Published Nov 16, 2012While many of its visceral thrills have been eroded by the passage of time, John Carpenter's blueprint for a thousand imitators is still impressive for its deliberate manipulation of perspective to create an unnerving sense of tension. In such, it must be respected for establishing the tropes of an entire genre.
Michael Myers is the first seemingly indestructible libido assassin, stalking and killing teens that defile his abode with their pelvic urges and inflate within him an adolescent jealousy he's not emotionally equipped to process. Part of what makes him such a creepy boogeyman is that fact that, despite later evidence to the contrary, we know he's a real person.
Carpenter smartly humanizes the monster in the opening scene, which is shot from the perspective of young Michael, starting the cycle of murder with his own sister. The scene ends by switching to the familiar third-person where the camera lingers on an expressionless little boy holding a bloodstained knife. However inhuman his later actions appear – extreme displays of stealth, strength and durability (the man is harder to put down than a coked-out rhino) – it's clear that he's flesh and blood.
The killer's-eye-view anticipates the reflective interest in voyeurism that typifies a lot of modern horror – particularly that of the found-footage and torture persuasion – but it's the way Carpenter uses long takes with shifting background elements to turn Michael into a spectral menace that has inspired a classier take on terror.
This approach to subtle, insidious horror – where a barely noticeable face in the corner of a window is infinitely more frightening in the long term than any gory kill or jump scare – has been embraced more by foreign directors like Joon-ho Bong (Memories of Murder, The Host) than by Carpenter's countrymen, who are more often preoccupied with titillation and perversion.
Aside from a lot of mediocre and outright bad acting, some dated effects, and the overuse of that iconic theme song (a little silence goes a long way) Halloween still manages to be more unsettling than the vast majority of its progeny.
Halloween screens at 10pm on Saturday, November 17th, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Birth of a Villain screening series. (Falcon International)