Cult Movie: John Carpenter's Halloween was at the cutting edge of 1970s horror
AS THE much-hyped remake slashes its way to the top of the box office charts and given the week it is, now might be a good time to remember the original Halloween as it hits its 40th anniversary.
To call that simple tale of ski-mask-wearing nutter Michael Myers who murders his sister and returns to the same town years later to dish out more terror a game changer would be an understatement of vast proportions. This is the daddy of the slasher film, the first and best example of an oddly voyeuristic trend in popular Hollywood movie making that wields a powerful knife over the horror business to this day.
Director John Carpenter may have made some truly fabulous films before it – see his mid-70s purple patch with gems like Dark Star (74) and Assault On Precinct 13 (76) – and helmed plenty of interesting projects after but it's Halloween that will forever be scrawled on to his tombstone.
We're not talking about the increasingly cruddy sequels and genre mash-ups that arrived in its wake, of course: we're talking about that 1978 original. It's a film that deserves its place at horror's top table. Cheap but stylish, frightening but self-aware, it's truly ahead of its time. No Halloween and Michael Myers and there'd be no Jason and Friday The 13th, no Scream, no I Know What You Did Last Summer and no Scary Movie franchise. But hey, you can't blame it for everything.
What sets Carpenter's original apart is the fact that the director knows his horror history and it shows in just about every well thought out frame of the film. A vintage fantasy film fan and Hitchcock admirer, it's possible to trace the likes of Powell and Pressburger's classic Peeping Tom (1960) in the slightly queasy point-of-view perspective the camera adopts as Michael does his house calls.
You can feel the perviness of Psycho (1960) in the cold, unfeeling killer's actions and with Carpenter's own electronic score you can hear the soundtrack of just about every stalker horror film that followed in its wake.
The slow, uneasy build-up of tension and endless tracking shots suggest Stanley Kubrick was watching for his epic The Shining, released two years later, as well.
All the 'rules' of modern horror – you know, all that "teenagers who have sex will be the first to die nonsense" – are present and correct here and while they are all clichés now they weren't when Carpenter delivered this neat and nasty little independent film in 1978.
He also knows how to balance the rising tension with some well-placed jumps and genuine scares. He never overdoes it, though, something that horror movie makers today could certainly learn from.
In Jamie Lee Curtis he also discovered arguably the genre's finest female performer, a fact that's given serious weight by her impressive turn in this new version on which Carpenter takes an executive producer credit only.
Watched afresh, the original Halloween remains the cutting edge of 70s horror.