Saturday, October 23, 2010


1978, US, directed by John Carpenter

It's hard to cut through more than thirty years of sequels, remakes, parodies and pale imitations to imagine what Halloween might have been like for a 1978 audience with little slasher experience, not least because at times the film comes across as a parody avant la lettre of the genre it inaugurated, particularly in the script's riper moments. However, Carpenter's use of the entire frame remains as effective as ever - even though he prepared later audiences to watch for unexpected intrusions or for violence to emerge from the most mundane circumstances, his sense of timing, of when to pull the rug out from underneath the audience, is virtually unparalleled.

Just as he employs careful editing within individual sequences to reinforce a sense of impending dread, he methodically sets up the film, unnerving the viewer in the opening sequence, set 15 years before the main action, before bringing us to an apparently benign present where he toys with the audience until he's good and ready. Although the obvious precursor is Hitchcock's Psycho, Carpenter surely draws on the more contemporary influence of Steven Spielberg, too, from whom he borrows the trick - seen in both Duel and Jaws - of keeping the villain both offscreen for long stretches, which seems only to reinforce the tension.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States