- Movie Rating -

Halloween (1978)

| October 25, 1978

I was about 9 years-old when I saw Halloween for the first time, and if it is true that the movies that you are exposed to as a child mean more to you later on, then this may have had the longest-lasting psychological impact on me.  To this day, the mental image of Michael Myers stepping into a dark house comes to mind whenever I lock my doors at night.  Possibly, the long-lasting effects of this movie may be the reason that I remember to lock my doors at night.  Whenever I hear a noise in the dark, there is a chill in my blood before I settle on what it might be – pipes clanking, dogs snoring, trees shaking, house settling, etc.

That’s the test of a good horror movie, that it gets inside your bones and can stay with you years later.  In my case, Halloween may have given me a sense of caution and safety, which is something that I can’t say for its long list of imitators.

Revisiting the film last week – I hadn’t seen it in years – I was surprised how much bigger it was in my memories.  This film is relatively small with only a handful of locations and maybe five or six characters.  It doesn’t have a lot of blood and guts and it offers instead a lot of ratcheting tension.  And that may be the key to its success.  Halloween is a movie that depends heavily on its point of view to keep up the suspense.  Our point of view is almost exclusively with the victims so that we’re with them, we fear for them.  Compare that with the film’s imitators in which the point of view is from the killer; we watch a helpless woman cower in terror through the killer’s eyes.  How is that suspenseful?  Suspense, for me, is visceral.  It has to have some relatable elements in order to keep us psychologically glued to the action, like the shower scene in Psycho.  We’re there in our minds. 

For me, one particular moment in Halloween stands out.  It takes place at the beginning of the film’s third act.  The killer has murdered three people who have arrived at the same house.  Our Final Girl, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, of course) has been babysitting at the house across the street.  She walks over and enters the living room.  There are no lights on.  As she stands in the dark living room, we in the audience know that there are three bodies here, and also the killer.  She thinks that her friends are playing a joke on her and we know that she will soon discover the bodies and the killer.  The tension of knowing what she doesn’t know is the key to the film’s merciless nature.

The last 20 minutes of the movie are pure heart-pounding terror, not with gushes of blood but with the fact that we are with Laurie every step of the way.  Every corner that she turns, the killer is there.  Every time she thinks that she’s got him down, he gets back up.  John Carpenter pulls suspense out of dark spaces, quick reveals, clever editing tricks and a few well-placed false alarms – to my surprise, no one in this film owns a cat.

The plot could be written on a back of a business card.  A mental patient who killed his sister years ago returns to his home town on Halloween night for a killing spree.  Carpenter is generous with his plotting, it’s packed tight, but it isn’t so complicated that it gets in the way of the terror.  Yet, it makes for a film that, if you’re over-analyzing it, comes off a little silly.  This is a movie that requires that you don’t ask questions, like why did Michael come back to Haddonfield?  Why did he steal his sister’s headstone?  Why would he put a sheet over his head when stalking his victim instead of just killing her?  Why did he position his victim in the same bed with the headstone?  Why didn’t Laurie turn on the lights when she went into Annie’s house?  These questions, thankfully don’t override the experience.  Our purpose is to be scared for the seemingly helpless girl trapped in the closet.  Our purpose is the be in that closet with her and feel what she feels.  Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or The Wizard of Oz you could spend all day exploring the plot holes, but why bother?  The emotional experience is what is key here.  It’s the kind of visceral thrill that keeps you in suspense and, years later, has you checking your doors at night.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1978) View IMDB Filed in: Horror