Sunday, June 23, 2013

Movie Review: Halloween (1978)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Terror grows as the movie progresses.  Truly scary
Cons: Maybe a tad slow in the first half.  Doesn't look like October
The Bottom Line
Watch the suspense build
Still a terrifying film
You'll want the lights on

"The Boogeyman is Coming!"

I've always had a fascination with slasher movies, especially the classics there were spewing off countless sequels while I grew up in the 1980's.  A few years back, I started watching them when I could find them on TV.  It's been a few years since I watched Halloween, and my memory was of a film that had an intense second half but was a little slow in the first half.  Then I watched it again.  Home.  Alone.  At night.  Before it was over, I had the lights turned on.

After a brief prologue, the movie opens in 1978, the year it was released.  On a dark and stormy October 30th, a mental patient disappears from a mental hospital.  His doctor, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is horrified because this patient is pure evil.  Trying to track him down, he sets out for Haddonfield.

Meanwhile, the day of Halloween dawns.  Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has nothing on her mind except her babysitting job that night.  Well, maybe there's a boy she wishes would ask her to the homecoming dance the next day.  She's not like her friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P. J. Soles) who have boyfriends, after all.

But all day, Laurie sees a strange man in a mask watching her.  When she looks a second time, he's gone.  Is she imagining things or is something more sinister going on?

For those used to the slasher with lots of deaths and blood, they will find this one slow.  The body count is low, even if you include a couple of animals that get killed.  However, writer and director John Carpenter more than makes up for it with the tension.  You know something is going to happen, and all the stuff in the beginning is just a tease and you wait for the inevitable deaths to begin.  By the time the second half started, I was already jumpy.  Then the serious stalkings begin, and I my heart was pounding.  The final part where Laurie must protect herself and the kids in her charge are by far the most heart pounding of the film.  But they would mean nothing without the buildup.

This just proves that atmosphere and direction are more important for horror than blood and lots of casualties.  After all, I'd already seen the film before, and I was still on the edge of my seat.

There is nothing to complain about acting wise.  This was Jamie Lee Curtis' first movie.  Maybe a few moments were over the top, but she actually provided the center we needed to relate to the growing terror.  Donald Pleasence brings the right level of panic to his role as the man who knows exactly what is going to happen and must find a way to stop it.  The two kids that Laurie is babysitting are great as well.  The other teens?  They do fine, although they aren't as great as the rest of the cast.

The movie was famously filmed on a low budget in Southern California, not in Illinois where the movie is set.  As a result, the trees are pretty green for late October, but that's the only real complaint I have with the movie.  And you'll soon be caught up enough in the story that you won't notice those things.

Since I've only ever seen the film on TV, I can't comment definitively on the gore or nudity, but it does strike me as not as bad as the films that came after it.  Again, if you are telling a good story, you don't need that stuff to keep the audience entertained.

So I take back my earlier thoughts on Halloween now that I've seen it again.  It is a masterstroke of pure terror even over 30 years later with plenty of imitators.  If you want to be scared, this is the movie to watch.

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