Halloween (1978) is a genuinely scary, stylistic and tasteful, extremely well-crafted slasher/horror classic from young film director John Carpenter (who had previously directed two cult cinema classics, the sci-fi film Dark Star (1974) and the riveting crime genre film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) - a modern-day film often compared to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959)).
The exploitative, low-budget film (filmed in about twenty days) invented many of the "slasher" film cliches, along with these classic predecessors of the modern slasher:
- George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Mario Bava's Bay of Blood (1971)
- William Friedkin's big-budget The Exorcist (1973)
- Bob Clark's Black Christmas (1974)
- Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Halloween grossed about $55 million (worldwide), and was a surprise hit - it was one of the most successful independent films ever made. Its effects can be seen in the Friday the 13th series, in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, in the Hellraiser films, and in the Scream entries in the genre. See entire Halloween - franchise series here.
[This film deliberately paid homage in various ways to master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), e.g., the character of the Nurse was named Marion Chambers, adopting the first name of the female protagonist and the last name of the sheriff, and Donald Pleasence's character Dr. Sam Loomis was named after Janet Leigh's boyfriend. In addition, Janet Leigh's daughter Jamie Lee Curtis was the lead, shrieking babysitter in peril.]
Throughout the manipulative, morbid film, the suspenseful stalkings and killings are seen from the subjective vantage point of the killer's or 'peeping tom's' eyes, a few times while looking through a mask. [The mask was a costume store William Shatner-like faceplate, turned inside out and painted white, and inspired by the B-grade campy Satanist film The Devil's Rain (1975) - featuring John Travolta's debut performance.]
Other scenes are viewed through the subjective POV eyes of the characters in danger, or accompanied by the heavy breathing of killer Michael Myers, referred to as the 'bogeyman' or "The Shape" in the credits. Almost every scene is filmed with a constantly-moving camera (the Steadicam variety) to make the audience feel disordered, totally insecure, unsettled and paranoid, believing that every ominous corner, shadow, noise, or space is potentially life-threatening or dangerous and that everyone will be a helpless victim of random violence. Often, nothing is revealed when something is expected, but sometimes the unexpected is shockingly viewed.
The film set in motion the Puritanical, psycho-pathological principle that one's survival was directly proportional to one's sexual experience. It also asserted the allegorical idea that sexual awakening often meant the literal 'death' of innocence (or oneself). With the title character Laurie (Curtis) a virgin, she is able to escape mostly unscathed (as does the asexual Dr. Loomis and the young pre-teen Tommy Doyle), but others who are more promiscuous and sexually-charged are less fortunate and suffer deadly consequences as victims. In this film, murders often occur after sexual encounters when victims are distracted and off-guard.
Director Carpenter used anamorphic Panavision framing (2:35 aspect ratio) for the film to make it appear classier than its low-budget status. When the film was aired in 1981 on commercial network television (available in a 1999 re-release DVD version), Carpenter was obliged to shoot about 12 minutes of additional footage to replace the gory and violent scenes, due to the numerous cuts made.
Unfortunately, this serial killer slasher film spawned many more, often run-of-the-mill inferior sequels of its own:
See Greatest Film Series Franchises: The "Halloween" Films
The Halloween Film Franchise Titles Director, Other Information Halloween (1978)
Halloween: 25th Anniversary SE (2003)
d. John Carpenter (also writer/producer)
Rated R for suggestive violence and brief topless nudity - nowadays, it would probably be rated PG-13. Its working title: "The Babysitter Murders."
This film simply ended, and had no obvious set-up for a sequel, although they were soon to be invented.
The 25th Anniversary edition was one of many re-releases of the original 1978 film. It included a high-definition digital transfer and an enhanced widescreen image (2.35:1), with some additional footage (deleted scenes).
Halloween II (1981) d. Rick Rosenthal; executive producer John Carpenter
Rated R; again starring Jamie Lee Curtis - now dubbed "the Scream Queen" after appearing in Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980), and Carpenter's The Fog (1980).
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) d. Tommy Lee Wallace
The character of Michael Myers was absent from this film. To date, it was the only film not to feature the fictional serial killer (nicknamed "The Shape").
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) d. Dwight H. Little Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) d. Dominique Othenin-Girard Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) d. Joe Chappelle
Donald Pleasence passed away during re-editing and reconstruction of the film following test screenings, similar to the situation with Brainstorm (1983) and Natalie Wood, causing filmmakers to revise the ending to make it appear like Pleasence's character wouldn't survive into the next sequel.
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998) d. Steve Miner
On the original film's 20th anniversary; featured Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as Laurie after 17 years; Curtis' mother Janet Leigh appeared in a cameo role.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002) d. Rick Rosenthal Halloween (2007) d. Rob Zombie
A remake (or updated re-imagining) of the original 1978 film - with the first two-thirds a prequel, and the final third a stab-by-stab remake of the original. With Malcolm McDowell as psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis, Brad Dourif as Haddonfield's Sheriff Brackett, Daeg Faerch and wrestler-turned-actor Tyler Mane as the child and adult versions of Michael Myers respectively, TV actress Scout Taylor-Compton as high-school babysitter Laurie Strode (in the role made famous by Jamie Lee Curtis) - Myers' younger sister, director Zombie's wife Sheri Moon Zombie as Myers' pole-dancing stripper mother Deborah, and William Forsythe as his alcoholic, wheelchair-bound angry step-dad.
Halloween: 25 Years of Terror (2006) (documentary) Halloween II (2009) Written, directed, and produced by Rob Zombie.
Although the film was first released in late August 2009, it was again re-released during the 2009 Halloween weekend. It was filmed in 16mm to give it a harsh, gritty tone.
This was the 10th film in the series, and Rob Zombie's second and final film. It was a sequel to the earlier remade Zombie film Halloween (2007), and not a remake of the Halloween 2 (1981) film. Although its first 20-30 minutes were similar to the 1981 film, it then skipped ahead one (or two) years and became its own film.
It also encouraged an onslaught of many other imitation films with numerous murders that perverted this horror/slasher genre. These other films often made it a crude cliche that death followed or accompanied sex (as a way to sensationalize and publicize the nudity and sex-related violence), in films such as When a Stranger Calls (1979), Don't Go In The House (1980), He Knows You're Alone (1980), Prom Night (1980), Graduation Day (1981), Happy Birthday to Me (1981), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), Chopping Mall (1986), and more. Wes Craven's Scream (1996) implicitly gave credence to this theme: "There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex...BIG NO NO! BIG NO NO! Sex equals death, okay?"The Story
Under the blood-red lettering of the credits as a Halloween pumpkin lit by a candle within smiles (or leers) and pulsates with light, the instantly-recognizable, erratic, oft-repeated musical score (also by John Carpenter) plays - a haunting and suspenseful piano melody [similar to Mike Oldfield's theme music, "Tubular Bells" for The Exorcist (1973)]. After moving forward to a closeup that includes one of the pumpkin's eyes, the screen turns black.
The opening, very-real, four-minute sequence - a prologue of sorts - is justly famous for being filmed in a single take (although there may be a few imperceptible cuts) with a Steadicam. [According to Debra Hill, this unbroken shot was inspired by Touch of Evil (1958).] It also uses a subjective, P-O-V camera to produce vulnerable, unsteady and off-balanced feelings. The setting is the small, quiet town of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night in 1963, where children are celebrating Halloween - a normal and innocent-enough beginning. [The film was shot in neighborhoods of South Pasadena and West Hollywood.] In the wood-framed Myers house, a figure (unidentified) voyeuristically watches from an outside porch window and then spies a teenage girl Judith Myers (Sandy Johnson) and her boyfriend Tommy (David Kyle) making out on the living room sofa through a side window. She mentions that her brother "Michael is around someplace." They retreat to her upstairs bedroom where the 'peeping tom' notices that they turn out the light (signifying that they are having sex).
After witnessing the boyfriend leaving (calling back up the stairs with an obligatory promise to call her the next day), the subjective camera follows the mysterious figure to the back entrance and into the kitchen, where he takes a large, menacing butcher knife from a drawer, proceeds through the house and then up the stairs. He picks up a clown's Halloween mask (with a large, red, phallic-like nose) and places it on his face, allowing the audience to see a binocular-view through the eye-holes of the mask. Then, as he moves around corners and through doorways, he enters his near-naked sister's bedroom where he finds her brushing her hair in front of a vanity table. After he surveys her bedsheets, she turns and recognizes her brother: "Michael!" The act of illicit sex stirs him to commit a hideous crime. Although she tries to defend herself, he furiously stabs her to death in a brutal murder, and her bloodied body tumbles to the floor. [This scene was filmed as an homage to Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), with only the implication that the knife penetrates flesh.] The killer then descends the stairs and goes out the front door.
The murderer is next seen unmasked - revealing in a shocking revelation that it is six-year-old Michael Myers (Will Sandin as boy) - the teenage girl's blank-faced, younger brother. The clown-costumed, insane boy stands there motionless, surrounded by shocked adults (his parents) on the front lawn. As he holds the blood-dripping knife straight down in his outstretched right hand, a superbly-orchestrated crane shot slowly rises from him and widens the view, placing him within his quiet, suburban neighborhood.
Smith's Grove, Illinois:
October 30, 1978
Subsequently, the disturbed, psychotic boy is institutionalized for the crime. Fifteen years later, at Smith's Grove, Illinois, on October 30, 1978, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence, whose character is named after the John Gavin-'Sam Loomis' in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960)), a quirky psychiatrist who has observed Michael Myers as a dangerous, isolated patient at the institution for the intervening years, is driven by a nurse through a raging rainstorm to the Illinois State Hospital. He speaks to her, hinting at the perverse, inhuman, and evil nature of the killer:
Loomis: He hasn't spoken a word in 15 years.
Nurse: Are there any special instructions?
Loomis: Just try and understand what we're dealing with here. Don't underestimate it.
Nurse: Don't you think we could refer to it as him?
Loomis: If you say so.
Dr. Loomis is not interested in the possibility of parole or release for the insane inmate, as they prepare to take Michael (under heavy sedation with Thorazine) from the hospital to a hearing in Hardin County. The nurse is concerned that their mission may be unnecessary:
Nurse: You're serious about it, aren't you?
Nurse: You mean you actually never want him to get out?
Loomis: Never, ever. Never.
Nurse: Then why are we taking him up to Hardin County if you're just gonna lock...
Loomis: Because that is the law.
At the main gate to the hospital, they are shocked to find white-sheeted patients wandering about in the rain like apparitions, breaching the institution's security. [They appear like the zombies in George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead (1968).] The nurse quizzically asks: "Since when do they let them wander around?" When the doctor leaves the car to enter the hospital door to investigate, one of the patients, Michael at age 21 (Tony Moran [incorrectly identified as age 23 in the film's credits]) assaults the nurse in the institution's station wagon by leaping onto it. He grasps at her through the open driver window, breaks the passenger window with his bare hand, scares her out of the vehicle, and then drives away. [Film discontinuity - institutionalized since age 6, where did Michael learn to drive a car? Later, Loomis and the asylum director discuss that either someone taught Michael to drive (unlikely), or somehow, Michael preternaturally knew how to drive.] The doctor fears the worst - the escape of the personification of evil, as the orangish-red eyes of the tail lights recede:
He's gone from here. The evil is gone.
The next day, Halloween Day, the film returns to Haddonfield, where Michael has headed. A smart, independent-minded young 17-year-old teenage girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of victimized Psycho (1960) film star Janet Leigh, in her film debut) leaves her residential home for school and walks down the leaf-strewn sidewalk in late Autumn, reminded by her real-estate agent father (Peter Griffith): "Don't forget to drop the key off at the Myers' place...They're coming by to look at the house at 10:30. Be sure to leave it under the mat." The abandoned Myers' house was, of course, the notorious scene of the killing fifteen years earlier - still unsold, vacant and dilapidated. Laurie is planning to babysit at the Doyle's house that Halloween night, where she listens and assents to the special requests of young Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews, named after a detective/cop character in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954)): "Can we make Jack-O-Lanterns?...Can we watch some monster movies?...Will you read to me? Can we make popcorn?" [The Doyle boy bears a strong, uncanny resemblance to six year-old Michael Myers.]
In front of the Myers house, Tommy warns: "You're not supposed to go up there!...That's a haunted house...awful stuff happened there once," Laurie is observed by Michael from the killer's vantage point inside the house as she drops off the house key for her father. While the lonely female figure walks down the street singing the fantasy love song "Just the Two of Us," a heavy-breathing figure, seen only from one shoulder that slides into view, watches her from the sidewalk as she moves into the distance. Their appearance together establishes a connection-fixation between them that will persist for the remainder of the film - does Laurie represent a reincarnation of the killer's murdered sister? [The evil killer (Nick Castle, known as "The Shape" in the credits - Castle would later direct such films as The Last Starfighter (1984), The Boy Who Could Fly (1986), Tap (1989), and Dennis the Menace (1993), among other films) has escaped from the mental institution where he was confined and returned to reek havoc on the town, 150 miles away. ]
In Laurie's high school class later that day at Haddonfield High School, she sits uneasily as her dull English teacher drones on about the ominous subject of fate: "What Samuels is really talking about here is fate. You see, fate caught up with several lives here. No matter what course of action Collins took, he was destined to his own fate." Glancing out the classroom window for an instant, she notices the brown station wagon from the institution (with the State of Illinois insignia on its door) parked across the street, with someone wearing a white mask standing behind it. [Fate and destiny have indeed caught up with her.] In the few moments it takes for her to answer a question, the station wagon and figure disappear, as the teacher's lecture continues: "In Samuels' writing, fate is immoveable like a mountain. It stands where man passes away. Fate never changes."
After school, mean-spirited young boys taunt and torment Tommy Doyle with fears of a "boogey-man."
He's gonna get you. The boogey-man is coming!
He is tripped and falls onto the giant pumpkin he is carrying, splitting it into two pieces. One of the mean boys bumps into an unknown stranger outside the elementary school, but is immediately let go. The dark figure, seen only from the side, then tracks after Tommy by tailing him for a while in the brown station wagon - the view is from the back seat of the vehicle through the caged barrier that separating the front and back seats.
Half way to Haddonfield (a sign identifies him as 73 miles away), Dr. Loomis phones the town's sheriff from a phone booth, warning that his patient will return there with murderous consequences: "You must be ready for him. If you don't, it's your funeral." After the call, he discovers an abandoned red truck from Phelps Garage nearby. At the scene, as Dr. Loomis runs back to his own car, the camera pans to the right to reveal another murdered body [presumably, Michael killed the mechanic/driver and stole his clothes on his trip to Haddonfield.]
Returning home from school under dark, shadowy trees, Laurie is joined by two boy-crazy girlfriends, Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P. J. Soles). Annie's boyfriend Paul was grounded for "throwing eggs and soaping windows" so he is unable to keep her company during a babysitting job she has that evening for a child named Lindsey (Kyle Richards) at the Wallace's home.
In one of the film's scarier moments, the killer's station wagon that Laurie saw earlier slowly passes by and then comes to a sudden screeching halt ahead of them when Annie shouts out belligerently: "Hey jerk! Speed kills!" - but then the car continues to move along. Laurie delivers a prophecy for their future: "You know, Annie, someday you're gonna get us all into deep trouble." Joking about it, witty Annie remarks: "I hate a guy with a car and no sense of humor." Annie's babysitting job is only three houses down from where Laurie will be babysitting the Doyle's boy Tommy. (Lynda plans a sexual encounter with her boyfriend Bob in the Wallace's house during Annie's babysitting job.) Annie wisecracks about her three choices for the evening: "Oh terrific, I've got three choices. Watch the kids sleep, listen to Lynda screw around, or talk to you."
In a simply-told, but harrowing scene, only Laurie again briefly glimpses a mysterious, white-masked figure in the distance who ducks behind some bushes and then disappears. After approaching the back side of the hedge, Annie speaks to the non-existent apparition to undercut her friend with teasing jokes about her boylessness, and her lack of luck with the opposite sex:
Hey creep! (coyly) Laurie dear, he wants to talk to you. He wants to take you out tonight.
Annie believes that Laurie, a virginal, super-smart teenager, is only seeing apparitions and substitutes frequent babysitting for dating:
Laurie: He was standing right there.
Annie: Poor Laurie. Scared another one away. It's tragic. You never go out. You must have a small fortune stashed from baby-sitting so much.
Laurie: Guys think I'm too smart.
Annie: I don't. I think you're wacko. Now you see men behind bushes.
As Laurie continues walking down the sidewalk while stealing glances backwards, she is frightened half-to-death (and so is the audience) when she runs into Annie's father Mr. Lee Brackett (Charles Cyphers) walking home:
Excuse me, Laurie...I didn't mean to startle you...You know, it's Halloween. I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare.
She is again spooked outside her house by unfamiliar noises, but then realizes that the sounds are from a group of noisy trick-or-treaters next door. She reminds herself - with a smirk:
Well, kiddo, I thought you outgrew superstition.
The white-masked figure again appears momentarily to Laurie - almost mystically and supernaturally [as 'The Shape' or boogey-man] - in the midst of blowing clothes on a clothesline outside her next-door neighbor's house.