Halloween is John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic that is one of, if not the defining slasher flick. Shooting on a shoestring budget, and paying homage to Psycho, Carpenter’s writing, direction, and composition is on full display throughout. How does it hold up? Well continue on down for the original trailer and then a little further down for our review of this iconic flick. Unless you’re worried about a 38-year-old movie being spoiled. Because that happens.
Don't feel like reading our long and rambling review? Try our long and rambling podcast instead!
Jake: Halloween. The time has arrived, my friend. And not just the time of year. The movie. We are reviewing Halloween this week is what I’m getting at here. And it’s Halloween-time, too. Don’t judge me. This is a hard movie to review...
Jack: It sure is buddy, it sure is. Ratings?
Jake: Yeah, I’d say that just about covers it, but let’s be crazy just this once and get down to the nitty gritty. I’m not really sure why, but for whatever reason, this is the definitive Halloween movie. None of us really questioned it, in fairness. I was perfectly content to review this movie on the week of the holiday, and I make a habit of watching at least some of it pretty much every year. It’s on TV enough throughout the month of October. But why is this really a Halloween movie? Outside of the name and the haggard-ass pumpkin that stares at you for the length of the title sequence, the movie barely touches on the holiday at all.
Jack: I mean, the original title was “The Babysitter Murders,” and then one of the producers or whatever decided to set it on Halloween, because, you know, scary. The thing is set on Halloween, and there’s a couple of costumes, but for the most part, it’s just some night. After that pumpkin fades out, we get a first-person shot of someone moving through a house in a mask, and then stab the ever-loving fuck out of an exceedingly naked woman. Turns out that our stabber is the young Michael Myers, donned in a clown get up, and now carted off to the looney bin. But fuck all that, because what I want to talk about is the music. It’s exquisite.
Jake: Exactly. That music is among the all-time greats in film. Not just horror. I’ll also say the opening scene is fan-friggin-tastic. The PoV of little Michael Myers is effective and more than adequately establishes his character; a dead-eyed, fleet-footed mother fucker who definitely lives by the mantra of ‘do one thing, and do it better than anyone else’. His ‘one thing’ happens to be remorselessly butchering teenagers with kitchen knives but hey, I’m not here to judge. Plus, we got titties out of the deal.
Jack: Always a plus my friend. Cut to modern day . . . er . . . but modern in 1978, and still past day compared to now, and we have Donald Pleasance playing Sam Loomis (one of many references to Psycho) and yapping on about how Michael Myers has escaped. I feel like no one listens to the psychiatrist for the clinically insane telling everyone a murderer has escaped enough. Feels like a warning I’d heed.
Jake: And running parallel to all of this, you basically have the typical high school girl thing happening. Jamie Lee Curtis (playing Laurie) makes her film debut in this thing as the “guys don’t want to date me because they say I’m too smart” chick, who is purity and responsibility incarnate. It’s also important to note here that her comparative wisdom does not come from age, as she was actually the youngest of the cast of high-schoolers. She just has always looked and sounded old. Who knew that’s all it took. College me could have used some of that...
Jack: College you could have used a lot of things guy. In any case, Laurie and her more typical high school friends, Annie, Paul, Lindsey, Lynda, and Bob, all meetup at the old Myers house because Laurie is babysitting a kid who’s dad is selling it I think. Like you said, this is a hard movie to review. Who can keep track of all these intricate plot points?
Jake: So I’m not going to put this movie on blast because it didn’t have the budget to film against the perfect, autumnal backdrop. They made this shit for $300k. I get it. But I also have to say that the complete lack of anything even remotely Halloween flavored, outside of one or two pumpkins and some blowing leaves they spray painted that flutter by one time, really makes it tough to get in the mood.
Jack: For sure man. And it’s even worse because the leaves that they had to both haul in and paint kept blowing away, so there were fewer to use for every subsequent shot. But you know what? Despite being Halloween, the movie stands on it’s own.
Jake: Right. They spent the money where they needed it. The filming is, for the most part, really good for such a meager budget. Particularly for the time. That’s part good equipment (half their total budget), and half good directing from John Carpenter. When Myers starts showing up in the distance, wearing that pale Shatner mask, it’s still creepy.
Jack: It’s really fucking creepy. And this brings us to the heart of the movie. Michael Myers slashing folks on Halloween night. Yes. I mean just look at this mofo:
Jake: He is creepy, but one other thing I think would have both made this more creepy and also made it feel more like Halloween would have been to use even one fucking Trick-’r-treater. Imagine the shots they could have gotten of him blending into a crowd. Just hire a few goddamn extras. But no, they blew that on the scene where he bumps into a bully and the kid runs off, horrified. It’s good suspense, because we still haven’t seen Myers in full at that point. But it does nothing for the Halloween factor for a movie bearing the name.
Jack: And actually, looking at that picture again, it’s pretty evident how much those leaves do not belong there. But that’s overthinking it, because that’s not the damn point. Slashing is the damn point.
Jake: So we all know what happens from here. It’s a slasher. Fuck, this movie is widely known as one of the pioneers of the slasher genre. You might even say it was on the cutting edge of the genre. Waka waka. There are teenagers. Said teenagers are drinking beers, smoking dope, porking, and just flat out up to no good. They must pay. So who got it best (worst?), anyway?
Jack: Well Jake, let’s run ‘em down. First up is Annie. Annie gets into her car only to find a surprise Michael in the back seat. Does not go well. Michael then turns his attentions to Bob, who, fresh off a porking, as you say (and the fact that you call it that tells me you’re not ready), with Lynda, gets full-on impaled and nailed to a fucking wall with the knife. Not to be spared from the pre-marital sex, Lynda gets killed next, by a Michael whom she believes to be Bob dressed up like a ghost. She gets strangled by a phone cord. (Phones had cords at the time.) Then Michael fails to kill Laurie for the rest of the movie. So Jake, tell me, what’ll ya’ have? Which kill strikes your fancy?
Jake: I think my favorite was Annie. I really liked the effect that was gained by having her return to the car and noticing that the windows were fogged up. How did Myers achieve this effect without some ultra-rigorous cardio in the back seat? Who gives a fuck?
Jack: Certainly not masturbating if that’s what you were thinking. But yeah, that was my favorite too.
Jake: The other noteworthy element here is that this movie definitely popularized the “final girl” trope that is so common in genre films and slashers in particular. While it certainly wasn’t the first to do it, it did go a long way by building out Laurie’s character deeply enough to include elements that are now staples. She is smart, innocent and good-intentioned. Especially compared to her friends. She is resourceful. When she walks into Myers’ funhouse of bodies, she is able to get out alive because she makes use of her environment and is quicker on her feet than the guy behind the mask. All classic stuff.
Jack: If by ‘resourceful,’ you mean that she stabs him in the neck with a fucking knitting needle, then I agree with you. She kills (or seems to kill) Michael a few different damn times. But that bastard just keeps on coming back. At best he is mildly inconvenienced by being stabbed multiple times.
Jake: There is a weird supernatural undercurrent to Myers’ character in this film that, when viewed in a vacuum, isn’t well enough established to cause the viewer to lean any one direction, but it’s definitely suspicious. Obviously we know the character better now due to the litany of sequels this thing got in the years after it’s release, but we’re trying to view this with fresh eyes, man.
Jack: I guess, but it seems supernatural to me, even when you view this film in isolation. At the end of the thing, we get my personal favorite line from the whole thing: Laurie speculates that Michael was actually the boogeyman, and, with a line reading straight out of Psycho, the grizzled Loomis replies “As a matter of fact it was.” Awesome stuff.
Jake: It’s classic. Ratings?
For 1 think of how Kevin McCalister would rate Buzz’s girlfriend:
And for 10, think of how the Great Gazoo would rate the power level of his invention
Jack: 4 - Psychopath murders teens. That’s about it. The story here is nothing innovative, and even the parts that critics view as thematic, Carpenter says were just things he did to drive the plot. It loses some points for it’s Trick or Treat factor™.
Jake: 6.5 - This movie does very little that screams “classic!” on the surface. Hell, it’s barely even about Halloween, despite it being the name of the fucking movie. What this film is, however, is one of the pioneers of the genre as we know it today. It brought several elements together (along with films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and, more intentionally, Friday the 13th) that helped create what are now considered solid tropes of the genre.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 5 - This score is all about the immersion, and none about the world-building. They don’t really build a world. It’s just generic suburbia. Even the Halloween part (the easy part) isn’t anything. But it is pretty immersive. I’m still looking around dark corners for ol’ Michael.
Jake: 6.5 - I’ve already beaten the fact that this movie isn’t really about Halloween into the ground, but this movie isn’t really about Halloween and it hurts my immersion. As do the numerous instances where kills were shown but there was inadequate coverage in terms of effects. More on that later.
Jack: 6 - It’s got the atmosphere and some well-earned jump scares. I think this blends a few different kinds of frights pretty well. Holds up decently too.
Jake: 5 - Myers looks creepy and there are some good shots that capitalize on that aspect. Outside of this and the fucking excellent score aiding matters, there is very little here that’ll get your blood pumping.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 8 - They fucking nailed this thing . . . considering the budget. Look, Carpenter had almost no money to make this movie. They chose the Shatner mask because it cost $1.99 instead of $3.00 or something. They made people bring their own wardrobe and paid some of the actors less than $25 a day. They recognized their limitations, pushed them to the limit, and for the most part did not exceed them. And the music is fucking incredible.
Jake: 6.5 - Overall this is a very well shot film. Carpenter made the right decision in devoting half his budget to his equipment. However, with a small indie budget comes an appropriate approach to effects, which is to say there should be some restraint. Some judicious lack of effects. That didn’t happen here and as a result, there’s some pretty egregiously absent gore. If you are going to show someone getting stabbed, have blood.
Jack: 7 - This is getting a pretty substantial bump for its place amongst the pantheon of horror classics. And deservedly so. But sitting down and watching this thing start to finish? I don’t know, it’s just not quite as enjoyable for me as some other classics like Jaws or Poltergeist. Still fucking great though.
Jake: 6 - I absolutely acknowledge this movie’s place in the pantheon of horror. It is as classic as classic gets and did so much for the genre and for independent film in general. However, I have some issues with its execution and imperfections. It’s not really my cup of tea in a lot of ways, but it’s in no way a bad film. It’s also not about Halloween!!!