Review – Halloween (1978)

I feel kind of stupid. Yesterday I posted a review of Rob Zombie’s Halloween, intending to follow it up immediately with a review of the original film. But what I do I really have to contribute to the discourse here? Halloween is THE slasher movie. It’s been written about countless times by far more qualified folks than myself. Film students study about and write papers on this movie (presumably). I like to write but I’m no professional critic. It’s laughable to think myself qualified for that title.

So I’ve decided that instead of writing a traditional review for a film everybody has seen, I’m going to simply list a number of things I myself have noticed and appreciated. Everyone knows about the relative lack of gore, the masterful suspense, the score, the acting of Donald Pleasence, and so on (and we all know it was a Shatner mask). I’m hoping the notes I make here are at least 50% original thoughts.

  • The film actually hasn’t aged all that well. I know, I’m going negative on one of the most well-regarded horror films of all time. But let me explain. I made this point when everyone groaned about it being remade. What we consider today to be “minimalist” and “deliberate” and “gore-free”, was all-out heart-pounding terror in 1978. This isn’t like Psycho, where you never see the knife penetrate. You see the knife penetrate in Halloween. There is blood, even though you’ll read comments about how little of it there is. This movie was shocking to audiences in the 70’s, but today, it seems deliberately slow-paced and cerebral. In that way, it has held up, but perhaps not in the intended fashion. Watch it with fresh eyes, and you’ll notice how quiet it is. Even when Michael is making a kill, you’ll notice there’s often no music, just the sound of struggling and breathing. Again, you can consider this a brilliant approach, but in the modern age of horror it seems kind of flat and non-dynamic. Look at the scene where Michael escapes the mental institution, or his battle with Laurie near the end. These should be some of the most terrifying scenes in the movie but they just seem a little lifeless now. Call me spoiled by the current “more is more” approach to film-making, but in horror I expect a bit more of a visceral experience.
  • On the same note, P.J. Soles’ dialogue (as well as the other “teenager” and child characters) is horrendous. Soles uses the word “totally” so many times it’s comical. People put way too much emphasis on weird words, like “NOOWW you’re seeing men in BUSHES!” Jamie Lee Curtis is actually pretty decent in a quiet, understated way, and Donald Pleasence is of course fantastic, but virtually every other character’s acting TOTALLY plants this movie in the 70’s.
  • Part of the reason this film was so controversial is that many shots appear to be seen through Michael Myers’ eyes, suggesting that the audience relate to the killer on some level. John Carpenter denies this and points out that shots which appear to be in the first-person are revealed to be just behind and over the shoulder of the killer. But that doesn’t explain the famous opening sequence, which is very clearly seen through Young Michael’s eyes as he murders his sister. At one point he even turns his head to show us the knife stabbing up and down. Unconscienably hedonistic? I don’t know. I believe it was done to keep the identity of the killer secret until the “reveal” of the mask coming off. Audiences sure were more sensitive back then.
  • The little three-note chime that plays when Michael Myers appears somewhere on screen makes a perfect text message tone during the Halloween season. I use it pretty much all year. Totally.
  • Speaking of music the famous Halloween Theme is composed in 5/4 time, an unusual time signature. I didn’t realize this until I tried to learn it on the piano and couldn’t get it to sound right.
  • You actually see Michael’s face pretty clearly for a few seconds, when Laurie rips it off during their final confrontation. For the longest time, I remember his face as having a deformity where one eye is droopy, and this is also how many people remember the face. Turns out it’s just a combination of weird lighting and our own imaginations inventing that deformity. Intentional or not, Friday the 13th took that concept for Jason and ran with it.
  • Donald Pleasence spends the whole second act of the movie guarding the Myers house while Michael stops by every OTHER home on the street and murders the people inside. He has a great moment when some kids come by and dare each other to walk up to the Myers front door. Loomis, from behind a bush, puts on this weird cockney voice and whispers “Hey! Lonnie! Get yo ass away from there!” It’s TOTALLY weird and out of character but I love it.
  • Watch this review of Halloween by James at Cinemassacre. In it, he describes the ideal Halloween viewing experience: Put the movie on near dark on Halloween night and watch it while the trick or treaters are out. It should be ending just about the same time as kids are heading home. “Take a peek out your front window. With the music filling your ears and the sound of Michael breathing, you’ll swear, he’s out there somewhere.”

 

3 comments

  1. Where can I find that 3 note text chime? I’ve been looking everywhere. Or should I just make it myself? Thanx and I enjoyed reading. I found it insightful and I agree with you.

  2. I made that text chime. Downloaded the whole movie soundtrack and clipped it out of the score. I’ve been meaning to make it available on this site as soon as I get around to the Tricks and Treats page.

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