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  • Writer's pictureMartyn Wakefield


Dir. John Carpenter

Reviewer. Dan Cook

An immovable titan in the horror genre, John Carpenter’s 1978 seminal slasher classic HALLOWEEN is a landmark in cinema, an excellently crafted thrill ride whose respect and reputation far exceeds that of many of the “copycat” movies that followed over the course of the following decade. Set in the fictional Illinois town of Haddonfield, the film sees three babysitters being stalked by the masked psychopath Michael Myers who, having killed his sister as a child, breaks out of his mental asylum on Halloween night and returns to the scene of the crime he committed 15 years previously.

Following in the bloody footprints of movies such as Mario Bava’s BAY OF BLOOD, (1971) Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS, (1974) Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1973) and the numerous giallo pictures of Dario Argento, HALLOWEEN may not, as so many incorrectly believe it to be, the first slasher film but it was certainly the first to bring all of the conventions and cliches now associated with the subgenre to the forefront. It’s story is remarkably simple, allowing for director Carpenter to focus less on character or narrative and instead on the mechanics of the scares, the jumps and the kills. That’s not to denigrate his skill in crafting wonderfully composed shots, imaginative camera movements and instantly iconic imagery. But it is in the growing tension and the atmosphere of omnipresent dread, all of which is underpinned by his unforgettably creepy synth underscoring, that Carpenter succeeds so very well and makes HALLOWEEN so much more than a traditional slasher movie.

In the lead role of babysitter Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis absolutely shines and stands head and shoulders above her two rather annoying co-stars Nancy Loomis and P.J Soles. Originally chosen for the role due to her homebred horror heritage, Curtis delivers a performance just as indelible as that of her mother and PSYCHO scream queen Janet Leigh, perfectly balancing virginal innocence and strongwilled determination with both grace and credibility. Anchoring the “totally” creaky dialogue and weaker supporting performances, Jamie Lee Curtis is both the emotional core and guiding force of the film and even after 44 years and umpteen sequels, remakes and reboots, she remains just as key a figure in the franchise as Michael Myers himself.

Meanwhile, the legendary Donald Pleasence is terrific as Sam Loomis, Michael’s doctor and desperate persuer who rushes to Haddonfield to prevent another bloodbath at the hands, or knife, of his mysterious patient. Gifted with many of the movies most iconic lines, including the famous monologue regarding the pure evil lurking behind Myers’ black eyes and embuing his performance with a brilliantly believable sense of tortured panic, Pleasence may not get as much screen time as Jamie Lee Curtis but proves to be just as, if not more memorable than his young co-star. One of the truly great characters in slasher cinema, Loomis would return to the franchise for further Myers-centric mayhem - with the dreadful sequel HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS marking the actors final screen appearance before his death in 1995.

However, the undisputed scene stealer is of course Myers himself, the walking embodiment of certain death whose haunting visage and merciless temperament still manages to terrify and fascinate in equal measure. With his gleaming knife, ruddy boiler suit, towering body shape and white William Shatner mask, Myers is one of the most recognisable figures in horror and his popularity and instantly iconic face would form the foundations for, what would become, the most successful series in the history of the genre. Not bad for a character who doesn’t say a single word.

Spawning not only a highly lucrative franchise of its own but literally hundreds of increasingly bloody imitators, the cultural importance of HALLOWEEN cannot be understated. It jumpstarted a slasher boom that would go on to dominate the first few years of the 1980’s which, as expected, would not prove popular with critics but would eventually influence many of the most renowned and profitable directors working today. It isn’t a perfect movie by any means but it is still a hugely impressive, expertly executed and deceptively elegant one and an absolute must see in October. After all, “it’s Halloween, I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare”.

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