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.
Now 40 years on, Carpenter’s classic is getting a a new follow-up from director David Gordon Green, which will ignore all the sequels and (hopefully) give Halloween the sequel it so-rightfully deserves.