Halloween (1978) ReviewJoe Shaffer
Whenever I mention that I love horror movies to non-horror movie watchers, I usually get this kind of reaction:
"I don't know how you can stand movies like those, so full of blood and sex and no storytelling whatsoever..."
I also find it funny that people who never watch horror movies seem to presume so much about them, but I digress...
As many of you probably know, there are glaring exceptions to just about every film stereotype. Not every rom-com, for instance, stars a lonely man trying to win back a woman he foolishly lost, and not every western features a seedy saloon scene. The same can be said for horror movies, as not all of them are constant depictions of blood and sex. I can think of no better example of more subtle horror filmmaking than 1978's Halloween.
Halloween is not your typical slasher flick, and that's saying something when you consider that it was among the first.* Rather than a constant onslaught of gore and sadism, Halloween is more of a slow-burn kind of movie. We see the famous antagonist Michael Myers often throughout the film, usually spying on the movie's central characters or waiting for the perfect moment to strike. It eventually gets to the point that he becomes a fixture of the set, and you realize that he's ever-present; always there, staring from afar, watching and waiting. The knowledge that he's right outside the house while the characters go about their lives is terrifying in itself.
Halloween's means of building tension is reminiscent of a movie it references, one that director John Carpenter would later remake: 1951's The Thing. In that flick, characters constantly move about an Antarctic complex, opening doors and entering rooms uneventfully. You know that the monster is somewhere on the premises, but it always manages to elude the cast. After a while, the characters open so many doors and enter so many rooms that you become desensitized to the act. Finally, the film catches you unawares as the creature appears when a character attempts to barge into a room. It's a sign that the antagonist has been there all along, like Michael, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Much like The Thing, characters in Halloween constantly leave themselves vulnerable. They lock themselves in darkened laundry rooms, traipse into garages, or creep out into the dead of night, and we might expect them to run afoul of the masked maniac. Yet, he never strikes. It eventually becomes so maddening that you might stop expecting him to appear, only to be caught similarly unawares when he grabs his first major victim and slits her throat.
Halloween is not a one trick pony. Its modus operandi is not merely to desensitize you with slow tension and then catch you off guard. Carpenter also creates a great sense of dread through lighting, or lack thereof. Many scenes and sets are appropriately shadowy and feature Carpenter's signature synth music, which aids in creating a fantastic brooding mood.
But I think the most frightening part of Halloween is Michael himself, and seeing what is capable of. Throughout the movie we see displays of his raw power: it's in the way he can kill a German shepherd with his bare hands, or lift a man off the ground with a single hand, or shrug off stabs and shots that would kill an ordinary fellow, all of which make him a frightening horror movie villain. It's in the cold, blank stare and the detached patience he displays that shows what kind of a man he is, and just why we should fear him. Worst of all is that Michael is not an undead fiend, a monster, an android, or an alien. He's a human being, quite possibly more capable of evil than any of the above creatures.
Halloween is a terrific example of how a subtle horror movie should turn out. It builds tension probably better than any of its ilk, and concludes the slow burn with a collection of wonderful scare scenes and an unforgettable finale. There's a reason why this movie still makes top horror movie lists after more than thirty years, and it has a lot to do with its timeless quality of filmmaking and the ability to tell a frightening and somewhat realistic tale without going balls-out in regards to blood and gore.
*No, Halloween is not the first slasher flick. Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night both predate it by a few years. Savage Weekend was also filmed prior to Halloween's release, but wasn't released itself until 1979.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.