Jacob Wilkins’s review published on Letterboxd:
Part of my HALLOWEEN FRANCHISE retrospective.
Over the last 39 years, it's become a well-accepted fact that Halloween is one of best horror films ever made, with some even arguing that it may be the best horror film ever made. And with a title synonymous with the most chilling day of the year, the film seems destined to be a masterpiece of horror cinema.
The film opens on Halloween in 1963 with a POV shot. Whose eyes are we using? Little Michael Myers, a young boy whose babysitter sister is doing an incredibly bad job of keeping up with him. Not only has he left the house when he's supposed to be inside, but he also has a knife. And he uses it. On her. We experience Michael watch his sister engage in sexual debauchery, watch her shoo the boyfriend away, then come upstairs and stab her while she's still nude. It's provocative, unsettling, and groundbreaking for the time. No horror film would an opening that could rival the beginning of Halloween until Wes Craven directed his post-mortem of the slasher subgenre in 1996 (and titled it Scream). The sequence concludes when Michael's parents arrive home and rip off the mask, revealing the innocent face of a young boy. We see him there, holding the blood knife, almost like he's confused.
The next segment of the film stars Sam Loomis (portrayed by Donald Pleasance) driving to a mental institution to transfer Michael Myers. It's now 1978. And it's the day before Halloween. Loomis explains to his nurse the story of Michael Myers. And this is when Michael finally strikes back. They discover that many of the patients have escaped from the institution. Loomis exits the car to open a gate. Michael hops atop the car. He shoves his hand inside to strangle the nurse. She pulls loose from his grasp. Michael smashes the passenger window. She escapes the car. He steals it. And that's when the film begins. That's when the tagline begins to make sense.
The film's tagline THE NIGHT HE CAME HOME couldn't be more appropriate, as that's what separates this film from most others of its kind. Even the spiritual father of this film, Psycho, which is an excellent horror film, lacks what makes this film so terrifying. In Psycho, you have to go to the Bates Motel. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre you have to go to rural Texas. Even in the olden days of horror, you still had to go to Dracula's castle, disturb the Mummy's tomb, or visit a house which is haunted. Even after this film, you still have to go to Camp Crystal Lake or live on Elm Street. In Halloween, you don't have to go to the horror. It comes to you. It watches you as you place a key under the doormat. It stalks the boy you babysit during recess. It follows you home from school. It murders your friends. And it wants to do the same to you.
There enters Jamie Lee Curtis, the modern scream queen. Like her mother, Janet Leigh, before her, she broke new ground in film. While her mother's character in Psycho is synonymous with the most shocking of plot twists in film history, Curtis' character (named Laurie Strode) is the quintessential female, virgin survivor. The tired trope of the virgin always being the one to survive the film begins here, in this film. But Strode is an enduring character, one with wit and tons of charm. Unlike female protagonists many spiritual successors of this film (I feel unfair by just blatantly calling them ripoffs) such as the Friday the 13th franchise, Curtis doesn't survive simply because she's a virgin. She survives because she's tough, she's brave, she's smart, and because she's willing to do anything to protect the kids she's babysitting. The trope may start here, but it's clear the "successors" didn't understand what they were aping.
Many say that this film is the baby of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and I must admit, I do no justice to ending that preconception by constantly referencing it in this review. But when considering how similar the two films are, think of this scene, and this one, and this one. Does that remind you more of this or this one? For me, the sheer dread of Halloween matches the building tension of Vertigo more than the abrupt terror of Psycho, but to each their own. In many ways, I see Halloween as the love child of those two Hitchcock classics. But the point still remains, if Alfred Hitchcock was a low-budget filmmaker living in Pasadena in the late 70s, he would have made Halloween. And from me, no finer a recommendation can be made.
100/A+. Perhaps not the best horror film ever made. But damn close.