Editor’s Note: Here’s a piece that I wrote last year (2013) that was never published.
The season of Halloween and its celebrations is closing in, so there’s no reason why we can’t look back to the movie that helped usher in the slasher films we all associate with the spooky holiday. The film in question is, of course, Halloween, which actually turns 35 years old on Oct. 25 and it doesn’t seem like many people are celebrating. But why is that? Have people become so sour on all the sequels, remakes, etc… that they have forgotten the brilliance of John Carpenter’s original film? Could it be that horror movie buffs are simply tired of hearing about it? Or is it a combination of the two?
As someone who ranks Halloween as the finest slasher flick of all time, I’m going with the idea that folks have grown wary of overtly praising the original. And a lot of that has to do with the obvious fact that the franchise has been bastardized to hell and back. But so have all the other slasher franchises, whether it’s Friday The 13th or Nightmare on Elm St., so what’s the problem?
Perhaps I’m being too sensitive, because the film is so close to me. It’s been a long tradition of mine to watch it not only during the Halloween season but once in the spring, too. As an aspiring writer, I like to view it (and other classics) closely, which for me means while wearing a good pair of headphones. Personally, I love my Sennheisers, simply because they were reasonably priced and sound fantastic. And as sensitive as I can get about this movie, you can definitely argue that Halloween has received its just due over the years. In 2006, for example, it was placed in the National Film Registry alongside a total of only 600 other culturally significant movies. With good reason, of course, as it shaped the mold that was used by so many horror directors in the following years.
Those include common tropes like the murderer wearing a mask, the whole walking-slow-but-still-catching-up thing, and teenagers partaking in illegal activities (smoking marijuana) or having sex. The latter seems to always get at least one of them killed, usually to leave the other wondering looking for him or her and ultimately dying, too. As anyone who has seen Halloween knows full well, all of that happens—and then some.
But where this film truly exceeded was in the dynamic, if you can call it that, between protagonist Laurie Strode and antagonist Michael Myers. Basically, Myers is out to murder everyone in his bloodline, including Strode, though you never really find out why that it is. The only explanation is that he’s “pure evil,” perhaps possessed, and completely dead inside apart from the desire to kill. This leads to his stalking Strode and her friends, plenty of gruesome murders and shrieking, and a “final” showdown. But where the relationship between Strode and Myers shines is in their brief interactions and her attempts to figure him out. It’s almost as if she is reading your (the viewer’s) thoughts in trying to understand why he’s doing this.
Ultimately, we don’t receive an answer for his motives and probably never will. What we do know, at least, is John Carpenter’s mindset going into the film. In speaking with Ain’t It Cool, he revealed the following after being asked if his intentions were to make Halloween different from other horror movies:
“I don’t know if I was thinking ‘Hey audience, this isn’t your typical horror film,’ but you have to understand I was classically trained at USC, so the inspirations for my films and for my style and technique were all from classical directors, so I went back to Touch of Evil and films like that.
“You could say ‘Was Orson Welles trying to tell the audience that this melodrama is different, because he has this big long tracking shot?’ I don’t think that was his intention, that was the best way to tell the opening of the film, so that’s the way I looked at it.”
Carpenter’s explanation of his background, including studying USC, really helps to put Halloween and its success in a greater context. Like any truly timeless piece of art, the aim is to avoid pigeonholing yourself in any possible way. And while this film is clearly in the horror genre, it transcends being a mere “slasher flick” because of its presentation, narrative, and direction. It’s just a shame that all the sequels and remakes have marred its legacy.