Back in 1963, on Halloween night in the small Illinois town of Haddonfield, a teenage girl and her boyfriend had been left alone in her house and took the opportunity to get to know each other better - but how alone were they? There was somebody outside, watching from the bushes, and they let themself into the house via the back door, pausing briefly to collect a carving knife from the kitchen drawer. He waited until the boyfriend had left, then ventured upstairs into the girl's bedroom - she ordered him out, he stabbed her to death. He was Michael Myers, the girl was his sister and now, fifteen years of incarceration later... he is coming home.
There had been movies about psycho killlers making their way through the casts of horror films before, but for some reason Halloween caught the imagination of the public like no similar film since Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho eighteen years before. You could see other precedents in the works of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, even a cult shocker like Black Christmas which had been a minor success but did not start a trend, but here writer and director John Carpenter tapped into a primal fear of the monster lurking outwith the circle of safety that is just waiting to get you.
For this reason, Halloween has the feel of a really good urban legend: did you hear about the crazy man who used to live down the steeet? Did you know he escaped from the mental asylum and started killing people? And were you aware that he could still be out there tonight? There's one character who knows his way around such stories and he is Dr Loomis, essayed by Donald Pleasence with amusing conviction, and when he sees that Michael has got away from his prison he has to hurry about for the rest of the film trying to convince everyone else that this man is dangerous.
If Loomis has a soulmate, and they don't meet until the very end, it is teenage Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis who in a neat tie up of movie trivia is the daughter of Janet Leigh, star of Psycho. Laurie marks herself out as having an ability to see the bigger picture earlier on, and smarter than her classmates, why, she can daydream out of the window and still offer the teacher a detailed answer on topics of philosophy at the same time. It is her intelligence that makes her the heroine for we know she will be resourceful in the face of relentless evil and with Curtis's keenly perspicacious performance she is still the best of the slasher movie final girls.
Carpenter keeps Myers in the shadows and on the periphery, haunting the story like a phantom until the time comes for him to stop teasing and go in for the kill - he's like a cat toying with a mouse he has within his grasp. In fact, Carpenter could be accused of going over the top in building up the tension, tightening the screws a little too long as this is not a horror for the impatient. All the clichés of the genre came to fruition in Halloween, and Myers is, as we are constantly reminded, The Boogeyman, an entity that children understand and adults dismiss as the product of overactive imaginations. This is why he can drive a stolen car having never taken a lesson, this is why nobody notices he is there until it is too late, and of course this is why he won't stay down. Carpenter's shocker is almost elegant in its method, not lingering over gore but striving to conjure up the perfect scare. Its countless imitators may have robbed it of its edge, but this is still superbly produced, a true benchmark. The classic score is from Carpenter as well.
Skillful American writer-director of supense movies, often in the science fiction or horror genres. Comedy Dark Star and thriller Assault on Precinct 13 were low budget favourites, but mega-hit Halloween kick-started the slasher boom and Carpenter never looked back.