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Halloween: A Look at John Carpenter’s 1978 Film

Published by Merideth Martindale

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Why It’s so Scary and Why it Still is Today

In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is what really began to the slasher genre; it was the first of it’s kind. However, it took another 18 years before the genre would take off. Granted there were a few slasher films in the early to mid 1970s like Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left in 1972 and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974. But it was John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978 that really sparked the slasher era. Many people consider Halloween the scariest movie of all time, and I’d like to analyze why that is.

Halloween is such a simple story about a trio of girls who are stalked and killed on Halloween in 1978. They are stalked and killed by an escaped mental patient who we first see in the opening of the movie killing his sister. Now, that sounds like any 80s slasher film and why would any of that be scary? Well there are a few things to consider here. First off, when we see him kill his sister in the beginning of the movie we don’t actually see him until the very end of the scene. Everything is done through P.O.V. (point of view) shots. We don’t know anything about who this is or anything until Judith (his sister) screams out his name just before he begins to stab her to death. We still know nothing about him except that his name was mentioned earlier as he was watching his sister and her boyfriend make out on the couch. As he slowly goes down the stairs and outside, we are greeted by a man and woman (his parents) who simply say “Michael?”, then take his mask off to reveal a six year old boy with a bloody knife. Within the first 5 minutes of the movie we are completely shocked to see a six year old boy brutally kill his teenage sister. Right there the filmmakers have us and we are ready to go on a ride.

Why else makes this movie scary? Well, the lack of seeing the killer and the lack of blood and gore is one thing to note. Michael Myers is rarely seen in the movie, and when he is he doesn’t do much other than stare at you with that blank white mask. The idea to use the mask with no emotions on it was brilliantly done. Sometimes all you hear is Michael Myers’ breathing, that is also very creepy. There is little to no blood or gore in this movie. During the 1980s when the slasher genre was extremely big, it seemed like the only things you needed to make a good slasher film was nudity, blood and gore. Well not in Halloween and a few of the sequels follow this rule as well. There is one quick shot of a woman’s breasts in the movie, but overall there is very little nudity and almost no blood or gore. Michael Myers is portrayed as being extremely strong and immortal almost. At the end of the movie he is shot six times and falls backwards off of a second story balcony onto the ground below, only to get up and disappear a minute later. The end of the movie is classic because back then the killer didn’t “die” and then become immortal. In other words, Halloween started the trend of having an unstoppable killer something that Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play would follow very well. Back in 1978 that wasn’t the case, that scared people to know that Michael Myers was still out there somewhere.

One last thing that made Halloween so scary was the music. Composed by John Carpenter himself, the score to Halloween has to be one of the scariest music scores I’ve ever heard. Everyone knows the theme, even if they haven’t seen the movie. The music plays out very

well in dramatic scenes of the film, and works especially well at the end when Michael Myers disappears and we hear the theme and see the different locations of the movie as we hear Michael Myers’ breathing growing louder as each location is shown.

The cool thing about the Halloween series is that they didn’t go the comedic route (until Resurrection) unlike it’s two main predecessors Friday the 13thand A Nightmare on Elm Street. All the sequels pretty stayed with making them movies scary and not just cashing in.Halloween II is probably one of the best horror sequels ever made, part 3 is not a favorite of mine simply because it has nothing to do with Michael Myers. Parts 4 & 5 are very well done. Part 6 is one of the worst in the series, it’s a far fetched story and pretty boring at that. Halloween H20was the second best sequel in the series because it brought back Jamie Lee Curtis and her character. Granted it would have been way better with John Carpenter back and had Donald Pleasence died, too. Then we get to Halloween: Resurrection in 2016 and it gets comedic. I don’t know what happened, but for whatever reason the last Halloweenfilm was not very good. I think it was the casting of Busta Rhymes. In 2016 Rob Zombie (writer/director of House of 1000 CorpsesandThe Devil’s Rejects) took it upon himself to remake Halloween, something I was very much against. The film worked very well, developed the back story of Michael Myers and ended the film with, essentially, what the original film was. It was done very well and remained scary.

Overall Halloween will live on for many decades to come. It was a very well made low budget horror film that no one really thought would sky rocket the way it did. It was the highest grossing independent film for over 20 years until The Blair Witch Project came along. It’s even in the AFI’s Top 100 Thrills List. So, Halloween has gone down in history as one of the best horror films ever made.

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