Made for a mere $325,000 in 1978, John Carpenter’s Halloween is one of the most financially successful independent films of all time, has spawned numerous sequels, copycats and clichés and propelled a young Jamie Lee-Curtis into the Hollywood spotlight. After watching the 35th Anniversary Edition of Halloween on Blu-ray, I am reminded why this moody creep-out works so well: KISS, a.k.a. “Keep It Simple Stupid.”
Yes, Halloween is a very simple movie. It takes place in the simple, fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Michael Myers, the iconic killer, wears a simple, white mask. And the plot couldn’t be more simple: “A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood for the murder of his sister, escapes and stalks a bookish teenage girl and her friends while his doctor chases him through the streets.”
Simplicity has worked well for other horror greats like Psycho, The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But do these supposed classics really stack up to Halloween? Here are five simple reasons why they don’t:
Halloween devotees argue that the first mask from the original is still the best. There’s a very important reason for this. From IMDB: Due to its shoestring budget, the prop department had to use the cheapest mask that they could find in the costume store: a Star Trek William Shatner mask. They later spray-painted the face white, teased out the hair and reshaped the eye holes.
Perhaps more iconic than the white Michael Myers mask is the unforgettably creepy score, created by director John Carpenter. Believe it or not, Halloween was first screened to a studio exec from 20th Century Fox (an SAP customer) without music and as a result, the exec “wasn’t scared at all,” according to The Official John Carpenter web site. The young director was determined to “save the movie with music.” I think he succeeded, don’t you?
You won’t find shaky-cam tricks in Halloween. Peek under the covers and you will be treated to plenty of cutting edge camera work and clever lighting thanks to Dean Cundey. Here’s more from Wikipedia: Cundey’s work on Halloween is cited by many fans as being among his best as director of photography. In addition to his lighting skills, particularly in the famous hallway scene where the hidden face of Michael Myers is slowly revealed by way of a blue light next to the mask, he was among the first cinematographers to make use of a recent invention called the steadicam.
It would be a stretch to say all of the major characters in Halloween are likeable but they certainly aren’t annoying – a problem with most modern day fright flicks. If we don’t care about the characters, we don’t care if they die. We definitely care about Halloween’s main character Laurie Strode, played brilliantly by Jamie Lee-Curtis. She’s smart, tough and pretty. In Halloween, Curtis also carries the “strong female” torch from her mother, Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame.
What could be scarier than Halloween, the scariest night of the year? It’s the perfect backdrop for the masked Michael Myers to sneak around unnoticed and provides the opportunity to add atmospheric touches like glowing jack o’ lanterns, misplaced grave stones and sci-fi movie marathons playing in the background.
Final thought: In 2006, Halloween was selected by the National Film Registry to be included for preservation in the Library of Congress.
The simplicity of Halloween has certainly paid dividends. Is it the greatest horror movieof all time?
Stalk me on Twitter: @TClark01