Halloween ★★★★

John Carpenter has earned a reputation for being one of the best in the field of American 70's/80's cinema, jumping around from genres like action, science fiction, and horror, and his legacy has resulted in a variety of influences/copycats because of that. Most point to The Thing as Carpenter's horror masterpiece (and they're right), but Halloween is just, if not more, important at defining the level of skill needed in order to make a horror classic. Written in ten days, filmed in twenty days, fully scored in three days, and having a cast and crew of then-nobodies at their absolute A-game working with the low cost of $300K. The end result was one of the top ten highest-grossing films of the year, and ushered in a new wave of slasher films, proving it to be a profitable genre even without it being the first by being an atmospheric, at times even minimalistic, film that uses its pacing dynamics to really make each thrill moment as vivid a memory as possible.

Fifteen years after a young Michael Myers murders his older sister on Halloween night and committed to a sanitarium, the silent killer (christened obliquely as "The Shape" in the closing credits) returns home to re-enact the night. In going back and stalking the new babysitters looking after their younger brothers/sisters, the faulty memories of Myers' attack consumes any other feeling from him, poisoning him and truly making him a threat of pure evil, loathing and uncaring to those similar to the thoughts that reverberated for fifteen years. Myers' supernatural tendencies also call to the lessons Laurie Strode and classmates learn on fate, the mysterious course of events that lead to the teens' downfalls in a manner they can't avoid. As the final girl Laurie fights the strongest against fate, even when an event like neighbors refusing to be involved in a young woman's ravings late at night occur, it’s her commitment to stopping this force of nature that is relentlessly invincible, as if it's more corrupt deity than flawed human, that makes the climax of the film one of the more memorable moments in classic horror.

In setting this up the film takes its time, quiet and biding its time until the night of the boogeyman. We spend a substantial amount of times with these characters, seeing them in playful and/or intimate moods that provide plenty of levity and suspense before Myers comes out of the shadows. There are plenty of subtle shots of The Shape apparating into frame, usually unaccompanied by the score in order to let his presence go unnoticed for those antsy for the few kills in the film. The film does know to keep the viewer on edge and anticipating the white-masked killer, throwing a bone by having a window be smashed by a gutter or an angry dog loudly barking, pacing itself very well and making sure that the eventual big scares are anticipated, but not mitigated by bored waiting. By giving a few cheap scares every now and then like the haunted houses of Carpenter's youth, it results in something people are willing to pay and experience over and over, just because it knows not to throw everything at you at once and stretch the fear to a 90-minute runtime.

Of course, one can't talk about Halloween and not mention Carpenter's great score, the minimal but thumping piano and synths that play at an irrational time in order to further unnerve the listener. The lighting and cinematography also stand out, showing a fully confident director that bathes each house in darkness and shining only partially our victims and stalker. The film adopted the beloved holiday of Halloween and really channeled into the scary creatures to be dispelled into the night, returning in another year. We only see a few trick-or-treaters every now and then, a few jack-o-lantern's pop up, but it's more interested in diving into the terrifying roots of the season, to bring out the boogeyman and give tangible anatomy to it for young and old to fear. None of the other films in the franchise seem to have matched the level of horror present here (Halloween III: Season of the Witch respectably goes for its own thing and I kinda love it because of that), but this one has stuck around as a yearly tradition for some because of that horror, in both the film and the roots of the holiday.

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