My Favorite Movies – Halloween (1978)

4 May

By Tanner Smith

It’s the scary movie that made the late film critic Gene Siskel too nervous to walk home after an initial preview screening!

It’s the little indie horror film that could…and did…and set up a long string of disappointments (except for “Halloween (2018)”–that was a pretty good one).

John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” Man, even today, that opening-credit sequence and its subsequent murder scene gives me chills–THIS is how you begin a scary movie!

When I first saw it (at age 13, on the AMC channel), even when I had already seen countless slasher films at that time, I knew there was something special about it. I think it taught me that there could be far more to a horror film than just cheap scares, because “Halloween” had a great deal of heavy atmosphere and provoked more thought in my head than something like “Nightmare on Elm Street” or “Scream” or the “Friday the 13th” movies or any of the ’90s-horror films I was renting at that time. (“Psycho” taught me the same thing; I saw that around the same time I saw “Halloween” for the first time.)

I didn’t even notice at first that there’s very little graphic violence and almost NO blood (except in the opening murder scene). This movie scared little, dumb 13-year-old Tanner with…great filmmaking! Imagine that!! “Halloween” doesn’t specialize in blood or gore; it just relies on suspense, of which it has a great deal.And I’m not gonna lie–the first time I saw the moment in which the killer pops back up near the end, while first watching the movie late at night at age 13, I shouted “OH SH*T!” out of sheer fear. (I can’t be sure, but I think I woke up my parents with that remark.)

But…the film isn’t perfect. I know it’s not. I can tell it wasn’t filmed in the fall season or in Illinois, for that matter–note the palm trees in the background. (“Halloween 2018” contains a better feel for the Halloween season, thanks to the bigger budget.) Some of the acting isn’t very good, and some of the dialogue is even worse. And no matter how many times I watch the film, I still question why Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) just throws the knife away when she could’ve kept it for safety’s sake.

But when I think about “Halloween,” I don’t think about little things like that. Instead, I remember the fantastic cinematography (by Dean Cundey, who went on to shoot blockbusters like “Back to the Future” and “Jurassic Park”), the iconic music score (by Carpenter himself), the brilliantly disturbing one-shot prologue, the silent looming killer, the likable characters I don’t want to see get killed, the metaphors of fate and evil which are scattered all over the film, Dr. Loomis (played terrifically by Donald Pleasance), and the haunting ending that signifies that evil will never die. This film is also credited for that horror-film trope that states that the “final girl” must be a virgin in order to survive–John Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill argued against that, saying that the horny teens die because they’re so preoccupied with the prospects of getting laid that they don’t realize there’s a killer at large, while Laurie has other things on her mind and is more observant. When she finally realizes the danger she’s in, she has chances of survival. She does survive, though she may be mentally scarred for life…

That leads to “Halloween 2018” (or “Halloween: The Return of Good Filmmaking”), which was a solid sequel 40 years later, tackling how this incident affected Laurie all this time. And I’ll be curious to see what the upcoming “Halloween Kills” and “Halloween Ends” bring us in the future.

My favorite scene: the closet scene. Laurie is hiding from Michael and locking herself in a closet, but Michael knows she’s in there and tries busting his way in. The tense music is great, the filmmaking is spectacular, and you have to wonder what you would do if you were in Laurie’s shoes as she’s trying to use whatever she has around her to fight back.

So, if you feel like you’re in a scary movie, just remember these important rules of survival:

1) You can never have sex.

2) You can never drink or do drugs. (An extension of 1.)

3. Never, ever, under any circumstances, say, “Linda, you a**hole!” (…Or was it something else?)

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