“What’s your favourite scary movie?” That common refrain made famous in the Scream series is an easy question for me to answer – Halloween. John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece horror film remains, for me, the quintessential slasher film that scares me shitless to this day. Right from the opening credits; I’m covered in goose bumps and chills upon hearing the eerie signature score.
The movie is so frightening and unnerving because it’s about more than a masked figure with a knife killing unsuspecting teens. It’s about the psychology of the boy that grew up to be Michael Myers. It’s about how frighteningly visceral an experience watching the movie becomes; like the events in the film are happening to you and you’re not just watching a movie.
On Halloween in 1963 in Haddonfield, Illinois, a young boy named Michael Myers dressed up for Halloween. He stood outside his house and watched his older sister, Judith, kiss her boyfriend through the window. When the two went upstairs to Judith’s bedroom, Michael entered the house, went into the kitchen and removed a butcher knife from a kitchen drawer. After Judith’s boyfriend left, Michael entered Judith’s bedroom and saw her half dressed. He stabbed her repeatedly with the butcher knife. He then walked downstairs and out the front door with the bloody knife in hand. Just then, Michael’s parents pulled up to the house. Michael’s father pulled off the Halloween mask to reveal a six-year-old boy. The camera turned from Michael to the faces of his parents who stared at him in absolute horror.
Following his sister’s murder, Michael is committed to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where he is placed under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasance) “I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes...the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply...evil.”
On October 30, 1978, Dr. Loomis and a nurse named Marion Chambers arrive at the sanitarium to accompany Michael to a court hearing, but Michael escapes by attacking nurse Chambers and stealing her car. On Halloween, he returns to Haddonfield, to the same street where he committed his first murder. Dr. Loomis, knowing Michael’s intentions, follows him there. He appeals to the town Sheriff for help, but the Sheriff is reluctant to believe him. “Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it,” Dr. Loomis appeals. Michael spots a young teenage girl named Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and becomes fixated on her.
There's nothing more terrifying than Dr. Loomis trying to stop Michael and Michael chasing Laurie. There are horror movies that are merely bloody gore fests that aren’t scary so much as they’re violent, and there are bad thrillers that fail to cause even one hair to stand on end. Then there are those films made by incredibly skilled directors who don’t just show violence onscreen, but create a truly terrifying experience. Hitchcock was a master of this and so, too, is John Carpenter.
In Halloween, we see ordinary, everyday people in nondescript settings and then a human monster looming off to one side as the camera pans over from the foreground. He wears a white mask and we are privy to his point of view as Carpenter places the camera behind the monster’s eyes while he watches a pretty young girl. His breathing is heavy behind the mask and we hear each and every breath he takes while the eeriest of music plays. If you want to have a terrifying horror movie experience, watch Halloween, “The night he came home.” It still terrifies me to the core.
What is your favourite scary movie? Let us know in the comments section.