30 Days of Madness, Day 20 — Halloween (1978)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

halloween

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I broke the rules a little bit here, as I had already seen John Carpenter’s Halloween. But I hadn’t seen it on the big screen, with surround sound!

What can I write about Halloween that hasn’t already been written? Only my personal experience with the film.

I’d seen Halloween only once, more than a decade ago, on full-screen VHS. I wasn’t allowed to watch slasher films as a kid. Which is fine, actually. I detest the genre in general. The first slasher film I ever sat down and watched from start to finish, if I remember right, was Scream, and it would’ve been on pay per view, so probably late 1996 or early 1997, so I would’ve been 15 years old. What’s funny about that is, I watched it with my mom. The same lady who wouldn’t let me watch slashers. (I also ended up watching both Event Horizon and Seven with her. Parental allowances can be weird.)

I loved Scream. I still love Scream. I’m a fan of the whole series. And though I hadn’t watched slasher films up till that point, I knew the tropes, because they had been assimilated into the pop culture collective consciousness. I knew basically who Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger and Leatherface were. And I watched Halloween: H20 sometime in the late 90s, so that was my introduction to a full-length Halloween film.

But it wasn’t until college that I started seeking out these OG slasher flicks–along with whatever else I could get my hands on. The dollar rental store down the street from my dorm became my mecca. And one of those I finally sat down and watched was Halloween. It knocked my socks off. I couldn’t believe how much I got into this movie, and how effective it was, in its suspense and its shock value.

Most of this movie had stuck with me, but especially the opening POV long take that introduces us to six-year-old Michael, the glasses guy getting pinned to the cupboard with the butcher knife, the hanger to the eye, and most especially, that one shot where you see Michael lying on his back behind Laurie, and he sits up. Of course that has been done a hundred times since. But here, in this film, it got me just right.

I’ve also in the intervening years developed a love for vintage John Carpenter. Though I haven’t seen his entire filmography yet, I’ve come to hold his body of work, at least from 1978 to 1986, in high regard, including Escape from New YorkThe ThingStarmanBig Trouble in Little China, and this, the film that put him on Hollywood’s map and launched a genre full of regrettable retreads, but with a gem here and there.

So when I found out Halloween was playing at my local cineplex, I had to go. I wanted the full experience. And I wanted to be in a crowd of people watching it, maybe some people who had never seen it before. I wanted to see how people would react to it as much as I wanted to experience it for myself. Alas, it was only me and one other guy in the theater. (This made me sad.)

Whatever that guy’s relationship with or response to the film was, I don’t know. But I know what my response was when that jack-o-lantern lit up and that iconic music started. Sheer delight. Carpenter’s Halloween score is one of the greatest and best horror film scores–hell, one of the greatest and best film scores, period. But before the film proper even began, I was treated to a retrospective look at Halloween‘s debut in 1978. The most financially successful independent film ever made, up to that point, making its mark in the early days of the Spielberg/Lucas blockbuster era. Even more a treat were the interview segments with John Carpenter (recorded, it seems, sometime in 2015). Carpenter’s films over the past couple of decades may not be up to the standard of his classic work, but the man is just as much of a badass and a rogue as ever. Listening to him talk about how he kept creative control over Halloween, both during production and in the maelstrom that followed–I just want to shake that man’s hand. Carpenter will remain a legend.

As for the film itself, I was surprised how hard my heart was pounding during that opening scene, even though I knew what was coming. I don’t know if it was the first great POV suspense scene, but it ranks among the best. And the build-up of Michael Myers’ fixation on Laurie Strode–genius. Sure, most of the acting is not great in this film–though of course Donald Pleasance stands out–but it’s still fun seeing Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut. And the character of Michael Myers is so larger than life. So many imitators, including within its own franchise, but few touch what Carpenter and his writing and producing partner Debra Hill accomplished with that character.

It hardly needs to be said, but Halloween is one of the all-time great horror films. Wake up, sleepy suburbia. Death has come to your little town.

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: Started in the 500s, moved to #397 (out of 3263, a relative 88/100)

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