Arguably the most influential of all slasher films, John Carpenter’s Halloween is the reason why this particular subgenre of horror even exists in the first place. Although it wasn’t the first of its kind, it certainly was the game-changer since almost every other slasher flick that followed this low-budget indie horror only ended up imitating the formula that this classic originated.
Set in Haddonfield, Illinois, the story of Halloween begins on the titular night in 1963 where we witness the 6-years old Michael Myers stabbing his older sister to death with a kitchen knife. The plot then jumps 15 years in the span of which Myers remained silent in a mental hospital he was confined to, only to now escape from the facility and return to his hometown to kill some more.
Co-written & directed by John Carpenter, whose innate ability to churn out quality pictures from mere scraps of filmmaking elements has earned him a place amongst world cinema’s most influential filmmakers, Halloween is one of the finest works of his career that presents the director in complete control of his craft, and the way he sets the pace & eerie tone from the beginning is a delight to watch.
Carpenter creates an uncanny mood during the title sequence only which has nothing but a jack-o’-lantern on the black screen, accompanied by the now iconic score, and follows it up with an expertly shot prologue which instantly brings the audience into the story. The script is equally impressive for the character of Michael Myers is handled with extreme care, and the writers leave no stone unturned to show him as an unstoppable force of evil.
The technical aspects are skilfully executed, and every dollar of its low budget is efficiently used in service of the story. Setting the plot in a suburban location turns the very openness of the area into a playground of mayhem. Cinematography is inventive for the camera stalks our characters at all times, benefits from some ingenious placements, and is further uplifted by clever lighting while Editing makes sure that the suspenseful ambience is kept alive from start to finish.
But the biggest contributor, in my opinion, is John Carpenter’s minimal, synthesised score, for it elevates the tension to a whole different level and greatly amplifies the desired effect of its disquieting camerawork & editing. Whenever its main theme surfaces on the screen, there’s an uneasiness felt in those moments & whispers of an ominous presence dominate those sequences. It’s one of Carpenter’s most notable musical pieces & is a major reason behind this film’s success.
Coming to the acting department, Halloween features a budget-friendly cast in Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis & Nick Castle. The film marks Curtis’ acting debut and she does a neat job as Laurie; a high-school student who’s continuously stalked by Myers throughout the movie. Pleasence is in as Myers’ psychiatrist and the only person who knows what this homicidal maniac is capable of. And Soles & Loomis do a fine job as Laurie’s friends who are also pursued by Myers.
But it’s the character of Michael Myers and how he’s portrayed in this film that establishes him as one of the greatest antagonists in cinema history. Using nothing but a cheap mask that conveys no emotions, keeping him mute throughout the story & giving him an almost mythic strength that renders him invincible, Carpenter presents Myers as a devil incarnate who kills without empathy, and intelligently uses his presence in the film to develop a sinister aura, not to mention the very aspects of this character which has gone on to inspire many more villains.
On an overall scale, Halloween remains one of the genre-defining films of the 1970s whose narrative structure has been adopted as a blueprint for slasher films ever since and its vast influence on cinema & pop culture can’t be downplayed. There were a couple of moments that bothered me but for the most part, this is a thrilling, entertaining & satisfying ride from Carpenter that is every bit worthy of its legendary status. A lesson in horror filmmaking that downplays the elements of gore & graphic violence to show the lasting effect a consistently maintained tense ambience can have on the whole experience, Halloween is the very definition of a slasher film. Happy Halloween, Everyone!