A young boy kills his sister on Halloween of 1963, and is sent to a mental hospital. 15 years later he escapes and returns to his home town in order to wreak havoc.
We start with a perfect score. A haunting theme in which we are greeted to a lit pumpkin that stands proud in front of a black background! Its an eerie set-piece, a credit sequence that sums up the entire mood of the film. As the big yellow words appear on screen, the camera slowly strolls towards the pumpkin, until we get to the final moments and we reach the left eye and then the light goes out and its all dark! Its a sequence that perfectly sets up the mood of the film, a sense of dread and fear in which it goes from light to dark, something is coming, something evil, and no one is going to stop it.
The Success of Suspira and everything Giallo had Irwin Yablan desperate to make a horror movie that would be talked about for years. He came up with a concept that had babysitters being targeted by a killer and with Financer Moustapha Akkad in tow, they went to the Milan Film Festival to promote a certain film called Assault On Precinct 13, directed by an up coming director by the name of John Carpenter. There, Yablan met a man named Michael Myers whom on watching Assault, fell in love with the film and agreed to put the film into film festivals all over Europe! During this time, Yablan, had a crazy idea, one he could not shake, about babysitters being stalked and killed by this unknown force of evil. To be called The Babysitter Murder, it was an idea that did not stretch to much, and even though he suggested the notion to Carpenter, it seemed to lack a bite, something was missing and Carpenter went on to film a TV movie. It was the ending of that directing gig, when Carpenter had the call that would change his life! Yablan just could not forget about this horror and one night it just struck him, holding the phone and speaking to Carpenter, he suggested that they should set the film on the night of Halloween, and even call the film that! A rocket of explosions went off in the head of the young director, that lack of something had just been added, and the greatest horror franchise of all time had just been born!!!!
Made for a partly £300,000, in which Carpenter took a deal for ten percent of the film profits, in which he also wrote the film score, the idea from the off was not to make a film soaked in bloodbath. What they wanted was to create a film that would scare the audience, there was no need for the gore that the later many imitators would introduce, there was a need to soak the film full of tension and dread, there was this evil that this town tried to keep secret, but now that secret was out and was returning home. The town in question was Haddonfield, the name taken from an actual town in New Jersey. Carpenter and his then girlfriend Debra Hill who produced the film, were told by Yablan that “less was better” and that it was required that the audience did not see anything, it is as I quote “It should be what they thought they saw that frightens them!” Ann Lockhart was Carpenter’s original choice to play the film’s scream queen Laurie, but was persuaded to cast a then unknown Jamie Lee Curtis with the added bonus that she would bring a much needed boast of publicity because of her mother Janet Leigh the woman who forever be in horror folklore as the woman who checked into Bates Motel. Other casting came in the form of Donald Pleasence who became Dr Sam Loomis (the name a nod to a character on Psycho), after both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee rejected the role ( a move that Lee later regretted) while Nick Castle was signed on to play The Shape, a figure that would terror the horror circles thirty years later.
Halloween was shot in mere 21 days in the Spring of 1978, even though the film was supposed to be set in Autumn. The common mistake of Halloween is that when the film tracks down a long street, we see leaves scattered all over the floor (they were put there) while the trees themselves are full and green, its only a minor point, but now knowing that information you can not help but notice on each watch. When it was released, it started off slowly, Carpenter went off to direct Elvis, and no-one expected much, maybe a moderate hit, but nothing special or big. They were wrong, word of mouth began to develop and soon the film went big, raking over £60 Million from a budget of £300,000 and making it the most successful independent film of all time, only to be beaten twenty one years later by a certain witch in the woods that went by the name of Blair!
Right from the off we are treated to a POV shot of a mad man at work. Like a Peeping Tom we see a person watching a young couple make out on a sofa before running upstairs to make love, a scene by the way that is the only part that makes me cringe. I would love to meet John Carpenter and ask him just one question, “Was the Sex scene an in-joke!”. We see the young couple run upstairs but we stay with this person who slowly enters the house, reaches for a very sharp kitchen knife and then go to the bottom of the stairs where we then see the boyfriend (David Kyle) do up his shirt and leave through the backdoor. I counted about 55 seconds from when they ran upstairs and for this person to reach the staircase. It honestly must be the quickest sex ever put to film.
Anyway, we keep with the POV shot and watch this person slowly walk up the stairs, it really seems like one long uncut sequence when it fact it is, there are two official cuts, and suggestions of a third in which Carpenter does not deny or confirm. We see a hand reach out for a clown mask on the floor in which the boyfriend was originally wearing, the words “Michael!” ring out from Judith (Sandy Johnson) as the knife begins to go to work in what seems like another homage to Psycho. But its not just a normal killing. If you look closer, while the knife is going in, the killer is looking around, we see the messy bed that suggests the quick bonk, and then a quick look at the knife itself, its like the person is shocked at what they are doing but also fascinated. With Judith dead, the killer flees, we see the front door opening and a young couple walk up to this person, we hear the name again “Michael” and the clown mask is taken off to reveal the shocking image of a young six year old boy holding the knife.
It seems on a cold Halloween Night in 1963, six year old Michael Audrey Myers murdered his sister Judith Margaret Myers and was later sentenced to the Smith’s Grove Warrem Country Sanatorium where be locked away for fifteen years!
October 30, 1978 Is the Night he came home.
Escaping when due to be transferred for a court date in the middle of the night, a now older Michael returns to Haddonfield, where he targets two babysitters, Laurie and Annie, while a third Lynda is nearby planning to have sex with her boyfriend. As the day goes to dark, unknown to them, they are being watched, in the shadows, from the outside, a man with a thirst to kill again, a force of evil and their only hope is Dr Loomis, Michael’s childhood psychiatrist who is on his way back to the town, convinced that Michael has returned to the place he calls home, and for the residents of the town, life would never be the same again.
There is no argument that if it was not for Michael there would be no Jason or Freddy. Halloween set the template that others would follow and virtually gave birth to the slash genre that was a major selling point for horror throughout the eighties. Amazingly while this is credited for being the most influential horror film ever, its roots were displayed a couple of years before in the underrated Black Christmas which shares many of its themes and sequences. John Carpenter denies ever seeing that film before he started this movie, but the link is uncanny when you watch them back to back. No matter what though, Halloween is the better film. What Carpenter succeeds in doing is making a horror that is actually frightening. He showed that there was no need to get a high body count to achieve the needs of the horror circles and while this spawned many copies, nearly all including the Friday 13th series, ignored this notion.
In fact apart from the death scene in the beginning, there are no killings of note until the final half hour, more modern audience bought up on Saw will shake their head and demand the gore, but Halloween creates a never beaten sense of dread and fear. Watching this masked fiend, stalking these three, brings more terror than the usual dumb blonde killing, and raises the film up to a high quality level. Michael always appeared from behind, one scene that emphasizes the style is when Annie is on the phone to Laurie while we see Michael looking from the outside. the fear it generates is amazing and when Annie gets trapped in the Laundry room, we see him from behind, and his all purpose slow walk, will send all horror fans in a frenzy. Off course there are death scenes, but they are not cheap sequences that would later dilute the franchise.
All are brutal examples of a mad man at work, the killing of Bob is the most memorable of them all, his stabbing feet high from the floor in which Michael just stands there, his held tilting hints again that this is a child with no emotion and special praise must go towards Nick Castle who somehow brings out a personality in this killer with no use of words. He was and always will be the perfect portrayal of The Shape, he makes Michael seem sort of Supernatural, and aided by a creepy score that was created by Carpenter himself, it is a combination of supreme scares that again makes Halloween so hard to beat, and its hard to imagine that Castle could direct something so family and gentle with The Boy Could Fly when he came across so evil here.
Everything that is classified as horror cliches was born here. We see sequences like forgotten keys, locked doors, all play a part in the suspense but even now they still have an uncanny way of working to full effect. By the time we get to the final battle between the virgin Laurie and her nemeses, the film is in full swing, a massive battle commences that brings knitting needles, and hiding in wardrobes together for a massive sense of adrenalin Seriously if you not hooked by now, then you clearly do not love your horror. But just when you think Carpenter can not offer any more. He created a setpiece that actually had people running out of the cinema in tears. The shape rising from Laurie has gone down in horror cinema as one of the greatest moments. It really is wonderfully directed by Carpenter who manages to give one last scare to the audience.
The cliff hanger final shot was not meant to offer a sequel or for a franchise to be born. It was meant for the audience to go home wondering if Michael could be there, in the shadows while they slept!. Of course, despite the protests of Carpenter the film made too much money for there not to be a sequel, and of course a story line was created to fit the “why Laurie?” question.
But while its hard not to watch this film not knowing why he is after her, its nice to know that in 1978, horror fans had a film that had a killer in which no motive was offered. Just a killing machine on a fun game of mayhem, before family issues became a focal point of the series. But I come to that in my Halloween II review, for now though, I take time out to remember a film that is not just a horror film, but a masterpiece in all cinema genres…