Review: Halloween (1978)
It’s that time of year again, folks! That means getting ready for trick-or-treaters, wearing costumes of all sorts of frightening and cool natures, pulling pranks of your own (because you never outgrew it), and watching horror/slasher films! Everyone’s entitled to one good scare, right?
Today, I’ve decided to talk about my favorite slasher film of the bunch: Halloween. This movie debuted in 1978, starred Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis and Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, and was directed by John Carpenter.
The Plot: In 1963 on Halloween, 6-year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his sister with a kitchen knife. His parents returned home to find Michael standing outside, wearing his clown costume and still holding the murder weapon of choice. The movie then jumps to 1978 and we are introduced to Dr. Sam Loomis, Michael’s psychologist. Loomis and his driver are heading to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to take Michael to a court date. His instructions are to keep Michael so drugged that he will barely be able to stand in the courtroom. Loomis’ only purpose is to make sure that his patient never sees freedom again. However, upon getting to the hospital, the power is out, and the patients are roaming about outside in the pouring rain. After Loomis gets out of the car to find the guard and get the gate open, Michael seizes the opportunity to scare the driver out of the car and escape.
Haddonfield, the day of Halloween: We are introduced to Laurie Strode, who is on her way to school. She’s told by her father to drop the keys to the old Myers house at the place so that he can show the house to potential buyers. When she arrives, being bugged by the kid she will be babysitting later that night, she is unaware that Michael is watching from inside the house. All during the day, Laurie keeps seeing someone staring at her, only to turn and find that the person is no longer there. Later, we are introduced to her two friends, one of which will be babysitting across the street from where Laurie will be. Laurie seems to be the only one who’s noticing that this man is stalking after them, while her friend Annie (the fellow babysitter) and Lynda, dismiss it as her imagining things because she’s living a reclusive life.
Loomis arrives into Haddonfield, already having discovered a body on the road, and goes to the cemetery to see the gravesite of Judith Myers. When he and the groundskeeper find the plot, the headstone is missing.
To which Loomis replies:
“He came home…”
Afterward, he goes to the sheriff to warn him of the impending horrors awaiting the small town. The sheriff listens to Loomis’s concerns and decides to help him, but tends to believe that Loomis might be grasping at straws.
That night: Laurie and Annie arrive at their prospective babysitting dates, only to have Annie get a call from her boyfriend. Lynda, is already on her way with her boyfriend so that they have a place to have a little “fun” that night. Laurie has been spending her time trying to convince Tommy (the kid she’s looking after) that there is no boogeyman. Annie figures that the kid she’s babysitting; Lindsey will only get in the way of the two couple’s night and pawns her kid off on Laurie. Unbeknownst to Annie, Michael has been slowly stalking around the house. He’s already killed Lindsey’s dog, and is looking for the right time to strike. When Annie tries to leave to pick up her boyfriend, Michael comes up from behind and strangles, leaving only the car horn sounding off. Not too long after, Lynda and her boyfriend; Bob arrive for their night of fun. Unsure of where Annie could be, Lynda calls Laurie and confirms that she has Lindsey and the two are free to do as they wish. They do get to have their fun, but Bob soon gets impaled on Michael’s kitchen knife while going to get a beer for Lynda. Lynda too gets killed while on the phone with Laurie.
Loomis is stationed at the Myers house, waiting for Michael to come back. He tells the Sheriff (who happens to be Annie’s dad), the story of how he came to know Michael Myers.
“I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; 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 what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
Meanwhile, Laurie has grown concerned that she hasn’t heard from Annie or Lynda. Putting the kids to bed, she decides to go to Lindsey’s house to see if everything is okay. What she discovers is the bodies of her dead friends. Michael fades out of the darkness and tries to kill Laurie. The two end up in a deadly chase, her trying to escape the house. She manages to make it back across the street, albeit limping and bloody. She fights with Michael once more, trying to allow the kids time to escape. This alerts Loomis to where Laurie is, and manages to fire six shots into Michael which makes him fall off the second story balcony onto the ground. Loomis goes to look for the body, only to discover that he’s no longer there. He turns back to Laurie who is cowering near the doorway. To which Laurie says and Loomis replies:
“It was the boogeyman.”
“As a matter of fact, it was.”
The Good: I’m not a huge John Carpenter fan. I’m not one of those that worship at the altar of this director, even though I like a few of his movies. This one, I find to be one of his best. While there were two slasher films that predate Halloween (Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Black Christmas), it was this film that started the slasher craze of the 80s. Springing out of this one, came Friday the 13th and even A Nightmare on Elm Street. Carpenter had taken influence from Hitchcock in establishing wide shots and trying to build tension through slower style pacing. Often times, when you think Michael is about to kill someone, he waits. Choosing to remain hidden until he feels ready to start stringing bodies around. It’s also got the distinction that it’s not gory. There’s very little blood in this film as a whole. It tends to want to surprise you as much as it can.
I’m also rather fond that it takes the time to allow you to like Laurie. She’s not just some screechy teenager whose being stalked by the killer, but someone with a brain who is trying to be a good person in general. She smoked a little pot in the movie, because she’s not totally a prude, but at the same time, she’s not trying to have sex with any guy that she happens to like. It’s to the movie’s credit that they chose to focus more on her than Dr. Loomis. Loomis is good at telling everyone what sort of evil this man is. He makes sure everyone knows what sort of creature he believes Michael to be. It’s basically Carpenter’s version of Abraham Van Helsing (from Dracula, if you didn’t know).
I’m also rather happy that the film does have a sense of humor with it. After the obligatory sex scene (and Bob’s murder), Michael takes Bob’s glasses and finds a bed sheet. He then proceeds to stand in the bedroom doorway as a ghost while wearing the glasses. As she is wondering why she can’t get a reaction out of him, she calls Laurie who gets to hear Lynda being killed. After an early phone call from Annie eating something, she thinks it’s Lynda pulling a prank on her and makes threatens Lynda to come clean. It’s such an irreverant humor, and I’m never sure why Michael does it, I just can’t help but laugh every time.
The Bad: If you’re used to today’s slasher films (especially in the vain of Rob Zombie’s Halloween), this could come off as a really disappointing watch. The pacing will drive you crazy, because he’s not on a killing spree until nearly the end of the movie. Again, it’s not a gory film. It shows kills, but doesn’t have the scene dripping red by the end of it. As I said with Loomis, he’s supposed to be the Van Helsing of the movie. While that role does come through rather vividly, he doesn’t do much other than warn people that Michael is out there and he’s a horrific creature of death. Again, his big moment doesn’t come till the end of the film. I also would never want a guy like this to be my child’s psychologist. It’s obvious that there’s a deep-seeded hatred Michael, but he fears him and believes that he should be locked away or destroyed outright. Why he hadn’t lost his license, or been transfered from the case is beyond me.
There’s also a matter of Michael driving away from the sanitarium. They tried to hang a lantern on it by one of Loomis’s superiors saying that Michael CAN’T drive a car. Loomis points out that he did and that someone around the sanitarium must have given him lessons. This kid killed his sister and showed no remorse in the 15 years he’s been there, which guy decided to show Michael how to drive again? This is a guy I want to see more of, because the reaming he’s going to be getting for that will be epic in the extreme. Especially after the events of these movies.
As to the Annie and Lynda, well… I didn’t necessarily want to see Annie die. She wasn’t a bad person, but the promise of promiscuity and allowing it to happen around her made it all too clear she was on the hit list. Lynda
was annoying from the outset and needed to go. In the case of being an antithesis to our heroine, Lynda does it too well. Annie is sarcastic and can be a pain, but there’s someone for Laurie to actually talk to. Lynda is a caricature of the ’70s teen, and uses the word ‘Totally’ far too much in the first two minutes of her introduction. In short, she played the airhead cheerleader WAY too well. P.J. Soles, who played Lynda, is a very beautiful lady, but the character’s personality is a little too much to handle which is why you almost want to see her die right away.
There’s also no real explanation as to why Michael killed his sister, or killing these girls in particular. Since he hadn’t spoken in 15 years, no one ever got the full story behind it. In the case of Laurie and her friends, the only thing that can be extruded from Michael’s attack is that he spotted her at his house. When he followed her, Annie decided to taunt him the once. He was already following Laurie by that point, so it just added icing to the cake.
Speaking of Michael, another thing that will confuse people is the fact that in the credits, he’s referred to by name and also by “the Shape.” Carpenter’s explanation was he felt that with the mask on, Michael was the current shape of evil, and that eventually it would take on a new shape (namely because Carpenter never planned to continue with Michael Myers and wanted to move on to the next project). I get it, and while I can put this in the good category as well (because I like the idea of it), it had to be explained. I didn’t directly correlate “the shape of evil.” It took a documentary on the film to actually give me that information. Maybe it’s just me being dumb that I never caught it, or it could just be that if they’re going to drop something like that into the credits, they should have Loomis explain why that is.
The Overall: I think every fan of slasher horror should see this movie once, if nothing. I love watching it because it doesn’t show me a bunch of organs strewn all over the screen. It’s not the big gorefest that most people expect out of this. It’s one of those films that uses the background to show you that the killer is ever-present and watching everything you do. If it’s boring to you, I’d say watch up to the point where Laurie is about to start her babysitting gig and skip to where Annie is dropping off Lindsey across the street. This movie lends itself to being somewhere in between Psycho and Texas Chain Saw Massacre, in that you’ve got someone who wants suspense and gives you a serial killer instead. Again, you may not jump at these things because you’ve seen it all before, but the mind set at the time was they hadn’t seen much else like it, which evoked the idea that this new style of movie monster could’ve lived next door to you. He could’ve been your friend’s brother or cousin. He might have lived in the same neighborhood and all of a sudden he snapped, for what reasons we don’t know. I know I personally grew up in a town similar to this where stories and legends persisted about strange things and people who weren’t psychologically stable.
If I was to rate this, I give it 4 out of 5 stars. It’s not perfect, because there are some things it just asks you to go with, but it’s a lot of fun for those who want to look back at what was considered horror/slasher way back when.
Well, this is it for now, but I will return with more Halloween reviews for you to watch. If you get impatient, then go the the official website of Michael Myers where you can keep up on the latest news and see more about the film series!