Second Sight: John Carpenter's Halloween


Images Courtesy of Compass International Pictures

Plausible nightmares are one of the most engrossing forms of horror. John Carpenter's legendary film Halloween, uses a simple premise, devoid of supernatural influence, to construct a muted Giallo homage that uses outstanding compositions and wonderfully understated performances to present a homespun tale of suburban terror.

On Halloween night in 1978, a dangerous killer escapes from the sanitarium and returns to his hometown to resume his unfinished killing spree. He sets his sights on Laurie, a teenager who is having a party with several of her friends, setting into motion a night of abject terror.

Carpenter's direction uses artistic discretion and eerie lighting effects to masterful ends, presenting the events of the film as a possible reality in which obscured backgrounds are filled with true evil, and it is their contrast with the red blooded American victims that is so unforgettable. Jaime Lee Curtis does an admirable job as one of the first incarnations of the American "scream queen", but even her role is subdued. Carpenter outright refuses to allow anything to rise to the level of parody, imprisoning the teenage cast in a pubescent purgatory. Starting a long held horror film tradition of the victims being the ones to engage in substance abuse and sex, Halloween's brilliant narrative conceit is that its killer is not overly intelligent, but simply opportunistic and inhumanely relentless.

Long time Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey's cinematography captures the precise blocking of the cast with vivid close ups that use blurred backgrounds to present Myers as a spectral force. Shadows and light are manipulated in such a fashion that even the most innocent looking hallway is presented as a diabolic jack in the box waiting to unleash its malicious payload anytime a character deigns to walk down one alone. One of the best scenes involves a looming shot of a crowd of mental patients in a field at night, their white gowns wandering aimlessly through a rainstorm, partially illuminated by a car's fluttering headlights, giving the viewer a taste off the atrocities that Michael endured to make him the monster that he has become.

Made on a shoestring budget, Carpenter's quiet mastery of every element of this film is what makes it so cherished. From Carpenter's iconic, character-like score to the dime store William Shatner mask that Michael dons prior to his rampage, Halloween is a film in which small, intimate details meld together into a murderous magnum opus. Light on the blood and heavy on the suspense, Carpenter's control is meticulous. Considering that many of Halloween's influences and contemporaries were exploring the boundaries of the medium and creating visual mind benders and extreme splatter features, Carpenter's minimalist approach was the perfect counterbalance, appealing to mainstream audiences with an organic and morbidly possible storyline.

Available now for digital rental, this is a film that requires no selling. An all-time trick or treat classic, Halloween is the best film ever made for the October holiday season. A stripped-down horror epic whose paramount craft is the result of its astute director, the incomparable John Carpenter.

--Kyle Jonathan