Halloween (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Michael Meyers comes home.

On Halloween night in 1963 6 year old Michael Myers stabs to death his older sister Judith. He is taken away to a mental institution, but fifteen years later he escapes and comes back to his hometown of Haddonfield to stalk three teenage women (Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles) on Halloween night.

I first saw this film 25 years ago when I was in College and thought it was cool, but now on my second viewing I’m not quite as impressed. There are still some good things about it, but also in my opinion some glaring loopholes. I’ll start with the things I liked.

Cinematically it is a well mounted thriller. The lighting is perfect. The dark shadowy interiors create the feeling of menace and the little light that is shown has a bluish tone and resembles authentic moonlight. The music by director John Carpenter is distinct and has an effective up-tempo beat almost like a warning siren. The editing and pacing is great. It builds the tension nicely and has some creepy imagery.

One of the scenes I always found to be the creepiest is when Tommy, the young boy that the Curtis character is babysitting, sees from across the street Michael carrying one of his dead victims from the car to the house. In fact all the long shots showing Michael are the most effective. Somehow it was a combination not only of the way the actor walked in the costume, but his mask as well, which was apparently a William Shatner Captain Kirk mask that was painted all white.

The fact that there is never any reason given for why Michael became the way he did is also good. There are many similar true-life crimes where even after the murderer is interviewed by the psychiatrists they still can’t always come up with a satisfying explanation. Movies that try to show the reason behind why the bad guy becomes murderous usually end up being contrived and clichéd.

The three actresses looked too old for teenagers and in the case of both Loomis and Soles where already in their late twenties. Loomis though is kind of funny in her part especially with the way she interacts with Lindsey (Kyle Richards) the young girl that she is babysitting. Curtis is good and although I respect her right to going natural with the gray hair that she now sports I still felt she was at her most attractive when she had the long red hair like she has here.

On the negative side there seemed to be too many story elements that didn’t make sense. For instance Michael is institutionalized when he is six and then escapes fifteen years later and is able to miraculously drive a car even though he was never trained. The book version of the movie explains this anomaly by stating that when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) would take Michael to sanity hearings over the years that Michael would watch very closely how Loomis operated the vehicle and thus ‘learned’ how to drive, but that still doesn’t make sense because watching how something is done and then finally doing it yourself are two completely different things. Besides if watching how somebody drives where enough then every child who watched his parents drive could learn it and there would be no need for driving schools. Also, Michael escapes from the asylum without any explanation, which seemed way too convenient.

When Dr. Loomis shows up in town and tells the sheriff (Charles Cyphers) that there may be an escaped mental patient in the vicinity the sheriff comes up with the logical step of warning everybody about it, but Loomis disagrees and his reasoning is ridiculous. Also, when Laurie (Curtis) gets a call from Lynda (Soles) that sounds like she is being murdered Laurie doesn’t do the most sensible thing and that is to call the police and let them investigate it. Instead she decides to go over to the home in the middle of the night and investigate it herself, which not only needlessly puts her in a dangerous position, but also leaves the two kids that she is supposed to be watching home alone in bed, which is something a good babysitter should never do.

I also had some problems with the setting itself. Now of course the town of Haddonfield is fictitious, but the state of Illinois isn’t. It is situated right in the middle of the Midwest and there are no palm trees anywhere within its borders and yet I spotted a few lining the streets especially near the beginning when Laurie is seen walking home from school. I didn’t buy into the idea that the Meyers house would stand vacant for 15 years either. There are a lot of homes that have murders committed in them that do not remain abandoned, or considered ‘haunted’. In some cases the original house is torn down and a new one is built in its place such as the infamous John Wayne Gacy house in Des Plaines, Illinois, which is now being occupied by a new family. The neighborhood in the film looks nice and well-kept. The other homeowners wouldn’t stand for a building being abandoned for that long as it brings down the property values.

When I first saw this movie I got a real kick out of the part where Michael kills a man and then hangs him by a knife on a wall and stares at the corpse in a child-like way. However, on second viewing I don’t think the blade of the knife would have been long enough, or strong enough to go through a man’s body as well as a wooden door.

The opening sequence where we see Michael killing his sister from his perspective didn’t completely work with me either. I liked the idea of seeing the action through the two eye holes of the mask that Michael was wearing, but I think if someone is stabbing someone else that they would be looking at what they are doing, but instead the eye holes remain fixated on the sister’s face during the stabbing that is being done on the lower parts of her body, which looked stilted and unrealistic.

Now, I know this movie has a large legion of fans and some may take umbrage to my negative points, but hey, I take my film criticism seriously and feel I need to say it the way I see it. That is not to say that I ‘hated’ the movie either. I still liked it overall, but when given the issues that I described above I can only give it 6 points.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

12 responses to “Halloween (1978)

  1. I am a big fan of this film but I have to completely agree with you about the scene with young Michael killing his sister. I’ve always felt it was overly contrived and just didn’t feel natural.

    • Thanks for your comment. I was afraid that fans of the film would rip the review, but it is nice to have viewers who can like a movie, but still feel that there can be room for improvement.

      Also, just for some added trivia the hands used to represent Michael’s during that scene was actually Debra Hill’s the film’s co-screenwriter.

      • Curious how a film that may lack a particular realism in certain areas (not unlike quite a few slasher flicks I suppose) can endure via a decades-long franchise. Although I was a watcher of slasher flicks early enough, I missed Halloween until much later on. I can openly say that despite my regards for it, It didn’t exactly impress me, certainly not like Terror Train which was a instant favorite or Prom Night. But I remember it for having one of Donald Pleasence’s best performances, being of fan of him since THX 1138. And it’s interesting how Jamie Lee Curtis had finally ended the Halloween film series in the same year she finally won an Oscar for something else. Thank you for your review.

  2. Well written review, Whilst I did like it I have to agree with the points you have made.

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  4. Joseph Taylor

    I think you’ve missed the point of the film’s opening scene. The way it was shot and edited expertly bamboozled the audience into thinking that an intruder is the one that kills the daughter of the Myers family. The scene’s ultimate reveal hasn’t lost the power to shock, even 42 years on.

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