Halloween

Halloween ★★★★½

Halloween Series - Ranked
Scream Factory - 2014
John Carpenter

I always enjoy re-watching the original Halloween. There's a magic to be found in its economy. However, this wasn't always the case.

When I first watched this film about 8 years ago, I didn't like it. I found it too slow and, frankly, a bit boring. I didn't grow up watching the series or anything of that sort. I went into the film as a fan of horror and John Carpenter. Though, I didn't think it was particularly bad; just too boring for me.

Then I watched it again. Then I watched it every time I get on a Carpenter kick and just start watching a bunch of his movies. It worked for me.

It is still a slow movie but that is where its brilliance lies. We grow up watching tons of movies and when it comes to slasher films, we want the madness of the kills. We learn that they aren't particularly good most of the time so we just want mayhem and carnage. This becomes SOP. If we get a good movie out of the experience, then it's just a magnificent bonus, we still got what we came for though.

Halloween, the recognized trendsetter for the slasher boom of the 80s, is almost entirely unlike any of its spawn. It's calm and methodical. We get a good opening scene with a giallo-esque POV of young Michael Myers murdering his sister with a butcher knife. Until I actually started watching giallo films, I thought this was totally unique and groundbreaking. Even if that's not the case, it still utilizes the device effectively. This is why it is a giallo trope, it places us in the killer's shoes. It makes us uncomfortable and it's way too personal for simple entertainment purposes. The reveal that the killer is a child, one that we just accompliced in the brutal murder of his sister is a quick spin that makes us not okay. Then we get a pulse pounding escape scene. Donald Pleasance repeating over and over how Michael is pure evil, a force that cannot be reasoned with, a creature that must be locked away forever. Michael bashing a window with his palm and terrorizing a defenseless nurse, escaping in her vehicle. This quick scene does more than setup the main plot of the film, it offers us a glimpse into what Dr. Loomis was espousing.

Then we spend the entire film hanging out with Jamie Lee and her friends. They aren't complex characters; this isn't a character study film. There's no grand motivation behind who they are and why they do what they do. They're just kids. This is an aspect of slasher films that I have come to absolutely love over the years. I finally stopped caring about depth if there's something else to be offered. Slasher films make the cast me, these films make them my friends. I care about them on an empathetic level. That is the purpose of these characters, to act as funnels for the audience to project. We don't need depth and back story when they are us.

What carries us through the film is Jamie Lee, good lord is she just the sweetest damn thing ever in this movie, but that does little for the horror aspect of the film. Balancing the "hang out" with the horror can be a tricky proposal. It's a staple in slashers and one of the things that can make or break them. Sometimes the balance doesn't work so well, but here it's almost perfect. How does it balance in Halloween? Atmosphere. Throughout the film, we just all of a sudden see Michael Myers standing there in the background. No jump scares, no violence, just him standing there. This adds dread because we know who he is and what he is, even if the characters are hopelessly clueless. We instantly like Jamie Lee and we smile as she interacts with her stereotypical friends and goes about her day, then we see Michael following her. It's simple, we don't want the inevitable to happen.

This is how the film goes for a long time. This is why I was bored upon my first watch. I was expecting and hoping for mayhem and carnage throughout like Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street; I wasn't expecting this. It was only after I knew what to expect was I able to appreciate the subtle nature of Carpenter's score repeating over and over again. Why Michael just standing there was so horrific and important. Why the ending is so terrifying and sublime. If I had seen this opening night, not only would I be a lot older than I am, but I would have been scared witless. Only because of the passage of time and the endless clones was I not instantly taken. But now I get it.

Despite the decades of clones, Halloween is still among the most effective examples of the genre. It's because of the economy. No budget to get crazy so it takes its time and adheres us to the cast. Dr. Loomis builds up Michael's persona so much that it's like a spring being wound tighter and tighter every time we see him in the background. The best part? The fact that all of that build up wasn't wasted. When Michael begins his rampage, it is so cold and robotic; pure evil killing just to kill, no rhyme or reason.

Is it perfect? Of course not. But what it does so well should over come the fact that Haddenfield must have the weirdest streets ever causing all these houses to be so far from each other and then magically so close and vice versa. Whatever. I am more than okay with weird continuity errors because it is a joy to spend time with Laurie Strode, it is suspenseful to watch Dr. Loomis try and find Michael before it's too late, and it's chilling to see the brutality and pure evil that is Michael Myers.

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