Halloween (1978) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween
Fifteen years after murdering his sister on Halloween Night 1963, Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois to kill again.
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It’s Halloween 2023 and the last day of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. We have covered a lot of modern classic horror movies this time around and it’s been fun to revisit some of my all time favourites.
For Halloween last year we checked out Rosemary’s Baby because why the hell not? It’s one of the greatest horror movies of all time. For Halloween 2023 we are checking out another horror classic in the form of John Carpenter’s seminal slasher movie Halloween from 1978. Let’s take a look.
A Quick October Lament
To be perfectly honest, this has been a bit of a frustrating endeavour. Putting together a review each day, including watching the movie etc, during a busy month is time consuming enough. But when there is no pay off, it is much worse. I don’t do this site for money, that would be ridiculous. I don’t even make enough to cover half of my server costs each month. As far as Knockout Horror goes, this site is a massive time and money drain. More so than any site I have ever launched.
The only reason I work on this site is to make content for horror fans. Horror has given me so much entertainment, I wanted to give something back. The pay off is people reading what I write, plain and simple. Long story short, the way I used to add movies to this site resulted in celebrities being added as well with their own page. These pages weren’t very detailed and I never added to them because who cares about that? This a horror review site, not a celebrity site.
A Tale of Woe
Anyways, Google recently changed its algorithm and put a focus on helpful content. Whereas my Ending Explained articles are, obviously, considered helpful. A bunch of pages focused on celebrities with next to no information on them weren’t. Hence my site appears to have been majorly impacted, as a whole, with many of my places in Google’s listings being knocked right down or removed entirely. This site was growing at a rate I was comfortable with and now that growth has taken a big hit.
Luckily a lot of the content I write is well focused towards people looking for specific things. So my search click through rate is now ridiculously high but my impressions are less than one twentieth of what they were. I was originally quite excited about putting together this 31 Days of Halloween feature due to said growth but now it has turned into a bit of a chore that I am thoroughly glad is done with. Anyways, the point of this rant is to say that I will be refocusing my content from now on. There will be way less reviews and more ending explained articles. I’ll be using list formats for future Halloween features, as well. On with the review.
A Slasher Classic
When we talk about slasher horror movies, the one that I always refer to as staring it all was Black Christmas from 1974. Sure, there were other movies with slasher style themes such as Psycho and Peeping Tom. But nothing really outlined the format in quite the way that Bob Clark did with Black Christmas. The movie set the benchmark that other similar movies would follow and the slasher genre had been conceived. But it wasn’t the movie that really brought slashers to the mainstream, though.
If you were to point to one specific movie that actually gave birth to the sub-genre in all its bloody glory. The majority of people would probably point to this movie; John Carpenter’s Halloween from 1974. And they would be right. This is the movie that created a fan obsession with slashers and it is also a movie that launched a thousand clones.
The film came about after producer Irwin Yablans watched Carpenter’s crime thriller Assault on Precinct 13. Yablans decided he wanted to hire Carpenter to direct a horror movie about a babysitter killer for him. Carpenter agreed under the condition that he had full control over the movie including the writing, the directing and even the score.
A Great Option for Halloween
Carpenter and his wife Debra Hill set about writing the script with some input from Yablans. With Hill drawing on her experience as a babysitter to write dialogue for the girls in the movie and Carpenter working on the character of Loomis. Carpenter, knowing that he needed to create an effective villain for the movie. Recounted visits to psychiatric hospitals during college and the blank stare of one particular patient. Taking this as inspiration to create an almost motiveless killer who is unaffected by the world around him. The Shape was born and would go on to be renamed Michael Myers. One of the most iconic horror characters of all time.
Of course, the reason we are featuring Halloween in this list is because it is one of the most fitting Halloween themed movies of all time. And this movie was always destined to be set on Halloween, despite murmurs to the contrary. This movie, in a way, pretty much started it all when it comes to October horror movies. Sure, the presentation is somewhat dulled down compared to things like Trick ‘r Treat. But this is one of the first movies to actually be set on Halloween itself. It was unique at the time and it really kicked something off. Making October weather and fallen leaves the perfect backdrop for slasher scares.
A Great Horror Movie
But it’s not just the setting that makes this movie so fitting for this time of year. Halloween is just a damn good horror movie in its own right. The story is pretty simple. A brutal and relentless killer escapes from the sanitarium where he was locked up on the night of Halloween in 1978. Hell bent on returning to the place where he viciously murdered his sister fifteen years before. Michael Myers is about to cause havoc on an unsuspecting group of teens who just so happen to be babysitting for the night.
There’s nothing complicated here but Carpenter’s attention to detail makes this an incredibly tense and effective horror. The movie opens up with Halloween’s iconic score playing over an image of a jack-o-lantern. The almost frantic and frenetic pacing of the music immediately suggests a need for panic. It’s just there to get us warmed up, though. To cue us in to what to expect when we hear it. Because first of all we have to meet Michael Myers.
Genuinely Tense and Scary
Carpenter does what so many horror directors fail to do. He makes his killer scary from the get go. Myers brutally murdering his sister is bad enough but it doesn’t stop there. He is one of those villains who feels superhuman. Almost as if he is impossible to stop. Something that would be proven to be true in later years. Myers is presented as a threat from the moment he escapes. His singular focus and complete lack of empathy lends him a feeling of genuine evil. He is imposing, relentless, and scary as hell with that terrifying William Shatner mask.
Carpenter perfectly captures the futility of the characters in their attempts to escape Myers. Long shots with soft focus show Michael watching the characters wherever they go. First person angles borrowed from Black Christmas give us a killer’s eye view of the action. Showing that wherever Laurie and her friends are, Michael isn’t far behind.
Myers is almost a voyeur for much of the film. Simply watching and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When he finally does, he does it in a way that is almost emotionless. He doesn’t struggle like Jason Vorhees, he doesn’t seem to indulge in it. He simply kills his victims as if it was something he was simply made to do. Just another day at the office and that is what makes him so scary. He’s not someone that can be reasoned with, his motives aren’t clear and he is impossible to stop.
What might be surprising to some, however, is the complete lack of gore in this movie. It just isn’t that bloody. Many of the kills are off screen or don’t involve knifes or other implements of blood letting. It’s all pretty tame by today’s standards. In a lot of ways, this works better than the alternative. It’s almost more scary that Myers wants to get hands on with his victims. He isn’t afraid of them hurting him and is more than willing to get his hands dirty. It all just adds to the suspense.
Naturally, Myers wouldn’t be anything without his counterpart Laurie Strode. Laurie has become an iconic character in her own right and definitely has a hand in creating the “last girl” horror movie trope. Laurie’s virginal and innocent nature has been mentioned by many when referencing the allegorical nature of slasher movies regarding promiscuity. But Carpenter has repeatedly said that the metaphor for sexual desires, or lack thereof, were misunderstood. With Laurie actually being repressed more than virginal. Either way, Laurie would be copied over and over again. She feels massively important in both Halloween and the Halloween series. She is the Yin to Myers’ Yang and set the blueprint for movies like this to come.
Direction here is fantastic. Carpenter is an expert at building tension. The iconic soundtrack cues you in to the danger the characters face. We catch glimpses of Myers or see things from his point of view and we immediately know how close he is. All that’s left is to wait as he draws nearer. Carpenter places you into the shoes of Myers. He doesn’t appear out of nowhere; you follow him and you see him pursue his victims. Helplessly observing, almost like an accessory to the killings.
It conjures up memories of the first person shots in Psycho. And like in Psycho, it is legitimately tense stuff and works so much better than the myriad clones that followed. Many of the shots here are extremely dark with minimal lighting but it never seems to be a huge problem. It really just guides your eyes to the shadows searching for the threat that you know is hiding there somewhere. Halloween is expertly crafted. It has aged and that may have dulled it over time. But it is still so much better than the slasher movies it spawned.
Interestingly, Carpenter features a number of nods to Psycho in this movie. Some of the shots, the setups and the lighting being among them. One thing that isn’t a nod, however, is the coincidental casting of Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis in the role of Laurie. Curtis is fantastic here in what was her first major movie role. Obviously she has gone on to become a huge star in her own right but it pays to remember how new she was to acting here.
Interestingly, Curtis was worried about this role. Feeling she was more suited to the Cheerleader type characters than the more reserved Laurie. A fact that seems quite laughable given how well she fits the character. She does a great job either way which is a testament to her acting ability. Donald Pleasence is a lot of fun as Loomis (another nod to Psycho perhaps). He seems to be having a good time and he does a brilliant job.
Final Thoughts and Score
Halloween is one of the best slasher movies of all time. As I mentioned earlier, if movies like Psycho, Peeping Tom and Black Christmas conceived the slasher genre, Halloween gave birth to it. It’s tense, scary, completely engaging and just a ton of fun. Michael Myers is iconic, the score is instantly memorable and Laurie is a top notch protagonist. A perfect movie to watch on Halloween, even to this day, and simply a brilliant horror in its own right.
Trailer: Halloween (1978)
|Release Date:||24th October 1978|
|Movie Type:||Horror, Slasher|
|Movie Length:||91 Min|
|Starring:||Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis|
|Directed By:||John Carpenter|
|Written By:||John Carpenter, Debra Hill|
|Produced By:||Debra Hill|
|Parental Guidance:||Violence, Gore, Sexual Content, Nudity, Language, Violence To Animals, Drug Use|