HALLOWEEN (1978, Carpenter)
It’s about time I got Mr. John Carpenter on the blog – he’s responsible for so many memorable shots and pretty much invented the slasher genre with today’s movie. Many speak of Carpenter’s long opening oner of Halloween, and rightfully so – it’s super engaging, creepy and set a standard for the POV shots in horror films. Also, I could spend days blogging about his work in The Thing.
So much about horror films is keeping a step ahead of the audience’s expectations (which admittedly must be infinitely harder today compared to 1978), and while some of the scares in this movie may seem dated, even though Carpenter was actually inventing what-would-become the cliches, many of the suspense scares seem as current today as the day they were filmed.
Now, if this movie isn’t fresh in your head – what better time of year to rent it up and enjoy. Hate to spoil a fantastic moment from this iconic film. This here is my favorite piece of direction in the movie, both because it startled the bejeebers out of me when I first saw it (is that how you spell “bejeebers?”) and because it’s so innovative and clever.
Carpenter & Curtis dial up the Halloween Horror
Carpenter worked closely with Curtis, creating a “fear meter,” since the film was shot out-of-sequence. “Here’s about a 7, here’s about a 6, and the scene we’re going to shoot tonight is about a 9 1/2,” said Curtis, remembering John Carpenter’s directions.
I would take a wild guess and say that the fear meter went up to 11 in this climactic sequence. (Maybe she learned the dial could go that high from her husband?) Here’s the clip with my favorite shot –
A brilliant and quiet moment using a light dimmer and loads of suspense. The audience KNOWS he’s there, knows that gaping, dark doorway is NO GOOD, and EXPECTS “The Shape” (as the killer, Meyers, is listed in the credits) to BURST from there. But since horror is about reversing on expectations, Carpenter does something much creepier – he slowly brings him into view, like our eyes are adjusting to the dark. Indeed, what makes it so frightening is that he was there the whole time, close enough to breath on us. By our noticing so late, we fear the darkness (and the director) that much more – what other horrors lurk that we’re not noticing?
What’s the bogeyman? As Donald Pleasence‘s Dr. Loomis reports, “As a matter of fact, that was.” You can watch the conclusion of the film in the clip below, if you’re up for it.