Frightening, startling, and great fun this is the perfect Halloween movie. This film has a vision of horror from a great director. It has scares and jolts. It has a slow burn. It has violence. It has ideas and psychological implications. It is a great movie to watch every Halloween night.
Now this is the original Halloween, not the remake, or the other remake, or the sequel of the same name or any of the dozen other sequels that exist. This is the original one from 1978 directed by John Carpenter.
The story is extremely simple. A crazy person escapes an asylum and goes hunting teenage girls on Halloween night. This movie is the birthplace of the have sex and die brand of slasher movies. The trope follows a masked man with a signature weapon as he kills teens after they have sex, and it has been duplicated and mocked ever since this films releasee. However this film is the first to employ it and explore it. In Freudian terms the impulse for life and death are closely linked in the deepest parts of the human psyche. Seeing sexual acts on screen followed by death triggers and stimulates that innate drive in all people according to Freud.
The film has a lot going for it. It has exquisite tracking shots that follow the action as a removed observer creating a voyeuristic quality. It has a stellar score that raises the tension and inspires fear with only a few notes. It has great underrated performances by all the cast including young Jamie Lee Curtis. It has a terrific ability to set up and payoff a good scare. It also has the best mask in all of horror. The white face with large black holes for eyes is haunting, ominous, and iconic.
However, the scariest aspects of the film are ones that all the sequels and remakes did their best to ruin. In this film, there is no explanation for the killers motivations. He is shown as a child murdering his sister. Then that he is alone in an institution never speaking for 15 years. He escapes and immediately picks three random girls to kill. There is no reason. There is no explanation. This ambiguity and the fact that there is no escaping him creates a real lasting fear that extends beyond the edges of the frame.
The other most frightening aspect of the film is the nature of the killer, Michael Myers. He is described as pure evil and at the end of the film there is a central question as to what he is and what it means. It is an ending loaded with meaning and implications. It turns a serial killer into something more. It creates an opening for a fear beyond the killer with a knife. Even if the killer can be defeated, evil is real at the end of this movie.
This movie is occasionally very cheesy. Some of the sound effects are a little over the top and distracting. There are some bad music cues that just undermine the jolt they are going for. And some of the noises Laurie makes as she is imperiled are just too loud and over the top. The character of Bob is just the worst. Beyond these hangups, the movie really succeeds and holds up even all these years later.
Personally, it’s a favorite. It’s fun. It’s a good scary movie that continues to delight because of its masterful direction and really creepy ideas. It’s a great movie to watch if you’re looking for a scary movie.
My cup of tea. A+