So last night I had to buy the Halloween, no not the Rob Zombie one, the real one. The original one. These reviews are based on films that I own or have access to and I did not have this one. A sin in its own right for those that really enjoy horror. I do have the option through friends to do an old vs. new on this with Halloween vs. Halloween. I just can’t though. Much like how Doug Walker feels about the haunting. I feel about the Halloween series. The original wins. The Rob Zombie version sucks. I will probably reference this as I talk through the review of the original.
While Texas Chainsaw Massacre beats this by 4 years in release date, Halloween is probably the film most singularly responsible for the Teen Slasher style of horror that dominated the late 70’s and almost all of the 80s. This has everything to do with what the film does successfully that so many many others failed to understand (Zombie).
Let us start with discussing the screenplay that was written by Debra Hill and John Carpenter. Hill, who sadly most people aren’t aware of, was a frequent collaborator with Carpenter on much of his early works. She was a writer on this film, The Fog (excellent), and Halloween 2. She was also a well known and popular female producer in Hollywood until her death in 2005. Carpenter himself, like Wes Craven, is one of the names most associated with Horror films to this day. It is nigh impossible to discuss the great horror films of all time without either of their names coming up.
Carpenter himself, was of course, also the director of the film. The man has an unusually strong grasp of atmosphere, sound, and darkness. These elements, along with soundtracks usually designed by him, come through in so many of his other films. He was also the director of Dark Star , the indie film by the guys who wrote Alien. This would be his first wide release foray into horror.
I am going to point out something that is often overlooked, the movie has a budget to ratio of 144:1. The film was made with a budget of $325,000 and made $47,000,000. By the numbers this makes it more successful than Clerks. It is also perfectly in line with the modern era of horror in which budgets are rather small with relatively successful box offices. Sadly, even the modern era still typically have budgets in the millions and only made 3 to 4 times the budget. Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch being key exceptions to those rules.
The story here involves as escaped mental patient returning to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois (Hill’s hometown is Haddonfield NJ); a stereotypical, near Rockwellian, midwestern town (it actually reminds me of my hometown a bit). His single minded focus is a young high school girl named Laurie Strode. The patients doctor, Sam Loomis, rushes to Haddonfield to try to stop the patient from reaching his goal.
It is important to know, and this is what sets the movie apart from later reimagining garbage, is that Michael Myers as a character was never named as such. He simply was The Shape. He was a force of nature. He existed as a physical manifestation of evil. He didn’t need a backstory. He didn’t need a reason to be. He simply was. While later films in this particular arc would add supernatural elements to his story and expand on it, the success here was none of it was needed. He scared people simply by BEING. This talks to Carpenters understanding of things as a director, the thing you cant see is more scary than the thing you can. What you don’t know scares you. Its why the ending of The Thing is so perfect and so iconic and why this film is the same. You never see The Shape fully until the end. You get glimpses. You get partials. Even the movie posters didn’t show a thing. This is brilliance and a brilliance we’ve lost as a film going society.
(ok technically you can put it together. He was called Michael as a child in the beginning and you are told its the Myers house shortly after during Strode’s introduction)
From an acting standpoint, so much rides on the shoulders of first time film actress, barely 20 at the release of the film, Jamie Lee Curtis. She was cast as much for her skill as her heritage, being the daughter of Pyscho’s famous shower scene victim Janet Leigh. Curtis would later be labeled the Scream Queen with future performances in The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, and of course Halloween II. She as much as anyone starts the tradition of the lone virginal female protagonist overcoming the antagonist of the film after going through a crucible of sorts and find their inner strength and power. Their own rage, their own will to survive.
The weight of veteran actor Donald Pleasence as Loomis adds to the emotion. He consistently through the movie is in a near fervored insanity as he futily attempts to warn people of the threat Myers presents.
From another technical standpoint the film uses its music perfectly. If I were to make a list of iconic themes this would be on it. Without the music or with different music it would lose something.
This is a classic. So many slasher films that follow after are but pale imitations of this. It is a must see film for any horror aficionado. I find that it even holds up watching today.
Because of all that was done right in this, all that works, I truly truly hate Rob Zombies version. For everything this does right, his does wrong.
If there is a Halloween film to watch. Watch the one that started it all.