An outsider’s take on the ‘Halloween’ saga: ‘Halloween’ (1978) (Movie review)

Although I’ve seen some of the “Halloween” films, I haven’t seen them recently enough to remember them. So this watch/rewatch of the saga will mark my first time thinking about them as a movie reviewer. Armed with categories suggested by “Halloween” superfan Michael (Olinger, not Myers), here’s my review of the first entry, “Halloween” (1978).

OVERALL THOUGHTS

I first saw “Halloween” in the wake of the “Scream” craze in 1996 and found it boring. But watching it from a historical perspective now, I appreciate how much of a classic it is. While the statement that “the music makes the movie” applies to a lot of films, it’s extreme here. Although there are no special effects in “Halloween,” co-writer/director/composer John Carpenter creates the entire mood of the piece in post-production with his famous score.

Although it’s not exactly like “Jaws,” where the theme only plays when the shark is on the prowl, it’s similar: If Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) could somehow hear the music, she’d have more of a fair warning. I also like the film’s nostalgic spirit of Halloween and autumn in the Midwest, trick-or-treaters, jack-o-lanterns, and grade-schoolers discussing the Boogeyman.

BEST CHARACTER

A case could be made for Michael Myers, a.k.a. The Shape (Nick Castle), as a spot-on portrayal of inexplicable psychopathy, and for the obsessed Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance). But Laurie grounds the movie and keeps it from being purely dark. “Halloween” made Curtis into the original “scream queen,” so I can’t vote against Laurie. She’s the bookish-but-not-too-nerdy Everyteen, a contrast to her friends who are obsessed with sex. Even amid the closing-act attack by the Boogeyman, she tries to steer the kids to safety. She’s the only character whose brain runs on multiple tracks, and she’s worth rooting for.

BEST SCARE

After 90 minutes of suspense, it’s pretty epic when Laurie finds one … two … three … of her friends’ corpses in a bedroom, and then the white mask emerges from the nearby shadows.

BEST DEATH

Poor Bob being pinned to the door with a knife is classic (albeit illogical from a physics standpoint).

FUNNIEST MOMENT

Proving that even emotionless psychopaths can have a sense of humor, Michael dresses up as a ghost and wears Bob’s glasses in order to toy with Lynda before making her his next victim.

THAT SEEMS FAMILIAR

“Halloween” isn’t the first slasher film, but it is the first famous one, and most of the clichés pointed out by Randy in “Scream” are present and accounted for, including the teen being killed after saying he’ll “be right back,” young people being slaughtered as “punishment” for having sex, and the fact that running upstairs – rather than to the open ground outside – is not a good strategy.

THAT DOESN’T AGE WELL

A record-scratch moment of dialogue happens when teenage Bob is discussing plans with girlfriend Lynda: “First, I rip your clothes off … Then I rip my clothes off, then I rip Lindsey’s clothes off. Yeah, I think I got it.” Although it’s meant as a goofy joke rather than “so wrong it’s funny” humor, the sexualizing of a child (Lindsey is one of the kids Laurie is babysitting) catches one’s ear, especially in modern PC times.

MOST SURPRISING ELEMENTS

Since it’s an early and influential entry in the slasher genre, “Halloween” is surprisingly bloodless. We never see a knife piercing flesh, as if Carpenter had ratings or censors in mind. That said, the fact that the kills don’t strictly look real doesn’t hurt the film. The style choice keeps us in a mood of suspense rather than thinking about extreme violence; the opposite is the case in “Scream.”

Considering how iconic the mask is, it’s also interesting to note that since Michael doesn’t steal the mask from the hardware store until the second act, he is maskless when stalking people before that. Because of the framing, we don’t see his face, but it’s still interesting to think about.

HOW OVER-THE-TOP IS DONALD PLEASENCE?

Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis is a single-minded good-guy foil to The Shape’s single-minded evil. Michael’s evil is all he ever talks about, and he stalks the streets of Haddonfield, Ill., in pursuit of Michael the same way Michael stalks the streets for teenagers. Still, while his statements about Michael’s “inhuman patience” and “Devil’s eyes” would seem extreme out of context, he’s obviously completely on-point in “Halloween.” So considering that, I find that Loomis – and Pleasence — keeps a quite level head.

THE MASK

It very much resembles William Shatner in this first entry. I was surprised to find it not a solid piece, but instead elastic, when it gets briefly pulled off in the final battle to reveal Tony Moran in the role.

NEW REVELATIONS ABOUT MICHAEL

As this is the first entry, there’s no saga-wide continuity yet, but we do learn that Michael’s killings started when he was a child in the 1960s, when he murders his teenage sister.

FORGOTTEN THREADS

Again, there’s not much to say here yet, but it is interesting that we don’t find out what happened to Michael’s parents. We see them when they come home to discover 6-year-old Michael with a bloody knife on their lawn, then never again. We do know they moved out of their house soon after the murder.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

Michael has disappeared from where he had fallen into the front yard from the second story after being shot several times by Loomis. This marks the third time he seemingly dies and turns out to be fine: He also takes a sewing needle to the neck and a coat hanger to the eye, courtesy of Laurie. Loomis suggests that Michael is not human, something I initially took as a metaphorical statement. But by “Halloween’s” end, ample evidence suggests Michael is not physically human either. So a logical next step for the narrative would be to get into the scientific explanation of what Michael is.


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