Halloween (1978): The greatest horror story ever told
Mike Williams | On 31, Oct 2018
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Tony Moran
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It may be 40, but is Halloween the greatest horror story ever told? Style over substance is synonymous with the incredibly saturated genre of horror on offer to scare-thirsty audiences but John Carpenter’s classic (recently released on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray) couldn’t be further from the lazy assumption that a. scary movies offer little of substance or, significantly, b. can never be considered a masterpiece.
Halloween is four decades old and, regardless of it being older than any millennial that’s now ingrained in its fandom, now is a good time to revisit its splendour. Some will ask what there is left to say about Carpenter’s 1978 genre staple that still encapsulates audiences today, but there’s plenty to delve into, including the gender roles that morph and unfold with the first instalment and are seen throughout the enduring franchise. What begins as a dynamic of fear and isolation for Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) eventually turns into a somewhat empowering role for women; she removes herself from the position of a defenseless female victim and becomes a strong and rather badass heroine, much in the way Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley did, when she’d had just about enough of men manipulating her and pesky acid-squirting xenomorphs running amok.
Likewise, Michael Myers (originally played by Tony Moran) essentially starts out as the embodiment of the strong and silent type, traits now associated with the toxicity of masculinity, but back then, the towering physicality and mute nature ironically spoke volumes where horror tropes were concerned.
But is Halloween the best horror film in existence?
Particular elements may seem commonplace today, due to the overuse of popular horror techniques, but Halloween’s POV shots and tracking, as Myers stalks his victim/s, remains striking. It works extremely well, even when compared to its modern counterparts, because Carpenter knows how and when to use said techniques effectively and with restraint. Subtlety is the name of game when it comes to depicting the goings-on in the small town of Haddonfield, and the same applies to how much of the bloodthirsty psycho we actually witness – like many of the great horrors, the less we see of said antagonist the better. There’s such a wonderful degree of restricted vision, with shots closing in to narrow and extremely claustrophobic angles, at times to accentuate that sense of paranoia and severely ramp up the tension as to where our silent killer may emerge from.
The film’s total lack of convolution is a strong part of its appeal, too. Aside from the childhood context of Michael Myers’ killing origins, the entire film – a mere 90 minutes or so – is an unadulterated, barebones story and a sheer masterclass in directing a genre film that could’ve so easy fallen into the void of horror movie obscurity. Not only are we instantly placed into that uneasy atmosphere of first-person voyeurism with the film’s alarming score, we get to see the iconic Myers house where it all began. In truth, it’s all the context we need and is refreshing to see backstory used to minimal but powerful effect.
There’s also a particularly interesting subtext on offer about responsibility. Essentially, we’re left (some would say abandoned) by the adults, as the kids fend for themselves. Laurie and her pals not only appear disconnected from their own parentals, but are left to babysit kids who have, in turn, been abandoned by theirs. The idea of youngsters assuming responsibility and embarking on such prevalent dangers while the grown-ups are nowhere to be seen is a thought-provoking take on age-old archetypal characters. Despite many other films focusing on adolescence and cutting out authoritative presence, these naive, often defenceless, teens overcome the glaring lack of in-control parent roles.
As with some contemporary horrors, Carpenter’s Halloween has you from the moment it begins, thanks to its spine-tingling, legendary score crafted by the director himself. It’s chilling yet satisfying all in one. It Follows may be one of the few genre supremos in recent years to attempt to compete acoustically, but make no mistake that Halloween, amid nailing many other elements, is scarily spot-on with its majestic score, often overlooked and under-appreciated.
Stylistically, Carpenter crafts something crisp, clean, and simple when it comes to sequences and establishing shots: slow or static movement give Halloween that feeling of a traditional film without the gloss of what numerous others attempted to do in its wake. Similar to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, its simplicity contributes to a particularly raw, real-feeling setup that’s far more unsettling than a production with a high budget and fabricated aesthetic.
There’s no question that Halloween is at the top of the pile in terms of horror movie prowess. Despite competition from other flicks of the same era (such as The Shining), it still manages to affirm itself as a genre cornerstone. What sets it apart is its unapologetic simplicity, effective use of building tension, and, of course, its scares, so finely tuned for maximum impact.
Halloween is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below. It is also available to watch online in the UK on STARZPLAY, a streaming service that costs £4.99 a month. The platform is available on iOS, Android, Apple TV and Virgin Media On Demand or through Amazon Prime Video Channels, as an add-on subscription to your existing account.