Prelude to /slash #3: Halloween

USA 1978
Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Directed by John Carpenter

Obviously, I had seen this a couple of times already, but when the Filmmuseum annouced it as part of their horror retrospective, I jumped at the chance to see it on the big screen for the first time. And what can I say: It still holds up really well. I can also definitely say that from all the times that I’ve seen this movie, this was my favorite. It’s just one of those films that get enhanced greatly when watched with an audience.

Since I came to horror rather late in my life, and am not an uber-expert, I’m always reluctant to talk about the history of the genre, but I hope I’m not completely off when claiming that John Carpenter offered the template for the (teenie) slasher flick with this?!?! Even when watching a modern slasher flick, the influence of “Halloween” is undeniable. Unfortunately, seldomly have other movies achieved a similar quality. Of course, part of what’s so great about “Halloween” is how iconic it all is. The setting at Halloween, the unforgettable main theme, the towering Michael Myers with his big knife and the William Shatner-mask… “Halloween” has everything that you need for a great slasher flick: Likeable (possible) victims, a great final girl in Jamie Lee Curtis, a remarkable villain, and some memorable deaths.

One of the best things about “Halloween” is the beginning. I’m not sure if this actually was the first time that a director put the viewer in the position of the killer, and let’s you see the murder through his eyes, but it sure made a hell of an impression on me back when I saw it for the first time, and even nowadays, I love the shit out of that sequence (which is why, whenever another movie does something similar, I came to call it the “Myers cam”). Also, on first viewing you might expect a slow start; that Loomis and the nurse will arrive at the asylum and start treating Myers, before he finally breaks out. But no; as soon as you see the patients running around and the music kicks in, you know what’s happening, and that Myers is already on the loose.

Carpenter finds a good balance between mood and jump scares. I’m not the biggest fan of the latter, however that’s less because of the tool itself than how it’s used most of the time, at least nowadays. They crank up the volume to a degree that you would still jump out of your seat even if they would just show a picture of the Teletubbies. Not so here. Yes, of course the jump scares are accompanied by a sound or a music cue, but those are there to enhance the scare, not to provide it. Also, Carpenter doesn’t rely only on those scares to frighten you. There are a couple of tense, atmospheric scenes that are masterfully done. One moment that always stands out for me is Lauries slow walk over to her friend’s house. In most modern horror movies, they would show her leave, and then they would cut to her already standing on the porch of Annie’s house. Instead, Carpenter lets the whole scene play out, and the tension that builds on her way over there is remarkable.

If there’s one thing I’m not quite sure about, it’s the showdown, especially with Myers coming back again and again, which served as a template for all those unstoppable and immortal killers that came afterwards. Before that, as much as Dr. Loomis emphasizes the extraordinary nature of Myers as a threat to the people of Haddonfield, and all the talk about the Boogeyman, “Halloween” is pretty grounded – which for me simply works better for a slasher flick where a relentless killer is on the loose. That’s a rather down-to-earth concept, one that asks you to put yourself in the position of the victims, but as soon as it gets (seemingly) supernatural, I’m incapable of taking it serious any more. Also, after being a rather sensible and competent final girl, the showdown makes Laurie look incredibly stupid sometimes, like when she – while in pursuit by Myers – runs back to the house where the children are sleeping (Babysitter of the year!), or when she drops the knife next to a seemingly dead Myers AGAIN. Also, as masterfully as the shot of his second resurrection is set up, with Laurie in the foreground, eyes to the camera, and Myers rising in the back, the end result is not scary, but comical. Which might have been the intention, but I would have preferred a more frightening and terrifying approach. Other than that, the showdown – and the movie in general – still works incredibly well.


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