Halloween (1978)

Compass International Pictures presents Halloween

“Death has come to your little town, sheriff.”

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Ten years after a young boy named Michael murders his babysitter and her boyfriend in the sleepy town of Haddonfield, IL, he returns to finish wreaking his revenge.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis, P. J. Soles as Laurie’s friend Lynda, Halloween is directed by John Carpenter based on a screenplay written by Carpenter and Debra Hill.

Compass International Pictures presents Halloween

I was barely out of diapers when John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s horror masterpiece Halloween was released to an unwitting public in 1978.  The film, famously made on a shoestring budget of about $325K has raked in modern day equivalents to $240 million worldwide.  Yes, in addition to “The Blair Witch Project”, that makes Halloween one of the most successful independent films of all time (so far).

While Halloween is credited with originating a set of “horror film cliches” that were used and reused in the horror films of the 1980s and 1990s, few would argue that the slasher films that followed relied more heavily on graphic violence and gore than Halloween.  In the film, although it is difficult to see it through new eyes if you are only accustomed to the horror films of the 2000s and 2010s, Carpenter/Hill compose, before your very eyes, the structure of the modern day horror film.

Compass International Pictures presents Halloween

During the initial sequence of the film, which takes place 15 years earlier (October 31, 1963 if you’re keeping track), we are introduced to our villain, Michael Myers.  Who, at the time, is little more than a troubled (read: homicidal) child hiding behind a Halloween mask.  He is sent away, post haste, to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium.  Now, almost completely gone from use and the public eye, sanitariums hold little of the real fear they once did when you could, for simply believing differently from your mother or father, be sent away to one and be locked in a cell, alone … forever.

The Shining: spoiler alert

Jump to the “present”.  It’s a crisp, Autumn day.  Everything is beautiful.  A group of teenage girls, led by Laurie Strode (played brilliantly by a very young Jamie Lee Curtis), is walking to school.  They’re talking crap.  They’re teenagers and besides the clothes and hair, very little has essentially changed.  They’re making plans for Halloween.  Laurie has to babysit.  Ah, shucks!  John Carpenter and Debra Hill have ingeniously set you up.  They’re giving you this  idyll of suburbia and you’re eating it up.  You’re totally sucked in now.  Maybe you’ve even forgotten about Michael …

Compass International Pictures presents Halloween

What transpires, by today’s standards, amounts to a protracted character set-up in which we are introduced to a cast of characters that we will soon be forced to part with, including Annie Brackett (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles).  Isn’t it great when films care enough about their characters to give them last names?  Pay attention, it harkens.  Without these details, without this time, without this glimpse into their lives, you probably won’t care when Laurie’s friends start biting the dust.  Soon.  As in, that very night.  And then, what would be the point?

Horror 102: the hero

One thing I’ve always respected about Halloween is that John Carpenter and Debra Hill made a decision about the character of Laurie Strode and they committed to it.  Laurie manages to stay strong, fresh, and alert throughout the ordeal that becomes this one, particular Halloween night.  Despite being repeatedly, relentless chased and attacked by the masked man that is Michael Myers, she keeps her wits and manages to do what few other characters in the history of horror film do:  stay alive.

Compass International Pictures presents Halloween

During a confrontation with Michael, during which he locates Laurie in the closet of an upstairs bedroom, she even manages to wound and fatally injure the villain with a wire hanger through the eye (following that up with the coveted, and much overlooked, double-tap by stabbing him in the chest with his own butcher knife).  Snaps, girlfriend.  You are a true role model.  And, probably also the reason why scared women and men across America hide in their closets when sh*t is hitting the fan.

Compass International Pictures presents Halloween

The psychological terror John Carpenter is able to impose on his audience is celebrated year after year whenever people gather to watch Halloween on Halloween.   This year, you may be able to catch Halloween being shown on the big screen.  Check [ here ] for more details.  If you can make it, I hope you will.  The cultural phenomenon that is Halloween celebrates not only the holiday itself, in a manner befitting Halloween, but it also shows your support for independent film.

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"Halloween" - the night he came home

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Did Boston.com get it right?

1.) Yes.  While Halloween now has the feel of older films in the genre, several important cues for survival remain: be prepared, keep your head, and never stop fighting.

2.) Yes.  Michael Myers is one of the first, in what has become a line of many, villains who refuse to die.  Not only do you have to face the evil behind the mask, but now you have to to it repeatedly and even then, success and survival are not ensured.

3.) Yes.  Gore is at a minimum in Halloween, with Carpenter choosing instead to set the atmosphere and tone of the film through lighting.  But there are plenty of anxiety-raising moments, including the closet scene.

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Trailer:

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Actual audience reactions at a 1979 screening in Hollywood, CA:

there's more to explore

Online: Halloween, the John Carpenter/Deborah Hill classic

Wiki: Halloween, the Wiki page

Buy: Halloween on Amazon

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3 responses to “Halloween (1978)

  1. Pingback: on: the best that halloween has to offer « celluloid junkie·

  2. Pingback: The List to End All Horror Film Lists « celluloid junkie·

  3. Pingback: Horror 101 | c.taylor·

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