The horror genre can often (rightfully) be maligned. Many of the films within the genre are cheap exploitation films, whose filmmakers care more about monetary return than crafting a great movie. However, John Carpenter constructed an instant classic with Halloween, hitting box office gold and kick-starting the slasher movie in the process.
From the panaglide-shot opening, Halloween is all about atmosphere. Carpenter creates tension as we creep through a family home, seeing through the eyes of a young Michal Myers. It’s an iconic moment and it works at setting up the tone of the film perfectly. We then cut to fifteen years later as teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is preparing to babysit on Halloween night. It’s also the night that Myers decides to ‘return home’. Myers (Nicj Castle) escapes from his mental institute, pursued by his psychiatrist, Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) – the only man who knows how evil Myers really is.
It’s a simple (and now overused) set-up, but Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill wring every bit of tension from it. Myers (known as The Shape) is now an iconic horror character, up there with classic Universal Pictures creatures like Dracula and The Wolf-Man. Myers is a fabulous creation – we never see his face (he wears a modified William Shatner Halloween mask), his characterisation is through movement and from what Pleasance’s says about him. It’s this simplicity which creates most fear. We can tell that there’s no humanity within him. I’ve always felt that James Cameron lifted a lot from this film for The Terminator – there’s a killing where Myers impales an unlucky teen against a kitchen cabinet which Cameron lifted for Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Carpenter’s film literally shares the same DNA as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (Curtis is the daughter of that film’s star, Janet Leigh). The films deal with psychiatric horror, the killers in both could live in the real world – they are flesh and blood monsters-and that’s what makes them terrifying. Psycho and Halloween are also similar in that they imply their violence rather than show it. This makes the audience fill-in the blanks, because of this you believe they are much more gratuitous than they really are. Carpenter’s nerve-tingling scores helps to ramp-up the suspense, again adding another shorthand to modern horror’s lexicon.
Halloween was seen as a quick cash-grab by producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad, hiring Carpenter off-the-back of his low-budget hit, Assault on Precinct 13. However, Carpenter delivered a film with much more depth. It’s a film that has resonated with audiences, leading to sequels and remakes – none of which match the power of the original.
John Carpenter’s Halloween is as near to perfect as any slasher film can be and the 1978 horror is a masterful exercise in suspense, augmented by come exceptional camera work (the opening is still stunning) and a wonderful score. A multitude of sequels and remakes followed (all of varying quality) but none matched the powerful simplicity of Carpenter’s original. Now, 40 years on, director David Gordon Green (and co-writers Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride) have taken the franchise back to its roots, eliminating the convoluted continuity of the series to deliver a ‘true’ sequel to Carpenter’s classic.
To add authenticity to this new endeavour, Green and producer Jason Blum lured Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis back to the franchise. Both executive produce the new film, and Carpenter once again scores the action alongside current musical collaborators Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. This all makes this new incarnation of Halloween a must-see package and thankfully it manages to live-up to these lofty expectations. Okay, it doesn’t quite match the stripped-down simplicity of Carpenter’s film, but it’s an exceptionally well put together piece of commercial horror cinema.
Halloween 2018 begins with an institutionalised Michael Myers (Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney) pulling the strong and silent treatment on a pair of podcasters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) who are delving deep into the events which occurred in Haddonfield, Illinois in 1978. However, an evil awakens in Myers and he escapes to seek out Laurie Strode (Curtis), the lone saviour of the his 40 year-old killing spree. Strode is still suffering from the trauma of that fateful night, but she’s been waiting and preparing for Myer’s return. Myers might be doing the stalking, but Strode is doing the hunting and her prey is The Shape behind Haddonfield’s infamous babysitter murders.
Ultimately, horror films live or die based on their characterisation. The exploitative nature of the genre means that filmmakers often disregard this in order to get to what people has paid their cash for – the killing. This means that as an audience you have zero investment in the characters getting offed onscreen. Green and company, sidestep this pitfall with style, building rich characters over the film’s fist act. Whether it’s the aforementioned podcasters or Strode’s daughter and granddaughter (Judy Greer and Andi Matichak) you feel for every character – and this means that every kill has an impact. The performances in this new version of Halloween are strong across the board (special mention for Will Patton) and Jamie Lee Curtis impresses in her signature role, with Laurie Strode now turned into a Sarah Connor-style ass-kicking, gun-wielding warrior.
Halloween’s stand-out sequence is Myer’s very bloody Halloween night killing spree and there’s some wonderful cinematography from Michael Simmonds (this is a very good looking film), which perfectly compliments Carpenter’s iconic score. Green’s film also includes a lot of humour, which helps cut the tension and add to the small character moments. If the film has a flaw, it’s a late in the game plot twist which doesn’t quite pay-off and while it’s not enough to derail the film, it is a stand-out blemish in this top-tier horror.
An impressive follow-up to John Carpenter’s masterful slasher, Halloween has managed to continue the narrative of the original and reboot a creatively dead franchise. A record-breaking debut at the box office means that two sequels are on the way and all involved will have to work hard to make sure it matches the high standard set by the 2018 film.