Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers
DIR: John Carpenter
Blurb: 25 years ago, director John Carpenter changed the shape of terror forever with the immortal story of babysitter Laurie Strode, Dr. Sam Loomis and the night that Michael Myers came home….
My Blurb: Halloween is not a perfect film. I feel the need to get that out of the way because it has become such a cultural icon through Laurie and Michael that I think the popularity of the characters have warped perceptions of the actual film. Yes, it was scary in 1978 - but it is also a product of its time and modern viewers may be put off by the slow burn as we follow Laurie and her friends and by the fact that the actual onscreen violence is not explicitly gruesome. It’s a great, scary film… it’s just not the be-all/end-all of horror and it’s not the usual slasher-blood-n-guts we’ve gotten a bit too used to; you need to check the hype at the door and just settle in.
Reviews are not spoiler free.
Commentary: Before we even begin, we’ve got to give full props to the simple, but memorable theme and the opening credit of nothing but a lit jack o’ lantern in solid black space with our stars' names fading in and out of frame. It’s simple, almost minimalist and all the more effective for it in establishing a creepy mood before we ever get to the opening scene.
Scene 01: We open in Haddonfield, IL. Halloween night, 1963. We have children chanting a creepy ditty before calling out for Trick or Treat. Our POV settles on a quiet house in a quiet neighborhood.
POV crosses the street to the hoot of an owl and the chirps of crickets. POV stops on the front walk and spies on a young couple kissing in the hallway on the other side of the front door through the window pane. As the couple relocates to the living room, POV goes around the side of the house and watches them heavily making out through a side window.
Boytoy makes sure they’re alone and Girl mentions that Michael is around someplace. With no one else in the house though, Boytoy wants to go upstairs. She’s in. POV watches.
POV heads to the front of the house and sees Girl’s bedroom light go off. POV then walks back along the side of the house to the back, where he enters the house through the kitchen. He stops long enough to grab a knife from a drawer. Our POV is wearing a costume, judging by the garish green and shiny sleeve -- probably a clown outfit.
POV continues into the dining room with his prize. POV continues through the house to the stairs, where he hears Boytoy telling Girl that he has to go, as he puts on his shirt. He rushes out of the door while promising to call Girl the next day. POV heads up the stairs to Girl singing to herself.
On the floor is a clown mask, which POV snatches up. Our POV now shows everything through the two eye holes of the mask donned. POV heads toward Girl’s bedroom. Girl is sitting at her dressing table in nothing but underwear, brushing out her hair. POV focuses on the bed sheets for a moment before turning back to Girl.
Girl shouts at Michael for sneaking into her room. POV’s response is to go knife crazy. POV, now breathing heavy, rushes out into the night.
Commentary: So, this opening is fabulous as far as establishing the first kill. It’s all shot in POV - the music is only lightly utilized and kept unobtrusive and it never breaks the first person POV through the entire thing. It’s also shot as if in one continuous take, keeping us only in the killer’s viewpoint through the entire thing. We never hear or see anything that the person stalking wouldn’t be able to hear or see himself.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems if you want to look closely, though. The Boytoy sequence is ridiculously short to get him out of the way, meaning that Girl barely had time to get her clothes off before Boytoy either finished or just got bored and left. Either way, it’s funny to wonder.
But there is also the problem of Girl’s acting, which is … understated… for somebody being hacked to death… and unconvincing.
Scene 02: Our subjective POV sees a car pull up to the curb and two people get out. Our adult male calls to Michael questioningly and we switch suddenly and abruptly from POV behind the mask to Third Person. We see Michael is a young child, in a clown outfit, hyperventilating and holding a bloody butcher’s knife.
He looks at the retreating camera blankly, as the parents stand frozen in confusion not knowing just how destroyed their lives are about to be.
Commentary: Our reveal of the killer is also a mixed bag, a bit more seriously than just some questionable exclamations of scene 01. Here, the effect of watching Michael looking so blank faced as the camera pulls up and away from him holding the glinting, bloody knife is a great image. But, it’s held just too long and it becomes weird and again amusing that the parents just stand there and stand there and then mom puts her hands in her pockets with her mouth hanging open like a dazed cow and they stand there and stand there.
It’s just tooooo long and ends up subverting the effect.
Scene 03: We skip on over to Smith’s Grove, IL. It’s October 30th, 1978.
We can hear hard rain. We go from black screen to a rain swept, dark road. Around a bend comes a car, as lightning flashes.
Scene 04: We then look out into the weather through the front window.
Scene 05: Inside the car are an older male passenger and a young-ish nurse. They’re driving in silence and nurse seems slightly uncomfortable. There is an extended silence between them, before the male asks the nurse if she’s ever done anything like ‘this’ before. “This” is going to a mental hospital for a patient. The nurse states she’s only ever interacted with minimum security before.
Scene 06: The car pulls up to the hospital grounds. The nurse mentions that the only thing she’s ever had a problem with when dealing with patients is when they go off on an unending babble. Our gentleman [Okay - he’s Doctor Loomis] tells her that the patient [presumed to be former killer kid, Michael] hasn’t spoken in 15 years [presumably since the night he knifed his sister].
The nurse asks for any special instructions and Sam tells her not to underestimate “it”. She insists on referring to the patient as “he”. As she lights a cigarette, she sarcastically comments on his compassion. Sam lets this comment go past, being of few, grim words.
The nurse asks about what to do with Michael when he’s before the judge and Sam wants him pumped full of Thorazine for his court hearing. Nurse can’t believe that Loomis is so serious about never giving Michael a chance to leave hospital care and be rehabilitated. But Sam is very serious -- he never, never, never wants Michael released and wouldn’t be taking him out of custody of the hospital now if it weren’t for the law requiring his presence in county court.
As they pull up, they spot gowned patients wandering the grounds in the thunderstorm putting Sam on edge, as we can tell he’s already fearing the worst while Nurse is just reacting with confusion.
Commentary: I loved this sequence and one of the regrets that I had with the rest of the film is how quickly Nancy is relegated out of the film. I think it would’ve been more interesting if we’d seen her progression throughout the film from the sarcastic woman in this car to sharing Loomis’ convictions on the evil of Myers. I can see a scenario where she at first acts as Dr. Loomis’ anchor to reign in his more ranty behavior [which we really need more of], only by the end to actually join him in his over the top insistence that Michael is evil incarnate. These two actors have a chemistry here that made me want to see them paired as the opposition to Michael.
Scene 07: At the main gate, Loomis orders her to stop the car, even though she thinks they should go up to the main hospital entrance. Loomis gets out of the car to her disapproving glare at his personality quirks.
As Sam is at the phone outside the gate, we see a patient in a gown spring up the back of the station wagon and onto the car roof.
Nurse Chambers hears the noise on the roof of the car and unwisely unrolls her window. Michael takes advantage of this to grasp at her, giving her the scare of her life for the next 20 years.
In her flailing, she sends the car swerving forward before finally shifting to the other end of the car seat. As she’s leaning against the passenger door, Michael’s hand flat-palm slaps it, causing it to crack and driving her to the driver’s side again, where she leaps out of the car.
Myers takes off in the station wagon, leaving Sam to howl maddeningly at the rear lights.
Commentary: It always surprises me when we don’t see Chambers die here. In fact, I’m always left feeling like we missed something -- like a scene with the slaughter in the mental hospital that we’ll also not see, I suppose showing just how corrupted I’ve become by the 80’s slashers to come. It becomes clear later that Michael didn’t leave a trail of bodies behind him… he simply walked out!
What’s weird also is the fact that nobody ever mentions how Michael knows how to operate a vehicle… hmmm. The closest we come is when Loomis yells that maybe somebody gave him a lesson… in the hospital…. What I do like about this scene is the slapping against the window and breaking it. It doesn’t seem like much, but it allows me to look past all of the near-superhuman feats he’ll display later. He’s obviously unable to feel much pain or discomfort and he’s obviously been working out [though not to Tyler Mane levels].
Finally, I liked the shot of Michael’s tail lights saying good-bye to already-sounding-crazed Dr. Loomis in the rainstorm.
Scene 08: We skip on over to Haddonfield, during Halloween day. And the trees are remarkably green and lush for being mid-fall. Despite those couple of red leaves dropping on the street in front of our ground view POV. Must be an unusually mild fall.
Scene 09: We pan to a large home where we see who we’ll come to know as Laurie Strode leaving for school. Her dad follows a short time later to remind her to leave the key at the Myers house for some potential clients -- he’s in real estate and has the unfortunate listing for the murder house.
Scene 10: We follow Laurie as she heads to the Myers house to drop off the key, all the while being pursued by the theme music creeping behind her. She’s met by Tommy -- a boy she babysits that she’s to watch that evening. He obvs adores her.
Scene 11: Laurie stops at the Myers house, where Tommy has a small attack of the scares because the house is supposedly haunted. Laurie shows him there is nothing to be afraid of as she slips the key under the front mat and walks away with no chills, scares, or horror.
From inside though, we hear heavy breathing. A shadowy half-head passes between us and the door window and watches Laurie walk away.
She bids goodbye to Tommy as the sprout rushes off toward his own school.
As Laurie is walking off down the block and singing to herself, Michael stands on the sidewalk and watches her.
Commentary: The part that I like about Michael’s stalking scenes is that we never see him clearly. He remains ‘the shape’ always standing at the edge of our vision, or obscured by something else, including a mask. We can never seen his face to get a read on who he is and what he’s feeling, so he remains the utter blank figure. These scenes also chill because he seems to suddenly lock on to stalking Laurie for no real reason, except that she walked up to “his” front porch. This could’ve literally been anybody and there isn’t any reason for Laurie to be plunged into this nightmare but cruel chance.
And the scene is held uncomfortably long with Michael loudly huffing and puffing through his restrictive mask and Laurie having no idea that she’s just been ‘chosen’ by a nutter and is being studied like a bug under a collector’s pin.
[At least until the sequel retcon of Laurie Strode’s personal history. In this original, there is no sibling relationship whatsoever between Michael and Laurie. He stalks her and tries to murder her after terrorizing her with her friends’ deaths because she happened to walk up to his porch while he was hiding in the house and he saw her. And the randomness makes it all the more horrifying because this serial killer could’ve chosen any of us on any whim with no explanation as to why.]
Scene 12: The following day, Sam is livid at the center’s director for not having Michael under constant guard. The director tries to shift blame first on the courts and then onto Loomis himself, accusing him of not letting anyone know just how dangerous he was. Sam shouts that he told everyone, but nobody wanted to listen.
Director then has the gall to state that Michael couldn’t get 150 miles away to Haddonfield anyway because he can’t drive a car. Loomis points out that he did fine the night before.
Commentary: Not to mention the fact -- who gives a shit whether he can get to Haddonfield or not? HE MURDERED HIS SISTER -- HE’S A PSYCHOPATH AND YOU LET HIM LOOSE.
This is one of the scenes where I wish that Nurse Chambers was there, because this short scene could’ve really used her bitter sense of sarcasm.
Scene 13: Back in Haddonfield, Laurie is in class where a Literature lesson is in progress and speaking of Fate and how Fate caught up with all of the lies that had been told. Laurie looks out of the window, to see the station wagon, and Michael standing near it and seemingly staring at her through the windows.
She’s called on to give an answer and although only half-listening, she gives it. When she looks back across the street the car and the masked man are both gone.
Commentary: This scene is also nice as we close it on “Fate never changes” telling us that Laurie was always going to have to face this. It’s remarkable in hindsight… or maybe it was just part of why Halloween II was written as it was, because once we discover the familial link between Laurie and Michael this scene is prescient.
Scene 14: Meanwhile over at the elementary school, Tommy is let out. He’s carrying a pumpkin that is about half his own body weight, seemingly and being harassed by the usual assortment of shitty bullies.
The little shits tease Tommy about the Boogeyman coming on Halloween and Tommy - already having an overactive imagination - takes this all seriously, despite the Boogeyman never having appeared in the years before. Tommy tries to rush past, only to get tripped onto his now smooshed pumpkin and laughed at.
The bullies flee, with one of our little shits running directly into The Shape. He looks up at him with startled fear… and a musical sting, before running the other way. Michael watches Tommy walking away from his mashed pumpkin, breathing heavily.
As Tommy walks across the courtyard, Michael follows him on the other side of the fence, before getting back in the official, hospital station wagon and following little Tommy Doyle.
Commentary: Why, we can’t know. Is Tommy be sized up as Laurie-adjacent enough to die? Is Michael seeing something of himself in Tommy’s victim hood? Was Michael bullied… maybe by the sister he murdered, or is he just plain born wrong? We can’t know any of the answers and are as in the dark about what he wants and what will placate him as any of our characters.
Let’s talk about pacing for a moment, because I feel like my scene descriptions are making it out that nothing is happening on screen and we’re all bored to tears. It’s not really accurate. Although we haven’t seen any deaths, the way that Michael is showing up on the periphery of our main characters’ lives without their knowledge of how much trouble they’re in, along with the judicious use of the soundtrack is keeping pacing moving despite the lack of kills. As I warned, this isn’t the usual slasher, and is more in line with being a slow-burn thriller which then morphs into a proto-slasher later. This isn’t about the blood, it’s about the randomness of true evil coming into a girl’s life and how she’s at first oblivious to the danger until it suddenly is standing there trying to kill her.
Scene 15: Elsewhere, Sam Loomis is about halfway-ish to Haddonfield. He’s stopped at a phone booth to call the local police department to warn them. The officer is apparently giving pushback on how the doctor knows that Michael would be coming home because Sam is insisting that he knows him as his doctor.
When he hangs up, he spots a truck sitting off the road a bit with the door open. He feels a pull to go take a look. The truck is from “Phelps Garage” and Sam finds Michael’s hospital gown draped over the nearby bushes, explaining why The Shape is now walking around in a jump suit. He also finds a matchbook that he last saw Nurse Chambers using in her car.
He rushes back to his own car, not noticing the truck driver’s body lying in a mound of tall grass only feet away with apparent stab wounds.
Scene 16: Back at Haddonfield High, Laurie is leaving with her cheerleader friend, Lynda who is in love with the word “totally”.
They’re soon joined by their mutual friend, Annie. Laurie complains about having no plans, Lynda complains that it’s Laurie’s own fault that she never goes out dating and feels no sympathy and Annie complains that her boyfriend got himself grounded and won’t be able to hook up with her later while she’s also babysitting.
Laurie says a swear -- somehow, her throat isn’t immediately slit -- maybe it’s because she’s did it over forgetting her text book and so it’s more forgivable. She dithers on whether she should walk all the way back to get it [NO!] and then she spots that weird hospital station wagon from outside of her school earlier.
Laurie and Michael lock stares as he speeds by, with Lynda and Annie goofing around that he looks cute. Annie shouts out at him that he’s a jerk for the slowdown-stare he did. The girls are given a sudden moment of fright as he slams on the breaks and idles for several seconds, before finally moving on.
Commentary: It’s interesting, but John must’ve been a fan of “Jaws” because I swear that the soundtrack is being used exactly like the Jaws theme, in that it keeps starting whenever Michael is creeping about and then fading away as he leaves the scene. It’s not an exact comparison, but this scene is especially Jaws-like with the soundtrack if you picture the station wagon being the shark.
Scene 17: After Michael disappears again, the girls talk about that evening. Annie is going to be babysitting three doors down from Laurie [and across the street, it turns out]. Lynda and her boyfriend Bob are going to stop in on Annie later, and presumably Annie’s boyfriend was supposed to be there to have a more adult party after the kid had been put to bed.
It all sounds so dull. [They wish.]
Scene 18: Our score is playing again as we watch the girls continue walking down the block. Lynda peels off at her own house, leaving Laurie and Annie walking and talking. Ahead of them, Laurie spots The Shape standing at a tall hedge and watching them approaching, while Annie is too busy digging into her bag to notice.
Michael side steps behind the hedge and Laurie alerts Annie, who hasn’t the sense to be anything but annoyed. She marches up to the hedge to give the lurker a piece of her mind.
We see that Michael isn’t there, but Annie calls out to Laurie that he wants to talk to her. Annie jokes that he wants to take her out on a date that night.
When Laurie reaches the hedge, Annie teases her that she chased off another eligible guy. She also doesn’t think she actually saw anyone. They soon reach Annie’s house and she peels off leaving Laurie to finish the journey home on her own.
Scene 19: Laurie walks backward, watching the hedge down the block when she turns with a scream as she nearly runs down Sheriff Brackett - Annie’s father. He apologizes for startling her.
Commentary: And comes off like a creeper… I have no idea what this scene was supposed to accomplish since we already know that the Sheriff won’t be the killer, but it was an awkward and unneeded scene.
And yes -- it’s here, 25 1/2 minutes in that I start feeling antsy to have something shocking occur. I’m pretty tolerant of slow starts, but c’mon already! Especially since each scene spends several seconds for set up, several tens of seconds for the main point of the scene to play out, and then several more seconds just watching our characters walking away from the scene. Minutes are passing with one short “ooo” moment surrounded by eating up running time. Even the soundtrack and the off-screen presence of Michael somewhere close by can’t overcome basically nothing happening but walk and talks repeatedly.
Scene 20: When Laurie reaches home, she’s still bothered by the near-miss with her possible stalker-possible nothing. She sees children trick-or-treating, and decides she was being silly with herself.
In her room upstairs, she looks out her open window [which again irritates me by not having window screens-- what the hell is up with that!?] only to spot The Shape standing there among the hanging sheets.
A moment later, and he’s disappeared again, almost like he off-screen teleported in front of her eyes. She slams the window down, really creeped out now. A second later, the phone rings. There isn’t anything on the other end but the sounds of chewing. She slams the phone down.
A moment later it rings again. It’s Annie, she was the chewer and asks why Laurie hung up on her. She explains that she thought it was an obscene caller. Annie accuses Laurie of losing it, first seeing mystery men behind hedges and then thinking she’s getting obscene chewing. But really she just called to explain that she’ll have her mother’s car that night and will pick Laurie up at 06:30 since they’ll be babysitting on the same block that night.
Laurie tells herself to calm down and stop acting ridiculous.
Commentary: I hate this scene. It makes zero sense really. Annie picks up the phone and dials Laurie with her mouth so full that she can’t speak… at all… for several seconds… and then wonders at Laurie thinking it’s an obscene call? Ugh. Another false scare set up clumsily to fill time.
What I do like about this extensive middle section though is the way that Michael is used to represent the threat to Laurie, while we remain focused on her and not the killer. This is really a two man movie -- Laurie and Sam. Myers is actually just there to oppose and threaten them but this is really the Doctor and the Babysitter’s story.
After the glut where the serial murderer has been made the “hero” in too many horror movies… far too many… it’s nice to see him relegated to the edges of the story.
Now… if only we had more ‘other story’ to tell.
Scene 21: That evening, bright sunny evening, Laurie gets picked up by Annie who hands her a uh… cigarillo..? and tells her they just have enough time to gird themselves.
Scene 22: Meanwhile, Loomis is in a cemetery. He’s there with the cemetery keeper and is looking for Judith Myers gravesite. While searching, they find a gravestone missing with the keeper angry at the local kids for desecration in the name of Halloween. A moment later it’s realized that the missing stone is Judith’s and Sam Loomis immediately takes it as a sign of Michael’s arrival in Haddonfield.
Scene 23: In the car, Laurie isn’t enjoying her test toke. She’s told Annie about the guy in her backyard watching her, but neither of them are taking this seriously enough. Annie accuses the watcher of being the elderly neighbor perving on her.
Behind them, we see the familiar station wagon turn in behind them and follow on their bumper.
The girls go on talking about the hot times that they’re not going to be having that evening. Annie spots her father at the corner and exclaims for Laurie to get rid of the… uh… cigarillo?
Michael pulls to the curb when he sees the lights flashing in the distance where the girls are headed. They never noticed how close he was behind them, nor that it was the stalker-mobile.
Commentary: Nice scene, but not on top of all of the other stalking scenes that were stretched. We really needed [This is so weird, because I’m usually complaining about the opposite!] was more scenes with Sam Loomis acting semi-nutso to break up the scenes with Laurie and Friends Doing High School Girl stuff. And it would’ve worked awesome if Nurse Chambers were in them, trying to talk Sam down from his mania, while also struggling with whether he was right that Michael really is more dangerous than they all think.
Scene 24: The girls stop in front of the hardware store, where Sheriff Brackett is checking out the alarm. The girls chat with him for a minute.
Just as they take off again, Sam Loomis is walking up to the Sheriff.
Scene 25: Loomis insists that he needs to speak to the Sheriff, but is put off for 10 so Brackett can wrap things up with the hardware store break-in.
As Dr. Loomis is waiting, right behind him, Michael pulls out into the lane and drives right by him, to catch up with Laurie and Annie!
Scene 26: In the car, Annie notices Laurie’s funk. Laurie’s entire dealio is that she really wants to go to the dance, but doesn’t have the courage to ask the guy she likes and has been too much of a wallflower to get asked in turn by anyone else.
Annie tells her she just has to go up to somebody and ask them “Do you wanna go to the dance?” but Laurie tells her that she could never do that. She admires Annie for being bold in ways that she can’t be.
As the theme starts up again, we see the station wagon again on their tail. They continue to not notice they’re being followed by stalker-mobile.
Commentary: I want to insert a kudo to Nancy Loomis (now Kyes) here because Annie really does poke a lot of fun at Laurie and her insecurities and shyness. But unlike following horror where her character would stop right there and just be a bitch, Annie isn’t unlikeable. She’s funny and her sarcasm is tempered [in a way that Nurse Chambers’ isn’t] by her obviously really caring about her friends and family. Nancy’s acting keeps us on Annie’s side even though her character acts rough around the edges toward Laurie.
Scene 27: In a very sudden nightfall, Laurie is dropped off at the Doyle’s, while Annie continues those few doors down to Wallace’s. In the meantime, Michael also gets out of his car and casually strolls up to Lindsey Wallace’s house. Trick or Treaters continue through the neighborhood allowing Michael to blend in.
He watches from near a tree at the street as Annie goes into the house -- if she’d only glanced, she’d maybe would’ve recognized him as the earlier stalker, but we won’t find out because she doesn’t. He continues to watch as Lindsey’s parents leave for the evening.