Original release: October 25th, 1978
Running time: 91 minutes
Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nick Castle as The Shape
A gunshot shatters the stillness of the night, followed by brief silence. Five more shots erupt before all is quiet again. The hero exchanges words with the victim and we are safe: evil has been defeated.
Or has it? The ground that the vile shape fell onto is bare. It…HE has escaped again.
No one is safe.
We’re reminded of his powerful presence and insensate evil by the sound of his ragged, robotic breathing. We’re shown locations where his evil manifested: the living room, the stairwell, the home where it all began. HIS home. Cut to black.
No one is safe.
I inhale sharply as my bulging eyes struggle to adjust to the newly darkened room. I hear my sister and babysitter, Desi breathing shallowly beside me. I FEEL their fear: as icily palpable as my own. None of us dare move or speak.
Desi’s warm hand finds my clammy forearm. “It’s only a movie,” she offers reassuringly. I repeat those words in my head, trying to convince myself with the mantra. We’re safe, right?
Before the end credits roll, the screen cuts to a commercial for the new release, Halloween II. More of the night HE came home. I stop breathing as I realize: the bogeyman lives. HE is lurking, watching, and waiting. HE cannot be stopped.
And no one is safe.
I look to the living room window, peer outside the half-closed blinds, see darkness enveloping the suburban neighbourhood that closely resembles the one I’ve just witnessed being stalked by evil.
I am not safe. He knows where I live. And one day…HE will come for me too.
To this day, I don’t know if my parents know the story: being allowed to watch the NBC premiere despite my VERY young age, me only sleeping two hours that night due to The Shape’s mask haunting my dreams, how those nightmares continued for years.
And yet, as terrified as I was of Michael Myers’ visage and the film, I also became oddly fascinated…obsessed with both.
I taught myself how to play the theme on the piano. On “video rental nights”, I usually picked Halloween. At 10, I bought my first Shape mask, planning to rid my dreams of that blank, pale, emotionless face that plagued my sleep by staring at it as I drifted into slumber.
It worked: gradually the nightmares stopped. And the somehow during those years, the terror turned into love. It strikes me as somewhat bizarre when I see it written so plainly: I’ve embraced the fear that held me captive for so many years. Am I suffering from lifelong Stockholm syndrome? The film has shaped (pun intended) my life in a way I never would have thought possible the first time I viewed the movie.
When asked what my favourite film is, without hesitating, I reply: “John Carpenter’s Halloween”. I’ve purchased various versions of the film in different formats. One of my favourite Halloween costumes is the Shape, and my latest version of his mask occupies a place of honour in our entertainment centre. Every night, Michael’s black eyes stare blankly at me, just as they did when I was a child. Only now I respond by smiling broadly instead of shivering.
I apologize for sounding like a narcissist, but I imagine that many people who love Carpenter’s Halloween have come to this adoration in similar fashion. And several reasons for why we love this film are obvious.
It’s terrifying. It scared me like nothing before or since: it actually made me feel unsafe while watching. Undoubtedly my age had something to do with that, but setting and era also had much to do with instilling that fear. The film played upon the fears of suburbanites everywhere at the time. And as Moustapha Akkad said many times, in the era the film was made, everyone knew or had a babysitter. Surely the similarity of my companions and setting to what I saw on-screen was a large reason for the terror I felt.
It’s fun. Yes, it’s a relentlessly frightening film, but it’s not cruel or sadistic. The film sets out to scare you, but I feel like it lets you “enjoy the ride”. Surely my repeated viewings served as evidence that the film worked in this manner. And sharing someone’s first-ever viewing is so much fun: I can see the dread on their faces, the terror in their eyes, and I’m able to recapture that feeling again.
It holds up. To this day, I say that despite its minor flaws, it’s one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever seen, even more so when you take into consideration all the limitations on the production. It’s simply a masterpiece of suspense and horror.
Then there are all the reasons why it’s a masterpiece. The music (like the film) grabs you and won’t let go. Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis are superb in their roles. As is Nick Castle and his wonderful, creepily graceful movements as The Shape. The mask is a stroke of genius…allowing viewers to project their own fears onto the blank face.
But perhaps the biggest reason I love the film is because of the evil that Carpenter created in the persona of Michael Myers.
Unlike filmmakers who came after him, he understood that the unexpected makes a villain terrifying. To see an innocent child with a seemingly normal life inexplicably turn into the physical embodiment of evil is inherently more terrifying than the clichéd back story of a child from a broken home who suffers abuse from family and peers turning into a psychopath. To witness a man who is “normal” in his stature do impossibly powerful things is scarier than watching a behemoth bulldoze his way through a movie.
These things make Carpenter’s Michael Myers completely terrifying. HE is the personification of evil in the most unexpected of forms and is able to do things no one can comprehend. The ultimate evil lives not in the body of a giant, but in that of a “normal” man. Despite his unassuming size, he is a supernatural force of nature: death personified.
And as the finale of the film tells us…HE…it is everywhere. It is in the living room, the stairwell, the house next door.
The Shape…no…death…is watching and waiting. And no one is safe.
Of course, it’s only a movie, right?
Just in case, I always check the back seat before getting into our car at night. Just in case.
Lito is an actor, composer, producer and music supervisor (read our interview on Scream - The Inside Story here).
In his own words:
"I'm a SAG actor and reforming musician who lives in the "hub" of the entertainment industry; Los Angeles. It's a tough gig trying to get a foot into the door of the business...but, there's nothing I love more in life than the creative process of acting and performing. Whether it's paying homage to already existing characters, doing impressions, or creating a character on my own...acting is something that fulfills me in a way that nothing else ever has. So, even though it seems that every day brings new rejections and that I hear the word "no" now more than I ever have before...I carry on with my quest in hopes of attaining my goal; to become a steadily working actor."