I have just recently been through a stage where I wanted to see why it is that horror films of the 90's can't hold a candle to 70's and 80's horror films. I have been very public in this forum about the vileness of films like The Haunting and Urban Legend and such. I feel that they (and others like them) don't know what true horror is. And it bothered me to the point where it made me go to my local video store and rent some of the classic horror films. I already own all the Friday's so I rented The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original Nightmare On Elm Street, Jaws, The Exorcist, Angel Heart, The Exorcist and Halloween. Now the other films are classics in their own right but it is here that I want to tell you about Halloween. Because what Halloween does is perhaps something no other film in the history of horror film can do, and that is it uses subtle techniques, techniques that don't rely on blood and gore, and it uses these to scare the living daylights out of you. I was in a room by myself with the lights off and as silly as I knew it was, I wanted to look behind me to see if Michael Myers was there. No movie that I have seen in the last ten years has done that to me. No movie.
John Carpenter took a low budget film and he scared a generation of movie goers. He showed that you don't need budgets in the 8 or 9 figures to evoke fear on an audience. Because sometimes the best element of fear is not what actually happens, but what is about to happen. What was that shadow? What was that noise upstairs? He knows that these are the ways to scare someone and he uses every element of textbook horror that I think you can use. I even think he made up some of his own ideas and these should be ideas that people use today. But they don't. No one uses lighting and detail to provoke scares, they use special effects and rivers of blood. And it is just not the same. You can't be scared by a giant special effect that makes loud noises and jumps out of a wall. It's the moments when the killer is lurking, somewhere, you just don't know where, that scare you. And Halloween succeeds like no other film in this endeavor.
In 1963 a young Micael Myers kills his sister with a large butcher knife and then spends the next 15 years of his life, silently locked up in an institute. As Loomis ( his doctor) says to Sheriff Brackett, " I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven making sure that he never gets out, because what I saw behind those eyes was pure e-vil. " That sets up the manic and relentless idea of a killer that will stop at nothing to get what he wants. And all he wants here is to kill Laurie. No one know why he wants to kill her, but he does.( Halloween II continues the story quite well )
What Carpenter has done here is taken a haunting score, mendacious lighting techniques and wrote and directed a tightly paced masterpiece of horror. There is one scene that has to be described. And that is the scene where Annie is on her way to pick up Paul. She goes to the car and tries to open it. Only then does she realize that she has left her keys in the house. She gets them, comes back out and inadvertently opens the car door without using the keys. The audience picks up on this but she doesn't. She is too busy thinking about Paul. When she sits down, she notices that the windows are fogged up. She is puzzled and starts to wipe away the mist, and then Myers strikes, from the back seat. This is such a great scene because it pays attention to detail. We know what is happening and Annie doesn't. But it's astute observations that Carpenter made that scared the hell out of movie goers in 1978 and beyond.
Halloween uses blurry images of a killer standing in the background, it has shadows ominously gliding across a wall, dark rooms, creepy and haunting music, a sinister story told hauntingly by Donald Pleasance and a menacing, relentless killer. My advice to film makers in our day and age is to study Halloween. It should be the blue print for what scary movies are all about. After all, Carpenter followed in Hitchcock's steps, maybe director's should follow in his.
Halloween personifies everything that scares us. If you are tired of all the mindless horror films that don't know the difference between evil and cuteness, then Halloween is a film that should be seen. It won't let you down. I enjoy being scared, I don't know why, but I do. But nothing has scared me in the 90's, except maybe one film ( Wes Craven's final Nightmare ). If you enjoy beings scared, then Halloween is one that you should see. And if you have already seen it a hundred times, go and watch it again, back to back with a film like Urban Legend. Urban Legend will have you enticed at all the pretty faces in the movie. Halloween will have you frozen with fear, stuck in your seat, not wanting to move. Now tell me, what horror film would you rather watch?
And just to follow up after seeing Zombie's version, it makes you appreciate this that much more. This is a classic by definition. Zombie bastardized his version, but it doesn't take away from the brilliance of this one.