Long before Michael Myers became a meme and almost cuddly figure, he was a quietly menacing figure that inspired genuine fear. Halloween shows that one does not need a large budget or extreme violence to create a now-iconic horror figure.
Halloween, 1963. Haddonfield, Illinois is shocked when six-year-old Michael Myers, dressed as a clown, kills his sister Judith with a butcher knife. Fifteen years later, psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is going to take Michael to a court hearing. Loomis is convinced that Michael, whom he has tried to treat all these years, is more than a menace. He is evil incarnate.
Unfortunately, Michael manages to escape from the mental hospital in the fierce rainstorm. It is October 30, 1978. Loomis rushes desperately to Haddonfield, where he knows Michael will go. No one, however, is taking his warnings seriously.
They should, for Michael has selected his newest target: high schooler Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). The relatively shy teenager is babysitting this All Hallows Eve, though her other friends don't mind mixing a little tryst with their boyfriends with their own babysitting. Michael, calmly and coolly, begins his murder spree. Will Laurie survive this night of terror? Will Dr. Loomis bring Michael in?
Halloween clocks in at an hour and a half, and it is fascinating to see how in that brief running time, co-writer/director John Carpenter can do so much (the script written by Carpenter and Debra Hall). Halloween begins with an impressive six minute sequence where we see from little Michael's point-of-view. Sometimes it does come across as a little clumsy (Judith's stabbing in particular), but this is strong filmmaking where less is more.
A lot of Halloween's success comes from how economical the film is, "economical" in every sense of the word. The kills were, to my count, a mere five. Moreover, they were not particularly graphic. We even have one or two that were not via stabbing but via strangulation.
Halloween also sets Michael up as this shadowy figure, lurking in the background but not being active until very late in the film. This is a brilliant decision, for it keeps the audience anticipation going into when he will strike.
You have a balance of the old and the new in the performances. Donald Pleasance is strong and effective as Loomis, forever warning of the danger Michael Myers is. He firmly commands the screen as the voice of reason and danger. Halloween's opening credits read "Introducing Jamie Lee Curtis", and it is surprising that this was her film debut. The daughter of Oscar nominees Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis is effective as "the final girl".
She is a little hesitant at times, but we can put that down to the character as well as her first film role. Curtis brings a blend of innocence and rational fear as she faces this mysterious menace, unstoppable and unreasonable.
Among Halloween's best elements is the score, which director Carpenter also wrote. The hurried pace and repetitive nature of the opening theme is now iconic, ingrained into the dominant culture to signify danger. The rest of the score also works well.
If perhaps there is an issue in Halloween, it is how some things seem slightly preposterous. The headstone over a victim's body looks too grand for the setting. I also wondered how both Laurie and Michael could have survived some of their attacks.
That is a bit of a nitpick, however, for Halloween has not just stood the test of time but gone on to influence the horror genre. Future films in what would become a franchise have been hit and miss, with some being clear embarrassments for all involved (filmmakers and fans alike). Still, separate from the overall cascade of future projects, Halloween is an excellent film which should get more credit for being a landmark in independent filmmaking.
"Was that the boogeyman?", Laurie Strode asks Dr. Loomis after he apparently shoots Michael Myers down. "As a matter of fact, it was," he replies. Halloween is a strong fright-fest and an exceptional film in the horror genre.