(director/writer/music: John Carpenter; screenwriter: Debra Hill; cinematographer: Dean Cundey; editors: Charles Bornstein/Tommy Wallace; cast: Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), P.J. Soles (Lynda), Nancy Loomis (Annie Brackett), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Brackett), Nick Castle (The Shape), Brian Andrews (Tommy Doyle), Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace), Tony Moran (Michael Myers, age 21), Will Sandin (Michael Myers, age 6), Sandy Johnson (Judith Myers), John Michael Graham (Bob), Nancy Stephens (Nurse Marion Chambers); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Irwin Yablans/Debra Hill; Criterion Collection; 1978
“One of the more successful indie forays into the slasher/horror film genre.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
One of the more successful indie forays into the slasher/horror film genre. It has become a lasting cult icon. This John Carpenter written and directed venture, where he also created the spine-tingling music, was made for a mere $300,000. It is considered to be the father of the recent surge of slasher films made since 1978, while the others are grizzly imitations and pale in comparison. “Halloween” gives the slasher movie a better name than it probably deserves. This psycho venture is well-crafted, and the gore is well-conceived and made secondary to its suspense. It also benefits from smartly letting its cogent wit be flashed in a disarming way against the backdrop of small town Middle America. In a more amateurish and gruffer way it brings about the same tension that Hitchcock’s “Psycho” did, though it’s not up there in that film’s stratosphere of greatness. What I appreciate most about this Carpenter flick, is that he goes for the suspense while showing as little blood as possible as he casually lets the viewer observe and even relate to the threatened teenagers without making a moral statement about their questionable behavior or trying to explain the enigmatic psycho on the loose except by borrowing from the manufactured Halloween tradition that he’s the Boogie Man. Though Carpenter certainly shows, even if he doesn’t mean it to be interpreted in that way, that the film reflects the mores of bourgeois America by having the one straight teenager live through the Halloween slaughter while all the sexual promiscuous girls end up in a violent death.
The film opens in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, as Judith Myers just finishes making love to her boyfriend in her family house and when he leaves she’s stabbed to death by her Halloween costumed 6-year-old brother Michael for no reason at all. The film moves 15 years later to 1978 in an asylum in another small Illinois town, where the 21-year-old escapes by stealing the psychiatrist’s car who is treating him, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence).
The disoriented Loomis arrives armed with a gun in Haddonfield on Halloween night to warn Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) about the escape and the danger it presents to the town. Loomis has treated the boy since his arrest 15 years ago and believes he’s dealing with an unremorseful evil psychopath who has not uttered a word since his captivity and has a penetrating stare as if he can look through walls in an ominous way. For a reason I don’t quite get, except I think the shrink might be incompetent, he gets the only seen cop in town to keep it a secret about the escape, and he plans to hide in the bushes by the abandoned Myers house and thereby trap the killer when he returns. Loomis becomes an avenging angel figure, perhaps out of guilt that such a dangerous lunatic was allowed to escape so easily from the asylum under his watch.
Jamie Lee Curtis makes her auspicious film debut as she plays Laurie Strode, the good virgin girl who is too socially backward and too smart for the boys in town and therefore has no dates. She’s a great baby-sitter because of her patience around children, and will baby-sit for little Tommy Doyle on Halloween. While her more sexually active girlfriend Annie Brackett (Nancy Loomis), the daughter of the sheriff, will baby-sit three houses down for Lindsey Wallace. She’s only disappointed that her boyfriend got grounded by his parents for throwing eggs as a prank and can’t keep her occupied while she watches the little girl. Laurie’s other friend is the obnoxious but attractive popular cheerleader Lynda (P.J. Soles), who starts every sentence Valley Girl style with “Totally” and plans to be with her boyfriend Bob on Halloween night and to join Annie later on where she’s baby-sitting for the little girl who is glued to the TV watching monster films.
The suspense builds as the escaped psycho becomes a shadowy figure seen for a moment in town by Laurie and then Tommy, but soon disappears into the night shadows so that Laurie is uncertain if she really saw something and Tommy is not believed when he says he saw the Boogie Man. It all comes down to the sobbing Laurie taking on the psycho by herself. Nick Castle plays Michael and is credited as being “the Shape.” He’s viewed as an inhuman, zombie-like embodiment of evil who wears a painted white Captain Kirk mask that hides his features as he slowly kills without emotion and in silence, and with only the glint of his huge knife seen in the semi-darkness. “Halloween” makes for a “totally” good scary amusement ride, if you like this kind of pointless film. This genre always seems to be popular with movie-goers, and when this film got noticed by a film critic from the Village Voice it finally got a wide release and received some good box office (once in a while someone listens to a film critic).
REVIEWED ON 11/8/2002 GRADE: B