Jamie Lee Curtis - Laurie Strode
Donald Pleasance - Dr. Sam Loomis
Nancy Loomis - Annie Brackett
Charles Cyphers - Sheriff Brackett
Nick Castle - Michael Myers
Debra Hill - Producer
John Carpenter - Director
Hill/Carpenter - Screenplay
Dean Cundy - Photography
John Carpenter - Film Score
It's easy to see why Halloween became a favorite taget for copyists: by sidestepping social or moral comment, it offers a foolproof blueprint for bloody violence. Unlike most of his imitators, however, John Carpenter interprets that blueprint with a dazzling skill and mocking wit which invests it with a valid cinematic meaning.
As in Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Carpenter begins with a subjective sequence: the camera prowling outside a house, peering in at the teenage couple necking behind its illuminated windows, watching in silent complicity as an unseen presence selects an enourmous butcher's knife, dons a grotesque Halloween mask, and commits bloody murder. At this point, as the emerging killer is revealed to be a six-year-old boy, the camera cranes sharply up and away as if in shocked disbelief. Cut to 15 years later as the killer, now adult, escapes from an asylum and returns home to exorcise more demons (or necking couples.)
Rarely have the remoter corners of the Panavision frame been used to such good effect as shifting volumes of darkness and light reveal the ineluctable presence of a sinister something. We know, and Caprenter knows we know, that it is all a game; and he delights in being just one step ahead of expectation, revealing nothing when there should be something, and something--as in the subtle reframing of Jamie Lee Curtis sobbing in the doorway when she has finally managed to kill the killer, showing the corpse suddenly sitting bolt upright behind her--long after there should, by rights, be nothing.
The plot is relatively straight-forward. The six-year-old turns out to be Michael Myers, who stabbed his own sister to death on Halloween night in 1963. Myers has become a traumatic mute and is sent to spend the rest of his childhood in a sanitarium. The psychotherapist assigned to him, Dr. Sam Loomis, sees something behind those dark, vacant eyes of Myers: the embodiment of pure evil in its most human form. Fifteen years later, Loomis is given orders to bring Myers before the hospital board for a possible release (in a scene cut from the film but restored for the television version, Loomis goes before the board, pleading for them to keep Myers locked up for good). He convinces the board, but when he goes to pick up Meyers for transfer to an adult facility, Loomis finds all the patients walking aimlessly around the hospital in the stormy night. As Loomis tries to find out what's going on, Michael Myers, now 21 years old, steals off with Loomis' vehicle, returning to his old hometown hunting grounds of Haddonfield, Illinois, to stalk two young high school girls (Curtis and Nancy Loomis).
Fascinatingly, in a film devoted to the terrors of the night, Carpenter allows the mystery to be flooded by the light of reason. Despite all the talk of bogeymen by a frightened child, there is nothing of the supernatural in the film. His killer is a creature of flesh and blood who bleeds when stabbed, who can be stoped by bullets, yet who obstinately refuses to die.
The analogy here is perhaps with Norman Bates' mother in Psycho (1960), a character given a terrible immortality by her son's mania. And in fact, playing the game with nice wit, Carpenter establishes quite a network of references (the victims are all voyeuristically observed in the sexual act; the heroine, Curtis, is the daughter of Janet Leigh; Pleasance's psychiatrist, a nominal hero unable to avert the disaster, is named after the John Gavin character), which allows him to refer to Mrs. Bates' involuntary masquerade in two of the best scenes in the film.
One is the chilling celebration of a love enduring beyond the grave when a murdered girl is found formally laid out on her bed with, at her head, the tombstone of the killer's first victim. The other, the hallucinating moment when the door opens, on her lover the victim thinks, but in fact on the killer demurely gowned from head to foot in a white shroud.
The Bowling Green Symphony Orchestra was credited with the score for the film but in actuality Carpenter did the entire score himself. He has cited both The Exorcist (1973) and Suspiria (1976) as inspirations for the music in Halloween, and his minimalist synthesizer and piano music has become one of the classic horror scores of all-time. This film helped to firmly establish John Carpenter's career in Hollywood and he went on to make such films as Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), They Live (1988), Prince of Darkness (1987), and Big Trouble in Little China (1986).
--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films, 1986
Note: Three different choices await the viewer who wishes to purchase the first Halloween film on DVD. The version linked to here is the original theatrical release, and contains trailers and a documentary filmed in 2000. There is, however another DVD which adds twelve extra minutes to the film (shot during the sequal, for it's network television debut). Unfortunately, that version has no extras. The third choice is the 25th anniversary edition which has two discs and all the extras.
A selection of Halloween related films.
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A History of Horror
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