31 Screams in October, #31: Halloween (1978)

Posted: October 31, 2014 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J Soles, Nancy Loomis

What is the creepiest part of hearing the story of a child who kills? Is it simply that this young person snaps, killing fellow students, teachers, police officers, or even family members? Or, is it because we hardly ever find out the reason why they did it? Evil personifies itself in anyone who can remorselessly move from room to room and murder defenseless human beings at will, but it is especially chilling when there is no clear motive. If they don’t take their own lives or aren’t killed by police in the end, rehabilitation is possible, yet seems unlikely. More often, it is the case that your best bet is to keep them locked up and pray they never get out.

One such child is Michael Myers. In 1963, on Halloween night in the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, Michael murdered his older sister, Judith with a very large kitchen knife. He was only six years old at the time. He would spend the next fifteen years of his life at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, under the psychiatric care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), until making his escape the night of October 30, 1978. Something in Michael has kept him focused, thinking of nothing but returning to Haddonfield. Dr. Loomis spent the first eight years of their time together trying in vain to reach Michael. Nothing ever came out of those attempts, since Michael never speaks. During the other seven years, Loomis had come to accept that this young man was not a man at all, merely a monster to be hidden away from the rest of the world. Now that Michael is once again free, Loomis feels it’s his responsibility to see that he is stopped before more people join Michael’s sister in death.

On October 31, 1978, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles), unaware of the danger that is drawing near, are making their plans for the evening. Both Laurie and Annie are stuck babysitting but, because Laurie is the only one without a man in her life, she ends up with both kids sitting on her parents’ couch watching 1951’s “The Thing from Another World” on television. For no apparent reason, these three young ladies are to become Michael Myers’ next targets. Silently, but efficiently, Michael kills Annie, Lynda, and Lynda’s boyfriend, Bob. As Michael begins his relentless pursuit of Laurie, Dr. Loomis closes in to save Laurie from the same fate as her friends.

Because there are sequels, it’s no secret that Michael gets away without killing Laurie. But it’s the way he escapes death this time which is thematically relevant. After firing six shots into Michael and watching him fall from a second story window, Dr. Loomis looks down at the lawn and finds that Michael is gone, as though he had vanished into thin air. What this is meant to represent is that Michael, being a physical manifestation of Evil, cannot be killed because Evil never dies. Donald Pleasance plays this scene perfectly, as the expression on his face can mean one of two things: Either he is surprised to find that Michael is gone, or everything has happened exactly as he expected it to. If you’re going by the sequel, it’s the former, but here it could go either way.

Though technically not the first of its kind, “Halloween” draws from films like “Psycho,” “Black Christmas,” “Bay of Blood,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to create a whole new type of horror genre: the slasher film. The “Friday the 13th” series of movies would never have come to be without the success of “Halloween.” Dozens of other movies owe their existence to the John Carpenter classic, including the Rob Zombie 2007 remake. Despite these facts, “Halloween” remains an almost bloodless thriller unlike so many of its copycats. This was one of the first horror movies I ever rented from Blockbuster Video (RIP), and watching it for the first time is an experience I’ve never forgotten.

Even director John Carpenter has gone on record admitting that “Halloween” would not be half as effective without its score, for which Carpenter himself was responsible. Acting as an additional character in the movie, the music of “Halloween” is as effective as that of “Jaws” in the way it alerts you to the presence of the monster, building the tension as it closes in on its victims. Today, the “Halloween” theme is so ingrained in our popular culture that there are people who use this piece of music to aid in learning how to play the piano! Lighting was also key. Much of the action in Halloween takes place in darkly lit rooms. This allows Michael to pass in and out like some sort of spectre, even entering one room literally wearing a white sheet. All of this further adds to the legend that Michael is something a little less than human.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Did you know that I have never seen any of the Halloween movies? Add it to the list of films we can watch together when we have no Walking Dead and no more Dexter!!! Happy Halloween!!!

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