John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. Does it deserve its praise as an immortal classic? Edmund Poliks, our writer for Cartoon Crackdown and American Horror Story reviews, and Jeff Chiarelli, our writer for If I Had Made That Movie, go head to head in debating the movie’s legacy.
Sum up the movie in two sentences:
Edmund: This is a good, but overrated horror movie that managed to boost the career of Master of Horror, John Carpenter. Its score and atmosphere are absolutely fear-inducing, but the ending isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Jeff: A slow burn metaphor for evil that lurks in the shadows, stalks innocent victims, and violates our naïve sense of safe suburbia. This movie is a shining example of realistic suspense that taps into our cultural fears of the boogie man.
Edmund: For me, I absolutely love Loomis’ monologue about Michael Myers. While this film takes place in the real world and produces a lot of its fear from its suburban setting, this description of Michael as a being of “pure evil” adds an ominous feel to this antagonist as a more threatening kind of entity than people are used to. While flesh and blood physically-speaking, psychologically he is a force of nature that cannot be reasoned with and cannot be tempered until the moment he’s finished murdering you.
Jeff: The entire style. It’s all rising tension and dramatic irony that takes place in a realistic setting of the suburbs.
Least favorite part:
Edmund: The last two minutes. The last ten minutes as a whole became unrealistic and stupid, but the last two minutes really cement the shark jump that the film fell prey to in its final act. The movie’s fear factor depends on its realism, and it’s hard to maintain that when Michael Myers is shot six times at point blank range, falls out of a two story window, and manages to entirely escape intact. The genius of Halloween was its ability to place boogeyman-esque evil inside a place that we hold as familiar and safe like suburban neighborhoods, but that evaporates entirely when you sink to illogical lows more fitting for Friday The 13th.
Jeff: The acting. At times it feels forced and makes the characters feel more like caricatures. Annie’s wide-eyed face as she dies is particularly over the top.
Is Michael Myers a good antagonist?
Edmund: “Decent” would be a better word. He’s certainly threatening on a physical level and there is more than enough build-up to establish him as a formidable foe. Unfortunately, his silence and slow pace betray a certain ineptitude towards the film’s conclusion and the “silent juggernaut” archetype, while threatening, lacks the personality to make him a truly interesting antagonist. The best villains are the ones that both scare and fascinate us, but Myers unfortunately fails to live up to the latter.
Jeff: He’s superb. He’s unstoppable, relentless, mysterious, and devoid of all humanity. He doesn’t try to justify what he’s doing with philosophical monologue. He’s an unreasonable sociopath who lurks in the dark and watches you like a predator.
Edmund: When Myers stabs Bob in the kitchen. I love the analyzing head-tilt that Myers gives Bob after he’s pinned his body to the wall.
Jeff: When Myers stabs Bob to the wall and admires his work.
Direction: A-. It’s very inspired and tense direction for the most part, painting our suburban safe havens in a much more frightening light. I think it fumbles in the last two minutes, but Carpenter’s vision is generally clear and engaging.
Writing: B. In terms of pacing and building suspense, this screenplay has few equals. Unfortunately the script drops the ball in the last ten minutes, diverting into silly illogical wrap-ups despite the realistic brilliance that came before.
Acting: C. While the majority of the cast aren’t outright bad, there are some very goofy moments and performances amidst the supporting cast. In fact there are enough weak acting moments where the talent of the direction honestly surpasses the talent itself.
Fear Factor: B. The tension is the film’s greatest asset as the kills themselves are moderately tame. Once again, it ratchets downward in the last ten minutes, but otherwise it’s a solid thrill ride throughout.
Overall: B. This is a good horror flick with a lot of great ideas that unfortunately doesn’t manage to live quite up to the hype.
Direction: A. Carpenter’s visual style and pacing create a rising tension that feels like a ticking time bomb.
Writing: B. Simple plot, more caricature than character, but intense suspense with a deep theme of what evil truly is.
Acting: C. Two of the main characters are a bit over the top but the rest hold strong, especially the great Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Fear Factor: A. It’s scary! Danger lurks around every corner. It stalks every character like an animal ready to pounce.
Overall: A-. Some of the acting and characters are weak but the overall production is top notch suspense.
In two sentences, why or why not does it deserve being called a classic.
Edmund: It’s score and ideas are classic, but it takes more than an iconic “looking” villain. It takes a consistent and universal story throughout, and the film’s ridiculous final act betray a datedness that a true classic wouldn’t possess.
Jeff: It’s a classic because it brought horror to the suburbs with realistic style, simplicity, and a slow burn atmosphere. It connects with our deepest fears of evil watching us.
Brief final response to each other’s points or criticisms.
Edmund: My colleague and I share many of the same views but these ideas of “realistic suspense,” heralding it as a classic, only seems to work before the last ten minutes. Sure, the stalking and slow foreboding that Myers emphasizes throughout most of the film builds a lot of suspense, but the beginning of the film (wherein he steals the car) shows that he has a sense of purpose and urgency when he wants it so his lack of speed and accuracy involving Laurie in the climax is absolute idiocy. Couple this with the fact that while Loomis does describe him as pure evil, he’s talking in purely psychological sense and the supernatural aspects of Myers’ resiliency at the end is illogical and ruins the realism that the movie had been building up until the end. Overall it’s a good film, but if silly, stupid endings can make a classic then I guess we should call “Harry Potter 7 and a half” the next Citizen Kane.