By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, PJ Soles, Charles Cyphers, and Nancy Stephens
As a critic, it is very important that I choose my words wisely. To fall into clichéd speech is a fear that encompasses my brain each and every time I sit down to write a review. With this in mind, I am about to use a word that all critics use at least one time or another. Yet it is also a word that gets thrown around so much that its meaning gets lost in the shuffle of readership response. This word would be ‘classic.’ How many times do you see a review in which said critic is so enamored with that year’s leading Oscar contender that they exclaim their enthusiasm by calling it an ‘instant classic.’ Hell, I am guilty of it myself. Yet in my mind, ‘classic’ is a word that should be used to classify a film that endears to your most common senses no matter what the decade. It should describe a film that not only jumps from the gate, it has the perseverance to always lead the race. To live in your brain and influence things outside the marketplace that are greater than film. A complete trend that many cite as an influence. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the beginning of the 80s slasher genre. I give you 1978’s classic horror film Halloween.Halloween is a movie that has been dissected to death. Yet in watching the film now, I find myself getting lost in the world that director John Carpenter and producer Irwin Yablans have created. Almost The entire middle section of the film takes place in broad daylight. This was a great choice in order to get to know the characters before the assault of an escaped mental patient begins. There’s Annie (Kyes), the daughter of Haddonfield’s sheriff who smokes weed while trying to both hook herself up and do the same for her friends. There’s Lynda (Soles), a sex-obsessed high school student who skips everything for an orgasm generated hook up. There’s Sam Loomis (Pleasance) the escaped patient’s doctor who’s convinced that the patient is ‘evil on two legs,’ and goes on a mission to stop him. And of course there’s Laurie (Curtis) the much discussed virginal female of the story that finds herself getting stalked for what seems to be no reason. They’re all very good, if late 70s style performances. Soles (who is the only one of the three main leads that had a bit of a resume, having starred in Brian DePalma’s Carrie two years before) is a common thread that would be weaved through most of the next decade. But it is Pleasance, whose performance during his plight of trying to convince the Haddonfield board that his patient is untreatable and is turned down while trying to move him to a higher security hospital that draws you in. Yes, Laurie is who we identify with. But what is it about this patient that is so incurable?
What’s great about the aesthetic of the surrounding world of Halloween is how Carpenter takes the influence of what Hitchcock contributed to the world of cinema and builds upon it. With the exception of the very beginning and end of Halloween, the causing of death is completely non-existent. We see ‘teen’ girls banter about non whimsical topics like boys that grab their attention (with dialogue that was contributed by Carpenter’s co-writer Debra Hill.) Now, some of this dialogue has not aged well. But how the patient is lurking has. No matter where Laurie turns, whether she is looking out a window at school or walking home from it, there he is. She and us the audience have our suspicions. Yet nothing is concrete until the terrifying final leg of the film. Yelling at an unrecognizable car or visions amongst a completely brilliant shot of the patient standing outside amongst drying sheets are hints of what’s to come. And if I may say so, the way Carpenter pays all these moments off is sheer classic filmmaking.
In order to pay all of this off, Carpenter needed a scary villain. Wow did he have one. What makes this ‘Shape’ scary is not just the emotionless mask he wears (I always found the fact that this film’s emotionless villain wears a painted white Shatner mask ironically funny) It is the fact that up until the final few shots of the film, all we see of this killer’s emotions is his face as an eight year old child. A child who has just brutally slaughtered his sister and is standing with a knife as a mask is taken off his face. Which is revealed to be the face like that of any precautious eight year old boy who could live down the corner of any suburb. It’s a scary sight, as we know that innocence within this child is now completely lost, and Loomis’ seemingly outlandish claims of just how evil The Shape really is starts to completely ring true. Of all the praise Halloween gets, there is something that I feel sometimes gets lost. Which is why I wanted to make special mention of Carpenter’s direction. Now Carpenter’s resume is full of films that rank as highly enjoyable on any given rainy day. Yet from the first POV shot of the film using what’s called a panaglide camera, to a murder that takes place in a car surrounded by fogged up windows, this may still rank as the best direction of Carpenter’s career (although Carpenter’s version of The Thing most certainly gives this film a run for its money in that department.) Another person who has to be credited is director of photography Dean Cundey. Cundey (whose later resume included Jurassic Park) litters the last leg of Halloween with a dark tinted blue pallet. A pallet that is all the more effective when showing revealing shots such as The Shape’s appearance materializing from the shadow of a closet. Brilliantly outlined and effectively paid off, Halloween is a film that needs to be seen every October. Yet it is also a film whose power to haunt your dreams and be talked about lingers in your brain long after. And that my friends, is the definition of a classic.