Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #135
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: October 25, 1978
Sub-Genre: Suspense Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $70,000,000
Running Time: 104 minutes
Director: John Carpenter
Producers: Debra Hill, Moustapha Akkad, Irwin Yablans
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Special Effects: Conrad Rothmann (uncredited)
Cinematography: Dean Cundey
Score: John Carpenter
Editing: Tommy Lee Wallace, Charles Bornstein
Studio: Falcon International Productions
Distributors: Compass International Pictures, Miracle Films, Mid-America Releasing (US: Midwest), Anchor Bay Entertainment (DVD)
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, PJ Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, John Michael Graham, Nancy Stephens, Arthur Malet, Mickey Yablans, Brent Le Page, Adam Hollander, Robert Phalen, Tony Moran, Will Sandin, Sandy Johnson, David Kyle, Peter Griffith and Nick Castle as The Shape
Suggested Audio Treat:
John Carpenter Halloween
“You’ve got to believe me, Officer, he is coming to Haddonfield… Because I know him! I’m his doctor! You must be ready for him… If you don’t, it’s your funeral.”
If an entity is pure evil, what can you possibly do to deter it from its bloody course? The answer my beloved Grueheads is not a damned thing; such malevolence is embedded long prior to the seed even having been planted. So-called specialists may well endeavor to get to the source of such psychosis, but any attempts will ultimately yield no real answers. It’s dyed-in-the-wool. Should a child display mildly violent tendencies, then it’s likely that they are acting-out and it’s nothing a little stern talking to won’t solve. However, plunging an oversized bread knife into your own flesh and blood implies that more sinister forces are at play than a little bad wiring.
There has been much debate over the years as to the origins of the American slasher. Many regard Bob Clark’s Black Christmas as the movie which set in motion the insurrection, and seeing as that film arrived first out of the gate, they may well have the right to feel justified in their claim. Clark’s film took a more than admirable stab and featured flashes of sheer brilliance but, while on these counts it deserves its accolades, Halloween is a far more rounded affair, culminating in debatably the most revered of all slasher flicks which left an indelible mark on our psyches.
Having said such, to suggest that John Carpenter’s film is a slasher is wholly misguided and to pigeon-hole his magnum opus is to significantly lessen its eminence. Suspense overrides bloated body count and the teens stalked here aren’t particularly loathsome or begging for ventilation. The tempo is far more languid than the usual exercises in inevitability, the blood flow considerably less frequent, and indeed barely compulsory at all.
“A man wouldn’t do that.”
“This isn’t a man.”
By 1978 Carpenter was striding forth akin to a white Antonio Fargas and possessed the swagger to attain far more bitches without the necessity for full pimp attire. However, his endowment didn’t sit within his leopard-print thong like Fargas and, instead, it was bound within that marvellous cerebral crust. Glancing back in retrospect it becomes abundantly clear the influence he has had on the industry and his name is deservedly mentioned in the same breath as the true greats, despite no longer firing on all cylinders as he did during his flush period of the seventies and eighties.
“It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”
From the opening scene his desire to innovate is clearly evident and the POV shot from within young Michael’s mask supplies an instantaneous connection to our killer. Our fates are sealed here from the very first overture and, as the camera pans out, our gaze is met by the vacant stare of inimitable evil.
Of course, a luscious entrée does not a fine feast make, and it is not until the main course is served up that the seasoning becomes more evident. For the first half of the duration there is precious little in the way of dispatchment. Carpenter, as was unerringly the case throughout his early career, sucks every breath of air from our lungs, before seeing fit to deliver the inevitable donkey punch. As a consequence our gasps are that much more authentic.
Carpenter’s prosperous long-running alliance with cinematographer Dean Cundey pays great dividends here and shot composition is critical to any attachment felt. The lush widescreen panning shots provide a far more wide-reaching feel for the surroundings and it is through such visionary distinction that Halloween wraps around us like a warm cozy bed sheet. Indeed, there never comes a single point during the 104 minute running time where you are released from its all-encompassing grasp.
Meanwhile, Carpenter’s enigmatic electronic score calls to mind Tangerine Dream in their heyday, around the time of Phaedra, Force Majure, and Stratosfear. There simply isn’t a more iconic theme tune than this. Even John Shaft isn’t pimp enough to lick the boots of such emblematic eminence. Again cozily, the audio nestles in with the sumptuous visuals and all of this before even making mention of Donald Pleasence.
“I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall – looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.”
This widely celebrated horror stalwart shared many affectionate moments with his devotees, through a tapestry of horror virtually unmatched, before his death in 1995. As Doctor Sam Loomis, Pleasence finds arguably his pièce de résistance. The bearded Mona Lisa positively oozes grizzled gusto, delivering critical insight which is the closest we will ever come to learning the source of The Shape’s darkness.
As is forever the case with wretched Loomis, he spends much of his screen-time deliberating but never procrastinating. It’s classic cat-and-mouse stuff, although more like kitten-and-sewer rat as he pursues an entity that, by his own frank admission, cannot be brought to a standstill. His exchanges with Sheriff Leigh Brackett (played by Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers) are invaluable and years spent waxing one-way lyrical with Michael have afforded him exclusive acumen which become both a blessing and a curse.
“You know Annie someday you’re going to get us all in deep trouble.”
Laurie Strode (named after Carpenter’s first girlfriend) provides counter-balance and, moreover, is a heroine to be truly concerned about. Jamie Lee Curtis was to become better-known as simply The Body during the eighties but here no leg warmers or peeps of that resplendent rack of hers are ever necessary. Instead she relies on her vulnerability and, in the same instance, steely resolve and is hugely successful on both counts of delivering the goods. Leading roles in Roger Spottiswoode’s Terror Train and Paul Lynch’s Prom Night would further cement her scream queen status but, while Curtis gave a stellar account of herself on both occasions, neither had an ounce of the ingenuity of Carpenter’s epic.
“Oh terrific, I’ve got three choices: Watch the kid sleep, listen to Lynda screw around or talk to you!”
She is joined by Nancy Loomis as Annie and PJ Soles as Lynda, two adept (and ample-chested) performers who went on to achieve reasonable success on the back of their impressive turns here. The trinity are focal to proceedings, not mere Hodder Fodder, but instead a trio of engaging good time girls for Myers to search and destroy in turn. We form a true bond with the girls and care every time one of them is placed in peril. However, Myers doesn’t simply run in with arms flailing and, instead, takes his sweet time torturing his audience as we prepare for each denouement.
John Carpenter The Haunted House
“He came home!”
As we get to the meat there’s absolutely no gristle. Indeed it’s lean tenderloin all the way. Each succulent mouthful is savored, our gluttony rewarded with contentment, and all the while Carpenter manages the unenviable feat of not once slackening his grasp on our fast-fraying nerve endings. By the time we reach the inevitable showdown between Laurie and her cantankerous older sibling, the tension is almost unbearable and there is precious little respite in a closing act which ranks amongst the very finest ever committed to celluloid.
“Was it the boogeyman?”
“As a matter of fact, it was.”
Yes, Carpenter’s film has been responsible for much of what followed to such snowball effect in the eighties and its influence shines through the decades with great luminosity. The most remarkable achievement of all however is that it pioneered the trend, not by buying into it, but by enabling it. It is that which makes Halloween the true titan of terror and arguably Carpenter’s most complete work, without question his most influential.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: We are encouraged to glance beyond the dearth of actual grue as the restrained madness packs more of a punch through Carpenter’s decision not to spray the deep red coulis around freely. The violence is strong, make no qualms, but without ever once pushing the envelope. As for skin, once again, less is more. A sneaky peek at Michael’s sister’s delightful udders just before he plunges that blade between them and a brief glimpse of Lynda’s upper-trunk before…he plunges that blade between them, are ample but for Keeper the money shot will always be Annie prancing about the laundry room in those skimpy briefs. Seventies underwear did things to me…let’s just leave it at that.
Jamie-Lee Peep Show
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2015)