Before Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th series and Freddy Krueger of the Nightmare on Elm Street entries, Halloween’s Michael Myers epitomized the American slasher film and haunted the autumn leaf-covered suburbs with that silly but terrifying Captain Kirk mask.
“Slasher” might be an impertinent descriptor, however.
Yes, there is a lot of slashing and a madman who is doing the slashing, but Halloween is more a rustic, handcrafted, analog horror film than the exploitative, misogynistic ditties that came after it.
In a word, Halloween is a miracle:
On a shoestring budget, Director John Carpenter was able to cast a shadow over what was soon to become the Spielbergian neighborhood for E.T. and “Goonies” to thrive in. Through POV shots on a Steadicam, he placed us in the mind of a killer on a rampage.
He empowered a female protagonist bravely played by the iconic Jamie Lee Curtis:
He composed a score in an unconventional 5/4 time signature, defying viewer anticipation and any sense of relief:
And, finally, Mr. Carpenter won the creepiest mask competition vs. Jason and Freddy when he painted a rubber Captain Kirk face completely white and only let us see the darkness through the eyeholes.
Myers’ backstory is humdrum mental disorder backlash, but the ambiguity adds to the fright factor. The real chills are found in Jamie Lee Curtis’s babysitter scenario. I didn’t even see Halloween before I babysat my younger brothers in the late 80s, but I knew that fear of the outdoor prowler who might be peering into the dark front yard window (or, could very well already be nestled inside the house).
Like Spielberg in Jaws, Carpenter didn’t need to show his viewers much of the monster—the intensifying setups that tapped into our imaginations were all the more upsetting.
Also, even though I was a youngster who grew up with and cherished the Friday the 13th series, I can now see with more mature eyes the line that was crossed after Halloween was released: The slasher film simply used women as fodder and sexual objects for torture. Not much imagination was included in their victim story, and even the jump scene cleavings grew redundant over time. Jamie Lee Curtis not only plays the victim in Halloween, she ascends to the level of outsmarting victor and hero. In the sequel and the remake (if you count that), she does it again! (I’m actually not sure how many times her character, Laurie Strode, went face-to-face with Michael.)
Watching Halloween (1978) again in 2020 reminded me of cheap, bulky, plastic VHS tapes winding through the cogwheels of the cheap VCR player attached to the 50-pound television we used to watch in the basement when I was a kid. There’s a grittiness to it. Netflix, the flatscreens, and CGI will never, ever be able to replace it.
I’m blessed to have such a good memory.
Halloween is one of those memories, and seeing it again for the first time is why I watch the movies in the first place.
The Shot that Won’t Let Go:
Final Score: 5 malicious, skull-carved jack-o’-lanterns out of 5
A classic. A groundbreaker.
What was your experience watching Halloween for the first time? Or, second? Third…?
Thanks for reading,