John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ remains frighteningly good

JD Smith Nelson, Staff Writer

In 1978, John Carpenter and Debra Hill collaborated on a low budget horror film that would define the modern slasher subgenre. “Halloween” was lightning in a bottle that hasn’t ever been captured since. Some movies have come close, using the formula and tropes that the film defined, but never to the effect that that original film had. 

The film is set in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois, where, in 1963, 6-year-old Michael Myers murdered his sister Judith in cold blood. Fifteen years later, Michael has come home to Haddonfield on Halloween night. The film primarily follows teenager Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dr. Samuel Loomis, played by the legendary Donald Pleasance. The film was made on a shoestring budget of $325,000. By point of contrast, the film made $70 million worldwide in box office sales. This smashing success turned many heads and other filmmakers would go on to imitate the franchise going forward.  

“But what makes ‘Halloween’ so great?” you may be asking. The short answer is everything. From the cinematography by the great Dean Cundy, the chilling score by Carpenter himself, all the way to the performances by the actors themselves. All the teenage characters are wonderfully portrayed by their respective actors. They help keep Haddonfield as real and relatable as possible. This builds suspense over the course of the film as Michael, also known in the credits as The Shape, draws nearer. You grow to genuinely enjoy the characters, so when they end up in this mythic boogeyman’s crosshairs you really fear for their lives. The movie doesn’t shy away from reminding you that Michael has zero regard for their lives either as he slowly builds a small body count on the day leading up to Halloween.  

Of course, Halloween night needs to be where the movie shines since it’s the name of the film. To say it shines would be an understatement though. Dean Cundy’s cinematography gives everything an eerie, soft blue glow with heavy emphasis on shadows. This puts the audience on edge, never knowing which shadow The Shape could be hiding in. Many times, he appears from nothingness and strikes hard, making quick work of the unsuspecting citizens of Haddonfield. The score building the suspense with its uncomfortable repetition as you wait with baited breath to see if the characters will survive to the next scene. All the while, Dr. Loomis is hot on the trail to catch his patient before he takes another life. The speeches he gives build the legend of this man as the embodiment of death and pure evil, though we never get a peek into the mind of this blank, emotionless husk of what once was a child. 

This husk is played prominently by Nick Castle, and Myers’s composure was expertly defined by the actor. Moving efficiently and silently if it weren’t for the heavy breathing inside Myers’s latex mask. The mask itself was a stroke of genius on the filmmakers’ part. Made from a mask of William Shatner’s likeness, they coated it in white paint, enlarged the eyeholes, and darkened the messy hair. It gives the effect of an almost human face hiding its true intentions behind, as Loomis puts it, “the blackest eyes…the devil’s eyes.” He is without a doubt the most defining part of the movie, and without the visual identity he has, the character would be nothing more than a killer.  

Saying more about the movie would spoil its best elements, so the less said the better. The movie has gained the following and sequels it has for a reason. Give it a watch this Halloween night if you can, start while the trick or treating is just winding down so by the time you’re finished it’s quiet and dark out. You’ll swear the boogeyman is right outside, waiting for you to lower your guard. Happy Halloween folks, and remember, you can’t kill the boogeyman.