The word “iconic” gets thrown a lot these days, but in the realm of horror and thriller movies, “Halloween” really is. Fathom Events and SpectiCast are bringing John Carpenter’s “Halloween” back to select cinemas nationwide for a special one-night event, just in time for Hallowe’en, on Thursday, October 29 at 7:30 p.m. local time.
If you haven’t seen “Halloween” on the big screen, this is one you owe yourself. It isn’t that this is a mammoth spectacle whose sheer physical grandeur can only be appreciated on the biggest screen possible. “Halloween” was shot for $300,000 in twenty days. The film does not rely on gore for shock value – they couldn’t afford stage blood, let alone elaborate prosthetics required for onscreen dismemberment. As it turned out, Carpenter’s deft cinematic mind games were a better deal, and audiences in 1978 shrieked from beginning to end.
Which, by the way, is why this film should be seen with an audience. “Halloween” works best as a shared, communal experience. You feed off your neighbor’s frayed nerves as much they do yours. “Halloween” is one of the ultimate cinematic rollercoaster rides, and the screams are part of the fun.
Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of “Psycho” star Janet Leigh, was herself an unknown when she played Laurie Strode, a sweet high school student in the fictitious town of Haddonfield, Illinois, who’s babysitting on Hallowe’en night when former resident and psychotic maniac Michael Myers, only recently escaped from a psychiatric facility, returns home. As a six year old, Michael Myers brutally killed his older sister on Hallowe’en night in 1963. Back home, he begins looking for his next victims including his surviving sister, Laurie Strode. Michael Myers is played by no fewer than three different actors in the movie, starting with Will Sandin as the six year old Michael Myers, Nick Castle as the masked, adult Michael Myers and Tony Moran as the unmasked Michael Myers. Producer and co-writer Debra Hill also played the part in some shots.
It should be noted that the original movie does not refer to Laurie Strode as Michael Myers’ sister. That revelation came up in “Halloween II, released three years later.
English actor Donald Pleasance, already known to American audiences as James Bond villain Blofeld in “You Only Live Twice,” made an indelible impression as Michael Myers’ slightly unhinged psychiatrist Sam Loomis (a character name lifted from the movie “Psycho”) after Christopher Lee turned the part down. His performance, combined with Curtis’ convincing portrait of teenage angst and terror, elevate the movie above the usual drive-in movie histrionics common in genre movies at the time.
But in the end it’s Carpenter who makes this screamfest immortal. It’s easy to do violence on screen, but hard to do it well. Carpenter keeps much of it in the shadows, if only because of his budgetary restrictions, but the technique is effective and effectively ups the ante. You worry about what’s going to happen, rather than simply reacting with revulsion to what is happening. He’s also a genius at camera placement. Off-center geometric compositions create apparently empty space in the frame that your mind subconsciously identifies as a great place for a knife-wielding maniac to be hiding.
And then there’s the music. Carpenter, with Alan Howarth, composed the iconic score, and it is iconic. The score to “Halloween” is probably second only to “Psycho” in the realm of music that scares you all by itself. Dean Cundey’s photography is wonderfully moody, partly because they couldn’t afford enough location lights. Back in the seventies, before the creation of the now-coveted PG-13 rating, it was assumed horror movies needed to be rated R, and since “Halloween” couldn’t do it on gore, some relatively tame nudity and onscreen drug use got the movie out of the PG realm.
Sharp-eyed viewers may catch a few giveaways of the film’s microbudget. The movie was shot in the spring, and though there are leaves on the ground (re-raked and carried from location to location) you may notice green leaves on the trees. And palm trees are just barely visible at the end of some streets. Yes, it really is a William Shatner mask.
The presentation will be accompanied by an exclusive introduction by John Carpenter providing insights on “Halloween.” Tickets are available by clicking on the orange “Buy Tickets” button at www.fathomevents/event/john-carpenters-halloween, or at the box office at the Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX.