🦇 Dr. DuLacula 🧛’s review published on Letterboxd:
Death has come to your little town, Sheriff.
-Dr. Sam Loomis
It's easy for people to watch this film and overlook what makes it so good because of the oversaturation of the genre by it's less then stellar sequels and pale imitators. The sequels and imitators took only one thing from this film and that's basically having a killer with a gimmick. They didn't bother trying to copy what actually made the film truly great. Now after almost 35 years of shallow imitators drilling the "killer with a gimmick" formula into the movie going public's consciousness some viewers will view this film and see nothing else then a killer with a mask and all the while wondering why it's taking so long for the killing to start.
It's not to say that Michael Myers (or The Shape as the script refers to him) doesn't look menacing in his coveralls and featureless mask, but there's a difference. The coveralls and mask are a product of what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with the character and setting the tone for the film, and not them trying to create a cool looking character to hang a franchise on. The notion of the modern horror franchise didn't exist.
In my view the main reason this film is great is it's theme of using the unknown. From the opening of the film the audience is experiencing events through the eyes of an unknown individual and it's surprisingly unsettling from the get go. It only becomes more so when you realize what this person's intentions are and then turns to disturbing once the intentions are carried out and the identity of the person is revealed. That is the real formula of Halloween, introducing the audience to an unknown element and slowly building from that.
This theme continues in the story as it jumps to 15 years later. When Michael returns to Haddonfield, his home town, as an audience we have no idea what his motivations are or what he's capable of. As viewers though we're privy to information the characters in the film aren't. We know what most of the victims were doing, or planning on doing before they meet up with Mr. Myers. We're also given hints that he might be following Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) because she reminds him of his sister, or possibly because she's an introvert like himself. Possibly neither, possibly both. The key is we're only given hints as to "why" and are mostly kept guessing. We're never given concrete answers, but also never given anything to contradict anything either. At least not in the original film.
That's why none of the sequels come close to the original film. It's impossible to put the genie (in this case the "unknown") back into the bottle. All the sequels end up rehashing the third act of the original film with none of the subtlety of the two first acts.
Of course no one would care about all that if it wasn't for the great cast assembled. As opposed to what most horror films do in this day and age, this film is populated by actors that seem like real people as opposed to up and coming models. The performances might not be award winning, but they are memorable characters and not just lambs setup for the slaughter. Admittedly though Donald Pleasence might steal the show from the teenagers (their playing teenagers anyways) as the now iconic Dr. Sam Loomis.
To finish this off without mentioning John Carpenter would be a crime against humanity. I think one of the key elements as to why this is such a masterpiece is that Carpenter was a young motivated and passionate filmmaker put under the gun with time constraints in every aspect of the film. The time constraints forced him to just "do it" the way he wanted with no time in second guessing himself. This is not only in reference to directing the film, but also writing the script before hand and writing the score after. The musical score, like the character of Myers and the film itself, are now iconic not only in the genre but in film. How many of these things would have changed if Carpenter would have had to much time to dwell on them? We'll never know, but we can be thankful that he didn't.
Horroctober II: Bride of DuLac