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.”

Halloween 35th Anniversary BD.jpgYes, 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:

The Mask

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.

The Score

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?

The Cinematography

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.

The Characters

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.

The Holiday

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

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  1. Sarah Kellman

    Another timely and extremely fun-to-read blog, Tim! 🙂

    But I might have to go out on a (severed) limb here and put in a nod for “Carnival of Souls“. The music is extremely creepy, the black and white film adds an unreal quality to it, and the dream-state vibe just gives me the shudders.

    But you make a strong case here for “Halloween”. You’ll be pleased to know that it will be shown here in Germany on TV on Oct.31.

    Did you know that the Mask of which you speak above was modeled on 13th U.S. president Millard Fillmore? Little known and totally untrue fact 😉

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    1. Tim Clark Post author

      Hi Sarah, thanks for the comments. And did NOT know that about the Mike Myers mask – this changes everything! 😛 .

      Carnival of Souls is definitely a classic. The entire movie is very eerie.

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    2. Steffi Warnecke
      But you make a strong case here for “Halloween”. You’ll be pleased to know that it will be shown here in Germany on TV on Oct.31.
      Thank you for the tip, Sarah! Even though I love films, I have yet to see this classic. I just hope, I don’t forget again till then. ^^
      @Tim: Very nice summary on the movie and it made me realize AGAIN that I never saw it.
      I think the best films have simple concepts. I often have the feeling that the over-complicated plots or deafening sounds of some films are just there to hide the plotholes in the story. So I like clear, straight stories a lot more, which does – in my eyes – doesn’t make them one bit stupid. You can’t hide a lot there, so I think, you have to be even more creative. And a tight budget, like for the first Helloween, pushes you even farther. (Of course there are a lot of films out there with those basics, that are just painfull to see. 😀 )
      But I heard in a Podcast about Carpenter, that a lot of his first films where tight on budget and he made them look like millions of dollars were spent. 🙂
      To the question if it’s the best horror movie ever. I don’t know… I haven’t seen enough to make a good judgement. ^^
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      1. Tim Clark Post author

        Steffi, money definitely solves a lot of problems, especially on a movie set. But you’re absolutely right – it can also add a lot of bloat and clutter or (try to) hide flaws.

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  2. Tom Redd

    Note that all great things – Like Halloween – start with retail…

    The Mask

    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

    Would we not have this great movie if the costume store were closed….I ponder…

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  3. Tim Clark Post author

    Good point Tom. Even back in 1978, little costume stores had a handle on “getting the right product to the right person at the right time.” 😉

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  4. Brian Rice

    Awesome post, without a doubt “Halloween” is a classic. However, any film lover would argue that Gigli, staring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez is one of the “scariest” movie of all-time 🙂 . The thought of sitting through that movie has caused people to shield their eyes and run for the door.

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    1. Steffi Warnecke

      But I guess Madonna’s “Swept Away” could even scare off Gigli. 😀

      In my opinion Helloween shows, that with a lot of determination and creativity and fun with your work, you can produce something great and timeless, even when you don’t have a lot of money to put into it.

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  5. Christopher Kim

    Don’t forget the whole “babysitter” scenario, which was brilliant because every teenager could imagine being the victim.

    I grew up in Illinois and Haddonfield looks exactly like my hometown. The boogeyman/Michael Myers scared the living bejeezus out of me.

    To me all the little quirks make the film even more iconic: the Shatner mask, the casting of Janet Leigh’s daughter, the shoestring budget. Just a great horror movie and I still can’t watch the last 15 minutes of it.

    Here’s the AMC backstory which is fascinating:

    [embed width="425" height="350"]https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hhrux4k87Sw[/embed]

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    1. Tim Clark Post author

      Thanks for the comments Chris. The Blu-ray also has a ton of great bonus features, including a documentary with Jamie Lee-Curtis attending her FIRST convention – from just a few years ago! She put off doing this type of thing for a very long time. Bur pretty cool to see the fan reaction to her after all these years. Still relevant.

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