Saturday, October 23, 2010

John Carpenter's "Halloween" still remains classic



Halloween (1978)
90 min., rated R
Grade: A

The mother of all scary movies, John Carpenter's Halloween is an effectively scary and tasteful low-budget horror thriller, which went on to become one of the highest grossing independent films. 

Story is compact but focused and mystical, with “pure evil” masked murderer Michael Myers killing his sister as a young boy and then escaping the asylum, only to return home to his Haddonfield, Illinois town fifteen years later to target teenage babysitters and start up another killing spree. 

This is the film that has spawned so many clones and imitations that never come close; Halloween has no graphic blood, gore, or special effects, just honest jack-in-the-box scares and dreaded suspense, and in-joke references that are fun to spot (i.e. Sam Loomis named after Janet Leigh's boyfriend in Psycho). It popularized the horror clichés before they actually became...clichés: victims having no peripheral vision, sex equaling death, and the killer who can't be killed. 

The one-take POV opening is elegantly filmed in the subjective eyes of the killer as he stalks his older sister and her boyfriend, grabs a butcher knife from the kitchen drawer, and goes on upstairs to stab his naked sibling repeatedly. 

Myers' mask, which was a William Shatner face sprayed white, is hard to shake, as well as Carpenter's truly hair-raising (if simple) original synthesizer-music score which remains the film's strongest asset. Carpenter has his DP, Dean Cundey, making great use of the the widescreen framing that never wastes space, with Myers showing up anywhere. 

Jamie Lee Curtis as victim Laurie Strode marks her territory in this film as the horror genre's most memorable "scream queen," Nancy Loomis and P.J. Soles acquit themselves appealingly as Laurie's stalked friends, giving them more personality than the slasher-pic norm, and Donald Pleasence is wonderfully histrionic as Dr. Loomis. 

Let's just admit it, Halloween may be small but it's the quintessential slasher picture that less is more. 

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