In 1978, a then unknown director, burst on the horror scene with a film that would become synonymous with a holiday and a sub genre of horror.
John Carpenter’s 1978 film “Halloween” was up until the late 1980’s one of the most successful independent films of all time. Made for just slightly over $300,000, the film introduced Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Myers and the slasher film genre to a nation burned out by the sexual revolution, women’s lib, and Watergate. Yet, as we approach the holiday the film celebrates so boldly, we tend to forget how “Halloween” scared us so effectively. In an age where Human Centipedes and Hostels vie for a share of the box office pie with remakes and sequels it is time we as horror fans reexamine why this film is still scary as hell.
The film is an exercise in simplicity. In the film’s 91 minute running time there are no graphic depictions of violence, a very tame sex scene, and only a scant few seconds of nudity seen in the film’s opening sequence. Carpenter leaves everything up to the viewer’s imagination, making the sense of unease grow with each passing minute. Carpenter and his cinematographer, Dean Cundey, use the camera as a weapon against the audience, adding lighting tricks to add to menace the audience feels, and then of course there is the score. Carpenter’s simplistic synth score scares the crap out of everyone who has experienced the film and is in itself as iconic as the film itself. It is when you combine these elements together you get a film that stands up as guaranteed spook fest even after 33 years 9 sequels later.
As time has passed we tend to forget the ways the film effectively used cinematic elements to scare. This Halloween do yourself a favor and rent the original film, pop yourself some popcorn, turn off the lights and watch it all over again. In the immortal words of Charles Cyphers’ Sheriff Brackett “Everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”