By Taylor Nigrelli
If you’re flipping through channels or perusing Netflix tonight, chances are you’ll come across a few Halloween movies.
Scary movies can be fun and/or predictable, but rarely good. John Carpenter’s “Halloween” shatters all of those stereotypes. The 1978 classic tells the story of an escaped mental patient (Michael Myers) stalking and eventually attacking three teenage girls.
The movie, now 36 years old, stands as the gold standard for Halloween, slasher, thriller and horror flicks in general.
Those born into a “post-Halloween” America may look at this with some skepticism. “Halloween? It’s just like all those other slasher movies. It’s just a bunch of teenagers getting murdered
But when “Halloween” was released, it was groundbreaking. The genre was not tired and predictable— it was totally unheard of. It created the format that spawned seven sequels, a reboot and countless copycat films, including the 10-part “Friday the 13th” series.
Amid the predictability and borderline plagiarism, “Halloween” stands out in so many ways.
The characters aren’t shallow and lazily-developed. They’re (somewhat) realistic and the audience cares whether they live or die.
The movie is paced well. It starts out slowly and builds until the viewer feels as though they are the one attempting to evade murder. Throughout the majority of the movie the protagonist, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), has a bad feeling but doesn’t know exactly what is going on.
Each murder is sneaky and quick. The victims have no idea what’s going on before they’re turned into morbid decorations. The movie does not resort to cheap blood effects to scare the audience – little blood is seen throughout the film. Instead the movie relies on the natural thrill of the plot combined with mystery.
Michael Myers is introduced as an escaped mental patient who had killed his older sister on Halloween at age six. He breaks out 15 years later and immediately returns to his home town. But it’s unclear why he’s done this and why he’s after these girls specifically. If he’s actually just a murderous psychopath, why not kill anyone at the mental hospital? Why not kill in the closest town? Why follow these girls around?
Throughout the course of the original movie, none of these questions are answered (it’s later revealed Laurie is his little sister secretly). It’s not revealed why Myers killed his sister in 1963 or why he kills in general. Even his brilliant psychiatrist is unable to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with him. He just seems convinced that Myers is “evil.”
Myers, contrary to how he’s portrayed in the sequels, was a dynamic and downright terrifying killer in the original movie. He wasn’t undead like Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees and he wasn’t a monster like so many of the films of the pre-Halloween era. He was human, he was alive and he never said a word while brutally butchering teenagers, mostly with his bare hands.
In one scene, he kills a young man by pinning him to the wall with a knife and then stares at him, tilting his head. Then, he puts a sheet on his head and pretends to be the man to his girlfriend before killing her.
He was focused enough on killing Laurie that he broke out of a sanitarium, stole a car and drove across state without having driving lessons before stalking her and her friends. Yet he was patient enough that he seemed content to toy with his victims before murdering them.
The climax of the movie lasts about 20 minutes and is totally captivating no matter how many times you’ve seen the film.
Strode becomes concerned that she hasn’t heard from her two friends while babysitting across the street from one another. She goes over to check on them and finds the upstairs bedroom decorated with her friends’ corpses. Her friend Annie lays on the bed, having been strangled to death. Perched above her head is the gravestone of Judith Myers (Michael’s sister), which Michael took the time to steal from the cemetery.
Strode then spends the next 20 minutes evading death while doing enough to injure Myers but not kill him. She stabs him in the neck with a knitting needle, in the eye with a coat hanger and in the shoulder blade with his own knife. He gets up each time and continues on.
The end of the movie, which won’t be spoiled here, serves to terrify and confuse the audience (which the original “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” tried and failed to do).
Myers isn’t alive or dead. He’s not human or monster. He’s evil in the form of a human body. And much like Halloween’s run as the greatest horror flick of all time, he will not be stopped.