STARRINGDonald Pleasance - Dr. Sam Loomis
Jamie Lee Curtis - Laurie Strode
Charles Cyphers - Sheriff Leigh Brackett
Nancy Loomis - Annie Brackett
P.J. Soles - Lynda Van Der Klok
Nick Castle - Michael Myers/The Shape
Genre - Horror/Slasher/Psychological Thriller
Running Time - 91 Minutes
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
In 1960, the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, PSYCHO, changed the way movie-goers and the movie industry looked at the horror genre. Gone were Universal's supernatural monsters, like Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Wolf Man. PSYCHO replaced them with more realistic terror, inspiring movies like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and BLACK CHRISTMAS, where the villain was a human being. The slasher genre was born, though it wouldn't really hit the mainstream until John Carpenter took a tale about babysitters being stalked by a maniac with a knife. That film would be immortalized as the classic HALLOWEEN.
Haddonfield, Illinois - Halloween Night, 1963 - Judith Myers, after having sex with her boyfriend [he gives the phrase "quick draw" a whole new meaning], gets murdered by her six-year-old brother Michael [who wears a clown suit - I knew I hated clowns for a reason]. His parents send Michael away to a mental institution for help, where he's under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance). For 15 years, Michael doesn't move or speak...he's pretty much catatonic, though Dr. Loomis thinks otherwise and suspects that Michael is pure evil on legs. Dr. Loomis manages to get his superiors to transfer Michael to another location with stronger security for the public's protection. So on October 30, 1978, Loomis and Nurse Marion (Nancy Stephens) drive Michael (Nick Castle) to his new home. But after Loomis steps out of the car to check on why many patients are roaming around outside in the rain, Michael escapes, nearing killing Marion in the process.
On Halloween, Michael travels back to Haddonfield, leaving a trail of blood and bodies on his path so Loomis can follow. Michael, known as the Shape at this point since we see him more as a force than a normal human being, gives his full attention to a young 17-year-old Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), stalking her and her two friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (PJ Soles) the entire day and night. While the Shape is getting ready to continue his trick-or-treating, Loomis arrives in Haddonfield to warn Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) about Michael's return. Brackett, of course, is a bit skeptical of Loomis, but decides to help him anyway. From this point on, Laurie and Annie begin babysitting for some kids...as the Shape prepares to bring death back to Haddonfield.
This is my favorite movie ever. Why? Not only the fact that HALLOWEEN is the perfect horror movie, but it's the first movie to have a lasting impression on my psyche. Everything about this film terrified me. Whether it was the music, the tension and build-up, or just the Shape himself, I was scared out of my mind - and I loved it. It's such a spectacular movie that took a simple plot about babysitters getting killed and turned it into 90 minutes of pure terror. It also has a small, yet great, cast of actors and characters, little gore, and just the right amount of violence. This movie is not a gore-fest where the body count has to be high to compensate how lackluster the film really is. This movie is more psychological and it's just brilliant in its execution. No wonder it was the most successful independent movie at its time [though THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT would beat it 21 years later].
I got to say something about the direction of this movie: fantastic. John Carpenter put his name on the map here with his simple visual storytelling. The use of subjective angles and point of view, especially when we watch a young Michael kill his sister through his eyes at the start of the film, really leaves an impression on you. It also makes you identify with Michael, while at the same time messing with your head, wondering why a little boy would kill his sister. Carpenter also uses great lighting for the day and night scenes, making you afraid in both [if a killer is stalking you in the DAY, then you're really not safe]. Plus the narrowing of shots as the killer comes closer and closer to Laurie, giving a claustrophobic feel. Also the use of the Shape is really effective here. Though he's the villain of the film, we don't really see much of him at all until the very end. We see glimpses of the back of his head, or far away shots, or background shots where he just appears and disappears...all really effective in creating a creepy and scary mood. My favorite scene is definitely the scene where Laurie finds her dead friends and she leans against a wall in front of a dark hallway. All of a sudden, you see this white face suddenly emerge from the dark slowly, leading to The Shape stabbing Laurie in the shoulder. Just brilliant, brilliant stuff. The Shape is always around, and through the directing, we get a huge sense of that. I don't think Carpenter has directed a better movie than HALLOWEEN [although THE THING comes close or matches it]. This is truly his masterpiece.
The acting is also excellent, to the point where it's probably the best cast of unknown actors [save Donald Pleasance] at the time in any horror movie [which does help the film, since they're all pretty much strangers to the audience]. Donald Pleasance is the big name here and he plays the heroic Dr. Loomis extremely well. He's not in the film as much as the victims are, but his monologues about evil and his declarations about Michael Myers being the evil incarnate are so profound and dramatic that you actually believe the man. If it were any other actor, they'd probably sound ridiculous. But Pleasance really adds a touch of class to the entire film and he IS Dr. Loomis. He's just brilliant.
Out of all the actors here though, Jamie Lee Curtis does the best job. This was her first big screen debut and what a debut it is. Not only is she attractive, but she's smart, brave, resourceful, and strong. It also helps that Curtis makes Laurie very likable and sympathetic. We root for her against the Shape, while we also criticize her when she drops the knife every time she thinks she's safe from him. Curtis had a lot to live up to being the daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, and she does it without a sweat.
Nancy Loomis as Annie was okay for me. She plays the role pretty dry and almost lazy, but she has a personality of a self-absorbed teenager so the performance works for the most part.
PJ Soles as Lynda is totally my favorite supporting character here because she's totally beautiful and she's totally the girl you meet in High School that's probably a totally awesome cheerleader and dating the captain of the football team or something. Plus she totally loves to use the word totally a lot. She's the comic relief of the film and I really like her, especially her death scene. Just funny stuff.
Charles Cyphers did good as Sheriff Brackett. He's the anti-Loomis, where he doesn't believe that evil is lurking around his town. There's always one in every town, I guess.
And I can't forget Nick Castle as Michael Myers/The Shape. Man, this dude is intimidating. Just the graceful way he walks and murders his victims. I love the head tilt he did after he murdered Lynda's boyfriend, Bob, in the kitchen. The heavy breathing and the creepy sit-up after the closet scene...just fantastic stuff. He's the best Michael Myers of the lot.
And this movie would be nothing without the musical composition by John Carpenter. From the chilling intro theme [which is probably the most famous horror theme of all time], to the other simpler themes where you know the Shape is gonna pop up and something bad will happen, the music is really effective as the narrator of the film. The theme song alone scares the crap out of me. When I was like 7, I used to cry hysterically every time I heard it, because I would identify it with Michael Myers. It's one of those songs that will bury itself in your head and give you nightmares for a few weeks. Who knew that a simple piano rhythm could be so powerful?
THE FINAL HOWL
HALLOWEEN is not just a great horror movie, but a great movie period. With a great story, a perfect cast, and little blood, HALLOWEEN will surely deliver one good scare. You want real fear? Watch this film and tell me you can look at the people in your town the same way again afterwards. Who knows...one of them might just put on a mask and kill you for no reason? Every horror movie collection should have this film in there because it set up the more inferior sequels and imitators [I'm talking to you, FRIDAY THE 13TH]. I couldn't recommend a movie more.