Halloween ★★★★

[31 Nights Of Horror Vol. I - 2018]

#06 - Halloween (1978)

Annie: Laurie, dear. He wants to talk to you. He wants to take you out tonight.

With a cutting score, striking visuals, and a conceit and atmosphere that goes straight for the jugular, John Carpenter’s Halloween is the origin of the modern slasher as we know it. Sex is a sin and death is judgment, laughter precedes terror and dread permeates every frame like damp spreading across a ceiling, intoxicating and defiling homely comfort and tranquility. 

And the evil which lurks, stalks, biding its time as it walks slowly but surely towards our doom? Michael Myers. The single most iconic monster in modern cinema. Unlike many other sources of suffering and perpetrators of evil, Michael Myers is a liminal beast, we see the face and cold eyes of the child in the clown costume with knife bloodied and raised in celebration almost, we know he is to all intents and purposes a human being, but everything he does from the acts he commits to the way he moves is as far removed from humanity as possible. Unfeeling, unsympathetic, unbreakable, and merciless, he carves a path through Haddonfield, eluding his victims in daylight and becoming one with their shadow in the night, exacting some kind of sickly revenge for his incarceration whilst exhibiting no emotion in the eyes that soullessly look out from his spectral mask. He strangles, stabs, and makes sick play of his victims, and the slowness with which he does it all is as frightening as the method of murder. There is no rush. Michael has come home - but home is not the house where he murdered his sister, home is Halloween itself, a night for restless spirits to wreak havoc and for the bogeyman to be granted his one good scare. No, Haddonfield is not Michael’s home, Haddonfield is Michael’s torture chamber, its residents just don’t know they’ve been trapped until it’s too late.

Methodical and clinically shot, John Carpenter’s film is a technical feat of brilliance that’s composition itself feeds into the inculcation of the Michael Myers legend; from the way his mask and figure is lit, to the motions of the camera around him and as consumed by his aura, to the psychotic and mindshredding neurosis of the iconic title theme, every element creates Myers just as much as Myers’ physical presence does itself. The suspicion of the empty spaces, awareness of the foreground and background of every shot, anticipation of his next appearance and anxiety induced by it through evocative framing, it truly is remarkable. 

Jamie Lee Curtis is perhaps a little less potently realised in the lead role as I’d hoped, but her naivety and normalcy in the role of Laurie Strode in many ways does feel appropriate - whilst the way for many scream queens is to make poor choices and flee in fear, Strode adheres to a rigid disbelief in the evils of Halloween to mask her own trauma. She is forced to act only at the last minute and in a way that is frenzied and unsure, the feeling given of a true survivor but not yet a warrior, and something thematically which the new Halloween sequel has me genuinely excited to see her transition into. Curtis is a strong physical presence, an icon of horror cinema, and though for a good hour or so of the film she did feel somewhat underplayed and underserved by the script, the final act really does propel her as a character and actress towards something more than I believe she ever thought conceivable.

Halloween is, when all is said and done, a startling evocation of pure evil without remorse or sympathy for its perpetrator but an abundance of it for its unwitting victims. The slow pace and suspense, the organic evolution in narrative and the deft little twists and pivotal moments certainly put one in mind of the likes of Psycho, a masterpiece of horror and the thriller, and though it never quite hits that extraordinary peak it does blow away the spate of slashers that followed and then some. 

For a film of such simplicity to elicit such fear for four decades now, finding new audiences to beguile and scare, is nothing short of remarkable. Halloween may be immortalised commercially by the tagline ‘the night He came home’, but its release will be remembered surely as the night horror came home. Unlike Michael though, this one I welcome in with open arms.

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