Release date: October 27, 1978
Directed by: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran, Nancy Kyes
#1 Movie in the US on this date: Halloween
For horror fans, this is a film that really needs no introduction. And yes, there are countless articles, synopses, reviews, etc. on this particular film strewn across the internet. To be clear, my goal with this article is not to rehash any well-worn territory. Instead, I offer only my first impression of watching this horror classic, and the lasting effects it has had on me.
Let’s take a trip back to the Fall of 2000: we had survived the Y2K scare, the metal was “nu”, the jeans were JNCO, and frosted tips were celebrated via the insanely popular re-emergence of boy bands.
I was 16 years old, living in the sleepy suburbs of central Kansas. Thinking back, the neighborhood looked like it could fit seamlessly into the streets of Haddonfield; wide residential roads, oak trees with bright orange-red leaves lined the sidewalks, all surrounded by quiet homes with neatly manicured lawns.
At the time, unlike most of my friends, I had a curfew of midnight. Obviously, as any normal teenager, I never agreed with my parents on this one. To my parents, their reasoning was simple. To this day, I can still hear my mom say “Nothing good ever happens midnight”.
So there I was on a fall Friday night, pulling back into my driveway at 11:59pm. With my parents, midnight meant midnight.
Not 12:01, not 12:02; midnight.
I had been one minute late before, which resulted in me being grounded for two weeks. In my house, grounding meant no phone, no TV, no video games, no stereo, no guitar, no drums, no going out with friends. Just school, work, home. That was it.
To ensure I didn’t indulge myself in any home entertainment, my parents hid the remotes and power cords to my electronics, and seized my guitar and drumsticks. At the time, I had a basement room near the den area with a TV. To prevent me from getting any bright ideas while my parents were asleep, the cords and remotes were also seized from these areas once I got home.
It fucking sucked.
Looking back, I understand my parent’s motivations to teach me accountability. I even respect it. Oh, how time changes us all.
Needless to say, this particular Friday, I got home on time.
I quietly walked into the kitchen from the garage, using expert care to not slam the door. The house was dark; everyone was sleeping soundly.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark kitchen, moonlight spilling in from the window above the sink, I fumbled over to the refrigerator to get a bite to eat. Being that it was Friday, I found a saran-wrapped plate of my mom’s homemade pizza waiting just for me. To avoid making too much noise, I avoided throwing it into the microwave. Though this may be a point of contention for some, I am a fan of cold pizza. Hot pizza. Room temperature pizza, too. Honestly, it’s all good to me.
I poured a big glass of milk, carefully balanced the plate of food on top, and sauntered downstairs.
After setting the meal down on the coffee table, I kicked off my shoes and flipped on the big screen. I scrolled through a few late night talk shows, ate the delicious pepperoni and black olive pizza, and caught the end of Conan. As I recall, Conan was hilariously off the rails in that era, courtesy of regular appearances by Norm MacDonald and Scott Thompson.
The meal energized me, and though it was close to 1am, I was wide awake. Casually, I flipped through to the movie channels, and saw a little movie called Halloween was about to begin. Though I had heard of this film before, I only had a cursory knowledge of its plot. I kicked my legs up on the couch, and reached above my head to flip off the basement lights to enhance the eerie vibe.
What stuck with me then, as it sticks with me now, is the sheer brilliance and effectiveness in Halloween’s simplicity. This is a movie that could easily happen in real life.
Correction. This movie has happened in real life, which makes it all the more terrifying.
Every year, we receive news reports of some psychotic murderer committing unspeakable acts of violence, oftentimes without any clear motive. Herein lies the essence of why Halloween has remained a classic film for nearly five decades.
Carpenter showed us that pure evil is not some mythical, fanged monster lurking in the shadows. In reality, pure evil can be found in the most unsuspecting and innocent places, like the suburbs.
“Good can imagine evil, but evil cannot imagine good.”W. H. Auden
I was so enthralled by Halloween. As The Shape stalked his prey with cold, calculated precision, I dug my nails deeper into the couch; the tension wound tightly like a piano string about to snap. I cheered for Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis to stop this madman, often leaping out of the couch to express my support.
At this point, though seemingly unrelated, It’s worth mentioning that my dad was a collector of sports memorabilia. The walls of our basement den were lined with signed photos and old baseball cards, meticulously mounted alongside the pool table. In the corner of the den adjacent to where I sat, stood a life-sized model of Babe Ruth.
The Great Bambino. The Sultan of Swat. The Colossus of Clout.
You get the picture.
The Ruth standup was in black-and-white. From the corner of my eye, standing stoically in the shadows, it looked an awful lot like Michael Myers. As the movie went on, I fucking swear I saw Babe Ruth inch closer to me alongside the pool table. I was so freaked out by Halloween, the most I could muster was to turn on the basement light and visually inspect from afar, where I determined the standup was in fact where it had always been.
By the time I finished the movie, it was damn near 3am. Shockingly, I was still wide awake, and couldn’t calm my nerves to fall asleep until dawn.
Since that first viewing, I have watched Halloween countless times. It often serves as a fitting backdrop in my basement studio while I hash out new riffs, write, read, and so on. There is something so hauntingly elegant about this movie, something that many horror movies have been chasing and falling short to emulate ever since.
The impact of this film remains. For the last two Halloweens, I have dressed up as the famed, silent killer. I’m a tall guy, so donning Michael Myers’ costume just made sense. I am always delighted by the costume’s impact. As they witness my mechanical gait, total strangers will scream and run away in legitimate terror. The other half of the time, people of all ages and walks of life will flock to snap a selfie with The Shape.
To this day, Halloween still finds a way to get under my skin. I find this incredibly impressive, as I find myself desensitized to most horror movie violence. I suppose I have my stint in the military to thank for that.
But, as I now find myself older with a family living in those Haddonfield-esque sleepy suburbs, I try to maintain a fair amount of situational awareness, especially around Halloween. This is not to say I am paranoid, nor do I possess a twisted psyche from years of horror movie viewings; quite the contrary. I find myself having a healthy fear and respect of the dangers that surround us, and acknowledge that sometimes the greatest evils often lurk closer to us than we care to admit.