This was perhaps the most difficult movie for me to rank on the entire list. Over the course of the list’s design it’s held every spot between # 1 and # 3, and ultimately it fell to # 5. This is not a knock on the film’s quality or importance in the slightest, but more just a matter of personal preference, in that there are four more movies that have elements in them that push them more into my personal favorite territory. Nevertheless, it has come time to pay respects to one of the greatest movies ever made.
If you were to ask me what I believed the most important horror movie of all time was, without a doubt I would tell you Halloween. Sure, you could make cases for Psycho, or Night of the Living Dead, or Jaws, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as they all came before Halloween and they were all innovators in their field, but I still would not hesitate to call Halloween the most important of them all. This low-budget movie about an escaped mental patient stalking and murdering babysitters on Halloween night remains one of the simplest, scariest, and most brilliantly executed horror movies of all time, and would forever change the genre as it established a new status quo. All the tropes of the genre that would later become cliché were established in this movie, and it must be acknowledged and respected (and maybe criticized, if only slightly), for that.
On Halloween night, 1963, in Haddonfield, Illinois, six-year-old Michael Myers brutally murders his older sister with a kitchen knife. Fifteen years later, he remains in a mental institute, under the constant care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) who believes Michael to be pure evil. As he has been in a catatonic state since his sister’s murder, everyone thinks him crazy, at least until Michael breaks out. Loomis knows that Michael is out on a quest for blood that will lead him back to Haddonfield, and into the life of young babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).
All the rules that became so popular to emulate and reference in horror movies of the 1980’s have Halloween to thank for creating. Everything from the final girl, to the slow-moving killer, to the sluts and stoners have to die mentality, all of it started here. It did them first, and while others would go out of their way to do it better in the future, Halloween is still the gold standard by which the rest would be judged. However, while all the other films that would follow Halloween thought that buckets of blood and gore running down the screen would be the best way to get an audience, Halloween knew better. It knew that true terror doesn’t need blood, it just needs darkness, and imagination, and a man in a white mask, staring at you coldly, mercilessly…
Indeed, one of the things that Halloween has going most in its favor is a sense of class in its performances and filming. Donald Pleasance brings a strange sense of amused professionalism in his combination mentor/doomsayer character Dr. Loomis, a seemingly timid man who will go to any lengths to prevent the spread of evil, much like a modern day Van Helsing. On the other side of the coin we have Jamie Lee Curtis in her first starring role as Laurie Strode. She’s virginal, she’s sweet, and she’s got one helluva set of lungs on her (as her Scream Queen title will attest), but when her back is against the wall she pulls out great strength more believably than most of the teeny-bopper final girls that would follow her. Nick Castle’s silent, yet frightening turn as Michael Myers, is one of the most interesting. Cast by director John Carpenter simply because he had a creepy walk, he indirectly wound up creating all the mannerisms and motions that would become almost mandatory in masked killers that would follow him. His performance is understated and simple, yet completely menacing.
And credit given where it’s due, John Carpenter really knocks this film out of the park. The guy has about a 50/50 success rate with his movies, with his films either falling into the classic category or the bomb category, with none more classic than Halloween. He knows how to get the most out of his actors, he knows how to frame every shot to gain maximum suspense (the shot of Michael Myers sitting up after Lori supposedly stabbed him to death still gives me the willies), and that score, THAT SCORE! How many nightmares were created with that simple synthesizer score of his?
I know I’ve given a lot of credit to movies where splatter reigns supreme and blood runs down the screen by the gallon, but in my heart, I just like good, scary movies. Halloween is one of the simplest, and the scariest, and will always hold a place in my heart.
(P.S. One of the coolest things about Halloween? I grew up in Haddonfield. In reality, all of the Haddonfield, Illinois scenes were filmed in South Pasadena, California. I walked to school along the same streets that Michael Myers stalked Laurie, went to the same high school where they picked up Lynda from cheerleading practice, hell, I still drive by the Myers House on my way to the Laundromat, even though it’s now a chiropractor’s office. One of the many, many fun things about living in Southern California.)
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-- Matt Carter
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