31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #31 – Halloween (1978)

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Tagline: The Night He Came Home

Director: John Carpenter

Writer(s): John Carpenter & Debra Hill

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Budget: $325,000

Box Office: $70m

Release Date: 25th October, 1978

IMDb Rating: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Donald Pleasance – Dr Sam Loomis

Jamie Lee Curtis – Laurie Strode

Nancy Loomis – Annie Brackett

PJ Soles – Lynda van der Klok

Charles Cyphus – Sheriff Brackett

Kyle Richards – Lindsey Wallace

Brian Andrews – Tommy Doyle

Nick Castle – The Shape

Trailer

Plot According to Google: On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17 year old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30th, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21 year old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims.

Inertia’s Insight: The slasher sub-genre and its films are often derided as being tactless, kill-by-numbers cash cows that only serve to fuel the appetites of blood-thirsty teenagers who cheer for the masked killer as its one-dimensional victims are slaughtered in new and inventive ways. Halloween is debatably the Godfather of the slasher genre: most subsequent slashers tended to follow its trend of a holiday theme, a masked killer, a group of drug-taking alcohol-drinking pre-marital sex indulging teens and the iconic virginal Final Girl. For all its derision, the slasher genre still has some gems, and Halloween is a stone-cold classic.

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Touted as an idea called “The Babysitter Murders”, relative newcomer John Carpenter was tasked with creating a horror film on a small budget. With producer and then-girlfriend Debra Hill, they crafted a genuinely terrifying horror film that features barely any blood and has its first murder 53 minutes into its 90 minute run-time.

High school student Laurie babysits the neighbour’s kids on Halloween night, preparing for an evening with no more excitement than pumpkin carving and a pre-watershed horror film. Her friends Lynda and Annie are preparing to get their rocks off with their boyfriends in what is just another evening in little old Haddonfield. But Michael Myers, the guy that murdered his sister when he was just six years old, has escaped Smith’s Grove and is on his way to Haddonfield to wreak havoc in this sleepy town.

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The opening shot is infamous and will be taught in film school for years to come. Aesthetically Hitchcockian, the opening continuous shot (thought technically not) sees us in the perspective of an unknown assailant, peeping in from outside before entering the property, taking a knife from the kitchen, putting on a mask, ascending the stairs and murdering the beautiful girl. It isn’t until the end of this scene that its revealed that this merciless killer is in fact a six year old boy. It’s a powerful opening, effective by immersing us into the horror but also for establishing the killer as an emotionless, remorseless, soulless individual.

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From here the film, in horror terms, moves slowly as it establishes Laurie, her friends and their environment whilst tracing Michael’s story via the determined Dr. Loomis, the man intent on keeping Michael Myers locked away for the rest of his life because he recognises him as being “purely and simply… evil.” Whilst her friends are out to play, the shy and reserved Laurie, though showing signs of ‘slasher transgressions’ by smoking pot and talking about going to the Homecoming dance with a boy, is prepared for an evening of babysitting and homework. Instead, whilst the sex and drinking goes punished, Laurie fights for her survival against a ruthless and seemingly unstoppable killer.

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Carpenter had said that it wasn’t intentional for him to make Laurie’s virginity a heroic part of her Final Girl prowess; rather, the fact that she is not distracted by boys is the reason she is able to survive. It works to her favour, naturally, but you can’t help but feel that in the age of the rebellious teenager, it’s societies way of reflecting on and punishing their transgressions, isolating the virginal girl as the heroine and survivor.

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Once the killing starts its relentless and doesn’t let up until Loomis’ intervention at the end. The killings are bloodless, Carpenter relying on the effect and impact of Michael’s imposing force and faceless mask to amplify the scares. The scene in which he pins Bob to the wall with the kitchen knife then stands back, his head moving slowly off-tilt to study his victim with curiosity is just plain terrifying.

Michael Myers is actually an extremely calculated killer. He stalks Laurie for the best part of two thirds of the film, and for me its him first ensuring that she is his sister (though we don’t discover this fact in this film) and then planning how best to isolate her; Michael is clever in his pursuit of his victims, hiding before attacking; he wears the bed sheet in an attempt to win trust from Lynda; his positioning of Annie on the bed with the Myers headstone above her is beautifully macabre. This sets Halloween apart from the slew of slashers that ensued.

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The shot of him rising, seemingly from the dead, as Laurie sits panting, thinking that it’s all over is perfect popcorn launching Halloween night fare. There are so many shots in the film that are more frightening than most horror films could offer – the shot of Michael stood outside Laurie’s school, or inbetween the sheets of washing; the shot of Michael walking calmly towards Laurie as she frantically tries to get back into the house; the shot of Michael’s pale mask emerging from the dark after Laurie discovers her friends bodies – all this and more renders Halloween a timeless, classic horror film that, at 38 years old, shows no signs of losing its terrifying impact.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • The infamous mask now has an equally infamous story – its a William Shatner Star Trek mask with the eyes widened then spray painted white.
  • John Carpenter considered the hiring of Jamie Lee Curtis as the ultimate tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, who had given her Mother, Janet Leigh, legendary status in Psycho.
  • The original script, “The Babysitter Murders”, had the events take place over several days. It was a budgetary decision to change the script to have everything happen on the same day.
  • The opening POV sequence took two days to film.
  • Tommy and Lindsey are watching the 1951 version of The Thing, a film that Carpenter would go on to remake in 1982.

Quotes

DR. SAM LOOMIS: I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realised that what was living behind that boys eyes was purely and simply… evil.

SHERIFF BRACKETT: It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.

LAURIE: It was the boogeyman…
DR. SAM LOOMIS: As a matter of fact, it was.

LYNDA: See anything you like?

SHERIFF BRACKETT: Every kid in Haddonfield thinks this place is haunted.
DR. SAM LOOMIS: They may be right.

All images courtesy of Blushots: https://blushots.weebly.com


Until Next Year… Happy Halloween!

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