Halloween Review

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Trailer
  • Halloween film still

Score

Why not celebrate this Halloween by revisiting John Carpenter's seminal 1978 slasher?

Often considered the granddaddy of the so-called slasher genre, John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) simply, steadfastly refuses to date. Co-written with first-time scribe/producer Debra Hill but produced, directed and scored by Carpenter himself, it's a film whose gnawing, back-to-basics tension will invariably pop into your head three days later at around 3am.

If you haven't already had the pleasure, the film sees Jamie Lee Curtis's bookish Laurie Strode takes on extra babysitting duties so her friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (PJ Soles) can celebrate Halloween by getting down to it with some guys in the parent-free house over the road. In the meantime, Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence) arrives in the area on the trail of a psychopathic child who's broken out of the local psych ward. As he tries to convince the police that nobody is safe, Annie and Lynda fail to answer their phone, and so Laurie nips over the road to see if everything's okay. Of course, everything is not okay.

No twists, no long, complex backstory, just a wackjob with a bucher's knife and a $300,000 budget. Sure, we've seen this set-up countless times, to the point that we may be desensitised to it, but this is surely the first and best within its genre. This is less a case of box checking conventions, more a masterful recalibration of oft-abused horror tropes: while the plotline, structure and dynamics of Halloween have been copied ad infinitum, it's incredible that we're still freaked out by the sight of a masked maniac staring at the girls from behind some undercrackers on their washing line. It's timeless, with Carpenter effortlessly weaving 1 hour and 33 minutes of straight-up fear set to a pulsing soundtrack that, in itself, remains supremely terrifying.

Drawing out the final showdown to near-breaking point, the widescreen frames and assiduously placed shadows conceal Myers, which in turn ramps up the claustrophobic tension. As he appears from behind bushes, is framed in doorways and is seen glancing up from a garden, soon all background shapes begin to take an eerie human form with the subjective camerawork casting constant doubt over whose perspective we're seeing the action from. Oh, and there's nothing quite so creepy as heavy breathing through a mask. Nothing.

Loomis' doctor seems to do nothing but wander about, occasionally pushing the plot forward and spouting some cheesy expositional dialogue ("He's gone from here! The evil has gone!"). Though it's significant that the dearth of detailed characterisation, bar an array of fairly two dimensional stereotypes go almost unnoticed, so intent are you on tracking Myers' ever narrowing circles around these two houses. You even forgive Myers' vaguely implausible inability to feel pain because, hey, it's bloody terrifying. Why ruin the fun?

So this halloween, don't accept any subpar imitations and don't expect to enjoy sleeping alone for a while.

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