HOLLYWOOD—If you had to pick just one film to be considered the scariest horror flick of all time, what would it be? Yes, not an easy decision to make. Some would make the argument that Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is the movie that changed the scape of horror as we know it. To some degree, I would say yes, however, I think that film influenced a larger film in the cinematic universe of the genre. That movie would be John Carpenter’s 1978 classic “Halloween.”
Yes, “Halloween” will always be on my list of the scariest film of all time and the movie that without question ushered in what we know as the slasher genre within the horror genre. Why? It created a villain who without a doubt is scary as hell; audiences learned the importance of utilizing the camera to instill fear and we discovered the importance of the final girl. Carpenter has alluded that “Halloween” was inspired by another horror classic directed in 1974 by Bob Clark, “Black Christmas.” And I can see the influences from that film on “Halloween,” but it’s not as scary as one would hope in my opinion.
This movie does a stellar job of immediately suturing the audience with a premise that immediately draws you into a narrative. Someone murders a teenage girl on Halloween night. As we conclude the opening scene, we discover that culprit is none other than her 6 year-old brother Michael Myers. There is a time jump, where Michael finds a way to escape from a mental hospital and heads back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. Now, note, what I just said about a killer escaping a mental hospital. That is a trend that has been used over and over and over again in horror flicks from the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and the last 10 years. Yeah, “Halloween” is responsible for that.
The biggest thing that I admire about John Carpenter is his level of restraint. So many people think violence is a MUST in the horror genre, especially in the slasher sub-field. However, “Halloween” is not one of those films. There is violence, but it is NOT over-the-top or excessively violent. It is done with a level of class and precision. The violence is the result of people dying. I mean it’s a horror film; people live, people die, but it’s not the most important element of the movie.
Carpenter does something amazing in the world of sound that gives “Halloween” one of the best scores in the world of cinema. That music is spine-tingling scary! And without it, we would be talking about a completely different film. The funny thing is that the score is not heard the entire time throughout the film; it’s perfectly staged thanks to a smart director. Another important element of the movie is the plot. It has a level of simplicity, but the simplicity works because it hadn’t really been done before.
A killer stalking a babysitter and her friends on Halloween night; it seems boring, but Carpenter ensures the viewer is involved from start to finish. We meet these characters, we get to know them, but we see the constant threat throughout the entire month. That is something I think some people don’t acknowledge. If you really watch the film from start to finish, it becomes clear that Michael’s presence is always obvious in the film. He’s stalking, he’s watching, he is planning and that never stops until our heroine Laurie Strode, played with such innocence and ferocity by actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis is a formidable foe to our villain because she doesn’t discard the fact that something is out of place; she’s had the feeling since spotting that vehicle and The Shape watching her while she was in class.
At its core, “Halloween” is the perfect horror flick because of its ability to deliver scares time and time again, even if you’ve seen the movie before or even if you haven’t seen the film before. Why? It’s a little thing called suspense. Carpenter does it in a way where you think you’re going to get one thing, but you get something else. There is a level of poise and specificity to the suspense.
I mean that moment that Laurie finds her friends murdered, and we get small glimmers of light revealing Michael Myers right behind her. You don’t know that is the case until Carpenter wants the viewer to know it. Of course, the ending to the film is what sells it even more. Michael Myers is the quintessential boogeyman, that seems to be wherever you turn and trust me if you watch this movie in a dark room at night, “Halloween” will indeed scare you senseless.