A lot of people call the 1978 low-budget horror film Halloween from director John Carpenter an all-time classic that is also one of the scariest movies ever made. As a commercial product, it made around $70 million in ticket sales worldwide on a production budget of less than $400,000. When it was first released, it received a mixed reception from movie critics but two notable critics – Roger Ebert and Tom Allen – praised it and arguably propelled the film. Halloween also sparked a wave of slasher horror films that got produced most notably the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street films. The slasher horror sub-genre also became a business-friendly model for movie studios that wanted to profit without spending too much on production costs.
Apart from the continued praise and accolades it received, Halloween was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry (NFR) by the Library of Congress which found it to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The film was selected by Empire Magazine as an entry in its “The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time” feature.
I learned about all those winning achievements before even getting to watch John Carpenter’s Halloween for the first time ever many years ago.
How was my 90 minutes of watching it the first time? Halloween did not do well for me and it’s not as great as I thought it was.
Let’s start with the plot. On the evening of October 31, 1963, a 6-year-old Michael Myers (wearing a clown costume) killed his teenage sister and was discovered by their parents outside their home (in Haddonfield, Illinois) still holding the knife. Fifteen years later, Michael was to be escorted from a sanitarium to a court by Dr. Sam Loomis and Marion Chambers but he took advantage of a situation to steal the car (of Loomis) and drive all the way to Haddonfield. Along the way he killed a mechanic (to wear a boiler suit) and stole key items (knives, rope and the distinctive mask) from a store.
Shortly enough Myers stalks Laurie Strode while Dr. Loomis reaches Haddonfield anticipating great danger from the Myers. Wanna know what happens? Watch the movie if you can.
Halloween is not a mere low-budget horror movie that got very successful commercially. Rather it is a labor of love and collaboration. Many times during the filming, the cast members participated in the arrangement of the equipment and along the way they bonded closely with John Carpenter, Debra Hill and the other film crew members. In some ways, the bonding added to the serviceable quality of the actors’ performances on-screen as well as the clever techniques used by the filmmakers. Donald Pleasance is the true start of the film and clearly did his best on making Dr. Loomis a very believable concerned professional that viewers can relate with. Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode is memorable and will always be remembered as the archetype “final girl” of the horror genre.
Carpenter did not only write and direct the film but also provided the music which alone added to the scare factor and overall mood of the film. Definitely without the music, the movie would have been ineffective in scaring viewers. Even until now, having a movie director who is also talented and capable of providing the music is rare.
Considering the low budget, the filmmakers did a good job making the movie visually creepy. The way they had Michael Myers mix in with the shadows in the dark interiors of the houses remains great to watch. Also who could forget Michael’s emerging from the darkness in the background as Laurie Strode (in the brighter foreground) remained unaware of his presence late in the film? That sequence is true horror classic.
The cinematography by Dean Cundley is excellent to the eyes. The film looks bigger than its budget shows and there were lots of shots showing a wide, open “world” within.
As for the horror icon Michael Myers, having him as a mysterious figure was the right move pulled of here. He stalks people and takes his time killing the victims which easily freaked out moviegoers back in 1978. His mask with a very expressionless face further added to his creepy look. Back to his being mysterious, Michael Myers is truly effective as a violent horror figure as moviegoers are left up to imagine on their own why is he such a killer, why is he so cold, what could have made him like that, etc.
While the movie had its strong points, they are not enough to keep Halloween the acclaimed, all-time, very scary movie many claimed to be. In my honest view, I don’t find Halloween scary at all even with the combined visuals, action and music.
As it preceded the 1980s wave of slasher horror movies, John Carpenter’s movie lacked the violence and the goriness of those other films which ultimately made it look tame by comparison. It is no wonder why when the filmmakers produced Halloween II (1981), moves were made to make that sequel more violent and gory to keep up with the competition. That being said, Halloween just can’t keep up with those other slasher horror films when it comes to scare factor and violence. Really, Halloween is ultimately not scary to me.
While Michael Myers is iconic as a horror figure, he really is not that intimidating as a villain in the movie. Sure he stands from outside the place staring at Laurie Strode like an obsessed stalker but I personally don’t find that effective. In fact, I just end up saying, “Oh, he’s just posing to catch Laurie’s attention and then vanishes without a trace…like an attention grabber with some cowardice within.”
On the way things happened in the story, unrealistic or unbelievable scenarios made me lose focus on the narrative. Let’s be honest with ourselves as we try to relate to what happened and who took part in the story. Who would walk into another house alone in the dark (read: not bothering to turn the lights on) alone? Who would go to the yard alone in the dark to check on the noise or disturbance felt? The lack of lighting sure adds to the creepy factor but ultimately these are cheap tactics by filmmakers to build up suspense and jump scares.
And then there was that scene in which Dr. Loomis spent too much time standing at one particular spot only to realize that his stolen car was just parked nearby. Was he absent-minded all the time to even notice his car?
Another weakness in the film is its slow pacing which made me feel sleepy at times. The film’s dialogue lacked punch and there was a lack of interesting developments before the killings set in. As for the serviceable acting, there were a few actors playing the victims of Michael Myers who registered sub-par reactions which detracted from the targeted scare and shock values of the killings. Perhaps a few more takes and compelling the actors to perform better would have helped.
I know I will be bashed here by the fans of Halloween and John Carpenter but I must say that 1978’s Halloween is simply not a great film, not scary at all and it did not age well. I question not only the acclaim it received but also its status as a preserved film in the National Film Registry. Had I not seen all the other slasher horror films and limited myself to Halloween, then this John Carpenter movie would have been more engaging and scarier. Sadly that’s not the case with reality right now and I can clearly say that Halloween is over-rated. Sorry John Carpenter.
Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version.
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