As a franchise I never liked the Halloween series that much. Compared to other well-known franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play and of course Friday The 13th, the Halloween series has more weaker entries than good ones. It even has a 3rd installment that isn’t connected to the previous entries in any way. It was a daring choice at the time, but in hindsight Halloween III feels like the odd duck. When looking at this franchise it only has 4 movies that are (slightly) above average. I always saw Halloween 1, 2 and 4 as a decent trilogy until Halloween H2O came along. That movie capitalized on the success of Scream and was a decent entry as well reanimating a dying franchise. Sadly its successor put the final nail in the coffin in a movie that starred none other than Busta Rhymes. It was the notorious director Rob Zombie who rebooted the series with a remake of the original proving that he absolutely had no idea what made the original movie good. He even made a sequel that I consider to be one of the worst horror movies ever made as you can read in my review. When you ignore the legacy of Halloween one thing is clear: it’s a great movie.
The plot of Halloween is as uncomplicated as plots can come: On Halloween night of 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers stabbed his sister to death. After escaping from the mental institution he has been sitting in for 15 years, he returns home to Haddonfield with a thirst for blood. His targets are a couple of babysitters who are working on Halloween night, one of them being Laurie Strode who is played by then newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis.
The simplicity is one of the things that make Halloween still so great after almost 40 years. A lot of movies that followed in its footsteps had more convoluted scripts full of unnecessary side-plots and often killers who have been given way too much of a backstory. A fault the Halloween sequels would have as well. Like the Nightmare on Elm Street series: the more we got to know about the killer, the less scary he became. In Halloween they keep the information about him to a bare minimum. The only explanation about Michael Meyers we get are the stories about him from his psychiatrist. Not sure if he was just keeping to his doctor-patient confidentiality, but all we ever hear him say about his patient is that he’s an incarnation of evil. I’m wondering if that was also his official conclusion in his reports on Michael.
Even though the information is kept to a minimum and we almost never see his real face, the presence of Meyers isn’t just created through P.O.V.-shots. Even before he begins his reign of terror on Halloween night he’s stalking these girls in broad daylight appearing in front of their school or in the neighbors’ backyard. He’s always just standing there, watching through the dark holes in his emotionless mask. It creates quite the atmosphere. This approach to the character also creates one of the more memorable scenes in the movie as Dr. Loomis is talking with a cop in front of a store where Michael was sighted and he just casually drives by behind them.
Another element that keeps the movie still feeling fresh after all this time is the lack of gore. In the 80’s a lot of slasher movies focused on creating the most elaborate and graphic death scenes. Because the effects weren’t always great the movies felt dated almost from the moment they were released. Halloween hardly has any bloody scenes or elaborate kills. Meyers strangles several people and when he’s stabbing someone it’s often in the dark. That’s it and that is enough. Because of these choices there are no moments that take you out of the movie due to laughable effects. Aside from the typical 70’s clothing and lack of mobile phones Halloween hardly feels dated. Admirable for a low budget movie made in 1978.
There’s one choice John Carpenter made that I didn’t like and that was to show Meyers’ face. His mask gets pulled off by Laurie during the finale and even though it’s a mere glimpse I thought it would have been better did not show his face at all. The strength of the character lies in how little we know of him. The mask gives him an emotionless look which goes perfectly with the way Dr. Loomis talks about him. By showing his face he becomes human. Humanizing Meyers is what brought this franchise down, so seeing it already happen here is a bit of a miss in my book.
Halloween is a great horror movie that goes for tension over gore and is therefor still relevant 40 years after its release. I always forget how good this movie was due to it lackluster sequels which really is a shame. The ending is rather unique as well, even though it paved the way for the sequels that I so much dread. It also paved the way for many weaker imitations and from this moment on no holiday would be safe from axe-wielding maniacs.