Halloween at 40
"I enjoy playing the audience like a piano." — Alfred Hitchcock
When I was 12, I bought my first of many Roger Ebert Home Movie Guides. Having watched him for a few years on Siskel & Ebert I was curious to get a better sense of his thoughts on films - after all, he is the only film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. I was immediately hooked. I was fascinated with his well thought out takes on every film, even when I didn’t agree with him. Reading Roger Ebert made me develop a better sense in my taste in film as well as honed my ability to express my burgeoning cinematic opinions.
So imagine my surprise when I saw his 4-star review of Halloween. Mind you, I had not seen the movie at the time, but I was shocked to see Mr. Ebert speaking so glowingly and reverentially about a “slasher film.” The quote above is from the review, which compares John Carpenter’s horror classic to Psycho and details what a masterful cinematic experience it is. Soon after, I saw it and was not disappointed. There is nary a false or wasted moment of screen time. And like all great horror films and thrillers, its power resonates and lingers for a few days after.
From the opening killer POV sequence to the eerie daytime prelude to the series of grisly murders to the climatic showdown with what’s simply described as “pure evil,” Halloween has earned its classic status for many reasons. The performances are first rate with Jamie Lee Curtis’s star-making turn as the unknowing target of Michael Myers’ wrath and Donald Pleasance bringing eloquence and gravitas to the role of Dr. Loomis. John Carpenter’s score is a character in and of itself, at times eerie, at times subtle and building to a crescendo, almost operatically. And Carpenter’s direction is like a class in filmmaking in the way he establishes foregrounds and pans the camera, keeping the viewer engaged and on edge throughout.
Watching this film is what hooked me, and many others, as a John Carpenter fan for life. Halloween may be his best work but I would be short-sighted if I didn’t mention his other contributions to the cinematic world:
1974: Dark Star
1976: Assault on Precinct 13
1980: The Fog
1981: Escape From New York
1982: The Thing
1986: Big Trouble in Little China
1988: They Live
Any one of these films would be more than enough to build a respectable reputation from. The fact that they are all John Carpenter films is truly astounding. He has amassed an entire career full of suspenseful films built on solid, powerful characters fighting danger in eerie surroundings, be it the house down the street or the vastness of deep space. But Halloween is the pièce de résistance. I watched it recently and the only thing that I noticed is that it still holds up. It still is the ultimate depiction of the evil that is born just around the corner and may one day be knocking on your own front door.
Halloween inspired an entire generation of horror and so-called “slasher films.” A lot of it turned out to be crap but an inspiration is an inspiration. There has been a never-ending string of sequels, as well as Rob Zombie’s adaptation, and the most recent box office revival starring Jamie Lee Curtis herself but the original Halloween will always be the best. I have seen it about a dozen or so times and I always get chills during the final exchange:
Laurie: Was that the Boogeyman?
Loomis: As a matter of fact, it was.