As with most horror films that gain any kind of notoriety, Halloween isn't without its own folklore and mythology around the inception and impact of its coming to being. It's said that the screenplay was based on a personal experience of John Carpenter, which I also raised an eyebrow at before having any context about. The experience is perhaps less bombastic than what your imagination naturally runs to, and was actually just that he visited a mental institution one day and got a bit creeped out by someone staring at him. That's the biggest negative of this film, to me. It perpetuates the prejudicial belief that those with mental health issues are scary, dangerous, and liable to murder babysitters on Halloween night if you let 'em. This is still a problem in the genre today, however, so I can't be too harsh on a film that's coming up to fifty years old for that reason.
The opening is a really interesting idea. It's simply two shots stitched together, from the perspective of the killer, as he approaches a house where he'll eventually commit his first murder. As he stalks from afar and then gets closer, he observes his target with what comes across as a psychopathic disconnection. There are moments where he gets so close, that you find yourself worrying on his behalf even though he's quite clearly the villain of the piece. Now, I have to admit that watching it now, after I've watched Blow Out - which starts with a very good parody of it, I did find myself thinking something along the lines of "oh, actually this is a bit silly". But that doesn't take away from the shock and horror when the camera switches perspective to reveal who the killer is. The next strongest part of the film, in my opinion, is the ending. We're lucky that the ending exists at all as this was so low budget that they weren't able to capture as many establishing shots of the town as they needed, and the ending montage is actually just a bunch of cutting room floor relics from other films stitched together. After 90 minutes of suspense at the hands of Michael Myers, the image that sticks in my mind the most is all of the houses in that montage where he isn't, but he might be.
It's difficult to speak about Halloween without mentioning the score. Just like the ending montage, it's the subtleties of it that make it so special. The signature theme that we all know is very simple on the surface, it's just the same piano riff over and over. What's interesting though, is that it's never repeated twice in exactly the same way. It plays on the rules of music to create an almost subliminal experience that our brains register as not being quite right, whether we can articulate why or not. Just like the feeling of being watched or that you're not alone. Some of the photography, however, does show its hand as a low-budget film made by an inexperienced crew. There are scenes where, in order to facilitate what's happening on screen, certain tools are needed and they can be seen in plain sight, and there are others where the same thing will happen a couple of times from different angles, that kinda thing. Admittedly, it's nothing groundbreaking, but there are moments where it's distracting for a film that's supposed to be creating an experience of inevitable dread. For example, in a scene where Michael Myers is supposed to be seen smashing a car window with his bare hands, it's quite clear that there's a spanner in his palm. Could they have done it any other way? Possibly not, I just wish they'd found a way to.
What a performance from Jamie Lee Curtis, right? Given that this was her debut film, and that she's still involved in the franchise today, I think she deserves a lot of credit in two ways. Firstly for carrying the film from a "scream queen" point of view - something that's very cool considering her mother played the character that was essentially the first of that trope in Psycho. Secondly, for sticking with it for all this time, through some very bad films, and never taking her involvement in such a beloved franchise for granted. There are very few examples of actors that have pulled anything like that off, there are even fewer who don't seem to treat their longstanding character as a burden and I think this might be the only example of an actor who managed to start such a journey with her very first film.
All in all, I love Halloween. It's a very simple, very low-budget film made by an inexperienced crew that managed to rise above its station to prove that just doing it yourself can result in something very significant in a number of ways. You can argue about whether its impact on horror has been positive or not, given that it essentially popularised the slasher subgenre, and then populated it with its own sequels, but how cool is it that a little indy film can be credited with something like that?