John Carpenter’s horror classic Halloween needs no introduction. It earned a number of sequels, as well as a short lived remake franchise, and has had a crucial influence on countless other horror films, as well as spawning multiple imitators. The fact that the film itself has held up so well as an immensely enjoyable viewing experience after all that pop culture exposure is a testament to its strengths as a standalone film.
For those who’ve never had the pleasure, the story goes that when he was a young boy, Michael Myers brutally stabbed his older sister to death on Halloween night, for seemingly no reason whatsoever. He was then locked away in an institution, under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis. That is, until he finally made his escape fifteen years later, and has now made his way back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to cause mayhem once more on yet another fateful Halloween night.
The character of Michael Myers became an instant horror icon upon the initial release of this film, and it’s not very hard to see why. His mere physical presence is intimidating enough on its own, but adding the layers of repressed sexuality that potentially underscore his motives for killing, and you’ve got a recipe for some delicious horror tension. While Myers himself was and remains an essential staple of the horror genre, there’s certainly no shortage of interesting and likeable characters elsewhere in the film. Even though the best individual character of the franchise wouldn’t be introduced until the fourth film (take a wild guess), the likes of Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode more than meet the requirements for a gripping emotional center, due to a mix of solid characterizations and credible performances from the actors.
One major aspect that elevates Halloween above any number of its imitators is the careful and sophisticated handling of its extended chase/murder sequences. During some of the more intense passages in the film, the basic sympathies of the audience are always placed with the victim in these situations, and not the killer, unlike so many of the following slasher films that attempted to copy this film’s narrative template. Laurie and her friends might seem like nothing more than a row of ducks to be knocked off in accordance with the overarching narrative of the film, but in the events leading up to each of their demises (or in Laure’s case, attempted demise), the amount of empathy enlisted with these characters is crucial to the success of the film and whether or not the killings really hit hard. The total lack of any onscreen bloodshed whatsoever in the film is also noteworthy, and especially commendable in this case, considering the reputation this film harbors as being such a staple in the slasher subgenre of horror films, which are typically known for their gorier elements.
In this humble blogger’s opinion, Halloween has aged far more favorably than many of its genre counterparts released around the same time, such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. While some of the dialogue admittedly feels very rooted in dated teen lingo, the film as a whole feels just as effective now as it was 36 years ago. An essential piece of viewing for fans of the horror genre, and fans of 70′ cinema in general.