Halloween (1978 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Carpenter|
|Produced by||Debra Hill|
|Music by||John Carpenter|
|Distributed by||Compass International Pictures|
|Box office||$70 million|
Halloween is a 1978 American independent slasher film directed and scored by John Carpenter, co-written with producer Debra Hill, and starring Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut. The film was the first installment in what has become the Halloween franchise. The plot is set in the fictional Midwestern town of Haddonfield, Illinois. On Halloween night in 1963, a six-year-old Michael Myers dressed in a clown costume murders his teenage sister by stabbing her with a kitchen knife. Fifteen years later, Michael Myers, age 21, escapes from a psychiatric hospital, returns home, and stalks Laurie Strode and her friends. Michael's psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis suspects Michael's intentions, and follows him to Haddonfield to try to prevent him from killing.
Halloween was produced on a budget of $300,000 and grossed $47 million at the box office in the United States, and $70 million worldwide, equivalent to $250 million as of 2014, becoming one of the most profitable independent films. Many critics credit the film as the first in a long line of slasher films inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Halloween had many imitators and originated several clichés found in low-budget horror films of the 1980s and 1990s. Unlike many of its imitators, Halloween contains little graphic violence and gore. It was one of the first horror films to introduce the concept of the killer dying and coming back to life again within the same film. In 2006, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Some critics have suggested that Halloween may encourage sadism and misogyny by audiences identifying with its villain. Other critics have suggested the film is a social critique of the immorality of youth and teenagers in 1970s America, with many of Myers' victims being sexually promiscuous substance abusers, while the lone heroine is depicted as innocent and pure, hence her survival. Nevertheless, Carpenter dismisses such analyses. Several of Halloween's techniques and plot elements, although not founded in this film, have nonetheless become standard slasher movie tropes. Halloween spawned seven sequels and was rebooted by Rob Zombie in 2007. The first sequel to the original movie, Halloween II, was released in 1981, three years after its predecessor.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Release
- 5 Reception
- 6 Influences
- 7 Sequels and remake
- 8 Popular culture
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
On Halloween night of 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers, dressed in a clown costume, stabs his teenage sister Judith to death with a kitchen knife. Fifteen years later, on October 30, 1978, he escapes from Smith's Grove Sanitarium in a car that was to take him to a court hearing, the verdict of which was for him to be locked up forever.
The next day, 21-year-old Michael (Nick Castle), now wearing a mechanic's uniform and a white mask, returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois and begins stalking high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) after she drops off a key at his old house so her father can sell it. Her two best friends Annie Brackett (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda van der Klok (P. J. Soles) dismiss Laurie's concerns that someone is following her. Michael's psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) having anticipated Michael's return home, goes to the local cemetery and finds Judith Myers' headstone missing. Loomis meets with Annie's father, Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) and monitors the local neighborhood to keep an eye out for Michael.
That night, Laurie and Annie hang out with Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), respectively. When Annie's boyfriend Paul calls her to come pick him up, she takes Lindsey to the Doyle house just across the street. After she gets into her car, Michael, who hid in the backseat, strangles Annie before he slashes her throat. While playing hide-and-seek with Lindsey, Tommy sees Michael carrying Annie's body into the Wallace house and tries to tell a skeptical Laurie about what he saw. Later, Lynda and her boyfriend Bob enter the Wallace house to spend the night together. After having sex, Lynda asks Bob to go downstairs and get a beer, but Michael ambushes him and impales him with a kitchen knife. He then poses as Bob in a ghost costume and confronts Lynda, who kids around with him. After no response, Lynda calls Laurie; just as she answers the phone, Michael strangles Lynda with the telephone cord. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis discovers the car Michael had stolen, confirming his beliefs that his former patient is in the neighborhood.
Getting suspicious, Laurie goes over to the Wallace house to see what her friends are up to and is horrified after finding them dead in the upstairs bedroom. Michael suddenly appears and slashes her arm. She falls over the railing, down the stairs, but quickly recovers and barely escapes. Running back to the Doyle house in a panic, she finds that the keys are gone and the door is locked. When Laurie sees Michael coming, she throws a potted plant up at the window to wake Tommy up and desperately asks him to open the door quickly. Tommy opens the door just in time and lets her in and she tells him to hide upstairs with Lindsey. When Tommy leaves, Laurie discovers an open window, indicating that Michael is inside the house. As she fearfully sits down by the couch, Michael attacks her, but she stabs him in the neck with a knitting needle and he collapses.
Laurie goes upstairs and tells Tommy and Lindsey she killed the "boogeyman", though Tommy says "You can't kill the boogeyman" as Michael reappears behind her. Tommy and Lindsey lock themselves in the bathroom while Laurie opens the balcony doors to feign escape and hides in a bedroom closet. Michael destroys the closet door to get to her, but she undoes a metal clothes hanger and sticks him with it in the eye; he drops the knife and she stabs him with it. As Michael collapses again, Laurie exits the closet and asks the kids to go to the neighbor's house and have them call the police. Shortly afterwards, Michael gets up again. Dr. Loomis sees Tommy and Lindsey flee the house, screaming in terror, and realizes that Michael is inside. He enters the house and finds him tussling with Laurie upstairs. Loomis then shoots Michael six times and he falls over the second story balcony. Laurie, in shock, concludes "It was the boogeyman." and Loomis replies: "As a matter of fact, it was." Despite his fatal injuries, Michael is gone when Loomis looks down over the balcony. The places where Michael had previously been are shown as his breathing is heard, indicating he could be anywhere.
- Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis
- Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode
- Nick Castle as Michael Myers (credited as "The Shape")
- Tony Moran as Michael Myers (unmasked)
- Will Sandin as Michael Myers (age 6)
- Charles Cyphers as Sheriff Leigh Brackett
- Nancy Kyes as Annie Brackett
- P. J. Soles as Lynda Van Der Klok
- Kyle Richards as Lindsey Wallace
- Brian Andrews as Tommy Doyle
- John Michael Graham as Bob Simms
- Sandy Johnson as Judith Margaret Myers
After viewing Carpenter's film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) at the Milan Film Festival, independent film producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad sought out Carpenter to direct a film for them about a psychotic killer that stalked babysitters. In an interview with Fangoria magazine, Yablans stated, "I was thinking what would make sense in the horror genre, and what I wanted to do was make a picture that had the same impact as The Exorcist." Carpenter and his then-girlfriend Debra Hill began drafting a story originally titled The Babysitter Murders, but, as Carpenter told Entertainment Weekly, Yablans suggested setting the movie on Halloween night and naming it Halloween instead.
Akkad agreed to put up $300,000 for the film's budget, which was considered low at the time; (Carpenter's previous film, Assault on Precinct 13, had an estimated budget of $100,000). Akkad worried over the tight, four-week schedule, low budget, and Carpenter's limited experience as a filmmaker, but told Fangoria, "Two things made me decide. One, Carpenter told me the story verbally and in a suspenseful way, almost frame for frame. Second, he told me he didn't want to take any fees, and that showed he had confidence in the project". Carpenter received $10,000 for directing, writing, and composing the music, retaining rights to 10 percent of the film's profits.
Because of the low budget, wardrobe and props were often crafted from items on hand or that could be purchased inexpensively. Carpenter hired Tommy Lee Wallace as production designer, art director, location scout and co-editor. Wallace created the trademark mask worn by Michael Myers throughout the film from a Captain Kirk mask purchased for $1.98. Carpenter recalled how Wallace "widened the eye holes and spray-painted the flesh a bluish white. In the script it said Michael Myers's mask had 'the pale features of a human face' and it truly was spooky looking. I can only imagine the result if they hadn't painted the mask white. Children would be checking their closet for William Shatner after Tommy got through with it." Hill adds that the "idea was to make him almost humorless, faceless—this sort of pale visage that could resemble a human or not." Many of the actors wore their own clothes, and Curtis' wardrobe was purchased at J. C. Penney for around a hundred dollars.
The limited budget also dictated the filming location and time schedule. Halloween was filmed in 20 days in the spring of 1978 in South Pasadena, California, and the cemetery at Sierra Madre, California. An abandoned house owned by a church stood in as the Myers house. Two homes on Orange Grove Avenue (near Sunset Boulevard) in Hollywood were used for the film's climax. The crew had difficulty finding pumpkins in the spring, and artificial fall leaves had to be reused for multiple scenes. Local families dressed their children in Halloween costumes for trick-or-treat scenes.
In August 2006, Fangoria reported that Synapse Films had discovered boxes of negatives containing footage cut from the film. One was labeled "1981" suggesting that it was additional footage for the television version of the film. Synapse owner Don May, Jr. said, "What we've got is pretty much all the unused original camera negative from Carpenter's original Halloween. Luckily, Billy [Kirkus] was able to find this material before it was destroyed. The story on how we got the negative is a long one, but we'll save it for when we're able to showcase the materials in some way. Kirkus should be commended for pretty much saving the Holy Grail of horror films." It was later reported, "We just learned from Sean Clark, long time Halloween genius, that the footage found is just that: footage. There is no sound in any of the reels so far, since none of it was used in the final edit."
It took approximately 10 days to write the script. Yablans and Akkad ceded most of the creative control to writers Carpenter and Hill (whom Carpenter wanted as producer), but Yablans did offer several suggestions. According to a Fangoria interview with Hill, "Yablans wanted the script written like a radio show, with 'boos' every 10 minutes." Hill explained that the script took three weeks to write and much of the inspiration behind the plot came from Celtic traditions of Halloween such as the festival of Samhain. Although Samhain is not mentioned in the plot of the first film, Hill asserts that:
|“||...the idea was that you couldn't kill evil, and that was how we came about the story. We went back to the old idea of Samhain, that Halloween was the night where all the souls are let out to wreak havoc on the living, and then came up with the story about the most evil kid who ever lived. And when John came up with this fable of a town with a dark secret of someone who once lived there, and now that evil has come back, that's what made Halloween work.||”|
Hill wrote most of the female characters' dialogue, while Carpenter drafted Loomis' speeches on the soullessness of Michael Myers. Many script details were drawn from Carpenter's and Hill's adolescence and early careers. The fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois was derived from Haddonfield, New Jersey, where Hill grew up, and most of the street names were taken from Carpenter's hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Laurie Strode was the name of one of Carpenter's old girlfriends and Michael Myers was the name of an English producer who had previously entered, with Yablans, Assault on Precinct 13 in various European film festivals. In Halloween, Carpenter pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock with two characters' names: Tommy Doyle is named after Lt. Det. Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) from Rear Window (1954), and Dr. Loomis' name was taken from Sam Loomis (John Gavin) from Psycho, the boyfriend of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, who is the real-life mother of Jamie Lee Curtis). Sheriff Leigh Brackett shared the name of a Hollywood screenwriter.
The cast of Halloween included veteran actor Donald Pleasence and then-unknown actress Jamie Lee Curtis. The low budget limited the number of big names that Carpenter could attract, and most of the actors received very little compensation for their roles. Pleasence was paid the highest amount at $20,000, Curtis received $8,000, and Nick Castle earned $25 a day. The role of Dr. Loomis was offered to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee; both declined the part due to the low pay (though Lee would later tell Carpenter that declining the role was his biggest career mistake). English actor Pleasence—Carpenter's third choice—agreed to star. Pleasence has been called "John Carpenter's big landing." Americans were already acquainted with Pleasence as the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967).
In an interview, Carpenter admits that "Jamie Lee wasn't the first choice for Laurie. I had no idea who she was. She was 19 and in a TV show at the time, but I didn't watch TV." He originally wanted to cast Anne Lockhart, the daughter of June Lockhart from Lassie, as Laurie Strode. However, Lockhart had commitments to several other film and television projects. Hill says of learning that Jamie Lee was the daughter of Psycho actress Janet Leigh, "I knew casting Jamie Lee would be great publicity for the film because her mother was in Psycho." Halloween was Curtis' feature film debut and launched her career as a "scream queen" horror star. Another relatively unknown actress, Nancy Kyes (credited in the film as Nancy Loomis) was cast as Laurie's friend Annie Brackett, daughter of Haddonfield sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers). Kyes had previously starred in Assault on Precinct 13 (as had Cyphers) and happened to be dating Halloween's art director Tommy Lee Wallace when filming began. Carpenter chose P. J. Soles to play Lynda Van Der Klok, another friend of Laurie's, best remembered in the film for dialogue peppered with the word "totally." Soles was an actress known for her supporting role in Carrie (1976) and her minor part in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976). According to one source, "Carpenter realized she had captured the aura of a happy go lucky teenage girl in the 70s."
The role of "The Shape"—as the masked Michael Myers character was billed in the end credits—was played by Nick Castle, who befriended Carpenter while they attended the University of Southern California. After Halloween, Castle became a director, taking the helm of films such as The Last Starfighter (1984), The Boy Who Could Fly (1986), Dennis the Menace (1993), and Major Payne (1995).
Historian Nicholas Rogers notes that film critics contend that Carpenter's direction and camera work made Halloween a "resounding success". Roger Ebert remarks, "It's easy to create violence on the screen, but it's hard to do it well. Carpenter is uncannily skilled, for example, at the use of foregrounds in his compositions, and everyone who likes thrillers knows that foregrounds are crucial ...." The opening title, featuring a jack-o'-lantern placed against a black backdrop, sets the mood for the entire film. The camera slowly moves toward the jack-o'-lantern's left eye as the main title theme plays. After the camera fully closes in, the jack-o'-lantern's light dims and goes out. Film historian J.P. Telotte says that this scene "clearly announces that [the film's] primary concern will be with the way in which we see ourselves and others and the consequences that often attend our usual manner of perception". During the conception of the plot, Yablans instructed "that the audience shouldn't see anything. It should be what they thought they saw that frightens them". Carpenter seemingly took Yablans' advice literally, filming many of the scenes from Michael Myers's point-of-view that allowed audience participation. Carpenter is not the first director to employ this method or use of a steadicam; for instance, the first scene of Psycho offers a voyeuristic look at lovers in a seedy hotel. Telotte argues, "As a result of this shift in perspective from a disembodied, narrative camera to an actual character's eye ... we are forced into a deeper sense of participation in the ensuing action". Along with the 1974 Canadian horror film Black Christmas, Halloween made use of seeing events through the killer's eyes.
The first scene of the young Michael's voyeurism is followed by the murder of Judith seen through the eye holes of Michael's clown costume mask. According to one commentator, Carpenter's "frequent use of the unmounted first-person camera to represent the killer's point of view ... invited [viewers] to adopt the murderer's assaultive gaze and to hear his heavy breathing and plodding footsteps as he stalked his prey". Another technique that Carpenter adapted from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) was suspense with minimal blood and gore. Hill comments, "We didn't want it to be gory. We wanted it to be like a jack-in-the box." Film analysts refer to this as the "false startle" or "the old tap-on-the-shoulder routine" in which the stalkers, murderers, or monsters "lunge into our field of vision or creep up on a person." Carpenter worked with the cast to create the desired effect of terror and suspense. According to Curtis, Carpenter created a "fear meter" because the film was shot out-of-sequence and she was not sure what her character's level of terror should be in certain scenes. "Here's about a 7, here's about a 6, and the scene we're going to shoot tonight is about a 9½", remembered Curtis. She had different facial expressions and scream volumes for each level on the meter.
Carpenter's direction for Castle in his role as Myers was minimal. For example, when Castle asked what Myers' motivation was for a particular scene, Carpenter replied that his motivation was to walk from one set marker to another. The documentary titled Halloween Un-masked, featured in the 22nd anniversary DVD of Halloween, John Carpenter states he also instructed Castle to tilt his head a couple of times as if he was observing the corpse, particularly in the scene when Myers impaled one of his victims against a wall.
Another major reason for the success of Halloween is the moody musical score, particularly the main theme. Lacking a symphonic soundtrack, the film's score consists of a piano melody played in a 10/8 or "complex 5/4" meter composed and performed by director John Carpenter. It took Carpenter three days to compose the entire score for the film. Critic James Berardinelli calls the score "relatively simple and unsophisticated", but admits that "Halloween's music is one of its strongest assets". Carpenter stated in an interview, "I can play just about any keyboard, but I can't read or write a note." In the end credits, Carpenter bills himself as the "Bowling Green Philharmonic Orchestra" for performing the film's score, but he did receive assistance from composer Dan Wyman, a music professor at San José State University.
Some songs can be heard in the film, one being an untitled song performed by Carpenter and a group of his friends who formed a band called The Coupe DeVilles. The song is heard as Laurie steps into Annie's car on her way to babysit Tommy Doyle. Another song, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by classic rock band Blue Öyster Cult, appears in the film.
The soundtrack was first released in the United States in October 1983, by Varèse Sarabande/MCA. It was subsequently released on Compact Disc in 1985, re-released in 1990, and again in 2000.
|Original track listing|
|1.||"Halloween Theme Main Title"||2:54|
|5.||"Michael Kills Judith"||3:11|
|6.||"Loomis and Shape's Car"||3:32|
|7.||"The Haunted House"||3:33|
|8.||"The Shape Lurks"||1:35|
|10.||"Better Check the Kids"||3:27|
|11.||"The Shape Stalks"||3:08|
|20th Anniversary Edition track listing|
|3.||"The Evil Is Gone!"||4:08|
|5.||"The Boogeyman Is Coming"||0:40|
|8.||"He Came Home"||2:40|
|9.||"Trick or Treat"||0:39|
|10.||"The Haunted House"||1:43|
|11.||"The Devil's Eyes"||1:39|
|12.||"The Boogeyman Is Outside"||1:27|
|13.||"Damn You for Letting Him Go!"||1:34|
|15.||"See Anything You Like?"||2:22|
|16.||"Lock the Door"||2:53|
|19.||"Cut It Out"||1:19|
|21.||"The Shape Stalks Laurie"||1:35|
|23.||"Unlock the Door"||2:53|
|25.||"Call the Police"||0:28|
|27.||"Was That the Boogeyman?"||0:32|
|28.||"End Credits/Halloween Theme (Reprise)"||3:36|
Halloween premiered on October 25, 1978 in Kansas City, Missouri (at the AMC Midland/Empire) and sometime afterward in Chicago, Illinois, and in New York City. It had its Los Angeles debut October 27, 1978. It opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 22, 1978. The film grossed $47 million in the United States and an additional $23 million internationally, making the theatrical total $70 million.
On September 7, 2012, the official Halloween Movies Facebook page announced that the original Halloween would be theatrically re-released starting October 25, 2013 in celebration of the film's 35th anniversary in 2013. A new documentary was screened before the film at all locations, entitled, You Can't Kill the Boogeyman: 35 Years of Halloween, written and directed by HalloweenMovies.com webmaster Justin Beahm.
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In 1980, the television rights to Halloween were sold to the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) for $4 million. After a debate among Carpenter, Hill and NBC's Standards and Practices over censoring of certain scenes, Halloween appeared on television for the first time in October 1981. To fill the two-hour time slot, Carpenter filmed twelve minutes of additional material during the production of Halloween II. The newly filmed scenes include Dr. Loomis at a hospital board review of Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis talking to a then-6-year-old Michael at Smith's Grove, telling him, "You've fooled them, haven't you, Michael? But not me." Another extra scene features Dr. Loomis at Smith's Grove examining Michael's abandoned cell after his escape and seeing the word "Sister" scratched into the door. Finally, a scene was added in which Lynda comes over to Laurie's house to borrow a silk blouse before Laurie leaves to babysit, just as Annie telephones asking to borrow the same blouse. The new scene had Laurie's hair hidden by a towel, since Curtis was by then wearing a much shorter hairstyle than she had worn in 1978. The television scenes were released on a two-tape "limited-edition" VHS set of the film and the television version of the film was released on a second disc in the two-disc "limited-edition" DVD release of the film in 1999, stand alone in 2001 as Halloween: Extended Edition on VHS and DVD as well as the Halloween: 30th Anniversary Commemorative Set along with the original Halloween on DVD and Blu-ray, disc one from the 25 Years of Terror documentary DVD and the Divimax editions of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers in 2008 and is featured on the bonus disc in the Halloween limited edition Blu-ray box set released in 2014.
Home video releases
Since Halloween's premiere, it has been released in several home video formats, including VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, UMD and Blu-ray Disc. Early VHS versions were released by Media Home Entertainment and Blockbuster Video issued a commemorative edition in 1995. Anchor Bay Entertainment (succeder in-interest to Media Home Entertainment and Video Treasures) has released several restored editions of Halloween on VHS and DVD, including "Halloween: Unmasked"; a documentary produced and directed by Mark Cerulli which featured an array of interviews with original Halloween cast and crew including Jamie Lee Curtis, Debra Hill, John Carpenter, Nick Castle and others. The most recent release of the film is the 2007 single-disc restored version, with improved picture and sound quality. Anchor Bay has also released an "extended edition" of Halloween that features the original theatrical release with the scenes that were shot for the broadcast TV version edited in at their proper places. In 2003, the film was released on a two-disc "25th Anniversary edition" with improved DiviMax picture and audio, along with an audio commentary by John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis and Debra Hill, the A Cut Above The Rest documentary, On Location: 25 Years Later featurette, the trailer, TV spots, radio spots, poster and still gallery, and DVD-ROM content. In 2007, the movie was released on Blu-ray as well, marking the film's first ever Blu-ray release. The Blu-ray features a commentary track by Carpenter, Hill and Curtis, the trailer, TV spots, radio spots, fast film facts and the documentary Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest. In 2008, a "30th Anniversary commemorative set" was released, containing the film on DVD and Blu-ray along with the "extended edition", disc one of the 25 Years of Terror documentary DVD and the sequels: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, including a replica Michael Myers mask. The DVD release was THX certified. The film has made $18,500,000 in home video rentals.
On June 6, 2013, it was announced that a second, 35th anniversary, Blu-ray release for Halloween is in the works and that John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis have recorded a new commentary. On June 11, it was announced that Dean Cundey is supervising a new high-definition transfer. On July 22, the official cover art for the 35th anniversary Blu-ray release was revealed including the new special features such as the all-new high definition transfer by Cundey, the new commentary track by Carpenter and Curtis as well as a new 7.1 audio mix, the original mono audio mix, a new featurette with Curtis titled "The Night She Came Home", an "On-Location" featurette, the trailer, television and radio spots and the additional scenes from the extended television version. The 35th-anniversary release earned a Saturn Award for Best Classic Film Release.
Although Halloween performed well with little advertising—relying mostly on word-of-mouth—many critics seemed uninterested or dismissive of the film. Pauline Kael wrote a scathing review in The New Yorker suggesting that "Carpenter doesn't seem to have had any life outside the movies: one can trace almost every idea on the screen to directors such as Hitchcock and Brian De Palma and to the Val Lewton productions" and claiming that "Maybe when a horror film is stripped of everything but dumb scariness—when it isn't ashamed to revive the stalest device of the genre (the escaped lunatic)—it satisfies part of the audience in a more basic, childish way than sophisticated horror pictures do." The first glowing review by a prominent film critic came from Tom Allen of The Village Voice in November 1978, Allen noted that the film was sociologically irrelevant but ceded that the Hitchcock-like technique was effective and "the most honest way to make a good schlock film". Allen pointed out the stylistic similarities to Psycho and George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). The following month, Voice lead critic Andrew Sarris wrote a follow-up feature on cult films, citing Allen's appraisal of Halloween and saying in the lead sentence that the film "bids fair to become the cult discovery of 1978. Audiences have been heard screaming at its horrifying climaxes". Roger Ebert gave the film similar praise in his 1979 review in the Chicago Sun-Times, and selected it as one of his top ten films of 1978. Once-dismissive critics were impressed by Carpenter's choice of camera angles and simple music, and surprised by the lack of blood, gore, and graphic violence. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reports 94% of critics gave the film positive write-ups based on 50 reviews, with a rating of 8.5 out of 10 with the general consensus reading "Scary, suspenseful, and viscerally thrilling, Halloween set the standard for modern horror films."
Many compared the film with the work of Alfred Hitchcock, although TV Guide calls comparisons made to Psycho "silly and groundless" and critics in the late 1980s and early 1990s blame the film for spawning the slasher subgenre, which they felt had rapidly descended into sadism and misogyny. Almost a decade after its premiere, Mick Martin and Marsha Porter critiqued the first-person camera shots that earlier film reviewers had praised and later slasher-film directors utilized for their own films (for example, Friday the 13th (1980)). Claiming it encouraged audience identification with the killer, Martin and Porter pointed to the way "the camera moves in on the screaming, pleading, victim, 'looks down' at the knife, and then plunges it into chest, ear, or eyeball. Now that's sick."
Themes and analysis
Many criticisms of Halloween and other slasher films come from postmodern academia. Some feminist critics, according to historian Nicholas Rogers, "have seen the slasher movies since Halloween as debasing women in as decisive a manner as hard-core pornography." Critics such as John Kenneth Muir state that female characters such as Laurie Strode survive not because of "any good planning" or their own resourcefulness, but sheer luck. Although she manages to repel the killer several times, in the end, Strode is rescued in Halloween and Halloween II only when Dr. Loomis arrives to shoot Myers.
On the other hand, other feminist scholars such as Carol J. Clover argue that despite the violence against women, slasher films turned women into heroines. In many pre-Halloween horror films, women are depicted as helpless victims and are not safe until they are rescued by a strong masculine hero. Despite the fact that Loomis saves Strode, Clover asserts that Halloween initiates the role of the "final girl" who ultimately triumphs in the end. Strode herself fought back against Myers and severely wounds him. Had Myers been a normal man, Strode's attacks would have killed him; even Loomis, the male hero of the story, who shoots Michael repeatedly at near point blank range with a large caliber handgun, cannot kill him.
Aviva Briefel argued that moments such as when Michael's face was temporarily revealed are meant to give pleasure to the male viewer. Briefel further argues that these moments are masochistic in nature and give pleasure to men because they are willingly submitting themselves to the women of the film; they submit themselves temporarily because it will make their return to authority even more powerful. Critics, such as Pat Gill, see Halloween as a critique of American social values. She remarks that parental figures are almost entirely absent throughout the film, noting that when Laurie is attacked by Michael while babysitting, "No parents, either of the teenagers or of the children left in their charge, call to check on their children or arrive to keen over them."
Another major theme found in the film is the dangers of pre-marital sex. Clover believes that killers in slasher films are fueled by a "psychosexual fury" and that all the killings are sexual in nature. She reinforces this idea by saying that "guns have no place in slasher films" and when examining the film I Spit on Your Grave she notes that "a hands-on killing answers a hands-on rape in a way that a shooting, even a shooting preceded by a humiliation, does not." Equating sex with violence is important in Halloween and the slasher genre according to Pat Gill, who made a note of this in her essay "The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, and the Family". She remarks that Laurie's friends "think of their babysitting jobs as opportunities to share drinks and beds with their boyfriends. One by one they are killed... by Michael Myers an asylum escapee who years ago at the age of six murdered his sister for preferring sex to taking care of him."
The danger of suburbia is another major theme that runs throughout the movie and the slasher genre itself, Pat Gill states that slasher films "seem to mock white flight to gated communities, in particular the attempts of parents to shield their children from the dangerous influences represented by the city". Halloween and slasher films, generally, are supposed to represent the underside of suburbia. Michael Myers was raised in a suburban household and after he escapes the mental hospital he returns to his hometown to kill again; Myers is a product of the suburban environment.
Carpenter himself dismisses the notion that Halloween is a morality play, regarding it as merely a horror movie. According to Carpenter, critics "completely missed the point there". He explains, "The one girl who is the most sexually uptight just keeps stabbing this guy with a long knife. She's the most sexually frustrated. She's the one that's killed him. Not because she's a virgin but because all that sexually repressed energy starts coming out. She uses all those phallic symbols on the guy."
Halloween was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films in 1979, but lost to The Wicker Man (1973). In 2001, Halloween ranked #68 on the American Film Institute TV program 100 Years...100 Thrills. The film was #14 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004). Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 3rd scariest film ever made. In 2006, Halloween was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2007, the AOL 31 Days of Horror countdown named Halloween the greatest horror movie. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. In 2010, Total Film selected the film as one of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.
American Film Institute lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – #68
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
- Michael Myers – Nominated Villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
Halloween is a widely influential film within the horror genre; it was largely responsible for the popularization of slasher films in the 1980s. Halloween popularized many tropes that have become completely synonymous with the slasher genre. Halloween helped to popularize the final girl trope, the killing off of characters who are substance abusers or sexually promiscuous, and the use of a theme song for the killer. Carpenter also shot many scenes from the perspective of the killer in order to build tension. These elements have become so established that many historians argue that Halloween is responsible for the new wave of horror that emerged during the 1980s. Due to its popularity, Halloween became a blueprint for success that many other horror films, such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, would follow.
The major themes present in Halloween would also become common in the slasher films it inspired. Film scholar Pat Gill notes that in Halloween, there is a theme of absentee parents but films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th feature the parents becoming directly responsible for the creation of the killer.
There are slasher films that predated Halloween, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Black Christmas which contained prominent elements of the slasher genre; both involving a group of teenagers being murdered by a stranger as well having the final girl trope. Halloween, however, is seen by historians as being responsible for the new wave of horror films because it not only used these tropes but also pioneered many others.
A mass market paperback novelization of the same name, written by Curtis Richards (a pseudonym that was used by author Dennis Etchison), was published by Bantam Books in 1979. It was reissued in 1982; it later went out of print. The novelization adds aspects not featured in the film, such as the origins of the curse of Samhain and Michael Myers' life in Smith's Grove Sanitarium, which contradict its source material. For example, the novel's version of Michael speaks during his time at the sanitarium; in the film, Dr. Loomis states, "He hasn't spoken a word in fifteen years." In 1983, Halloween was adapted as a video game for the Atari 2600 by Wizard Video. None of the main characters in the game were named. Players take on the role of a teenage babysitter who tries to save as many children from an unnamed, knife-wielding killer as possible. The game was not popular with parents or players and the graphics were simple, as was typical in Atari 2600 games. In another effort to save money, most versions of the game did not even have a label on the cartridge. It was simply a piece of tape with "Halloween" written in marker. The game contained more gore than the film, however. When the babysitter is killed, her head disappears and is replaced by blood pulsating from the neck. The game's primary similarity to the film is the theme music that plays when the killer appears onscreen.
Sequels and remake
Halloween spawned seven sequels, a 2007 remake directed by Rob Zombie, and a 2009 sequel to the remake, which is unrelated to the sequel of the original. Of these films, only the first sequel was written by Carpenter and Hill. It begins exactly where Halloween ends and was intended to finish the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. Halloween II was a box office success, becoming the second-highest grossing horror film of 1981 behind An American Werewolf in London. Carpenter did not direct any of the subsequent films in the Halloween series, although he did produce Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), the plot of which is unrelated to the other films in the series due to the absence of Michael Myers. He, along with Alan Howarth, also composed the music for the second and third films. After the negative critical and commercial reception for Season of the Witch, the filmmakers brought back Michael Myers in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), which was successful enough to warrant its own direct sequel in 1989 with Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.
The sequels feature more explicit violence and gore, and are generally dismissed by mainstream film critics, excluding Halloween II (1981) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, which did receive better reviews than most of the other sequels and reboots in the franchise, yet still paled in comparison to the original film. They were filmed on larger budgets than the original: in contrast to Halloween's modest budget of $300,000, Halloween II's budget was around $2.5 million, while the final sequel to the original, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), boasted a budget of $15 million. Financier Moustapha Akkad continued to work closely with the Halloween franchise, acting as executive producer of every sequel until his death in the 2005 Amman bombings.
With the exception of Halloween III, the sequels further develop the character of Michael Myers and the Samhain theme. Even without considering the third film, the Halloween series contains continuity issues, which some sources attribute to the different writers and directors involved in each film. The 10 Halloween films, including the 2007 remake and its sequel, have had eight directors. Only Rick Rosenthal and Rob Zombie directed more than one: Rosenthal directed the first sequel as well as Halloween: Resurrection, while Zombie directed the remake of the original film and its sequel.
A Berts bravader illustration shows a videotape case of the film lying on a table, with the cover showing a screaming girl-woman and the text "Alla helgons blodiga natt" ("all saints' bloody night"), which is what the film was called in Swedish.
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