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Waffleween - Halloween (1978)


Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Nick Castle, Tony Moran, PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers

Fifteen years after brutally murdering his sister, Michael Myers escapes his sanitarium and returns to his home town of Haddonfield.

While it can't claim to be the first slasher movie, being preceded by the likes of "Peeping Tom", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Black Christmas", John Carpenter's "Halloween" is certainly the most influential. Laying down a new template for the genre, it inspired countless imitations, none of which would come remotely close to replicating its chilling atmosphere.
Carpenter had been approached by producer Irwin Yablans to write and direct a cheap horror movie, Yablans having been highly impressed with Carpenter's work on the low budget "Assault on Precinct 13". Enlisting the aid of then girlfriend Debra Hill, Carpenter wrote a script in a few days, originally with the rather uninspired title of "The Babysitter Murders". It was Yablans who came up with the title change, mainly as a marketing gimmick (October was traditionally a slow month for cinema releases). Producer Moustapha Akkad stumped up the cash and would become the guiding hand of the series once Carpenter lost interest. 
After being turned down by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Carpenter landed Donald Pleasence for the role of Dr Loomis (named after a character from "Psycho"), the psychiatrist on the hunt for Myers. Pleasence is fantastic and it's impossible to imagine the original two choices being as effective. They lack the vulnerability he brings to the role, too imposing for a character who is essentially the most terrified person in the movie. The casting of Jamie Lee Curtis was again somewhat of a marketing coup, being the daughter of "Psycho" star Janet Leigh (and Tony Curtis). This is not to undermine her as she gives a fantastic performance which lead to her being cast in every other slasher movie over the next few years. In fairness to the actress, she's always been quick to acknowledge the debt she owes to this film and was happy to return to the role twenty years later.
The real star of course is Carpenter himself, both as director and soundtrack composer. In the latter capacity he recorded the score in just three days, basing it on simple syncopated rhythms taught to him as a child by his father, a music professor. It's a perfect score, flawlessly employed in the film. The main theme has become iconic, as recognizable as those of "Jaws" and "Star Wars". What Carpenter also cleverly does, and a highly original idea at the time, was to incorporate the music as a sound effect. Every time we see Myers jump out from the darkness we get a stabbing sound which varies in tone for each situation. Like his earlier score for "Assault on Precinct 13", it was entirely composed on a synthesizer, a method which would become the norm for low budget films over the next decade.
Carpenter's direction is flawless, remarkable given the pressures of time and budget imposed on the young film-maker. To give it a higher production value, he took the decision to shoot the film in Panavision, a widescreen format usually reserved for epics and blockbusters. Carpenter uses the wide frame to create numbing tension, Myers often appearing out of the empty space at the corner of the screen. The Panaglide, an early form of Steadicam, was employed as a way of filming movement quickly without having to lay down tracks. It often serves as Myer's POV, as in the brilliant opening sequence seen through the eyes of the eight year old killer as he murders his sister. Later in the film Carpenter messes with our heads by fooling us into thinking we're seeing the killer's POV only for Myers to walk into the frame. This lack of trust in the camera puts the audience on edge throughout. 
There's clever use of color too. The movie's first half occurs in daylight with a predominantly green theme making us feel reasonably safe, even the color of Curtis' sweater matches the immaculate lawns of suburban Haddonfield. Later however darkness falls and a blue backlight (later to become a cliche in eighties horror) punctuates the image. Tellingly, Curtis swaps her green sweater for a blue one, shedding her innocence as the evening's horrific events plunge her into maturity. Kudos to the lighting of Dean Cundey who would go on to become one of Hollywood's most in demand cinematographers.
The character of Michael Myers is one of cinema's most iconic but it's a ridiculously simplistic costume. The mask was actually a William Shatner mask found by production designer Tommy Lee Wallace who sprayed it white, cut holes in the eyes and tousled the hair to give it the creepy look we know so well. Carpenter's friend Nick Castle played the killer and his subtle movements add an extra dimension of creepiness. Myers was also played by Debra Hill (the hands of the eight year old Myers in the opening sequence) and Tony Moran (the face revealed when the mask is eventually removed).
Unlike the imitations which would follow, there's nary a drop of blood spilled onscreen. Despite this, or arguably because of this, the movie is absolutely terrifying. The last twenty minutes, which has Curtis stalked by Myers through the normally safe environs of a suburban street, is for me the highlight of a hundred plus years of cinema. There's barely a word of dialogue, visual film-making at its finest. Never have camera movement, framing, lighting and editing been combined in such a chilling manner. If an alien landed and asked me what makes cinema great I would simply show them the shot of Curtis framed in a doorway as Myers rises from the dead behind her. That's cinema! That's John Carpenter! That's "Halloween"!
10/10


Eric Hillis

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