Screams on Screens! - Halloween (1978)

For this weeks Screams on Screen! feature, Krista Volden examines the halloween classic Halloween.

Krista Volden
15th October 2019
Image: IMDB

There are going to be many film fans disagreeing with my position that Halloween is the greatest horror film of all time.  And, rightfully so!  But, when you sit down for a film this spooky season, identify the elements that personify fear … you may find that all those effective components started with this pivotal film.  And, since its release back in 1978, the horror genre seems to follow the formula created in John Carpenter’s classic, Halloween.

Nothing stages a horror film more then its setting and Carpenter capitalized on this.  He chose a location that was both fictional, yet relatable … a made-up, small town in Illinois.  Fear begins to build in the moviegoer’s chest as they realize that watching Laurie, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, and her friends, feels personal or close to “home.”  This same set-up has been implemented in the work of other horror writers, such as Stephen King … displaying that Carpenter’s chilling atmosphere didn’t just have an effect on moviegoers.

Films in this genre have largely relied on unexpected movements to impart fear, yet Carpenter deviated in direction.  He accentuated less on rapid movements and more on disturbing backdrops.  Watching the antagonist, Michael Myers, slowly stalk Laurie and her friends in plain sight, is more chilling than seeing him jump into frame.  Why?  It’s tethered closer to reality.  Carpenter also values the usefulness of camera angles to provoke anticipation.  His shots are calculated and slow, mirroring the intentional choices of our villain.  

"Michael Myers is one of the eeriest choices selected."

Speaking about villains, Michael Myers is one of the eeriest choices selected.  Here, you have a six-year-old boy, who murdered his teenage sister on Halloween night.  And, when he escapes from an insane asylum fifteen years later, he goes back home to essentially do the same thing - but this time, to somebody else.  Wearing a mask to hide his identity does two things for the audience.  It symbolizes his acceptance that he’s not a man, but a monster.  And, it allows him to blend in on the one night of the year that would be possible. What’s terrifying is that he’s ordinary, yet epitomizes evil.

If Carpenter’s use of setting, camera work, and its antagonists don’t reflect Halloween as being “the” ultimate horror film, then consider that ten other films have been added to this franchise.  And, have you ever gone to a haunted house?  The music that's always playing is the recognizable music from this film.  Further, his work has been so influential to other writers that Wes Cravens, who wrote and directed Scream, had this film play a large role in Scream.  He even added that the director of Halloween in his work, was Wes Carpenter, a combination of his name and John Carpenter.    

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