The fantastic opening scene of Halloween depicts a young Michael Myers, as he brutally stabs his sister to death. Flash forward fifteen years to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), a high school girl living in Haddonfield, Illinois. Laurie and her friends are calmly anticipating the arrival of what is to be a quiet Halloween, but unbeknownst to them, the psychopathic Myers has recently broken out of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, where he has been held for the last decade and a half. Upon discovering the escape, Myers’ psychiatrist, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), heads toward Haddonfield, where he believes the murderer is headed. Sure enough, Loomis’ hunch is correct. Myers’ return to his home town beckons a deadly and terrifying holiday, one that neither Laurie, nor the town of Haddonfield is likely to forget.
Ok, so the film has mostly poor acting, and a mediocre screenplay. One never buys the fact that any of the girls are actually in high school, as they all look to be in their 20s. Though Pleasence gives one of the only good performances, his subplot is pretty unnecessary, and could have easily been excised from the story. Overall, there a number of faults present, yet Halloween is still a truly great horror movie. How can a fundamentally flawed film still be really good? Easy, just have a brilliant director at the helm.
John Carpenter, the mastermind behind movies such as The Thing and Escape from New York, turns what could have been an utterly campy film, into a horror classic. His direction here is wonderfully unsettling, by showing the audience only what it needs to see. Right from the opening scene, we get a point-of-view murder, shot from Myers’ perspective. However, the camera does not tell us who is climbing up the stairs with a knife; it is only at the end of the sequence, that the audience realizes what has actually happened. Much of the film is directed as such, to create bristling suspense. One of Carpenter’s best decisions is to keep Myers hidden, far more often than he is shown. This makes for a slasher movie that relies more on atmosphere and creepiness, than it does on cheap scares.
Other frightening highlights of the film include the piano score, and the open-ended finale. The score contributes to the movie’s overall eeriness, quite a bit; this is perhaps, due in part to the fact that it was written by Carpenter, himself. Likewise, the ending amps up the scare factor to eleven, by adding an additional layer of horror to the story. I will not give the final series of events away, but rest assured, it will make you want to cover your eyes.
This is an enduring film, not because of originality or great screenwriting; rather it is an accomplishment for being greater than the sum of its parts. Carpenter, who is as good here as he has ever been, propels the narrative forward with his very strong directing. What could have been a forgettable film, is now a holiday horror movie, one that ranks among the best of its kind.