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FrightFest 2018: ‘Halloween’ Review: Dir. John Carpenter (1978)

by Paul Heath

Halloween review: As the 1978 classic turns 40, a new 4K restoration hits cinemas and London’s 2018 Arrow Video FrightFest.

Halloween review by Paul Heath August 2018.

Halloween review

In the four decades since the release of John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick Halloween, and the forty-something years that I have been on the planet, our paths have never crossed. Up until this very week, I had never seen the film – surprising when you think of the job I do – but I suppose horror hasn’t always been my thing – that said, I saw all of Wes Craven’s output – the ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ movies particularly – growing up. In its fortieth year, Halloween is getting a major re-release, complete with a 4K makeover. It debuts at this month’s FrightFest, the UK’s premiere horror festival, from where we view it.

It seems a bit odd reviewing a film that is nearly as old as me, but it’s obvious from the opening credits of this supremely taut and well-crafted masterpiece that I’m in for something very special indeed.

We open on Halloween, 1963, the setting Haddonfield, Illinois, a sleepy town seemingly full or horny teens where a five-year-old Michael Myers is seen stabbing his older sister Judith to death in what seems to be a random, callous attack. Fast forward fifteen years and we’re in the then present-day 1978, the day before Halloween, Myers institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital some 150 miles from Haddonfield.  Dr. Sam Loomis (the toplining Donald Pleasance), and his nurse colleague Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) are seen approaching the hospital, but something is clearly wrong – Myers has escaped. Back in Haddonfield a day later – on Halloween itself – sightings of a mysterious man dressed in mechanic overalls and a sinister white mask  – start to occur – mostly from the point of view of Laurie Strode (Jamie-Lee Curtis in her iconic, career-defining role) – the residents one by one starting to be picked off – murdered in cold blood. With Loomis rushing to Myers’ former home, can the madman be contained before he wipes out the town?

Halloween review

Made for a paltry $300,000 – not a small amount of money in the late 1970s, but considered low-budget at the time – Halloween went on to gross over $70 million around the world. It was in many critics’ top tens of that year, and a massive hit for its backers. It was also one of the first movies of its kind, one which would be reproduced, remixed and rehashed many times in the decades that followed, but one that can clearly not be matched.

Save some hammy performances, Halloween is a near-perfect slasher pic. Clearly using suspense tactics may have been seen in films that came before -see any of Hitchcock’s previous output, particularly his genre masterpiece Psycho – Carpenter’s film offered movie-goers a unique experience for its time, one which would see fans flock to for more scares – perhaps bringing their friends with them – time and time again.

Featuring a stunning, hugely memorable score – itself composed by Carpenter himself – as well as some brilliant, largely handheld camerawork by Dean Cundey – he who would go on to shoot the likes of Jurassic Park, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and future Carpenter projects like Big Trouble In Little China – as well as some brilliantly written set-pieces – perfectly executed by its director, it’s hard to find fault. Jamie Lee Curtis is particularly convincing as one of the original scream queens and, while it has obviously dated a little, most of it still stands up. It feels as if the film uses every horror cliche in the book, but as you watch the movie, admittedly, still very much on the edge of your seat, one realises that this is the picture from which all of those cliches originate.

If you, like me, have managed to swerve this either intentionally or not, use the opportunity of its new 4K release, and also the promise of a direct sequel from David Gordon Green this October to visit one of the defining moments in cinema. It a truly exceptional piece of work and absolutely deserved of the respect is still commands and receives 40 years on.

Halloween review by Paul Heath, August 2018.

Halloween screens as part of Arrow Video Frightfest 2018.

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