Halloween (1978)


Starring:

PLOT: On Halloween night of 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers stabbed his sister to death. After sitting in a mental hospital for 15 years, Myers escapes and returns to Haddonfield to kill.


The title sequence alone is very telling. A very long, very slow zoom in on a jack o'lantern with a moody piece of music. Simple, basic, camera work and music being center pieces. The story of the movie, really.

TO HADDONFIELD. Halloween Night, 1963. This starts with an incredible tracking shot that goes from the outside of a house, to the side of the house, back around to the front, to the back again, inside, to the kitchen to get a knife, through the house, up the stairs, and into a bed room. It's a nearly 4 minute shot, all done from a first person view. It's excellent. There was even the putting on of a mask, and then stabbing the teenage girl who had just slept with her boyfriend. When the girl's parents come home, it is revealed that the killer was a young child named Michael (presumably the little brother of the girl he just killed). With a giant pull back crane shot. Just slow, steady, unwavering excellent camera work. So good.  I love it so much. Among the greatest openings in any horror movie ever.

 
 

TO SMITH'S GROVE. October 30, 1978. Doctor Loomis is heading to see one of his patients. He hasn't spoken for 15 years, and Loomis wants to make sure this patient doesn't get released at his upcoming sanity hearing. As he and Nurse Chambers pull up, multiple inmates are wandering outside in the rain. One of them climbs on top of the car and grabs Chambers, which causes her to jump out of the car. The patient steals the car. "He's gone. He's gone from here. The evil is gone!" For the entire scene, Loomis never refers to the patient by name or even with a personal pronoun. Just "It" or "evil".  Really gives you a sense that this is not just an average crazy person, but some kind of ethereal monster.

 
 

HALLOWEEN. We're introduced to Laurie Strode and Tommy Doyle. Laurie is Tommy's babysitter, and they seem to have a very good relationship. Her father is a realtor and she was asked to drop a key off at the Myers' residence. It's the house we saw in the opening, but is now dilapidated and for sale. Tommy says it is "a spook house". Inside the house, there was breathing, and as she walks away, a shadow shows up behind the door. HMM. The same breathing returns and a man in a dark mechanic's suit stares at Laurie as she walks to school. So spooky.  Another long, great, well framed, steady shot. Wonderful.

 
 

Dr. Loomis argues with Dr. Wynn at Smith's Grove, furious that his patient escaped. He had been telling people for years how dangerous this guy was, but no one listened. Loomis has a pretty good idea where the patient was going. At school, Laurie notices the car from Smith's Grove outside, and a strange man with a very white face staring back. Both are gone the next time she looks, as the teacher talks about fate never changing. At Tommy's school, we find that he's bullied, and his classmates torment him about the boogeyman coming to get him, then trip him, making him bust his absurdly large pumpkin. Then, the man in the jumpsuit watches him and briefly follows him in the stolen car. I need to know where Tommy got that damn pumpkin. It was fucking huge. And he was carrying it around with him at school. Why did he have it at school? The thing was damn near bigger than him. 

 
 

"He is coming to Haddonfield." Loomis makes his way from Smith's Grove to Haddonfield, calling the Haddonfield police to warn them about his patient. At the rail road stop where he called them from, he found an abandoned mechanic's truck. If he had looked a little more, he would have found the stripped body of the dead mechanic. Almost like...someone stole his jumpsuit. Laurie walks with her friends, Annie and Lynda. The Smith's Grove car slowly drives by. Later, the same weird man with the mask was standing behind a bush. But when Annie went to check, there was nothing there. He again shows up in Laurie's yard, standing in the sheets hanging on the clothesline. Somebody has a stalker. I love all of these shots.

 
 


So, we're about a half hour in. No kills, no gore, just establishing that there is an escaped mental patient in a mask stalking a teenage babysitter on Halloween. At the same time, Dr. Loomis is heading to Haddonfield to stop him. It's so simple, but there's a constant, steady build of tension. All the camera movements are long, wide, and elegant. Yet, as the movie progresses, the shots get slightly tighter and tighter. It's such a simple technique, but it works so well. 

Judith Myers' grave stone is missing. "He came home." I think by this point, we can assume the man in the mask is Michael Myers, the kid who killed the girl in the beginning of the movie, and who was the patient of Dr. Loomis for 15 years. Loomis meets with Sheriff Brackett, and they investigate the Myers' house. Inside, they find a dead, partially eaten dog. "A man wouldn't do that." "This isn't a man." This leads to possibly the greatest monologue in horror history: 

I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes... the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply... evil.
— Dr. Loomis

This movie is wonderful. Donald Pleasence is amazing in this. So underplayed and subtle instead of the maniacal crazy man he became in the sequels. He has a vocal version of the 1000 yard stare to all of his lines. 


As happens with teenagers, plans change, and Annie ends up bringing Lindsay over to Laurie's so she can presumably go bang her dude. So now Laurie has to watch two kids, and Michael followed. During this part of the movie, The Thing From Another World gets an extended shout out, as it was being watched in both houses, and audio was being played even when it wasn't shown. And John Carpenter himself did lines as a TV announcer specifically telling you to watch the conclusion of The Thing. Of course, he would go on to remake The Thing a few years later in another of one of the greatest horror movies of all time. There is probably nearly 5 minutes of footage/audio from the movie shown. Mike hides in Annie's car and kills her. The first kill, 54 minutes in. Lynda and her boyfriend come over and don't waste any time getting down to boning, even though Annie is nowhere to be found. But Michael is still in the house.

 
 

He quickly kills both of them, and a phone call as Lynda was being killed gets Laurie curious enough to cross the street to see what's going on. Naturally, she finds the bodies. And Judith Myers' tombstone. Lest you think that Michael is just some kind of mindless killer, he's actually staged all the bodies for maximum shock value, and barricaded the exits to the house. He cuts her arm and she falls down the stairs. This cut on her arm is the only bit of blood in the entire movie, and it's just a cut on her arm. You don't need gore to be scary. She tries to run away and screams for help, but no one seems to want to take a teenage girl screaming bloody murder seriously on Halloween night. This sets up possibly my favorite shot in any horror movie: Michael briskly walking across the street after Laurie with murderous intent, like a shark. Something about it has always spooked me more than some crazy monster or a jump scare or gory effect. Just this...force coming after you and there's nothing you can do. 

 
 

Of course, she lost her keys, so she had to rely on sleepy ass Tommy to make it downstairs to open the door. Michael makes it in the house though a side door or window and gets stabbed in the neck with a knitting needle. He lives! Laurie hides in a closet, stabs him in the eye with a hanger, then stabs him with his own knife. And what does he do? Sits up like the god damn Undertaker in a most wonderfully framed shot. She sends the kids out for help, and Loomis finds them, having been in the area after seeing the Smith's Grove car. He makes it into the house just in time to shoot Michael six times, which sent Michael falling off the balcony. "Was that the boogeyman?" "As a matter of fact, it was." When Loomis looks into the yard for Michael, the body is gone. The movie ends with a montage of areas where Michael has been, with heavy breathing though a mask being heard.         

 
 


I love this movie. Such a wonderfully shot, edited, and scored movie. Such a simple, basic, effective plot. It doesn't need gore, it doesn't need jump scares, it doesn't need violence. It just needs to most basic of stories: A boogeyman coming after a teenager for no reason. Michael is portrayed as a force of evil, repeatedly said to not be a man at all. He moves with machine-like precision. Just a crazy dude seemingly obsessed with killing this girl because she showed up at his house. No backstory about his life. No flashbacks to his 15 years at Smith's Grove. Just as lean and simple as you can get, and it is wonderful.

This is the first movie I watched as a kid that really got me thinking about cinematography and direction. The camera work is as much of a character as any person in the movie. Have this same movie with the same actors, but with a Friday the 13th shooting style and it probably would not be remembered at all. I love it. For sure in my top 5 horror movies of all time. Maybe even at the top of the list. John Carpenter's music is also extremely important to the movie (and all of his movies), which he composed in all of 3 days. Absurd.

Damn near everything about this movie is iconic. It's so important for the genre, too, as it's success directly kicked off the next 20 years of slasher movies, although it has much more in common with Psycho than Friday The 13th. Including having Janet Leigh's daughter as the star. I love everything about this movie.