Halloween remains the high-water mark for many a horror film, and can even make the claim to be the origin of the term coined ‘slasher movie’ among its many influences.
The film opens with the main protagonist Michael Myers as a 6-year-old on Halloween night in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois in 1963 who slays his elder sister and subsequently spends 15 years in a mental hospital under the care of a psychiatrist who had been unable to rehabilitate him.
The late British film veteran Donald Pleasence plays Dr. Sam Loomis, who attempts to track down Michael Myers after his escape from the mental institution with the sole aim of returning home to kill his younger sister, although we are unaware of this familial connection at this point.
The film also stars Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut as the heroine Laurie Strode, and was directed by John Carpenter and co-produced by Debra Hill on a budget of $300,000. Halloween went on to gross $47 million is the US alone and $70,000 worldwide, becoming one of the most profitable independent movies ever.
Pleasence is largely responsible for this, who gives a virtuoso performance in the role with his impassioned and sincere pleas to the town’s Sherriff, Leigh Bracket, played by Charles Cyphers, a regular in Carpenter’s films, and to anyone who will listen. At the risk of being deemed a crackpot he manages to persuade them to cooperate and remain vigilant for Myer’s arrival with such quotes as:
‘I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… Evil’.
And not forgetting…‘I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall – looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it’.
It was this command of oratory played with such conviction that helped to keep audiences gripped throughout.
Mike Myers, played by Nick Castle, wears a mechanics uniform and mask, also known as The Shape, apparently fashioned from a Captain Kirk mask from Star Trek with great effect, as you hear him heavy breathing as he trails the town and hides out until nightfall.
Carpenter’s iconic film score, which he created himself over three days with the use of a piano, adds tension to the film, with just a few simple notes giving a sense of foreboding and fear inherent in Myer’s cold and dark intentions, and is accentuated by Carpenter’s trademark shots of the quiet suburban streets of Haddonfield, contrasting with the chaos that is about to descend upon it.
Halloween was a surprise hit at the time, breaking away from the pack in the well-worn horror genre with a unique and distinctive horror movie that still manages to scare to this day. Halloween has since been selected for preservation in the National Film Industry by the Library of Congress for being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.
Halloween II released in 1981 was a respectable effort that was praised for its continuity in that this also took place on the same night and the events immediately followed on from its predecessor. Subsequent efforts have done little to recapture the quality of the original as is typically the case whenever the prospect of financial gain over creative merit makes an appearance.
The final word should perhaps go to Dr. Loomis. As the film closes with Myer’s seemingly superhuman ability to resurrect himself from the dead, and takes off into the night despite taking several bullets and falling from a second floor balcony, Laurie asks, ‘was that the boogeyman?’.
Loomis replies, ‘As a matter of fact, it was’.