Criterion Prediction #213: Halloween, by Alexander Miller
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Jamie-Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Nick Castle, Tony Moran
Synopsis: Fifteen years after murdering his sister, the deranged Michael Meyers escapes from the sanitorium, returning to his hometown where he stalks modest high-school student Laurie Strode. As the night proceeds, he’s senselessly killing her friends in the process. On Meyer’s trail is his stalwart psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, committed to stopping his patient and knowing that he’s capable of horrific acts.
Critique: In many ways, Halloween is something of an odd duck in Carpenter’s filmography. While it’s easily his most renowned and well known of his movies, with hindsight, it’s almost one of his most unusual. Perhaps it’s the contextual connection of Halloween, cited as one of the most influential in the slasher genre. It’s virtually profound how the film aesthetically differs from the knock-offs, sequels and remakes that followed. Carpenter’s intelligently elevated craftsmanship relies on atmospheric, largely bloodless frissons of fear, a method that is consistent throughout his career and is the opposite of the movies we associate with genre fare oft compared to Halloween. Carpenter seems more at home working with more existentially inspired, Lovecraftian chillers like Prince of Darkness or his late-era masterpiece In the Mouth of Madness. That is, if he’s not tipping his hat to that of his idol Howard Hawks with genre-bending fare such as Assault on Precinct 13, (editing is credited to the pseudonym James T. Chance, John Wayne’s character from Rio Bravo, which the film is an informal remake of), Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China or They Live. Then, a career pinnacle, his remake of Hawks’ The Thing from Another World, where Carpenter blends the reluctant, shaggy-dog heroism typified by his recurring star Kurt Russell with the influence of HP Lovecraft in an amalgam of sincere inspiration with his claustrophobic, arctic-set masterpiece The Thing. Considering all these varying aspects, Halloween feels apart from the work of John Carpenter, all the while his directorial trademarks are immediately visible, rightfully placing it as one of horror cinemas undisputed classics, as well as an antecedent slasher film.
With sincere homage and subtly artful camerawork, Carpenter expertly blends the gothic, mythic, pulpy and humorous aspects of horror cinema with a degree of sobering maturity in his ability to take on political allegory and social commentary.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: It might seem far fetched, a horror movie as big and influential as Halloween, coming to The Criterion Collection. A film that is practically a staple to the horror genre, wouldn’t it seem more at home with an Arrow Films release or the home that’s etched out for him with the Scream Factory, alongside almost every one of his movies? While that makes sense, Halloween’s life on Blu-ray is relegated to a bare-bones release from Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment, who have milked this title with countless re-releases, 4K, anniversary editions, etc. They’ve done everything with Halloween except give Carpenter’s masterpiece a desirable Blu-ray/DVD. So if Halloween was coming in the Arrow/Scream Factory way, why hasn’t it happened already? If Carpenter’s hallowed classic was coming to Scream Factory, wouldn’t it have beat out Memoirs of an Invisible Man or Someone’s Watching Me? Arrow Films would be a fitting home but it seems like their Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing releases are Region B only. Bear in mind; Carpenter’s no stranger to The Criterion Collection if you consider that none other than Halloween was a Criterion LaserDisc back in the day. If you think of the pivotal horror movies hosted by The Criterion Collection (Silence of the Lambs, Night of the Living Dead, Eraserhead, Kwaidan, The Innocents, Scanners), is it too far out a notion to entertain that Halloween could join the ranks?