For all its frightening moments, Halloween actually features one of the great speeches in the pantheon of horror, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) musing about his encounter with a young Michael Myers: “I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes…”
It’s a wholesale rejection of social constructivism, an acknowledgement that true evil can emerge from nothing. And it’s this which makes Myers’ later behavior even more sinister.
It’s one of the (many) reasons the Rob Zombie Halloween was so bad: he tried to impose a kind of structure on irrational behavior, the very concept that made Halloween (1978) so uniquely great in the first place.
Halloween fuses four of the most terrifying concepts that can fuel a horror film, chief among these, at the time, a killer killing for absolutely no reason; but also, a mental patient on the loose, the legend of a mythical monster lurking in the shadows tormenting children, and hell, a creepy cursed house too!
Other films feature one, perhaps two of the above…and it’s since become cliche to have a killer kill for no reason (hence the oft-query, “why are you doing this to me?”). Antagonists escaping the confines of a mental institutions can be traced back to D.W. Griffith’s House of Darkness (1913) all the way through to I Dismember Mama and beyond, whilst boogeymen have even spawned their own series and scary home movies are too numerous to count.
But Halloween is a masterpiece that created additive fear, outdoing each sub-genre by combining so many.
And in a slasher genre that seems to be chock-full of expository prologues, Halloween’s 8 minutes of near wordless beginning, save for a sprinkling of “Michael,” and culminating in a young boy dressed as a harlequin, brandishing a long knife, is one of the best of the bunch.
But the whole film is an amazing achievement upon revisiting.
And it’s all thanks to John Carpenter, who made the movie’s most frightening scenes the ones that had nothing to do with the actual killing (slasher filmmakers take note): the broken window pane in the attic that rattles Dr. Loomis (who subsequently shows Sheriff Brackett that his snooping is justified because he has a permit!); Tommy spotting Michael Myers carrying Annie body’s inside the house, almost a nod to monster movies of the past like Curse of the Werewolf or Frankenstein; and the mental patients twisting in the rainy darkness in their nightgowns as Loomis drives up to the sanitarium on a lonely stretch of road.
It’s a master class of lurking, leering, voyeuristic Carpenter camerawork, giving us only quick glimpses of the killer, behind a hedge, drying laundry, a shoulder in the right-hand frame…
Helen of Troy had a “face that launched a thousand ships,” while Myers is the face that launched a thousand slits. Often imitated, seldom duplicated, slasher master work.
****1/2 (out of 5)