Halloween (1978) (review)

Fright Club

What I’m about to say will be considered sacrilege by many, I know. But when has that ever stopped me?

This is it:

John Carpenter’s Halloween sucks. It’s boring. It’s not scary.

There. I said it.

Probably, I didn’t see the film at the proper stage of my psychological development, like when I was a teenage babysitter myself, like Halloween‘s heroine, Laurie Strode. Could be it’s just that I don’t like most horror flicks unless they’re also funny, like Army of Darkness, or sophisticated, like The Silence of the Lambs.

Please don’t write into tell me how sophisticated Halloween actually is, because that’s a symptom of my third point, which is that I suspect the Halloween movies are like the Star Wars movies, in that the most fun thing about them isn’t what’s actually onscreen but the fannish discussions that happen offscreen about the interrelations between characters and the interconnections between events that loop through the entire series of films. There may be much enjoyment to be had in hashing over the secrets that unfold through the series, I don’t deny that. But I never got into that, and so, like a Star Wars neophyte at an opening-night screening of The Phantom Menace, I’m mystified.

Six-year-old Michael Myers stabbed his teenage sister to death on Halloween night, 1963, in now infamous (and fictional) Haddonfield, Illinois. Fifteen years later, on October 30, 1978, he escapes from the mental hospital where he has been held in the interim, returns to Haddonfield, and, on the next night — Halloween — he kills a bunch of teenagers in various gruesome ways. Though he has been stalking her all day, he passes up several good opportunities to kill Laurie, saving his apparent intended target for last, allowing Jamie Lee Curtis to become famous for screaming through 5 of the last 15 minutes of the film.

Carpenter (Ghosts of Mars, Escape from New York) may not have invented the clichés of the slasher subgenre, but the success of Halloween popularized them: the characters who behave stupidly and appear to have no peripheral vision whatsoever, the illogical and convenient plot, the connection between sex and death, the killer who can’t be killed. And while Halloween may be positively minimalist, compared to modern slasher flicks, it’s just as boring and endless a hacking bloodbath. Michael has no motive except that he’s insane, and since he never gets to speak or even show his face, he’s not even insane in an interesting way, like Hannibal Lecter or the killer in Seven, who reveals something of his character through whom he kills and why. Michael just kills indiscriminately, which is about as exciting as a cop story would be if the bad guy were a simple purse-snatcher who, when caught and asked why he did it, shrugged “I dunno,” and meant it.

Laurie (Curtis: Virus, Fierce Creatures) is alone among the other characters in getting fleshed out in an attempt at characterization, but even that has little to do with anything else going on. She’s bookish, would rather baby-sit than go to a party, isn’t popular with guys, and chokes on a hit from a joint. She’s the exact opposite of all her friends — the ones who drink, have sex, and get murdered — which makes you wonder why she’s friends with them, anyway (high school just doesn’t work that way). Her demure virginity will ensure her survival. Why that is is never made clear — it’s not like it gives her a magical ward against Michael, who tries his damnedest to kill her. It’s practically medieval, I suppose, like how only a virgin can tame a unicorn… except she doesn’t tame Michael, and virgins are the usually the ones who get sacrificed to the monsters. So what’s the deal? I don’t get it. Maybe it makes sense once you spend years discussing it with other fans, but who has that kind of time?

To my unfannish eyes, the film is really padded out: we keep watching, watching, watching as people walk away into the distance, as scenes go on far longer than they should. Is this meant to simulate Michael stalking them? Or is it a way to stretch the film to 90 minutes? To my fannish ears, Carpenter’s score is monotonous and repetitious; fans find it creepy.

To my unfannish mind, Halloween is simplistic; fans may argue that it’s archetypal (same as I’d do for Star Wars). Well, fine. I can even see that, maybe. But I don’t feel it.

see also:
Halloween (2018) movie review: all tricks, few treats

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