Halloween (1978) written and directed by John Carpenter
On Halloween 1963, six-year old Michael Myers brutally killed his high-school aged sister. Fifteen years later, he escapes from a sanitarium and returns to his home town of Haddonfield on Halloween night and stalks a trio of high school babysitters. The set up is relatively simple, allowing the film to escalate the tension through careful editing, sound design, and the iconic music score.
The movie starts with an amazing first-person camera shot which is a long take of the 1963 killing. The pace of the story then slows down, showing the hometown where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis's first role) is the smart girl in high school, which means she has no boyfriend to go to the dance. Her gal pals want to hang out with her, though the other two want mostly to "hang out" with their boyfriends. Babysitting is a good gig for that since the house won't have adults in it and the friends can send their kids over to Laurie's. She makes popcorn and carves jack-o'-lanterns while her friends fool around. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who had gone to the sanitarium to ensure Myers wouldn't be released, tracks the killer back to Haddonfield. Can he find Myers in time to save the babysitters?
The build-up works very well. Long, slow shots of small town life leave the viewer expecting something to happen. When nighttime comes, scenes are tighter and tenser. The musical cues are a bit heavy-handed but the music itself creates so much tension that it's hard not to be affected by it. The sound effects also build the atmosphere of horror.
The characterization of Myers is very interesting. His character never speaks during the movie, giving him an air of mystery and menace. The opening scene is truly horrifying, especially with the reveal of a six-year old killer. The rest of his story is delivered by Dr. Loomis, who spent eight years trying to reach the human behind the dark eyes of Michael Myers. Realizing Myers is inexplicably and irreversibly evil, Loomis spends the rest of his time ensuring Myers won't escape (which of course he does, otherwise there isn't much of a story). His warnings to others seem over the top but Myers's brutal effectiveness confirms Loomis's judgment--reason and compassion don't exist in Michael Myers, just murderous hate. The irrational evil of Myers is underscored by recurring mentions of the Boogie Man. Some older kids taunt a child that the Boogie Man will come to get him. Later, Laurie is babysitting him and he asks her--being the smart kid at school she tells him there is no Boogie Man. The boy even gets glimpses of Myers in the street and asks again. Laurie still insists that he isn't real. By the time she meets up with Loomis, she's seen so much of Myers' malevolence that she is convinced. He is the Boogie Man from all the worst stories we tell at campfires and make up for Halloween.
This review is inspired by the upcoming discussion on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast (next Friday (i.e. October 23, 2015) as the post goes live). I'm a bit ahead!