unlike other films, "Halloween" doesn't rely on pop psychology to explain why Michael is a monster. He has no bad childhood to blame for the initial murder; he's just a little boy who grabs a knife one night and slaughters his sibling. Another chilling aspect of John Carpenter's creation is Michael's evolution throughout the film. When he kills his sister as a child, Michael is still portrayed as a human psychopath. However, once he escapes the mental institution and puts on his mask for the second time, he is transformed into an otherworldly power. By the end of the film, Michael truly is the embodiment of evil. He's the bogeyman who slowly stalks his victims and can never be killed. In fact, six people played Michael Myers during various parts of the film, which enhances the idea that he's more than human.

The other notable character in "Halloween" is Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis). Curtis perfectly portrays the shyness and awkwardness of a teen girl. This is particularly important because the success of the movie relies, in part, in the audience's ability to identify with Laurie and the other babysitters. Realistic dialogue also helps the audience root for the characters.

Critics of "Halloween" often note that this film started the virginal heroine trend within the genre. The girls who are sidetracked from babysitting to have sex with their boyfriends meet violent ends, while the other characters survive. However, screenwriters Debra Hill and John Carpenter both claim that this theme was not purposefully written into the film.

As a director, John Carpenter is particularly skilled at creating an atmosphere of terror without needing explicit scenes of gore or violence. He knows how to carefully introduce objects into the corner of the screen or into the foreground. Even when these objects turn out to be nothing but an ambiguous dark shape, this type of filmmaking keeps the audience on its toes. The movie is about what audiences think they see, not what is actually shown. It's also a tribute to Carpenter's directing abilities that Michael's escape from the mental institution is just as terrifying as later scenes.

Carpenter also recognized the debt he owed to "Psycho" and makes several homages to Hitchcock's classic. For example, Sam Loomis, who is Michael's doctor, shares his name with Janet Leigh's boyfriend in "Pyscho." Fans of Old Hollywood will also recognize that Janet Leigh, who starred in "Psycho," was Jamie Lee Curtis's real-life mother.

Unlike Hitchcock, Carpenter didn't have the budget for a sophisticated score. He composed most of the music himself with some help from composer Dan Wyman. The themes Carpenter creates are sometimes jarring and are used skillfully to keep anxiety at a fever pitch. Although the music is simplistic, it's also highly recognizable. The main title theme song for "Halloween" may seem slightly dated, but it's still effective enough to provoke chills during a dark night. Blue Oyster Cult's classic "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is also heard in the film.

Horror film aficionados who have managed to miss this film should definitely put "Halloween" at the top of their must-see lists. While the body count and gore are less than what is seen in modern slasher films, "Halloween" still has the ability to thrill even jaded horror fans. Even though the film is over thirty years old, watching this classic can still leave audiences terrified.

Rating: 4 out of 5