John Carpenter’s Halloween
In the summer of 1979, I saw John Carpenter’s “Halloween” at Tewksbury’s Wamesit Drive-In, a year after its theatrical release. The film was a spectacle of madness and murder with images that seared themselves into my boyhood memories. While I now acknowledge the film’s shortcomings (including a middle act that drags — can any of us remember a time when a film didn’t need something happening every 2 1/2 minutes?) when it’s firing on all cylinders, as it does in the final unrelenting act, it still has the power to chill and captivate.
The original print ad campaign, which I came upon in the movie section of the Lowell Sun, featured a glowing jack-o’-lantern and, below it, the tagline: “The Night He Came Home.” Who was HE?!? And what was he going to do when he got home? As revealed in the opening sequence, He was Michael Myers, who, in 1963, at the age of 6, stabbed his teenage sister to death. Cut to 15 years later, and Myers has escaped from a mental institution. In hot pursuit is his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) convinced that his charge will return home to Haddonfield, Ill., to do unspeakable things.
The movie is the revelation of those “unspeakable things” as Myers, clad in a mechanic’s coveralls and wearing an all-white rubber mask terrifies a babysitter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and a few of her friends. The power and horror of the film stem from the fact that no explanation is given for the murder spree. A series of sequels and reboots would attempt to provide motivation, but, in the end, “Halloween” works best as pure, illogical nightmare.
Produced in 1978 for a budget of $300,000, “Halloween” would go on to gross $47 million in the U.S., making it the most financially successful independent film of all time until 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project.” “Halloween” also set the template for a spate of slasher films featuring a slow-moving, masked, unstoppable killer.
The film has an earthiness missing from today’s overly designed, CG landscaped entertainments and the acting is uniformly good. Jamie Lee brings a grounded likability to her role, as do P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis as her doomed friends. British character actor Donald Pleasence is delightfully deranged in the role of Dr. Loomis, convinced that Myers is beyond psychosis. His rants on the subject of evil are pure cinematic goodness and worth the price of admission alone.
The music is courtesy of John Carpenter himself, a pioneer in synthesizer film scores. The icy, staccato main piano theme is unforgettable and as iconic as the white mask of the film’s boogeyman.
Even in 2019, the final frames of John Carpenter’s Halloween will leave you shaken to the core. Driving home from the drive-in all those years ago I could not speak to my parents. I knew there would be no consolation. I was changed. I did not sleep well that night.
Halloween will be showing at Lowell’s Luna Theater on Oct. 26 and 29. Check their website for showtimes.