At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Halloween “1978”

From all of us here on the At the Movies desk we would just like to wish you a Happy Halloween 2019 movie lovers!! Have some candy, pop some popcorn, eat some more candy, put on that scary movie you know by heart, and we’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nick Castle and Tony Moran, P. J. Soles, Nancy Kyes (Loomis), Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, John Michael Graham, Nancy Stephens/ Runtime: 91 minutes

I feel it is not blasphemy to start this review by saying that John Carpenter’s 1978 horror masterpiece Halloween was and still is the reason why the particular sub-genre of horror known as slasher films even remotely exists in the first place. Indeed this is because, despite the fact that in no way, shape, form, or fashion was Halloween truthfully the first film like it out there in existence, it was, thanks to a game cast, a simple yet chilling story and an incredible soundtrack among other things, a true game-changer for the horror film industry. Indeed I think it is safe to say almost, note I said the word almost, every other slasher flick that has followed this low-budget indie horror masterpiece hasn’t really done anything noteworthy; instead they have decided to choose to play it safe and recreate the formula that this classic originated over 41 years ago.

The plot is as follows: Set in Haddonfield, Illinois, Halloween begins on Halloween night, how appropriate, in the far off and long-gone year known as 1963 where we quickly and horrifically witness a 6-year old boy named Michael Myers sneaking upstairs while his parents aren’t home and, without any explanation, brutally stabbing his older sister to death with a kitchen knife. 15 years later, Michael’s doctor, one Samuel Loomis, finds his own personal nightmare coming true when an attempt to transfer the hauntingly silent yet still very much deranged Myers goes horrifically awry, and he immediately heads out for Haddonfield in an attempt to continue his murderous rampage; a quest that will eventually entangle a young woman named Laurie Strode, her 2 friends Lynda and Annie, and will change their and Loomis’ lives forever….

Now the director of this film has earned a place of high praise amongst filmmakers due in no small part to the fact that he managed to possess for a long time the amazing gift to create a quality film from even the tiniest pieces of the filmmaking process. Suffice it to say it is thanks to that gift that has enabled Halloween to prove time and time again to be one of the finest works of Carpenter’s career as we see that not only does the film present the iconic director in complete control of his craft, but also in that the way he manages to set this film’s pace & extremely eerie tone right from the word Go is a complete and utter delight to watch and rewatch…and then watch again. To use an example to provide perspective, Carpenter actually, and quite successfully manages to showcase the mood that this film is going to possess for the entirety of its runtime simply by utilizing a title sequence that possesses nothing but a jack-o-lantern and that now iconic score draped over a black screen, and then quickly and efficiently follows it up with the expertly shot and staged prologue that does an amazing job of drawing you into the story right away. Not only that, but Carpenter shows amazing skill as one of the film’s writers in that not only does he handle the main villain with a sense of care rarely seen in this movies, but he also throws out all the stops in an attempt to showcase just how much of an unstoppable force of evil this character truly is.

In addition this is a film that manages to possess some of the most skillfully executed technical aspects I have ever seen in a horror film, and it is extremely obvious that every dollar that this film’s low budget possessed was used to the most efficient way possible in regards to serving the story, and serving it quite well. For example we see that by setting the plot in a suburban location Carpenter is able to turn the very openness of the area around our characters into a playground of bloody mayhem for Michael to truly thrive in. Also the Cinematography is quite inventive in the ingenuous way that the camera crew utilize the camera in order to make it appear as if it, along with Michael, is stalking our characters at all times, and the Editing department also does a fantastic job of ensuring that the suspenseful ambiance laid out by Carpenter is kept alive and fresh from bloodcurdling start to chilling finish. Yet ultimately, the biggest contributor to this film’s runaway success, in my opinion, is John Carpenter’s minimal, simplistic, synthesized, yet chilling to the bone score. Indeed not since perhaps Psycho and Jaws have I heard a soundtrack that excels like this one does in not only elevating the tension to a frightening new level, but also does an amazing job of greatly amplifying the desired effect of both the film’s disquieting camera-work & editing. Indeed whenever you hear this film’s main theme come onto the screen, you begin to feel a sense of true uneasiness felt in those moments & soon you feel like there is a hint of the ominous presence that is Michael Myers dominate those sequences. Indeed it’s one of the, if not the most, notable musical pieces John Carpenter has ever composed for a movie & undoubtedly one of the best pieces of music composed for a horror film ever.

Now as we come to the performances, I should point out that Halloween featured an intriguingly budget-friendly cast in such names as Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis & Nick Castle among others yet the cast all does solid work given the nature of the material they were working with. Indeed nowhere is this more evident than with Jamie Lee who does an amazing job in her first film as Laurie, and who, coincidentally, brings this vulnerability to the role that it really is no wonder that she went on to become a screen icon in her own right, and Pleasence who, in typical Pleasence fashion, delivers a solid performance, and one he would play at least 4 more times, as Myers’ slightly less crazy psychiatrist, and coincidentally the only person who knows what this homicidal maniac is capable of thereby making him the one to try and spur the reluctant Sheriff of Haddonfield, a game Charles Cyphers from the original Assault on Precinct 13, to try and help him stop Michael before anyone is brutally murdered. Now PJ Soles & Nancy Loomis do a fine job as Laurie’s friends who are also pursued by Myers, but honestly the only gripe I have is that I simply don’t get how Laurie and Annie are friends. I don’t say this because the actresses don’t have good chemistry in their scenes together; it’s just that Laurie is portrayed as this “nice girl” and Annie is such an obnoxious character at times that you really are left wondering if the only reason these girls are friends is because of scripting. Nevertheless it’s just a minor quibble, and the cast still does great work across the board.

Ultimately however, it’s the character of Michael Myers that would make or break this movie, and thankfully the way that he’s portrayed in this film is so excellently done that is it any wonder that he is now considered one of the greatest antagonists in cinema history? Indeed by using nothing but a cheap William Shatner mask that conveys no emotion, keeping him mute throughout the entire story & also giving him an almost mythic strength that renders him all-but-invincible, Carpenter manages to presents Myers as the ultimate devil incarnate in that not only does he kill without a sense of motivation or empathy, but he also intelligently uses his presence in the film to build a sinister aura. Indeed the most frightening thing about Michael is we are never given any clear answers as to why he is doing this other than that he is purely and simply evil, and it is this chilling logic that has since inspired the creation of such horror icons from Jason all the way to Candyman. Indeed it should go without saying, but without Michael Myers, horror films would be hugely and sadly quite different than they are today.

All in all Halloween remains one of the must-see and genre-defining films of the 1970s and beyond in no small part due to the fact that this film’s unique at the time narrative structure has long since been adopted as a blueprint for slasher films ever since. Thus as a result its significant influence on cinema & pop culture as a whole truly cannot be downplayed or understated. Indeed while there are a couple of moments therein that may bother the most nit-picky of viewers overall this 41-year old film is still a thrilling, & extremely satisfying ride from Carpenter and co that is honestly every bit worthy of its legendary status. Indeed from the way it downplays the elements of gore & graphic violence to show the lasting effect a consistently maintained tense ambiance can have on a viewer all the way to its extraordinary use of tension and an intense soundtrack to build up terror, Halloween is the very definition of a slasher film albeit one that has been made with the highest amount of class possible, and should prove to be a staple in your scary movie collection for years to come. On a scale of 1-5 I give Halloween “78” a 4.5 out of 5.