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Thursday, 20 January 2011

WS - The importance of John Carpenter's "Halloween"

Halloween is believed to be the film that "defines the Slasher genre". Before Carpenter's film there had been other similar films, such as "Black Christmas" (Bob Clark, 1974), but Halloween is still seen as the first "real" Slasher film by many, and is the film that most others in the genre will be compared to. According to James Marriott in his book "Horror Films": ( Click here to go to the Amazon page for James Marriotts book. )
"Halloween is not a message movie; it is designed purely and simply to scare the audience, and on this level, seen for the first time at least, it works remarkably well."
 It would be difficult for us as AS students to make our Slasher film without really looking into Halloween first, never mind Directors wanting to make money at the Box Office through a Slasher. Halloween holds all the conventions of the Slasher Genre, hence why it is seen as the film that defines the genre. To refer back to James Marriotts book, he writes:
"The rules of the Slasher, endlessly recycled but adhered to religously are as follows:
  1. A traumatic event in the past creates a psychopathic killer.
  2. The killer returns to the site of the event, usually on a specific date in the present that allows the makers to use a calendar motif in the title.
  3. The killer stalks and graphically kills a group of obnoxious and stupid teens of both sexes, usually with some kind of blade, often a garden or farm implement.
  4. A 'final girl' survives, usually boyish and often virginal, to thwart the killler, although he is never entirely vanquished."

This is the typical outline of the Slasher genre, that really began with Halloween. The genre taking off in the first place was down, almost single-handedly to this film. Halloween is regarded by most experts of the genre as the film that kick started it all off and made the industry the success that it was in the 1980's and to a lesser extent, in the late 1990's. Scream, the film by Wes Craven that is thought of as the film that re-ignited Slasher films in 1996, takes a lot of obvious influences from Halloween and often refers to Carpenters great. Arguably, one of the most famous shots in film history is the opening shot of Halloween, the steady cam POV shot of the Myers' house. The film is gripping, exciting and of course scary for first time viewers, giving it the desired effect that Carpenter was after. A quote from Carpenter is:

"I hate pretentious movies...I suppose I've gone the other direction and just tried to have a good time and have the audience have a good time. Sometimes it's work and sometimes it hasn't, you know?"
 One of the most surprising reasons that this film was a success and influential, was actually how easy, cheap and quickly it was made. It doesn't star any huge names or have brilliant special effects, it was kept simple with it's main, simple aim to scare people.The budget of this film ($300,000) was noted by other Directors and film makers, and it started off a huge wave of films, mainly Slashers going for low budget hits, Friday 13th (Cunningham, 1980) been a very good example. Most of the films that followed also followed the same kind of outline, and this is another reason why audiences loved the genre. They enjoyed knowing what was about to happen and been able to almost join in with the film, very different to anything that had been before it.

Extra details that I had noticed when watching Halloween that appear in other Slashers include:
  • A masked killer - even though from the opening scene, we know what the killer looks like and who he is, he still wears a mask to hide his identity and for fear purposes.
  •  The killer is often seen watching his target - very often the Final Girl, the one who he tries to catch, but always seems to evade him, the killer is often seen spying on her, or on his next victim.
  • The killer uses a brutal weapon - generally a blade of some sort.
  • The killer will be seen in the background - maybe in a reflection in a window or threw a window or open door (much like Michael is seen outside the laundry room whilst Annie is washing her clothes/locked in)
  • The same non-diegetic sound is made whenever the killer appears. (often a long drawn out note.) 
  • The killer appears to be Supernatural; They seem to have the ability to appear and disappear.
  • The killer often comes across as invincible. For example Michael Myers is stabbed with a knitting kettle, a coat hanger, a knife, shot six times and falls off the roof - but manages to escape. 
This is a link to the IMDB page for 'Halloween'
This is a link to John Carpenter's page on IMDB

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post Will! Psycho creates the genre, bringing us the psychologically disturbed killer, the grammar of editing violence, the scream queen and final girl; Wes Craven's Last House... in the early 70s set the seeds for Carpenter's ultra-low budget production, but, yes, it is Halloween that really sparks off the boom, with Craven's Elm St + Scream franchises, + Cunningham's Fri 13th adding to this


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