Classic Review: Halloween (1978)

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★★★☆

Summary: The film that jumpstarted the “slasher” pictures also happens to be the best.

Review:  There’s some argument about what the first “slasher” movie was. Some point all the way back to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ in 1960, others believe it was 1974’s ‘Black Christmas’, and some, like myself, say it was John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ in 1978. The surprising success of this low-budget film was certainly what propelled the genre into mainstream popularity. And in all the years since, it remains the best and most frightening of the “slasher” genre.

There’s something wonderfully terrifying about being hunted. It’s a primal fear, deeply rooted in our ancient, primitive past that stays with us to this day. ‘Halloween’ works because of how it plays on this fear. At first our killer, the deranged masked murderer Michael Myers, is but a shadow out in the distance, and his prey, teenager Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), can’t figure out if he’s real or just her imagination. But then, like some predator, Myers weaves his way back and forth, hiding in the shadows, getting ever so closer to his victims. And finally, in the last act of the film is when he at last gives chase in a murderous killing spree.

It’s this pacing that makes this film work. Unlike later “slasher” pictures, which fill to the brim with gruesome murders from start to finish, ‘Halloween’ takes its time, builds tension, and then delivers satisfyingly. The faceless, soulless, and seemingly unstoppable Michael Myers and his eerie presence in the film also instill much fear. A revolutionary character in his day, he is one of the great modern movie villains.

In the years since ‘Halloween’, many a “slasher” has been released. Some have been decent, others bad, and some downright awful. Certainly none have come close to the effectiveness of ‘Halloween’ though. I suggest future filmmakers in this genre look back to it to learn how to make their movies good.

Cult Classic: The Thing (1982)

By contributor Patrick Zabriskie

Stars: ★★★☆

Summary: Underappreciated yet highly effective sci-fi horror.

Review: There is something of an understood rule in GOOD horror movies, and that is not to overdo it on the violence. Too much killing and blood risks desensitizing the audience and can wind up becoming ridiculous and unintentionally comical. Case in point: well, a lot of films really. ‘Halloween’, ‘Friday the 13th’, ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, and, more recently, ‘Saw’: these franchises have long since lost their credibility because of the carnage they use.  Typically, the seemingly best horror films are the ones that rely on suspense. After all, what the audience imagines is more frightening than anything a filmmaker could show them, and so often times a film is scarier the less it shows. Case in point: ‘Psycho’ or ‘Jaws.’

And then there’s John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’… a film that somehow manages to combine suspense and extreme, extreme gore in an inconceivably effective way.

The film tells the story of a shape-shifting alien attacking a small team of scientists in Antarctica. The creature is capable of absorbing and imitating any life form it comes into contact with, a sort of extraterrestrial wolf in sheep’s clothing. The only catch is that during the absorption process, it tends to turn itself inside out in a display of gore and high-tech puppetry that has not yet been matched. Seriously though, the special effects in this film are mind-blowing and a true testament to pre-CGI effects.

And boy is it frightening. It is one of the few times that an image meant to scare me actually HAS scared me. I suppose it’s the equivalent of a boxer winning by blunt-force trauma. The transformation scenes are so grotesque and disturbing that they actually are horrifying, and that is a true accomplishment.

Granted, if this film were mostly composed of these scenes, it wouldn’t be as effective as it is. The reason that it can get away with such moments is because they are built around a strong narrative that tackles the breakdown of trust. Though often taken for granted, trust is a human necessity. Our survival in this world is dependent upon it. Without it we are left alone and unprotected against danger, and the scientists in the film find this out the hard way. Fear and paranoia set in. No one knows who is real and who isn’t. The isolation of the Antarctic doesn’t help matters. Insanity and chaos loom ever closer…

It’s the suspense-ridden plot mixed with truly terrorizing monster scenes that makes this film a horror masterpiece. Thanks to the Internet, this film, not initially a success upon its release in 1982, has reached a wider audience, and younger people like myself have taken notice. For a truly great scare, check this film out.

Buy It From Amazon: The Thing [Blu-ray]