HALLOWEEN poster artwork
DONALD PLEASENCE.....Dr. Sam Loomis
JAMIE LEE CURTIS.....Laurie Strode
NANCY LOOMIS.....Annie Brackett
CHARLES CYPHERS.....Sheriff Leigh Brackett
NICK CASTLE.....The Shape/Michael Myers
Directed by JOHN CARPENTER
Written by JOHN CARPENTER and DEBRA HILL
Produced by DEBRA HILL
REVIEW BY DAVID ANSEN
One of the pleasures of the movie junkie is the pursuit, in disreputable places, of undiscovered talent. Like a football scout searching for another Earl Campbell on high-school fields, he dreams of stumbling across a bargain-basement Potemkin on the bottom half of some action-movie double bill. Who knew that a fellow named Francis Coppola who directed a sleazy axe-murder movie called Dementia 13 would one day make The Godfather? Imagine spotting Robert Altman's peculiar talents in a nifty 1964 TV thriller called Nightmare in Chicago. In the B movies of today lurk the Hollywood giants of the future---which brings us to Halloween, a schlock horror movie made for a pittance by 30-year-old John Carpenter, which happens to be the most frightening flick in years.
Halloween is a superb exercise in the art of suspense, and it has no socially redeeming value whatsoever. Nasty, voyeuristic, relentless, it aims at nothing but to scare the hell out of you. Its plot comes straight from the pulp primer: a maniacal killer with a knife stalks young women on a Halloween night in a small Illinois town. Impure and simple. But Carpenter's style is another matter. From the movie's dazzling prologue to its chilling conclusion in 1978 we are being pummeled by a master manipulator. It begins in virtuoso style. In one long, sensuously sustained tracking shot---taken, we soon discover, from the killer's point of view---the camera sneaks up on a window, spies a necking teen-age couple heading for an upstairs bedroom, saunters around to the back door, and enters the house. Inside, it catches a hand picking up a knife, stalks up the staircase, finds the girl alone and undressed, watches her through the eyeholes of a Halloween mask as she is slashed to death, then wheels around, descends the staircase and comes to a hault on the front lawn. Cut. The killer, we suddenly see, is the victim's brother, an 8-year-old boy.
From this point on, the tracking shot signals imminent danger. Years later, the psychopath, now grown up, escapes from a mental institution and returns to the scene of his original crime to wreak further havoc. His prey includes Laurie, a lovely high-school girl (well played by Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh) and her two girlfriends (Nancy Loomis and P.J. Soles), and the audience waits in dread for the inevitable.
It's the waiting that's crucial: Carpenter understands that the apprehension of horror is more unnerving than the actual event. He spares us graphic scenes of blood and gore, but he plays on our expectations of violence like a sadistic maestro. At the end---when order should be restored---he introduces a mythical twist that leaves the audience in cruel, uneasy suspension.
Shot in twenty days on a $300,000 budget (much of which must have gone to the only name star, Donald Pleasence as a psychiatrist who tries to warn the town of the approaching evil), Halloween is often implausible. But there's nothing cheap about its darkly elegant design. For Carpenter, who not only directed but co-wrote the script and composed the moody score, cult status seems assured. A graduate of the University of Southern California film school who grew up in Bowling Green, Ky., Carpenter is a committed fan of the Hollywood genre movie. "I like to be as simple as possible. I don't like to show off," he says. Howard Hawks is his God, Bunuel and Polanski his current favorites.
At 22, Carpenter made his first feature, Dark Star, a science-fiction black comedy that earned him an underground reputation. The Eyes of Laura Mars is based on his original screenplay but---after twelve other writers had a hack at it---he hated the final product. He returned to directing with Assault on Precinct 13, which he describes as a "modern-day Western film noir" about a youth gang that attacks a police station. The movie died in the U.S. but found a warm reception in England. On Nov. 29, his TV movie High Rise, a tribute to Hitchcock, is scheduled to go on the air, and he is currently shooting a three-hour TV movie about the life of Elvis Presley for ABC. With Halloween in his pocket, it seems just a matter of time before the major studios hand him a big budget. The results should be fun---and probably terrifying---to watch.
Review © 1978 NEWSWEEK. All Rights Reserved.
Poster artwork © 1978 COMPASS INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. All Rights Reserved.
Title and logo designed by Karen Rappaport
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