Walter’s Top 5 Slashers: #1 Halloween
Dir: John Carpenter
Cert: 18 • US: 84 min • Compass International Pictures • October 25, 1978
Walter Beck reviews
Well here we are, the Number One slasher film on our list. We’ve waded through a river of blood and met some of the most violent psychopaths to hit the screen to get this far. And our number one pick shouldn’t be a surprise. It was the film that launched the American slasher craze and carved its own bloody place in the history of cinema. It’s John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 masterpiece, Halloween.
In 1963, a six year old Michael Myers dressed in his clown costume, spots his sister Judith making out with her boyfriend. He grabs a butcher knife and stabs her repeatedly as she brushes her hair. He is committed to the Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis.
Fifteen years later, Michael has a hearing before a judge to determine his fate, but he escapes and runs off back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois.
In Haddonfield, seventeen-year-old Laurie Strode is living with her family and she starts seeing a masked man popping up throughout her day. She’s startled, but doesn’t know who he is. Later that night, she’s babysitting Tommy Doyle, and chatting with her friends, Annie and Lynda. But Michael Myers has come home and is now wondering around, leaving a trail of bodies behind him.
Michael’s fixation with Laurie increases and as the film draws to its bloody end, he sets out to repeat his original crime; but Dr. Loomis is on his trail, knowing he’s the only one who can stop him, and puts six rounds into him. When Loomis goes to check the body however, he discovers that Michael has vanished into the night …
Shot on a low budget of $325,000, the film proved to be huge success, grossing over $70 million in its initial theatrical run. The film’s financial success alone proved to be quite a spark for horror directors and soon a thousand different slasher films slaughtered their way to the top of the box office list.
But it wasn’t just the money that made this film such an iconic work of American horror; John Carpenter’s brilliant directing made it the work of art it is. Using odd angle shots and dark lighting, Carpenter created a truly haunting atmosphere not seen since the days of Alfred Hitchcock. The truly frightening parts of the film aren’t those that necessarily involve the killings, but those parts which focus on the cold way in which Michael stalks his victims. Carpenter’s camera puts you just off center of the action, creating an aura of suspense throughout the entire film.
In addition to the camera work, the soundtrack, composed by Carpenter, truly makes for the film’s creepy aesthetic. The title song has become just as famous as the movie itself and what makes the soundtrack work is the same thing that makes the film work, its basic, minimalist structure.
The central cast of characters also plays into this film’s brilliance. You have the perfect villain, Michael Myers, a silent, seemingly unstoppable killing machine. With his white mask, Carpenter allows the viewer to project any image of brutality they like upon the killer. Opposing Myers is Dr. Samuel Loomis, the brilliant psychiatrist who seems to be the only person who understands just how evil Michael truly is.
Another import lead is the girl next door, Laurie Strode. She survives the brutal massacre of the night through her sharp wits and survival skills, rather than the pure chance which saves many previous “final girls” in American horror films.
Of course, the casting is part of what made these characters work. Veteran actor Donald Pleasance found a new life in his acting career by playing Dr. Loomis, his cool manner perfectly captured the analytic mind of the hero psychiatrist. Jamie Lee Curtis had her first major role as Laurie Strode, her ordinary all-American girl looks and personality brought fleshed out the character and she found herself launched into superstardom by her role in Halloween.
The violence in the film is understated, with very little on-screen gore. Carpenter, like many directors on our list, used the Hitchcock techniques of camera work, actor placement, and music to create the horror, rather than blood. And it works brilliantly here, the stalkings become scarier than the actual kills themselves.
In the wake of the critical and financial success of Halloween, the floodgates were open and soon a thousand different films were spawned by the slaughter of Michael Myers. Sean S. Cunningham admitted that the inspiration for his own iconic work Friday the 13th came from this film. Halloween itself spawned a series of sequels (of varying quality) and even a remake with its own sequel.
Well Polari readers, that’s the end of our countdown, hopefully it’s been gory good fun for you and if you haven’t seen the number one film on our list: it is nothing short of essential for any horror fan.