Halloween ★★★★★


I was no older than 7 or 8 when I first got to experience Halloween. Having endured, and been utterly petrified by, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers a few weeks earlier, thanks to sitting downstairs with my Mother in the dead hours of the morning and her having no respect for BBFC guidelines, I have to admit that this particular film bored me. It was all so slow and nothing really seemed to happen until the last fifteen minutes. It was only as I got older that I began to appreciate that not only was Halloween one of the most ground-breaking horror movies of all time, surpassed only by Psycho and The Exorcist but that it was also one of the most creative and, indeed, one of the most terrifying. Through my teenage years I went from disliking this film to absolutely adoring it. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece in filmmaking and is, in my opinion, the single greatest slasher movie ever made.

The genius of Halloween lies primarily in its simplicity. John Carpenter, as the director, does not go for big set-pieces or lashings of gore. Instead, he simply cranks the tension up to eleven, dims the lights and allows our imaginations to fill in the gaps. The plot is fantastically basic and the killer’s motives are a complete mystery. There’s no big reveal (at least not until Halloween II anyway…), there’s no contrived explanation and no need to try and understand why Michael Myers murdered his sister on Halloween night in 1963, nor to understand why he’s returned home fifteen years later to kill some more. And that’s absolutely terrifying! Oscar Wilde once said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. In Halloween’s case, the only thing scarier than understanding what is going on is not understanding what is going on.

Now, one could argue that the lack of explanation is down to laziness on Carpenter’s part. Fine. Even if that is the case, Halloween is still a brilliant film. The direction is absolutely phenomenal. Carpenter excels in creating an eerie, yet totally realistic, atmosphere and keeps the audience on tenterhooks from start to finish. Every false scare, every sudden shock, every death and every interaction are all handled with an impeccable sense of care that helps to make Halloween the masterpiece that it is rightly revered as today. The camerawork is quite simply faultless. Every slasher movie since Psycho (which isn’t even that much of a slasher anyway) has attempted to create the same sense of misdirection, confusion and genuine terror as Hitchcock but only Halloween has ever come close. Sitting here watching it for the umpteenth time, I found myself desperately trying to nit-pick and find something to complain about but to no avail. Carpenter’s direction alone deserves shedloads of credit and praise.

Yet Halloween excels in every other area too. Unlike most horror films, in which quantity is better than quality, Halloween only sees four characters die (five if you include a random truck-driver) yet it never once becomes boring or staid. Each and every character is built up and given a personality that we, as an audience, can relate to and they are all played brilliantly. Donald Pleasance is excellent as Dr. Loomis, Michael’s determined and ever-so-slightly deranged psychiatrist who follows him back to Haddonfield in order to stop him and Jamie Lee Curtis is a revelation in her debut role as Laurie Strode, arguably cinema’s most renowned “final girl”. Similarly, Laurie’s best friends, Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Linda (P.J. Soles) are absolutely believable and genuine, and they're a far-cry from the knife-fodder that inhabits most modern slasher films, whose only purpose is to look pretty, scream a lot and end up as one of many corpses. In Halloween, we are presented with a group of characters that we can all care about and there is a genuine sense of sadness when the inevitable happens. It’s very rare that any horror film can evoke such a reaction but Halloween certainly manages it. The supporting cast and characters, too, all have fully-fleshed personalities of their own, even the kids, and this only adds to the film’s effect as we fear anything happening to any of them. And then there’s the soundtrack. If you’ve never heard it, where the Hell have you been living all your life? As far as I’m concerned, it’s the single greatest soundtrack in cinematic history. It accompanies the film perfectly and sends a shiver down my spine every time I hear it.

If you’ve never seen Halloween then you absolutely need to. Even if you hate the horror genre, this film is a masterpiece and is the quintessential slasher film. The script is intelligent, the performances are great, the characters are brilliant, the direction is sublime and the ending is just wonderful. As someone who thinks a good number of the sequels get a bit of an undeserved hard time, even I think that the ending is simply impeccable and should have been left well alone.

You know what? I could probably stick Halloween on again right now and enjoy it just as much. That’s how good I think it is. Without a doubt, one of the ten best films I’ve ever seen.

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