by Fallon Morey
Directed by John Carpenter
Columbia Pictures Corporation
And now for the final day, Halloween! What better way to celebrate the spookiest of days—and the conclusion to Sanitarium’s 31 Pics Of Halloween—than to jump in our time machines and go way back. Our pilot is director John Carpenter, who brings us back forty years to 1978 to the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois, the setting of his iconic movie which arguably helped spawn the entire sub-genre of slasher films.
After being paid a paltry sum to write, score, and direct the film ($10,000 USD, the equivalent of $38,000 USD today), Carpenter—writing with co-producer Debra Hill—finished the script for Halloween in under three weeks. Carpenter based his young Michael Myers (Tony Moran) on a psychiatric patient he’d once worked with. Though the film features one veteran actor (Donald Pleasence), the low budget allowed for only an unknown in the role of Laurie Strode, allowing for a young Jamie Lee Curtis to be cast whose acting chops had only been cut in the world of television.
We begin the film looking through the eyes of an unseen figure, who watches voyeuristically as a teenage girl seduces her boyfriend in her home. After the boyfriend leaves, we watch as a pair of unseen hands first grabs a knife and then proceeds upstairs to murder the young woman. We only realize that we’ve been looking through the eyes of a murderous child after the camera zooms out. Fifteen years later, Dr. Loomis (Pleasance), who has been the doctor to psychopath Michael Myers since he was a boy, is on his way to the institution where Myers is housed. He hopes to argue against Meyers’ upcoming parole, only to discover that Myers has escaped.
The seemingly unkillable psychopath returns to the town where he grew up to stalk and kill young women, whose actions resemble those of his murdered sister. Young Laurie Strode (Curtis)—our token horror “good girl”—sees the penumbral figure several times in the daylight, but does not encounter him personally until later in the movie, when he’s already stacked up a body count. The movie naturally reaches its climax with the expected babysitter vs. bad guy showdown (with some help from psychiatrist Loomis towards the climax).
The movie is undeniably creepy and does what many horror movies can’t do: it keeps you riveted despite a lack of gratuitous bloodshed. The acting does leave something to be desired, especially the babysitters’ death scenes. It’s easy to armchair quarterback the characters’ actions throughout (“Look behind you! No, don’t go in there!”). Will Sandin is quiet yet imposing as young Myers, and the faceless, base nature of his character—as played by Moran as he grows older—is surely what made Halloween a timeless horror movie in our time. (Word is that Carpenter actually directed him NOT to act, just to move from one spot to another). Curtis’s acting in her fledgling role helps carry the movie along and makes Laurie Strode a more likeable character than any of her counterparts.
When Carpenter was approached to write the script, the concept of the movie had already been developed for him: the studio wanted to make a babysitter slasher film. If you boil it down to its most basic components, that’s exactly what it is. But through the right lens, the movie reads like a graphic after-school special about the dangers of drinking, doing drugs, and engaging in premarital sex. All of the women in the movie who participate in these vices end up dead. Laurie Strode (aside from a few puffs of a joint) is a classic horror good girl: studious, hardworking, and respectful. She doesn’t have sex (at least not during this movie) and, at least until the last ten or fifteen minutes, she’s stalked but not all-out hunted by Myers. We’re never told Myers’s motivation for murdering his own sister. All Loomis tells us is that there’s an emptiness behind his eyes. However one can easily surmise that, like his dead sister, women who are considered morally loose are destined for an early death. Carpenter himself has argued against the claims of moral repercussions, stating that the movie is simply a horror movie. The distinction between a horror movie and a thinly veiled social commentary remains mostly with the viewer.
Our review comes in the light of the most recent release in the horror franchise. This year’s Halloween (same name, slightly different tune) directed by David Gordon Green, brings back Jamie Lee Curtis as heroine Laurie Strode to face off against the psychotic Michael Myers. The film promises a partial reboot, both to right the wrongs of the past sequels (like the nasty rumor someone started that Laurie Strode is Michael Myers’ sister) and to retell the most beloved aspects of the original story. Trailers promise a lot of Myers-style silent stalking and slashing, with Laurie Strode (hopefully) besting Myers once and for all.
Closing out this Halloween season, we’ll let you readers decide which is the superior movie (though we’re guessing most votes will go to Carpenter’s original). While the older movie may be a little harder to watch, ultimately the fun in watching a horror movie isn’t the special effects, production budget, or level of gore allowed at the time by the Motion Picture Association, but rather it’s about being scared. It’s about suspending disbelief for ninety minutes and allowing yourself to be all-out terrified. And it’s no doubt that Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween will provide all the scares you could ask for.