Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

So we end the month with a Carpenter film much like we began it, although this time it was a rewatch rather than a first viewing… I’m not sorry that I spent a few bucks on it today despite having been, frankly, unenthusiastic about it when I first saw it, what, maybe ten years ago, can’t remember when exactly. Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it was one of the Great Horror Classics, one of the Cornerstones Of The Genre, that simply did bugger all for me, although I totally recognise its historical significance… and Halloween does occupy a very particular place in horror film history: not the first stalk & slash film by any means, but certainly the one which was the astonishing commercial hit (a $55m box office return on a $300,000 budget) that blew the slasher subgenre wide open. On revisiting tonight, I realised some important things about Halloween. One is that it’s probably a much better film than I’ve given it credit for being. It was super cheap (fully half the budget went on the Panavision camera hire) and, to be sure, it does kind of look that way, but Carpenter clearly knew how to make good use of his limited resources (those empty night-time exteriors and the quietness of those suburban streets are pretty damned creepy), and the admirable widescreen visuals do much to elevate the film. Another is just how violent the film isn’t. The R-rating it continues to carry in this country is clearly absurd; there’s virtually no gore in the film. After Michael’s initial strike in the opening few minutes, we see the body (not the killing) of one other person, and then there’s no dead teenagers until around the 53 minute mark, and only two more after that. Carpenter was clearly a lot more preoccupied with building mood and tension; you know Michael’s going to do something, but holy hell you’re kept waiting for it. It’s a film in which surprisingly little actually happens, and in which what does happen actually has surprisingly little reason for doing so.

So yeah, I have a somewhat increased appreciation for the film after seeing it again. It’s just… I don’t know, there’s still something that stops me connecting with it fully. It’s perfectly well made—much better than, for example, Friday the 13th—but there’s something cold about it too (albeit different, again, to the cynicism behind Friday). And it’s obviously not Carpenter’s fault that he birthed a raft of imitators, but it’s hard in hindsight not to feel some sense of… guilt by association? Retroactive taint? Maybe that. Certainly Ric Meyers, in For One Week Only (of which I now own the reprint), respects Halloween for what it does well but views it as a somewhat negative influence on the genre in various ways, charging Carpenter himself with being one of the more notable offenders with Halloween II three years later. And, talking of sequels, that’s perhaps my chief issue: that Halloween, arguably, birthed the sequelitis that started afflicting the horror genre thereafter. I know Carpenter swears he never intended a sequel, and the open ending and general lack of explanation for what happens in the film was a deliberate strategy. But that very openness seems to demand a follow-up; more so than Friday the 13thHalloween just looks like the first part of something… it seems incomprehensible that Carpenter didn’t intend at least one more installment. This could just be hindsight talking, admittedly, and I do wonder how it struck viewers in 1978 before anyone knew to expect a sequel in the way I think we’ve been trained to do since then. But in any case it feels kind of difficult to fully dig Halloween knowing what it would lead to; not every position of historical significance is necessarily a good one, I suppose…

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