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Halloween (1978)

“Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts. Pumpkins of witches are there to roast. You may think they scare me, you're probably right. Black cats and goblins on Halloween night. Trick or treat!”

The one. The only. The classic.

Halloween was the first genuine horror movie I watched as a kid, where my love of the genre began. It made its mark on me, and I’ve been a fan ever since; I’ve seen every movie in the franchise save for the last one that was released, but the original still stands tall above every spinoff. John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors, and this is his seminal work.

In 1978, a couple of movie producers wanted to make a cheap little horror movie about a killer stalking babysitters. They handed the project off to John Carpenter, a young filmmaker who had already directed some low-budget movies like Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13. Carpenter and producer (and at the time, girlfriend) Debra Hill wrote a script titled Halloween. Instead of making a generic and disposable b-movie, they made one of the greatest sleeper hits in film history. A movie that redefined horror cinema and created a whole subgenre: the slasher.

We all know the story by now. On Halloween night in 1963, six-year old Michael Myers killed his older sister and is confined to a mental institution. He escapes fifteen years later, returning to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. Doctor Samuel Loomis believes Michael is pure evil and goes on the hunt for his homicidal patient, who soon targets a trio of high-schoolers. The main one being Laurie Strode, a bookish girl who thought she’d be spending her Halloween babysitting.

It’s a tale like an old campfire story, the unsuspecting young people who learn of the recently escaped lunatic. Carpenter wrote most of the scenes having to do with Michael and Loomis, while Debra Hill focused on other characters like the girls and the kids they’re babysitting. The script is tight, short and to the point, with very good pacing.

Despite it having a lot of dialogue and moments that can come off as silly or dated, the movie’s campier elements are contrasted very well with the sense of foreboding dread that they’re able to create mostly through music and atmosphere. There are postmodern sensibilities to the story they wrote, but they managed to give it a classic and timeless quality that’s endured for the most part. Even if it’s not as scary as it was when I was a kid, it’s still a masterfully made film.

There’s a stylized eeriness to this movie that very few of its imitators have ever been able to match, including ones belonging to the franchise it spawned. Unlike every sequel, there is hardly any blood in the first Halloween. Michael spends far more time patiently stalking and toying with his victims from the shadows, as opposed to ultra-violently killing them every ten minutes. It's a film that takes its time to build up suspense.

The main source of terror is pretty much all derived from the sounds. The sound design, and the simple yet unforgettably haunting score by Carpenter himself. That music, combined with the superior lighting and cinematography, makes Halloween a work of art that’s as captivating as it is wicked fun. While this film probably didn’t invent jump scares, it is one of the first to use them to maximum effect; those Carpenter brand stings are so damn tasty. And, of course, the whole mystique of Michael Myers is iconic. A seemingly random psycho who just happens to be evil incarnate, more of a force of nature than a person. A dark shape wearing a mask like a human face bled of all emotion. The boogieman.

Tricks and treats:

* Many members of this film’s cast and crew worked with Carpenter on many of his most famous films. Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis all appeared in his next film, The Fog. Donald Pleasance was in Escape From New York and Prince of Darkness, the former of which also featured Nancy Stephens, Cyphers and a voice acting role for Jamie Lee. Dean Cundey was the cinematographer for most of Carpenter’s films. Nick Castle, who plays Michael Myers for most of the movie, later co-wrote Escape From New York with Carpenter.

* One of the things I love about the original film is that Michael isn’t as highly advertised as he is in the sequels. He’s frequently in-camera, somewhere, but you don’t really get a good look at him until about the last half hour of the movie. Interestingly, you hear him more than you see him... which is often scarier; his breathing, my god, the breathing! The rest of the time, he’s seen in silhouette, from a distance or with his face out of frame. It’s why he’s credited as “The Shape” instead of Michael Myers.

* Though she'd only had small TV roles beforehand, Jamie Lee Curtis was cast as Laurie primarily for publicity. Her mother was Janet Leigh, already immortalized as a scream queen in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Debra Hill knew that would help draw audiences. Lo and behold, Jamie Lee Curtis became possibly the most famous scream queen and a major Hollywood star. Carpenter later directed both Curtis and Janet Leigh in The Fog. Curtis is among a multitude of celebrities derisively labeled as "nepo-babies" for having famous parents/relatives. When told this, Curtis accepted the label with humbleness. She is always quick to acknowledge the people who have helped her reach her level of success.

* Donald Pleasance was the movie’s big name actor, though, and they only had him for about four days. He certainly made the most of his time onscreen. Loomis is likely Pleasance’s most iconic character, and the dude had already played a James Bond villain.

* An underrated scary moment occurs right before Michael escapes. When Loomis and Marion Chambers arrive at Smith's Grove Sanitarium, the first sign that something's wrong is when they see a bunch of the mental patients wandering around outside. It's pitch black and raining in this scene, and the patients in their gowns look almost like ghosts when caught in the headlights. It's incredibly spooky.

* Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is playing on the radio when Laurie and Annie are getting high in the car — and being followed by Michael.

* This is the only movie in the original film continuity in which you see adult Michael's face. He spends most of the franchise as a scarred up old man due to sequel events, but Michael is only 21-years old here and looks relatively normal under the mask. It's a nice Doctor Doom type of twist.


Dr. Samuel Loomis: “Just try to understand what we’re dealing with. Don’t underestimate it.”
Marion Chambers: “Don’t you think it would be better if you referred to it as him?”
Dr. Loomis: “If you say so.”
Marion: “Your compassion is overwhelming, doctor.”

Dr. Loomis: “He’s gone! He’s gone from here! The evil is gone!”

Lynda Van der Klok: "Totally!"

Sheriff Leigh Brackett: “You know, it’s Halloween. Everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”

Laurie Strode: “Well kiddo, I thought you outgrew superstition.”

Dr. Loomis: “I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, 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.”
Loomis doing a fantastic job of selling the audience on how scary Michael is.

Annie Brackett: “This has not been my night.”

Laurie: "The old girl scout comes through again."

Tommy Doyle: “You can’t kill the boogieman.”
Seems that way.

My love for this movie remains undying. The story, the characters, the whole mood. It’s a dark and delicious treat. Five out of five bloody butcher knives.


  1. I never got into the other big slasher franchises like Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday The 13th, but the original 1978 Halloween remains on of my favorite movies. Sadly most of the sequels are vastly inferior, though I did enjoy the recent trilogy from Blumhouse.

  2. This is a classic for good reason. That moment you first see that the person in the mask is just a kid...you never forget.


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