Monday Movie: Halloween, by Alexander Miller
Every Monday, we’ll highlight a piece of writing from our vaults. This review of Halloween originally ran as a Criterion Prediction.
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.