Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood for the murder of his sister, escapes and stalks a bookish teenage girl and her friends while his doctor chases him through the streets.
Shot in widescreen and used with great creativity, John Carpenter’s low budget slasher classic is the perfect treat for the day of the same name. Introducing to the world a young Jamie Lee Curtis, ironically the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh there are more than one link between both women. The later, known for a particular murder scene in a shower in a “little” film called Psycho, is one of the major influences on Halloween. Jamie Lee Curtis is nicknamed the Scream Queen, well she is the daughter of Janet Leigh without a doubt. Both movies, Halloween and Psycho, are violent in a way that works on a more subtle level than the actual display of gore or gratuitous violence. Just like Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film, which he strongly defended, it is easy to put violence on film but it is not given to everyone to use it properly. Well, Carpenter demonstrates all his talent and reach with his use of deep focus and foreground and background action. The widescreen isn’t some sort of useless effect like 3D or CGI. It involves the audience in a way that we feel we are stick into the picture with the teenagers.
Those teens are portrayed as teens like we were and just like they are today. I couldn’t help myself but to think that the constant ringing of the phones reminded me that if it was shot today it would have been made with cell phones. But I digress, those teens are Michael Myers’ favorite victims: he seems to loath them especially when they fool around and they are having sex. The use of hand-held camera to illustrate his point of view is particularly efficient even if, by today’s standards, it has been used until burned out. Like aforementioned, the violence and the horror is one thing in a classic film like Halloween. But Carpenter’s real achievement if you ask me is the setting of the atmosphere and tone for Horror. The bleak but realistic day light scenes are very interesting and just like the opening sequence of Evil Dead or the long tracking shots of The Shining, those are the elements that make the difference between a good and a great Horror film.
Another important aspect of the ambiance is the simplistic omnipresent synthesizer score that brings an element of thrill and a constant fear of a possible scare coming.
Usually, I don’t recall the context of my viewings but this one was almost perfect I was alone in the dark in early October, my wife was sleeping and the night was just like in the dark scenes of the movie. Just like little Tommy and Lindsay, who watched Howard Hawks’ The Thing that John Carpenter would remake few years later, I was watching Halloween scared in the dark but I continued to watch because when I decided to sit and watch this film I knew I would get a nice movie experience. Many would say it was about time I watched this film, but I really appreciated this film. In fact, every John Carpenter movie I ever saw I actually liked. His films shouldn’t get snobed because they are Horror or slashers, they are superb pieces just like Alfred Hitchcock used to make with Psycho and The Birds. They might not be as deep or as Freudian, but their effect are in the same vein. Highly recommended.