John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)

Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 1979 review of Halloween begins well enough, shining a light on the talents and previous works of a filmmaker just now getting a taste of the spotlight, and making familiar comparisons to help people understand his influences (Hawks, Hitchcock). However, Rosenbaum is less interested in the credentials of Carpenter and more interested in what Halloween embodies, and though too early to know yet, the impact and influence it would have popularizing “slasher” films. The point he is trying to make of this genre is an important one, high quality technical film making can be rendered obsolete by moral problems. As Rosenbaum puts it “…what is he (or are we?) honoring in the MSSM (Mainstream Simulated Snuff Film), and what makes this morally superior to fondling Nazi war relics?”

Troublesome Nazi comparison aside, the answer is simple: Carpenter is completely aware of the moral implications of his film. He refuses to let his audience distance themselves from their voyeurism, critiquing them and the future of the slasher film all at once. In the very first sequence in the film, Carpenter utilizes a roughly four minute POV shot to immediately make the audience and killer synonymous, highlighting the audience’s morally reprehensible interests (murder as entertainment) and refusing to allow the audience to distance themselves from these implications like they normally would. With Michael Myers (Tony Moran) and the audience being bonded in such a manner, other shots that use either the POV or breathing of Myers gain a heightened sense of dread and disgust. Carpenter doesn’t need the inclusion of Myers to wield voyeurism effectively though, he uses wide shots that seem to be a POV of the suburb itself as it tracks and stalks in a quietly unsettling manner.

While this is all the handiwork of a skilled director, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Halloween isn’t a perverse, evil film. Someone who dislikes Carpenter could accuse him of immorality with these points and another filmmaker might have done the same things if they wanted you to enjoy the killings and have a good time, so what is it that separates Halloween from its followers? How does Halloween differentiate from Nazi war relics?

After Michael Myers vanishes at the end of the film, the safety of suburbia is nonexistent. Despite its seemingly calm and normal appearance, Carpenter shows us static shots of all the locations where the horrible events happened, which seem almost like victims themselves, accompanied by the progressively heavier and creepier breathing of Michael Myers. The events that have transpired have affected its witnesses to such an extent that Michael Myers has ceased to exist as a physical entity and has literally become their surroundings.

When Laurie first encounters Myers, she flees and returns to the house where she was babysitting. The living room she cowers in seems to converge on her. The wind in the drapes flowing out in a dramatic, rhythmic gesture as if they were actually breathing. Voyeurism is invasive by nature, and now the film has revealed that violence is not the only way it can manifest itself. Carpenter has commonly been interested in the ideas of evil and generally confronts the abstract via the physical (Prince of Darkness, The Thing) but here he brings the physical into your home, your neighborhood. Michael Myers isn’t just some goblin from the woods who only exists to torture us, he’s a representation of our inability to control, estimate or even understand the impact we have on people or our surroundings. Halloween rises above the failings of its genre because Carpenter knew that the only way to deal with a derelict, rotten building like the Myers family home is to tear it down. If people want to play in the remains of the festering wood, so be it.

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