Get in the holiday spirit with John Carpenter’s “Halloween”

Colin McLaughlin

For movie buffs, the month of October means one thing: 31 days of horror movies. With tons of horror flicks to choose from, The Daily Texan is going to be providing a daily horror recommendation. Whether you prefer ghosts, zombies or stark explorations of the human condition, we’ll be featuring horror films of all flavors. Check back every evening for the movie of the day. On our last day, we recommend, of course, John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”

Simplicity is perhaps the defining quality to John Carpenter’s 1978 horror masterpiece, “Halloween.” Even the most iconic element of the film, the famous theme music, is a simple melody; you can play the rhythm with one hand after only a few minutes of practice.

Everything about the movie has a feel of purity to it; “Halloween” created the slasher film and as such it is not bogged down by the need to redefine or reenact genre tropes like so many of its less contemporaries. While “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” introduced the indestructible horror villain who slaughters teenagers with abandon two years before, “Halloween” is credited with creating many of the conventions that would define the slasher film.

It’s a refreshing rarity to watch a horror movie that doesn’t feel the need to bog itself down with backstory or explanation for why its killer does what he does. Carpenter’s “Halloween” doesn’t waste time by trying to qualify what Michael Myers is. Dr. Loomis’s explanation is as too the point as a characterization can be: “He is evil. Pure evil.” Michael Myers is force of death, and the only thing that matters to Laurie (a young Jamie Lee Curtis) is getting away from him.  I’m a fan of Rob Zombie’s remake of “Halloween” from a few years ago but that movie could easily be twenty minutes shorter. At a tight ninety minutes, “Halloween” doesn’t have time for anything but pure horror. There is no occult subplot that characterized the later, lesser entries in the series, and no Josh Hartnett either. There is just a monster with a mask and a knife and a couple of stupid, sex-crazed teenagers.

It is impressive, given how short the movie is, how well Carpenter builds the suspense. We don’t get to the actual “night he came home” until almost halfway into the movie. Carpenter takes his time to unnerve us in the day by showing us glimpses of Michael as he stalks Laurie on her walk home from school. The unbroken stare behind the dead eyes of the famous mask can’t foreshadow the horror to come, but it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to know that it will be bad. Even after the sun sets, Carpenter draws out the suspense; there are a number of moments where you are sure something awful is about to happen, but nothing does. The character walks out of the dark room or hallway or backyard without a scratch and none the wiser that death is imminent. The red herrings give you just enough to get comfortable again for Michael strikes. You knew it was coming, you knew that he was somewhere in the house, yet you still jumped in fright when he finally made his move. It’s that kind of plotting that’s able to make the viewer scream even when they knew what was coming, that marks true skill in directing a horror movie.

For me, the most lasting impression from watching “Halloween” is the walk. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s” Leatherface was possessed with a frenetic energy. He ran after his victims, swinging his chainsaw with abandon. Myers doesn’t run. He doesn’t need to. He walks with purpose, his mind set on the relentless pursuit of his victims and you the viewer know that even though he has adopted a slower pace to that of his prey, he will find them. He doesn’t need to waste the energy to run because, in the end, he will catch up. The slow walk is matched by Carpenter’s camera, tracking its villain and its teenage stars with a slow menace, as if the camera itself knows what will soon befall its subjects.

The original “Halloween” is a contradiction because it happens to be a great movie, while many of its descendants in the slasher genre would define themselves as “so-bad-its-good.” “Halloween” manages to stay horrifying while working with many of the genre conventions that would evoke laughs or eye rolls in later years. 35 years later, “Halloween” still stands as one of the first, and best, slasher films.

 Costume idea: Do I even need to say it? Get a worksman’s suit, a plastic kitchen knife, and that dead-eyed William Shatner mask and you are good to go as Michael Myers. 

As it's October 31, the Daily Horror Movie has posted its last entry. Thanks to all of you who read this series, but an even bigger thank you to everyone who helped it happen. This series wouldn't have been possible without the wonderful writers and editors of the Life & Arts and Copy departments here at the Texan, and their efforts were highly appreciated throughout the month.