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Slasher Horror Film


John Carpenter's Halloween was first released in 1978 and can be credited with sparking the run of "slasher" films, which were to prove very popular throughout the eighties. Michael Myers was the original masked killer, silent, icy and intent on killing everyone. He was to spawn many imitators; most notably Jason Vorhees of the Friday the 13th films. Halloween could also be credited for helping Jamie Lee Curtis on her way to movie stardom; she plays the heroine, 17 year old Laurie Strode.

John Carpenter wrote and directed the film. It had a budget of $300,000 and took just 21 days to shoot. The result is one of the greatest horror films of all time. The cast is elevated above the norm for a horror production by the inclusion of Curtis and of course Donald Pleasance, who plays Dr. Sam Loomis. The script and story line are simple and to the point, the background more familiar than some castle in Transylvania. Murder in suburbia perpetrated by an escaped madman with a Halloween fixation.

The movie has a memorable opening sequence in which we see the murder of a young girl through the eyes of a mask. The camera pans back to reveal Michael Myers aged six, a big knife in his hand and cold dead eyes. At age 21 he manages to escape the asylum and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield just in time for Halloween. Laurie Strode and her friends are babysitting as all the adults are off at a Halloween bash and being the quiet type she is left with the kids while her friends sneak off to make use of the empty houses. What none of them know is that Michael is stalking them and he ain't too friendly.

Myers proceeds to kill the unsuspecting teens and displays them to scare the others. It has become a familiar part of horror films as we know them now, as has the killer point of view camera shot, but when this was made it wasn't. In one scene Michael pins a guy to the wall with his knife and just stands looking at him and tilting his head slightly to one side. It is a really nice chilling scene, which yet again has been poorly ripped off in more recent horrors.

Pleasance turns in a great performance here, bringing some gravity and darkness to the movie. He is positively obsessed with Myers and absolutely convinced of his complete evil. Curtis does well as the resourceful young babysitter but her friends are from the cheesy school of acting. The frizzy-haired loudmouth girl puts on a ridiculous face after being strangled with the telephone cord and the other teens are standard killer fodder.

The direction is excellent and full of nice wee ideas, which have been re-used. When the girl gets into the car after the tension has been built for a few minutes and the windows are steamed up because Michael is waiting for her. The glimpse that Curtis gets of him as he ducks into a bush, the chilling sight that confronts the young boy when he glances across the street just as Myers carries a body into the house. All work very well and create a chilling atmosphere.

A silent, expressionless killer with a distinctive look has become a common sight in the slasher genre. Few work as well as the boiler suit, the large kitchen knife and the Michael Myers mask in Halloween.

The tension is built further by Carpenter's use of a simple haunting piano melody, a 5-4 time rhythm he learned from his father. Carpenter actually stated in an interview "I can play just about any keyboard, but I can't read or write a note". Nevertheless his choice of unsettling music really adds to the film and provides a cue to the scares and jumps, of which there are plenty.

This film is really like a blueprint for all the slasher films that were to come and there is still a huge amount of derivative stuff being churned out which has borrowed heavily from Halloween. In fact the license doesn't seem to be dead yet, but Carpenter, Pleasance and even Curtis are now gone. There were some reasonable films in the batch of sequels, apart from the abhorrent Halloween III, but the original is the best. It is definitely a film worth watching, a true horror classic.

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