‘Halloween’: 40 years of scary

Semler at the Cinema features Brandon Semler’s thoughts on the world of film, including reviews, think pieces, previews and more. 

By Brandon Semler

From the opening image of a symmetrical suburban home, to the closing shots of a stairway, living room and front yard, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978) remains a masterpiece of horror, and a source of paranoia and fear for suburban America, and hell, the rest of the world as well.

No matter how many times one has seen Halloween (for me, it’s about 15), Carpenter’s images still inspire fear; the camera following a teen down a leafy fall sidewalk, a psychopathic killer standing in between the clothing lines in the backyard, a teenager knifed to a wall through his stomach.

And most importantly, the notion that Michael Myers could be anywhere, at any time, any day.

The premise of “Halloween” is wonderfully simple. Merciless killer Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield to kill again, 15 years after killing his sister.

Carpenter creates the template for the modern horror masterwork. A slow build of tension, a feeling of menace in the air and a horror so graspable, so close, it seems almost inevitable that you will come across it.

One major factor contributing to the tension is Carpenter’s at times melodic, at times atmospheric score. The first film includes a handful of pieces that are repeated frequently throughout the film to great effect. The iconic piano riff, the dissonant synth chord held up in the air, the dramatic piano octave thump when Michael is on the prowl, all these touches contribute to the chaos that is only moments away (or already taking place). 

Jamie Lee Curtis earns her future “scream queen” title in her debut feature. Her performance allows for every film-goer to empathize with her vulnerable and self-conscious, but strong and protective Laurie Strode. Donald Pleasence also shines as Dr. Loomis, showing off his talent for the theatre with several larger-than-life monologues.

The small plot point involving Laurie’s crush at school, and her friend’s incessant teasing about it, is crucial to the message of the film. These teenage girls are real. The conversations are real. Most credit co-writer Debra Hill with these well written young female characters. They are a big reason the film succeeds at the level it does. If these young adult women are all real, the crazy man with the worn William Shatner mask and a kitchen knife must be as well.

Who knows, maybe he’s outside.

Status: Strongly

Brandon Semler can be reached at popdiversifies@gmail.com, or on Twitter @BrandonSemler.

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