Halloween (1978)

(On TV, October 2016) I have no affection and only little academic interest in the slasher genre. It’s not a kind of film that I enjoy (although I’m not opposed to other supernatural horror genres), but in trying to build a coherent picture of the horror genre over the past few decades, it’s often necessary to watch some reprehensible films along the way. Halloween remains a reference largely due to its influence on the horror genre in the following decade, in which an explosion of similar films dominated the lower rungs of the B-movie ecosystem. (I was five in 1980 and ten in 1985, so you can imagine the nostalgic memories of discovering VHS stores at the time and their terrifying cassette box art.) Knowing this, the biggest surprise in watching Halloween is how restrained it is: While there is disturbing violence, it rarely revels in the gore and terror of the victims. While there is teenage hanky-panky, there is no nudity. While the film sustains an atmosphere of dread and suspense, it feels far less exploitative than many of the films it influences. There’s a fair case to be made that Halloween is closer to a thriller than to horror and while I don’t entirely agree, this is a film now most notable for the tropes it does not use. Director John Carpenter is at the top of his game here, and the direction of the film remains remarkable even today. (The opening point-of-view sequence is still upsetting even at an age of found-footage films.) It’s also difficult to avoid mentioning the iconic soundtrack of the film, which set an example that would dominate a slew of eighties films. A very young Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastic in the lead role. While the film remains a slasher, it’s a competently executed one even today (and especially considering its low budget). It’s striking, however, how much of Halloween’s impact is now dictated by the movies it influenced than by itself.

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