(United States, 1978)
Now that seven inferior sequels have tainted the "Halloween" name, it's sometimes hard to remember that the first, original Halloween was a genuine classic - a horror/thriller that favored atmosphere and suspense above bloodshed, and kept audiences on the edges of their seats. (The Halloween series has the odd distinction of including one of the best movies of all time - the first installment - and one of the worst movies of all time - number six.) Halloween is generally credited as having spawned the slasher movie craze, but, in many of the most important ways, it wasn't a member of the genre. The main villain, Michael Myers, kills people, but the slaughter is not graphic. The movie is more about shocks and scares than blood and gore. Halloween has more in common with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho than with Friday the 13th. Despite having been put together on an extremely low budget, Halloween is so well made that it can be watched over and over again without losing its considerable impact. (I usually watch the movie once a year -- on or around Halloween night, of course.) The craft of the film is amazing - with very little money, no studio backing, and only one "name" star (veteran Donald Pleasance), John Carpenter created one of the best horror films of all time. And what could be more evocative than the simple, chilling "Halloween" theme? Those who would dismiss Halloween based on the title or the genre are judging it without having experienced it. Don't let elitist snobs who think they're too good for this sort of thing turn you off. Yes, it's probably best to skip entries two through eight (and counting?), but #1 is a must-see for anyone who appreciates frightening movies.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The film opens with a long, single-shot prologue that takes place on Halloween night, 1963. A young Michael Myers watches as his older sister, Judith, sneaks upstairs for a quickie with a guy from school. After the boyfriend has departed, Michael takes a knife out of the kitchen drawer, ascends the staircase, and stabs Judith to death. The entire sequence employs the subjective point-of-view, an approach that writer/director John Carpenter returns to repeatedly throughout the movie. Only after the deed is done do we learn that Michael is only a grade-schooler. The bulk of the movie takes place fifteen years later. Michael, confined to an asylum for the criminally insane for more than ten years, escapes on the night before Halloween. His doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), believing Michael to be the embodiment of evil, tracks the killer back to his hometown of Haddonfield, where he is already stalking the gawky and virginal high-schooler, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). From there, it's a race against time as Loomis seeks to locate and stop Michael before he starts again where he left off in 1963.
Halloween is one of those films where the attention to detail is evident in every frame. The final body count is surprisingly low, but the terror quotient is high. This is the kind of impeccably crafted motion picture that burrows deep into our psyche and connects with the dark, hidden terrors that lurk there. Halloween is not a perfect movie, but no recent horror film has attained this pinnacle. Likewise, John Carpenter has never come close to recapturing Halloween's artistic or commercial success, though he has tried many times. Halloween remains untouched -- a modern classic of the most horrific kind.
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