Film review by Jason Day of Halloween, the 1978 horror starring Jamie Lee Curtis as an innocent babysitter stalked by a serial killer who, 15 years previously, stabbed his elder sister to death. Directed by John Carpenter.
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Young Michael Myers (Will Sandin) stabs his elder sister to death on Halloween in 1963, seemingly without reason..
15 years later his psychiatrist Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is travelling to the secure facility where he is being treated, but a freak storm has crippled the institution and Michael has escaped.
Loomis, knowing his patient inside out, gives chase as he knows Michael will return home and cause havoc.
It’s Halloween and the locals are preparing for a night of trick or treating, but innocent teenager Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is settling down for babysitting duties. Myers, who spotted her earlier that day, stalks her until dark.
Carpenter’s brisk (lasting only an hour and a half), basic (the cheap production budget was only $300k), creepy but relatively quiet (there’s hardly any score) but ballsy horror film went on to slice through the box office competition…and change the horror movie format forever.
And the genre, apart from some stylish Giallo films from Italy, needed a shot in the arm as horror wasn’t fashionable back iin the 70’s. With the loss of Hammer studios in the UK only a few years previous, it could have fallen further out of favour.
Step in Halloween with an easily franchisable formula of quick to write, quick to produce, cheap to film movies that, with a little marketing wizardry, should earn a packet, a trend continued to the present day with many Friday the 13ths, Screams and I Know What You Did Last Summers et al.
It also created a lot of the teeth-grinding cliches and common sense lapses of the genre.
After Michael Myers murders his sister he walks outside his home, where his parents conveniently pull up. Despite brandishing a knife stained with something red, his father unmasks him and calmly calls his name, whilst Mom…puts her hands in her jacket pockets and stands silent doing noting.
You would think they’d dash into the house to make sure he hadn’t just murdered a bottle of ketchup.
There is something about parents in these movies (along with every other type of people) – they have a stupidness unique in the cinematic universe.
Later, as Laurie is left by her charges’ parents, they walk to their car unaware that the adult Myers is half hidden by a tree a few yards from them. It is night, so why do they only look at the ground, or into their handbag? Be safe!
Teenagers, who are baby-sitting elsewhere in town, undress in the kitchen in full view of any passing psycho peering through the windows. Also, this is at the same time their 10 year old sister is in the next room watching TV.
I guess arguing over points of logic for such films is counter intuitive as it ruins the fun gleaned from enjoying their obvious dopiness. No one made a good slasher by making sure the characters think properly, take a breath or even close the curtains, lock doors and look out and ahead properly.
One thing that is set up perfectly that would normally get my alarms bells ringing – as its Halloween, no one is at home to answer Laurie’s distress calls.
Top-billed star Pleasance is ironically named for such a production, but given a serious, thoroughly dependable performance as the heroic psychiatrist. I’ll leave it up to you if, after all the years his character spent with a patient who says nothing, he is deranged himself.
Curtis is the daughter of the previous generation’s Slasher Queen, Psycho‘s Janet Leigh. Worth noting, in that film Leigh, the main character, was bumped off very early in the movie (she doesn’t last the first half), after having most of the dialogues for the opening scenes.
Here her daughter goes the distance, but hardly does or says anything until the last half hour. She thus spends the first hour acting like the stereotypical teenager – sulky, staring vacantly into the middle distance, talking infrequently and too quietly, seeming tired, moaning about the little things and failing to rock that High School woollen socks, ‘virgin on the ridiculous’ look.
It is still a career creating performance and a role that has paid dividends for her given all the sequels and reboots (the second one of which, eschewing all of the original movie’s sequels, is released this Hallowe’en). Pleasance and Curtis makes up for the poor acting amongst her friends (you can see why a serial killer would bump people like this off).
(NB: Pleasance’s name here, Sam Loomis, is the same as John Gavin’s character in Psycho (1960). The name was given in homage to that movie).
Carpenter is at his most effective when operating on economic scales. Even back in 1978, a $300,000 budget (that’s about $1.19million today) was pretty tight.
But just to make sure he didn’t tip the scale, everything is pared back…but still gives maximum impact.
Firstly the score, composed as so often for his movies by the director himself, is almost no score at all. There are a few electronic notes floating about here and there, but the main sound you get is buzzing in the background, like a stressor noise.
The efficient filming style, lots of long and tracking shots, means less time faffing about in the editing suite and wasting money on post production.
All of these tricks and tracks help with a rosier box office take and Halloween went on to amass about $70m (around $277,885).
NB: another little in-joke – Howard Hawks’ version of The Thing (1951) is screened on the TV. Carpenter would remake this, brilliantly, in 1982, starring Kurt Russell.
Cast & credits
Director: John Carpenter.
Producer: Debra Hill.
Writers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill.
Camera: dean Cundey.
Music: John Carpenter.
Sets: Tommy Wallace.
Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews.