Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, and P.J. Soles
Director: John Carpenter
91 minutes (18) 1978
LionsGate 4K Ultra HD
[Released 1st October]
Review by Steven Hampton
“I spent eight years trying to reach him. Another seven trying to keep him locked up.” Ominous music. The slow approach of a pumpkin-head... A dark intruder preys upon a safe neighbourhood...
‘First is best’, so the old saying goes, and this guiding principle certainly applies when referring to John Carpenter’s Halloween. Taking Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960) as his movie’s baseline, Carpenter builds up a master-class thriller from the slightest of basic plots. A dangerous loony on the run, Michael Myers returns to his home-town and embarks on a killing spree that will shock the quiet little community to its core, despite constant early mentions of ‘the bogeyman’, and assorted evils that appear only on 31st October - All Hallows Eve.
Originally, Michael was a killer-child, put away for the murder of his older sister Judith. When he escapes from a local asylum, 15 years later, he stalks the US town of Haddonfield as a looming figure of suspense and mortal fear, a masked knife-wielding maniac - ‘the Shape’ - as he’s credited in this movie. When the adult Michael is lurking around the local school, Halloween acquires a more chilling atmosphere in this daylight scene than it had 40 years ago.
Carpenter’s bold trick, that makes Halloween something very special, can only be seen in retrospect, when comparing this classic horror to numerous copycat mad-killer movies that followed. It’s the director’s cleverly effective and inspired use of darkness. The killer stands silently in the shadows near the brightly lit, suburban home of baby-sitter Laurie Strode (20-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis in her screen debut), introduced in daylight scenes of creepy situations on ordinary streets. And although the killer’s malevolent intentions are clear enough, right from the start, we never know when he will strike next. As such a calculated menace, Myers’ brooding presence maintains the constant element of surprise attack, and so he’s a fearsome threat indeed. Dressed in black, the killer is revealed only by light reflecting off a rather large knife, and the inhumanly blank white Halloween mask that he wears.
It’s also about the idea of home-intrusion, when the killer lurks outside your door, and he gets inside your house at night, instead of sitting and waiting for any potential victims to drop by his own place (as in subgenre predecessors The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Psycho). That’s far more frightening. Death incarnate is out there, and it’s coming to get you... is Carpenter’s genre theme here, and it’s a subjective view illustrated repeatedly in his best early feature works, from Assault On Precinct 13 (1976), and The Fog (1980), to his seminal masterpiece The Thing (1982).
Judith Myers gravestone stolen, a suspicious event far more worrying and foreboding than mere kids playing pranks. Halloween presents a narrative that’s all cruel tricks and no treats, as it bridges the subgenre homicides-gap between a spree killer and a serial murderer. Amusingly, at one point, the shocks are leavened by some sly humour when the villain hides behind a sofa. In the terrifying climactic confrontation between the killer and his female victim, the heroine does a great job of defending herself throughout a long night of terrors, and she manages to disarm and then wound her attacker. She is far from being just another helpless girl, stalked by a vicious monster. Thankfully, the heroic psychiatrist, Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is able to step into the final fight and put six bullets into the masked man, hurling him out trough an upstairs window. Is he dead, at last? How could anyone survive all that?
The genre master-class of Halloween remains the ultimate American bogeyman thriller, with its imaginative mix of shadow-play, chillingly anonymous stalking, and violent death scenes. It remains compelling, even 40 years after it first appeared. Carpenter’s movie put Haddonfield on fictional genre maps of small towns haunted by grisly murders, both past and present, and yet his contribution to Psycho-inspired screen mayhem helped to spawn an increasingly monotonous cycle of slasher movies, many of which soon lapsed into simply disastrous imitation during the 1980s. The so-damned awful, and ugly, 2007 remake from Rob Zombie was not saved even by the quite welcome presence of Malcolm McDowell as Dr Loomis.
Watch Halloween, again, in awe of its narrative economy, atmospheric use of darkness, and stunning widescreen frames that imbue the ordinary with an undeniable creepiness. This 4K Ultra HD edition with HDR makes inky pools of shadows and its scarily darkened rooms more effective for screen fights and frights than ever before. This UHD edition is definitely a movie to re-watch (if you dare) with your house lights switched off.
- Commentary track with writer/director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis
- The Night She Came Home - featurette with Jamie Lee Curtis
- On Location featurette
- Additional scenes from TV version
- Trailers, TV & radio spots
- 5 x B&W art cards