Kicking off this year’s edition of the “31 Nights of Halloween” I only felt it appropriate to re-review a film that we reviewed a long time ago, and really needs no introduction. It’s the 1978 touchstone for horror; John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” This will also mark the first in a series of reviews all about the “Halloween” franchise, even the abysmal “Halloween: Resurrection.” So away we go from Smith’s Grove to Haddonfield.
“Halloween” starts with the murder of a young girl named Judith Myers by her 6-year old brother, Michael. After being institutionalized for 15 years under the watchful eye of Dr. Samuel Loomis, Michael is able to escape the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and Loomis knows there is only one place where he can be headed; the scene of his original crime in Haddonfield, Illinois.
Meanwhile we meet Laurie Strode and her friends Annie and Linda, just three girls looking to hook-up, smoke weed, and have a good time on Halloween, well, at least Annie and Linda are. Laurie is more the straight arrow type, looking forward to babysitting Tommy Doyle, watching “The Thing” and carving jack-o-lanterns. However, a dark presence has invaded the small town of Haddonfield and is looking to kill horny, weed smoking, babysitting teens.
As day turns into night, Dr. Loomis warns the local Sheriff, Leigh Brackett, that evil is coming to his little town and officers need to be on alert looking for Myers. Ever the skeptic, Brackett agrees to Loomis’ demands, but tells him he’s got until tonight to track down Myers.
Needless to say, Myers murder spree goes off without a hitch, victims including Annie and Linda, not to mention a dog, a horny boyfriend, and some stranger while on the road to Haddonfield. With only Laurie remaining, she is able to fight him off with a knitting needle, a wire hanger, and finally Michael’s own knife. But you can’t keep a good “unstoppable force” down as Michael moves in to finish off Laurie. However, putting the pieces together with the help of some screaming kids, Dr. Loomis comes to the rescue and empties his revolver into the chest of Michael and the nightmare is finally over as Myers falls over the balcony to his death.
As Loomis comforts Laurie and tells her that Michael was the boogeyman, the doctor leans over the balcony to observe his kill, but is shocked to see that Myers is gone, nowhere to be found.
There isn’t much to say about “Halloween” that hasn’t been said before; it’s one of the best proto-slasher films ever made, outside of possibly “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The different between Michael Myers and Leatherface, however, is where Leatherface is a hulking caricature of serial killers like Ed Gein, Myers is simply the silent force that cannot be stopped and there is no rhyme or reason. That makes the film so much scarier; you can’t rationalize with something that you can’t understand.
What makes “Halloween” stand apart from the rest of the crop of slasher fare that exploded in the 1980s was the sense of dread and the play on the fear of Halloween itself. This is more apparent in “Halloween 2” but you can still see how Halloween affects the town. The streets are empty, people lock themselves in the house, they don’t open doors, and it’s way easier to scare people, as Loomis does to a group of kids playing around the old Myers house. It’s interesting to see moments of levity in a horror film. It’s also interesting to look back at “Halloween” after seeing it the numerous sequels, that perhaps Haddonfield has always been that type of town that has harbored the terrible secret of the Myers murders and it’s legacy. Despite the fact that “Halloween” and “Halloween 2” are supposed to be standalone films and the Myers arc is supposed to end, it makes a little more sense why the streets are empty in Haddonfield after dark and people are reluctant to open the doors to screams of terror, or at least that is the way that I look at it.
Getting away from the subtext of “Halloween” and more into the actual substance, there are numerous things that I simply love about this film. The biggest, and most long-lasting effect “Halloween” has made on the public, is the music, which for my money is nearly as recognizable as the “Star Wars” theme, “Jaws” theme, or any other soundtrack theme ever. It still can raise the hair on the back of your neck, and just hearing the opening piano notes, people will automatically say “Oh, Michael Myers.” And while “Halloween” is a great film on it’s own, it wouldn’t be half the film it is without John Carpenter’s score.
The characters and actors are top notch as well. I’m not a child of the 70s, shoot, I’m barely a child of the 80s, but if I was to venture a guess, I would assume that Annie, Laurie, and Linda, are pretty typical kids of the 1970s. The talk about guys, do drugs, and get into trouble. My one gripe would be the overuse of the word “Totally” by Linda. If my count is correct, I heard “Totally” 13 times; probably close to the amount of screen time Linda gets, so you get a “Totally” a minute. There is also a lot of name dropping in this film, which I guess is a thing. The most famous of them all is Ben Tramer, who has a pseudo-important role in the sequel. These, again, are just minor quibbles.
The last thing that really stands up is the actual creation and depiction of Michael Myers. Pure and simple, there is no rhyme or reason behind Myers, he just is. In later sequels it’s explained, sort of, that he worships Samhain and his reason for killing is that he is the curse of his family name, so he mist kill all members of his family? That stuff is just weird, but if you just take the first film into account, the fact that there really isn’t a reason for the murder of his sister and the senseless murder of everyone else, is pretty scary. Even in our daily lives, we constantly search for the what if’s and why’s when something awful happens. From mass shootings, to serial killings, to everything in-between, we want to know why. In the case of Michael Myers, there is no why, the only explanation is that he is pure evil, which when you think about a doctor saying that (Loomis) is pretty silly, but it’s also understandable. Sometimes there is no reason for bad things that happen, which is both frustrating, and terribly frightening.
For a film being close to 40 years old, “Halloween” has aged very well. The scares are timeless, the music adds to the never-ending sense of dread, and the characters are still pretty relatable. You can go into the film deeper and talk about how it either exploits women, empowers women, or is a morality tale that punishes the evil people who do drugs and have sex out of wedlock, but that’s for another review, and I’m looking at this from a pure horror film aspect, and the film still plays very well. While there might be scarier films out there, “Halloween” for my money, can still scare someone who hasn’t seen it and is a milestone for not only horror, but film in general.
Fun Fact: It took John Carpenter four days to complete the score for “Halloween.”