Night #30: Halloween

Is it sacrilege to watch Halloween not on Halloween? I’ve been doing it for so many years now that I almost guilty when I don’t. But here we are, all grown up and breaking all the rules.

Anyone who doesn’t know the story should by now. When he was a kid Michael Myers stabbed his sister to death in an unprovoked attack on Halloween night. Years later he escapes from the mental institution he was in and returns home on, you guessed it, Halloween to wreak havoc while his former psychiatrist is on his tale.

Halloween is such a staple of horror viewing, particularly this time of year, that it’s easy to forget how good it is.

Of course, your barometer of ‘good’ may and will differ from mine. Some people like it bloodless and can be terrified, others consider a horror film’s worth by how much blood is let. As for me, I don’t know, I like a combination of things. Halloween manages to hit most of them. It’s well written, well directed, well acted, oozes atmosphere and has its fair share of bloodletting .

First off we have John Carpenter at the height of his powers. His and Debra Hill’s script is straightforward but well told. The story is simple but it doesn’t need to be anything more than that. The ‘Killer returns home’ conceit isn’t a new one now, but it was at the time and Carpenter imbues his film with a great sense of paranoia. Tossing aside the first kill, it’s a while before Myers kills again (On screen) so instead Carpenter spends the time (Which consists of Halloween day) showing Myers go about his business. He stalks school girl Laurie Strode (A geeky and gawky Jamie Lee Curtis), appears then disappears behind bushes and is generally a dick. It’s a great exercise in mystery and tension. Why is he stalking Strode? Why has he returned home? How has he learned to drive?

It does the great job of imbuing Myers as not a character, but a presence. He moves far too quickly than any person could – he seems to literally appear then disappear before Laurie’s eyes – and he seems to have a supernatural gift for knowing when people are/aren’t looking. Dr Loomis says as much. Michael is the personification of evil. That’s it. He’s not a person anymore, if he was at all, he’s just a thing now (There’s a reason he was nicknamed The Shape).

As Dr Loomis, veteran actor did Donald Pleasance (Star of there’s-a-cannibal-in-the-London-Underground movie Raw Meat) is fantastic. I didn’t really appreciate his performance until later on. I was always a fan, I just didn’t realise how great he was. Loomis is awkward, scared and jittery. It’s not unlike Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow, except you know, Pleasence is a better actor. He’s a bag of tics, but not overwhelmingly so, he’s just the only one who really understands what’s at stake. You get the impression that a younger Loomis was relatively normal before he had the misfortune of meeting Michael and developed his bag of tics as he failed for years to understand the mystery behind the kid.

A lot has been said about Carpenter, but he really does a fantastic job here. He uses widescreen to great effect, making the suburb of Haddonfield seem cold and alone even during daytime. Like Poltergeist, Carpenter manages to make the seemingly safe into a nightmare of dark shadows and isolation once the horror starts (Both films do a great job of making it seem like there’s no one else there, just these characters). The fact that all during my formative years I had to see this in 4×3 on a portable television is up there with the greatest injustices of our time.

What else is there left to say? Halloween is simply a great film from a great director. There’s a reason it’s endured and that it will continue to do so. The film just works, tapping into that simple fear that we all have: Somewhere out there is the boogeyman, waiting to catch us alone.

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