House of Horror: Halloween (1978)

Halloween_cover

Title: Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Written by: John Carpenter & Debra Hill

Starring:

  • Donald Pleasence
  • Jamie Lee Curtis
  • P.J. Soles
  • Nancy Loomis

Plot: On Halloween night, 1963, in Haddonfield, Illinois, 6-year-old Michael Myers murders his older teenage sister Judith Myers, stabbing her repeatedly with a butcher knife after she had sex with her boyfriend. Fifteen years later, on October 30, 1978, Michael escapes the hospital in Smith’s Grove, Illinois where he had been committed since the murder, and heads back home. Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis, gives chase.

Review: Halloween was a movie that scared the bejesus out of me as a kid, and in some ways still creeps me out now. It’s a very simple slasher story that has held up quite well over time.

We first meet Michael Myers as a kid, who for some unknown reason on Halloween night takes a kitchen knife and kills his older sister Judith. His parents return home and find him, and promptly have him commited. We come back to him fifteen years later the day before Halloween, as his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (played by the great Donald Pleasence), tries to have him transferred to a more secure hospital. Michael is able to escape, leaving few clues as to where he’s going. Loomis knows he’s going home however, as he’s been obsessed with getting through to Michael who’s not said a word since killing his sister all those years ago.

Next up we meet Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Laurie is an average teenage girl living in Illinois who has to baby sit on Halloween night. Her father, a real estate agent, is selling the old Myers house, the spooky house the kids believe is haunted (there’s one in every town). When Lorie drops the key to the Myers house off so it can be looked at, Michael Myers finds his target, and the chase is on.

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Over the course of the film, Michael stalks Laurie and her two girlfriends, before dispatching of them and their boyfriends before closing in on Laurie. Loomis spends the film looking for Michael with the help of Sherriff Bracket, who’s daughter is one of Michael’s victims. Loomis talks about there being nothing behind Michael’s eyes but pure evil, that he’s not a normal man.

Laurie eventually faces off against Michael, getting her shots in as does Michael. Just as Michael is about to kill her, Loomis shows up and shoots Michael six times, sending him off a two story balcony. However, this isn’t enough to keep Michael down, the movie ends with him vanishing, and Loomis worried.

Halloween started off as a low budget slasher, with it’s producers wanting to create a movie that had babysitters being terrorized by an unseen killer. Halloween manages not only to make the holiday scarier then it needed to be, it also kick started the whole “holiday horror” craze we’d see through the 1980s.

Thanks to Halloween we got Friday the 13th, which was a great film series, but we also got April Fools Dad, Silent Night Deadly Night, My Bloody Valentine, the list goes on and on. Halloween set the standard, and for a number of years in the 80s it would be one the best horror franchises on film.

The majority of the film’s success lies in the hands of John Carpenter and Debra Hill. They took a simple story and made it into something more juicy then the script called for. The layers they put on Michael Myers, why is he doing this? What’s wrong with him? Why is he going after Lorie? All questions that we never get answers to, at least in this film. These questions add to the tension, the horror of the film. If we knew Michaels intentions before he got started, I don’t think the film would work as well as it does.

John Carpenter’s direction also cuts a good pace, keeping the film moving along without getting boring, and setting up the characters and set pieces perfectly. It’s easy for a horror film to hit its beats of violence or sex and move along without giving viewers time to take everything in. Carpenter keeps viewers exactly where they should be just long enough, and the chills work to perfection here.

Not to be content with bringing it by writing and directing, John Carpenter also scored the film, and this is where everything about the film changes. There are movies whose scores are drilled into our memories. From Star Wars to Superman, Indiana Jones to Back to the Future, in a lot of cases the music can make or break a film. Halloween’s score is bone chilling, and perfect in every single way. It’s very simple, much like the movie itself, and works on such a level that hearing the music by itself without the movie playing or pictures of the film will conjure up images of the film and raise goose bumps on your arm. I once had the soundtrack on CD back in the 90s, and could easily scare a room full of people by playing it.

The film also introduced a number of cliches that other horror movies would follow over the years. For instance, those who had sex in the movie (two of Laurie’s friends) both die. Her friends also are the only two to use drugs (Laurie tries it and ends up not liking it). One of the girls’ boyfriends says he’ll be back before leaving the room only to get killed, yet another “rule”. John Carpenter has of course denied that these are the reasons the characters died. I believe him.

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Halloween didn’t have money behind it to help make it successful, so it had to rely on everything else. This is another movie that proves you don’t need a ton of money to make an outstanding film, which does everything it’s supposed to do, scare you and stay with you for years to come.

Laurie: Was that the boogeyman?
Dr. Loomis: As a matter of fact…it was.

Acting: Jamie Lee Curtis made her film debut here, and is often credited as the original scream queen (I’d give that to Marylin Burns of TCM fame). She does her job well here all things considered. She plays the role with a girl next door vibe, being soft when needed and getting brave when it was called for. Donald Pleasence was PERFECT as Dr. Loomis. His various roles over the years gave him the ability to pull of Dr. Loomis, where as someone else would have drawn the wrong response to his character. P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis did their job of looking good and dying easy.

Gore Factor: Very little. We get a knife through the chest, a strangling and a knife in the arm. There’s almost no blood and the film is better for it.

Nudity Factor: P.J. Soles shows off her girls for a few seconds, asking the iconic “see anything ya like?” question. Yes P.J., we sure do.

Fun Facts:

  • Due to its shoestring budget, the prop department had to use the cheapest mask that they could find in the costume store: a Star Trek William Shatner mask. They later spray-painted the face white, teased out the hair, and reshaped the eye holes. Shatner admitted that for years he had no idea his likeness was used for this film. It was only during an interview that someone mentioned his mask was being used. He has since stated that he is honored by this gesture.
  • Shot in 21 days in April of 1978 and made on a budget of $320,000, it became the highest-grossing independent movie ever made at that time.
  • Half of the $320,000 budget was spent on the Panavison cameras so the film would have a 2:35:1 scope. Donald Pleasence was paid $20,000 for 5 days work.
  • Carpenter approached Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to play the Sam Loomis role but both turned him down. Lee later said it was the biggest mistake he had ever made in his career.
  • John Carpenter was quite intimidated by Donald Pleasence, of whom he was a big fan and who was easily the oldest and most experienced person on set. Although Pleasence asked Carpenter difficult questions about his character, Pleasence turned out to be a good-humored, big-hearted individual and the two became great friends. Pleasence went to appear in two other Carpenter films.
  • P.J. Soles went to a screening of the movie after it was released, sitting in the 4th row of a regular audience. She was very amused, when during her nude scene and line of “see anything you like?” a male audience member in front yelled out “hell yes I do!” unaware she was right behind him.

Overall: Halloween achieved iconic status long ago, and has aged quite well considering it’s over thirty years old. John Carpenter and his crew delivered plenty of scares with little money, a testament to what people can do with good acting, writing, and music. This is the horror movie you keep around and view, of course, on Halloween.

Rating: 5/5

Author: Jeremy Nichols

Jeremy Nichols is regular writer for the Place to be Nation, a father of two and a full time gamer. He hosts a video game podcast at VGCE.podomatic.com and loves Super Mario Bros. Sweep the leg! Send Jeremy an email