Halloween (1978) Review

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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So now that it is the month of Halloween it is time to begin a series of retrospective reviews on the Halloween horror franchise. Every three days I will post a review of each of the ten Halloween movies including the two Rob Zombie remakes. Enjoy.

The first Halloween released in 1978 is a step way above the others. While the other films fell into the same patterns as other slasher series of their day like Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween was an extremely effective thriller that would have made Hitchcock proud with a bare minimum of blood and gore. In fact, this movie is really not that violent at all. More family friendly films like Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, or even the recent Batman v Superman movie are more bloody than this. We have a couple of strangulations, a stabbing, and a few gunshots, but all of them are practically bloodless. It’s R-rating is pretty much just for nudity alone as far as I can tell and if one was to watch this around Halloween time on network TV edited for content it would probably be about as inoffensive as Psycho or The Bride of Frankenstein. And that is by no means a critcism of the film. I think the lack of gore is one of Halloween’s high points. A horror film in the 70’s and onward that did not depend on gore and extreme violence to be frightening and effective is a real testament to the skill that John Carpenter employed in crafting this masterpiece.
And unlike the sequels and the Jason and Freddy franchises this movie does not showcase  Michael Myers as the main attraction. In subsequent films and in the other franchises the killer is a walking, identifiable, icon who is the real star and hero of the show. Not with the original Halloween though. Here Laurie Strode truly is the heroine. We root for her and want to see her escape. We aren’t watching a typical horror flick with a piling body count. Only three people die in this movie (not counting Michael’s sister and the murdered truck driver killed offscreen). Psycho was the same way in its preference for suspense over brutal violence.
In Halloween suspense and intense moments of sheer terror are the villains and Michael Myers is their instrument the way Jason’s machetes and Freddy’s glove were the instruments of their respective owners. What scares us about Halloween is not Michael Myers and the things he does, but rather the suspense, mystery, and irrationality behind him. Myer’s irrationality is what chillingly tells us that motive is irrelevant and that the only way to stop him is to either destroy him or succumb to fate and die by his hands. He is not seeking to avenge a dead mother or avenge himself against those who killed him in some past life. His motivation is simple. He’s evil. Dr. Loomis, the psychiatrist who studied Michael after he murdered his sister realised that Michael had no semblance of a human mind left in him. The fundamental human attributes of intelligence, emotion, moral discernment, and conscience were absent in the man. He was devoid of the simplest aspects of humanity. Thus he was evil.Some moral philosophers have defined evil as an intangibility since it literally consists of nothing. Evil in their view is not a polar opposite to good like in yin/yang philosophy, but rather a pure absence of good. And what is good if not intelligence, emotion, conscience, and moral discernment? Michael is without those things. Ergo what is left is that absence which is evil. The film does not explain what happened to Michael to cause him to lack such fundamental principles of human character, but the viewer does not need an explanation. In fact the film is better without one. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers attempted to provide us with a back story, but that only ruined the character’s mystique. We like him best when he is unstoppable, mindless, and irrational in his desire to kill.

The reader may notice at this point that I have done little to describe Halloween’s plot. This is intentional as I assume most of the readers of this retrospective series will have seen the first film and be familiar with it. I will be more in depth about the plot in the sequels, I promise.
What I will say about the film’s content is that with the exception of Dr. Loomis and Laurie most of the characters are forgettable. While there are not the typical hacking fodder of other slasher flicks they lack much distinction from each other. There is one girl who has an irritating habit of using the word “totally” ad nauseum, but otherwise names and distinguishing characteristics remain unremembered by me and I have seen Halloween dozens of times.

One fun fact I do have though before I leave. Before Donald Pleasance was cast as Dr. Loomis the great Christopher Lee was approached for the role but he turned it down. He later went on to say he regretted that decision in his career. While Donald Pleasance will always be Dr. Loomis to me I must confess Sir Christopher Lee would have awesome. Just imagine the famous “blackest eyes, the devils eyes” speech in his voice. It would have been epic.

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