Just like Star Wars did with the sci-fi genre, Halloween did the same for the horror genre, establishing a style that changed the genre forever. The 80’s were an especially fertile period that took what started here and expanded into absurdity the way only that decade was capable of doing. When looking back to its roots, the film seems like a shy blueprint of what would come later. But it still works wonders.
In 1963, Michael Myers was just a kid who decided to stab his sister to death on Halloween night. No showing any remorse, he was sent to a mental institution. In 1978, he escapes and goes back to his hometown Haddonfield, Illinois on the anniversary of his sister’s death to keep his bloody routine alive. He is tracked by his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Pleasance), who knows Myers will never cease his thirst.
Watching Halloween can be a bit of a bummer. Audiences have become so accustomed to the deluge of horror films released in the following years, each one more absurd than the last in terms of its gore value in what felt like a competition. In comparison to those films, this one is kind of intriguing to watch if only to see how simple and ordinary it was. Halloween was anything but a comedy, which sometimes is hard to say about some of these films. Its simplicity is one of its best qualities. The scares are built with very little flash, making everything feel way spookier. The mood, the silence and the dark spots work wonders. Myers is the personification of evil, and the simple white mask is quite effective to give us the creeps. It’s kind of funny to see how things became bigger and more elaborated after Halloween, to the point that the genre completely lost its way.
Ultimately, the different here was John Carpenter. A master of narrative, the film is full of great choices. Halloween was very low budget, and it shows but despite that, Carpenter fully utilizes the budget to his advantage narratively. The suburban neighborhoods, the houses, the back yards, everything was an asset for Carpenter to create one hell of a scary ride of a film. What made these elements so effective was their relatability: our unlocked back door, the bushes around our houses, the glass doors that cannot hold someone lurking or trying to break in… everything is used to freak us out. And it does.
Though it is worth mentioning that some things have aged pretty badly. The women, for example, can’t even properly open a door to escape from Myers. Laurie (Curtis) locks herself inside a closet with a paper-thin door. It’s infuriating to watch these characters make such bad decisions, especially after subsequent horror films have been portraying women capable of fighting back.
At the end of the day, Halloween is still a great horror ride of a movie.
still courtesy of TIFF
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