John Carpenter Scores Big
I will never forget seeing Halloween in 1978. I was 12 years old, and my uncle was a projectionist in the Center Theatre in Scranton. So he took my best friend and I with him, and I’m sure we had no idea what we were going to experience. While it may seem tame by today’s torture horror fans, there is something about the mood, pace and eerieness of this film that really left an impression. While this may be lost on DVD, I would bet if you show it on the big screen today, to unsuspecting kids, it would still scare the hell out of them. John Carpenter, using the lowest of low budgets, creates a chilling tale of Michael Myers, an escaped mental patient returning to his hometown on Halloween night. This is not a slasher flick. There is actually very little blood in the film itself, and that is one of the accomplishments. One of the vivid memories I have is actually being creeped out during the scenes that take place in broad daylight. How many other films can do that?
The best character in the film is played by the late, great Donald Pleasance. As Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers’ psychiatrist, he brings a sense of dread and panic that has rarely been captured on film. Most actors come off as over-the-top, but not Pleasance. He approaches the role with great seriousness, although he does manage to pull off an unexpected laugh halfway through. Horror veteran Christopher Lee was originally offered the role, but turned it down. He later told Carpenter it was one of the worse mistakes he made in his career. I’m glad, because it’s hard to imagine anyone else in this pivotal role.
Another aspect that makes the film is the realism of the look and feel of the town of Haddonfield, Myers’ hometown. It evokes memories of every small town in America. You can almost feel the fall-like weather, which Carpenter pulled off shooting out of season, even hand painting the leaves that float around the streets. The achievement of Halloween is making something out of nothing, and leaving a filmmaking mark that is rarely reached. The crew was small, the actors unknown and yet this film went on to huge success. John Carpenter is a true independent maverick here, and though he never reached these peaks again, I respect this film.
The icing on the cake for this movie was the music. The legendary theme is still wildly popular during the Halloween season, and Carpenter composed it himself. He admitted in an interview that the movie was not that scary…until he added the music. It is unnerving and intense, and when heard under the images, downright disturbing. Another triumph.
Going back to my experience in 1978, I had never before been at a movie where people jumped, screamed, left the theatre and shouted at the screen. But I saw it that day. I will admit I never saw The Exorcist on the big screen, but these are two very different types of movies. Halloween is a horror movie…and a damn good one. If you don’t believe me, take a kid to the video store, rent it (on Halloween}, turn down the lights, and watch it with them. I think it might have an effect .
Halloween went on to gross $47 million dollars from a budget of $320,000, which made it the most successful indenpendent film ever at that time. Carpenter took no fee to make the film, but took 10% of the gross. Smart move.
imdb.com, AMC: Halloween 30 Year Retrospective