John Carpenter’s Halloween is a horror classic, quite nearly my favorite film ever produced for the genre. Interestingly enough, upon revisiting it this past weekend, I found myself most taken with its modesty. For being such a groundbreaking film, it really went about achieving its terrors in a rather subtle way. I hope you enjoy my thoughts Halloween, do be sure to share your favorite aspects of the film as well.
Let’s begin with a question. When was the last time you saw a really good horror film that didn’t use any special effects whatsoever and showed very limited blood?
“The Theme” is something that’s lost on modern horror films (and most films in general). Still to this day, when we hear the first few bars of John Carpenter’s score for Halloween, we know exactly what film it’s from. This theme will outlive us all.
The slow pan that reveals house. The sound of kids playing on the soundtrack, the tilting of the camera, the cold color that consumes the house – it’s all so instantly unsettling.
Some fun movie math: Michael’s sister and her boyfriend go upstairs to have sex, and the boyfriend comes back downstairs just 80 seconds later. Kid’s got quite a few things to learn.
I wrote about this recently on my list of the best underpraised long takes, but contrary to popular belief, the opening scene of Halloween is not one long take. If you look at the changing position of the sweater after Michael puts on his mask, you can see that the film has cut to a different take. Still, it’s a remarkably disquieting opening scene.
The scariest thing about the reveal of young Michael’s face is that we expect to see a monster. Instead, he’s just a normal kid. Young, innocent, confused. The fact that he’s so real is fucking terrifying.
Halloween opened on October 25, 1978. When people saw the film during its opening weekend, this title card meant that the events in the film were just about to happen. Pretty creepy.
This has always been one of the freakiest parts in the film for me. Seriously, what the hell is scarier than watching a bunch of patients from a mental institution wander around in the dark?
I love this shot. Few things are creepier than a guy who’s willing to fuck with you in broad daylight.
Pay attention to this brief scene. Laurie walks to her bedroom window, and when she looks outside, she sees Michael standing in her neighbor’s yard looking up at her. We cut to Laurie’s point of view, then back to Laurie’s face, then back to her point of view, which reveals that Michael is suddenly gone. Now, because Laurie never looked away, it means that she actually saw Michael rush off quickly. The fact that Carpenter denies the audience the sight of Michael walking away is simply ingenious. It makes him that much more elusive.
I’ve always thought the hole for Judith Myers’ grave seemed oddly small. So eerie. (Note: I've since been corrected – this is the hole for the gravestone not the grave itself. Duh.)
I absolutely love Donald Pleasence’s speech about his time with Michael Myers. The way he feverishly delivers his lines let’s us know that he is really, truly terrified. It’s also a monologue packed with otherwise standard expository dialogue, but Pleasence’s urgency makes it necessary for us to hear what he’s saying.
I know people have talked about this a lot, but I adore this subtle bit of career foreshadowing.
I’m usually not a fan of the music in horror films, because it is used as nothing more than a device to evoke a cheap jump scare. Yet here, Carpenter’s music is so bizarre, that it creates a lasting tension. We’re almost afraid to keep hearing those BRUUUUMMMSSSS whenever Michael pops out.
Seriously, this is something we never seen in American horror films: the killer out in the open, carrying one of his victims for anyone to see. The camera, still and detached and removed. It let’s us know that there is nothing Michael is afraid of, and all we can do is sit and watch.
This is a perfect example of why the music works in this film. Here’s a scene of Sheriff Brackett coming up and surprising Dr. Loomis. In most any other horror film, the music would swell up as we see a hand creeping up behind Loomis. The music would peak with a sharp noise right as Loomis turns around and sees Brackett. That’s cheap. That’s false. That’s bullshit. In this scene in Halloween, there is no music. Basically, Carpenter knows exactly when to use his score, and exactly when to leave it out.
Like a dog who tilts his head out of curious amusement. “What have I done? I’m not sure, but I need to do it again.”
The slow walk, the tense moment of The Final Girl trying to get into a locked safe heaven. No, Halloween may not have been the first movie to do this, but it certainly popularized it. And I absolutely love it.
Such simple but stark and evocative lighting. For a moment, Laurie thinks she’s won. If only it were that easy.
What do we have here, really? Two actors, a camera, simple lighting and a modest score. No visual effects, no rapid cutting, no bombastic sounds. Simple, effective, terrifying.
Arguably my favorite moment from any horror film. Again, no music while Michael sits up. Instead, the silence is deafening.
Sure, his eye is swollen from getting stabbed with a coat hanger, but for all intents and purpose, Michael Myers is not a physical monster. He’s just a man.
Laurie crying based solely off of Loomis’ stunned reaction is such a perfect moment. She just knows Michael is gone.
The closing montage of places Michael has previously stalked, with Michael’s heavy breathing growing louder and louder over the soundtrack… it’s such an unforgiving way to end such a chilling film.
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