Assessing the Movie
Where does it fit?
Horror films were around a long time before Halloween came along, of course. Different fads came and went. We had the classic monster creatures of the 30s and 40s: Dracula, the wolfman, the mummy, Frankenstein, cat people, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, etc., etc. These types of films have a legacy all their own that lives on in Hollywood to this day. It seems we just can’t get enough vampires and werewolves, for example. But Halloween isn’t really part of this direct lineage.
Another type of horror grew up in the 50s, the so-called atomic horror. It’s typified by mutated creatures and giant abominations: ants, preying mantises, tarantulas, shrews, dinosaurs, etc. These, too, are not really predecessors of Halloween, although the Creature from the Black Lagoon did kind of scare me as a young child in way reminiscent of what Halloween would do years later.
And Halloween isn’t really part of the occult/supernatural horror landscape: Rosemary’s Baby, the Exorcist, Carrie, the Omen, etc. Admittedly, though, there is a touch of the supernatural at the end of Halloween.
Two films stand out as horror inspirations for Halloween: Psycho (of course) (1960) and Westworld (1973). Westworld? you say. John Carpenter has cited the Yul Brynner’s emotionless, killer robot as a big influence on the Michael Myer character and you can see why as Yul relentlessly tracks Richard Benjamin all around the futuristic amusement park hell bent on killing greenhorn.
Halloween is commonly cited as the father of the modern slasher films. This is true and yet not entirely true. Yes, we have teens running around with no parents in sight, a crazy person with a knife, promiscuous sex and booze, and blood. But Halloween really wasn’t that gory and the death scenes are pretty darn tame by slasher movie standards. Also, Halloween lacked the bloodlust and implicit or overt misogyny so many other slasher movies have. So, Halloween was like a small rock that started a big avalanche that roared down the mountain out of control, but it was not itself the avalanche.
Many have spun various theories about the movie and sought to find deeper philosophical or social meaning in the story. People often point to Halloween as the father of the final girl survivor trope, the girl who survives to the last battle and defeats the evil (if only until the sequel comes out). Lots of sexual theories also have been put forth. Laurie Strode is a virgin and therefore worthy of salvation, whereas as all the others are guilty of sexual sins and the slasher is some kind of divine judgment personified. And, of course, the knife is the ultimate phallic symbol. I think it’s fair to say John Carpenter never intended any of this (and he’s said as much), but still this psycho-sexual philosophizing is out there if anyone wants to buy into it.
Like many great horror films, if it worked once, why not try again . . . and again . . . and again. The Halloween franchise consists of 11 films with two more on the way (Halloween Kills drops in about week from the date of this newsletter, and Halloween Ends is coming in 2022). Quite a few of these movies are just plain god awful. However, the 2018 film, Halloween, wasn’t too shabby at all, and I’m looking forward to the next two. After that, can we safely say the Halloween saga is finished forever? I wouldn’t bet any money on it.
The Two Key Elements for Me
The Music. The Halloween score is simple and unadorned. It’s not quite chopsticks, but it’s light-years away from a John Williams majestic orchestra score (think E.T., for example). Yet, for all its simplicity, it is darn effective. It meshes with the movie perfectly and makes the film far darker, edgier, and more frightening that it would otherwise be. Without the music, Halloween wouldn’t have been all that scary. The fact that John Carpenter wrote the now iconic score in mere days is truly amazing.
Michael Myers. Michael Myers turned out to be a brilliant character, and easy to do. He never says a word in the film. He doesn’t run, he always walks. He never takes his mask off and with it on, he has no facial expressions and shows no emotion. We don’t know why he’s doing what he’s doing, other than Dr. Loomis’s statements that he’s pure evil and the boogeyman. Consistent with all that, we’re not really sure he’s even human. He seems to be an unstoppable thing that can’t be killed. To all the teen viewers, Michael’s message is that I’m not interested in your parents and they can’t help you; I’m after you and running is futile. Prepare to die. Horrifying stuff.