Film / Halloween (1978)

"It's Halloween. I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare."
Sheriff Brackett

A 1978 independent horror film directed by John Carpenter (who also wrote the screenplay with producer Debra Hill), Halloween serves as the Trope Codifier for the Slasher Movie formula.

Halloween night, 1963: In Haddonfield, Illinois, six-year-old Michael Myers kills his teenage sister Judith with a kitchen knife without explanation. Young Michael ends up committed to Smith's Grove Sanitarium and placed under the watchful eye of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Fifteen years later — on the night before Halloween — Michael escapes from the asylum and heads for home, with Loomis soon following in pursuit.

Back in Haddonfield, high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has a job as a babysitter for Halloween. As the night of the masks draws nearer, she keeps seeing an eerie masked figure stalking her. While Laurie and her friends believe a schoolmate has played a Halloween trick on her, Laurie has no idea of the danger waiting for Haddonfield...

Produced on a shoestring budget, Halloween became a massive success on its release and inspired countless other slasher films in its wake. It also spawned a sequel and with that, an extensive franchise as well as a remake/franchise reboot in 2007.

Halloween contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Survivor: Laurie becomes this. Despite being a shy high school student, she's able to fight off the killer three times and does her best to protect the children.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The 1979 novelization portrays Michael Myers in a more tragic light.
  • All Hallows' Eve: Well, duh.
  • And Starring: A 19 year old Jamie Lee Curtis in her Star-Making debut.
  • Anti-Climactic Unmasking: Michael is unmasked while struggling with Laurie, and he is revealed to be... a normal-looking young man. The most unusual thing about his appearance is the injury that Laurie inflicted to his left eye in the previous scene.
  • Ax-Crazy: Michael is somewhat of a subversion, in that he is more calm and quiet than crazy, but is still a cold-blooded homicidal maniac without conscience who is driven to kill.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Michael kills a couple of dogs over the course of the movie.
  • Beauty, Brains and Brawn: Lynda the glamorous cheerleader is the Beauty (and the only one shown having sex), Laurie the studious babysitter is the Brains and Annie the reckless and loud-mouthed brat is the Brawn.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: Michael kills Lynda while dressed as one.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Loomis finally catches up with Michael, just in time to save Laurie.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Laurie to Tommy and Lindsey. After all, she is their babysitter.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three girls. Lynda is the blonde, Annie the brunette and Laurie auburn substituting redhead.
  • Bloodless Carnage: There are only two shots with blood, and neither is particularly explicit.
  • Bookends: We open with a POV of Michael approaching his house on Halloween night, 1963 and we close with a shot of the Myers house, broken down and abandoned on Halloween night, 1978.
  • Brake Angrily: While stalking Laurie and her friends throughout the day, Michael does this after being told "Speed kills!" by Annie. He drives away after a suspenseful beat.
  • The Bully: Three mean kids tease Tommy about the Boogeyman in the schoolyard.
  • Bystander Syndrome: While being pursued by Michael during the climax, Laurie bangs and screams for help at a neighbor's house. They turn their lights on, peer through a window... and then shut the lights back off a few seconds later.
  • Call Back: Three kids tease Tommy about being scared of the Boogeyman. Later in the film, Dr Loomis scares away the three kids, as they were about to enter Michael's house.
  • Cat Scare:
    • Early in the film Laurie, walking home from school and having already caught a brief glimpse of Michael standing behind a hedge, is startled by Sheriff Brackett (who responds with the quote up top).
    • Later there's a scene where Loomis and Brackett are exploring the abandoned Myers house and a broken gutter suddenly crashes through a window, causing a startled Loomis to whip out a handgun.
    • Still later Loomis, keeping watch outside the Myers house, scares off a group of boys from nosing around... and gets spooked himself when Brackett comes up behind him and puts a hand on his shoulder.
  • Catch Phrase: Lynda drops 'totally' into a lot of her sentences. Debra Hill claims it reached Memetic Mutation levels with a few teens in one showing she went to.
  • Cerebus Call Back: Laurie gets scared early in the film by an ominous phone call - that turns out to be Annie. She later overhears Lynda being strangled over the phone, and assumes it's Annie playing another prank.
  • Characters as Device: Michael does nothing but murder people, for which he has no motive and from which he gets no benefit. He's simply a monster to threaten our main heroine. It's intentional in this case, as Carpenter set out to make Michael impossible to sympathize with or even understand.
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: Averted, compared to later slasher films. The movie has a much smaller bodycount than modern audiences are used to (five people, one of whom dies offscreen, and two dogs).
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Downplayed, but Annie is the sheriff's daughter. She smokes weed, plans to have underage sex and abandons the girl she's babysitting.
  • Color Wash: Cinematographer Dean Cundey used this to give the daytime scenes an autumnal brown tint and the night scenes an eerie blue one. (The 2003 DVD transfer of the film "fixed" this, much to the dismay of Cundey and the fans. Fortunately, the issue was largely rectified for the 35th Anniversary DVD/Blu-ray release in 2013.)
  • Contrived Coincidence: Loomis arrives at Smith's Grove to escort Michael to a mandatory court hearing on the very night (and at the very time) of his escape, thus allowing Michael to make off in his car.
  • Creator Cameo: John Carpenter provides The Voice of Annie's boyfriend, Paul.
  • Curse Cut Short: Subverted. Annie complains Paul is grounded and "can't come over tonight".
    Laurie: [to Annie] I thought you were babysitting tonight?
    Lynda: The only reason she babysits is to have a place to—
    Laurie: [realizing she's forgotten something] Oh, shit.
    Annie: I have a place for that.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Laurie finds them at the Doyle house she's chased into towards the end after being chased there by Michael when he slashed her.
  • Cute Bookworm: Laurie.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Laurie's the first person in the entire film to escape from and injure Michael.
  • Danger Takes A Back Seat: How Annie gets killed.
  • Daylight Horror: Michael Myers stalks Laurie Strode and her friends through the sunny, idyllic streets of Haddonfield in the middle of the day.
  • Death by Sex: Judith Myers, later Lynda and Bob. Annie is also killed on her way to have sex.
  • Deconstruction/Freudian Excuse: Inverted in Myers. Actually, never is justified or deconstructs Michael Myers's personality. While appearing to be a shallow motiveless-serial-killer movie at first, it is notable for how it stresses just how strange Myers' behavior actually is. Behind the scenes, Nick Castle (the man behind the mask) reportedly tried to figure out just what would drive a serial killer like Myers and act accordingly, but Carpenter specifically insisted on the "soulless killing machine" approach. One of the main characters, Dr. Loomis, is an experienced psychiatrist who is both baffled and terrified at the seemingly causeless evil lurking behind Myers' eyes. The overall idea is that, by any realistic standard, there should be a reason for someone to be anywhere near as warped as he is.
    • However, the two tropes are taken into account in the novelization of the film (from 1979).
  • Dies Wide Open: Annie, Bob, and Lynda all end up this way.
  • Disconnected by Death: Lynda meets her end this way.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Michael's escape from Smith's Grove takes place during a thunderstorm.
  • Dramatic Unmask: In the intro, when the slasher-killer is unmasked to reveal... a six-year-old boy.
    • And again at the end, when the adult Michael is briefly unmasked to reveal... a normal-looking man.
  • Dull Surprise: Young Michael's parents' reaction to discovering him in front of the house dazedly clutching a bloodied carving knife. His mom even casually shoves her hands in her pockets.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Despite the genre it inspired, this movie is actually a fairly subtle Psychological Horror movie with relatively little blood and gore, and it frequently employs Nothing Is Scarier. It arguably has more in common with Psycho than with movies like Friday the 13th (1980), which it inspired.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Michael Myers is shot repeatedly and then falls out of a window. But when Loomis goes to look, the body is gone. Turns out he really was the Boogeyman. And the parade of sequels begin...
  • Enemy Rising Behind: One of the movie's most famous scares has a Not Quite Dead Michael Myers slowly rising up behind an exhausted Laurie.
  • Enfant Terrible/Creepy Child: Michael in his childhood.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Lester the family dog barks at Michael hiding behind the bushes.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Averted. The only time Michael is unmasked, you see the face of a normal, 20-something guy.
  • Evil Phone:
    • Subverted when Laurie — already starting to freak out after having seen Michael watching her in several places, including her own backyard — answers a ringing phone but gets no response from the other end save for munching noises. She hangs up, the phone rings again, she warily answers... and it's Annie, who wants to know why she hung up before (and explains that she couldn't talk with a mouthful of food).
    • Played straight later on, when Michael strangles Lydia with the phone cord just as she calls Laurie. Michael then picks up the phone to listen to Laurie's frantic cries, before calmly hanging up.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Once Michael Myers appears on screen as a child. It may be hard to believe that child with a harmless and innocent appearance is the psychopathic Ax-Crazy Serial Killer of the whole movie. Even after being unmasked towards the end of the movie, he resembles nothing so much as a normal, even handsome, young man.
    • In fact, actor Tony Moran is credited as the 22 year old Michael, while Nick Castle - who plays Michael during most of the film - is only referred to as "The Shape". Michael with the mask on really is the Boogeyman.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Loomis hangs around the Myers house for hours before noticing that the car Michael stole from the asylum is parked a little ways down the street in plain sight.
  • Fanservice:
    • In the opening scene, we get a glimpse of Judith topless and in panties through Michael's mask before he stabs her.
    • Later we see Annie topless and in panties (albeit from the back), after she gets hot butter on her clothes and removes them before changing into a man's dress shirt.
    • Lynda also gets a scene topless... though it quickly turns into Fan Disservice when Michael starts strangling her.
  • Final Girl: Laurie Strode is the Trope Codifier for a shy, virginal and more moral girl surviving - while her rebellious, promiscuous friends die.
  • The Foreign Subtitle: The Night of Masks (Finland), The Night of the Witches (Italy), The Night of Horror (Germany).
  • The Ghost: Ben Tramer, Laurie's crush. Until the next film.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Little Lindsay Wallace wears her hair like this.
  • Going by the Matchbook: Dr. Loomis finds a garage mechanic's abandoned pickup truck, and in it is the same matchbook carried by the nurse who was with him when Michael Myers escaped the previous night; she left her matches in the car Michael stole, and they wound up in the truck of the guy he stole his jumpsuit from.
  • Half Empty Two Shot: Used when Michael emerges from the closet to attack Laurie.
  • Hand or Object Underwear: Judith reflexively covers her breasts when she spots little Michael in her bedroom, then keep them there in a vain effort to defend herself from his attack.
  • Hidden Depths: Laurie Strode — sweet, nerdy, pure, virginal Naïve Everygirl... and can hold her own against a psycho killer.
  • Hollywood Darkness: Halloween was one of the first horror movies to use the blue filter for night scenes.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: As the title suggests, the movie takes place on Halloween, with only a single scene (Michael's escape from Smith's Grove) not definitely happening on October 31.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Bob is pinned to the wall with a knife.
  • Implacable Man: Myers cannot be reasoned with and keeps on trucking through multiple stabbings, gunshots and a multistory fall.
  • Improvised Weapon: A knitting needle and a coat hanger.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by John Carpenter himself.
  • Intro-Only Point of View: The first several minutes of the film are shown from Michael's perspective as he walks around his house, fetches a kitchen knife, and murders his sister. This style makes The Reveal that he's only six years old all the more shocking (at the time, anyway).
  • Invisible Parents: Laurie's father only appears for a few seconds toward the beginning of the film, and her mother isn't seen at all.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Chanted by a bunch of unseen kids after the opening credits.
    "Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts
    Covens of witches with all of their hosts
    You may think they scare me; You're probably right
    Black cats and goblins on Halloween night
    Trick or treat!"
  • Kick the Dog: Michael kills two of them, and it's implied that the first one was for food.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Myers gives one of Tommy Doyle's bullies a good scare after said bully taunts Tommy about the boogeyman.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the original, Michael's either a) a literal supernatural boogeyman who can't be destroyed, or b) just an extremely tough and resilient psychopath. The film's ambiguous enough to allow either interpretation, though the ending strongly suggests the former. The sequels explicitly make a supernatural explanation canon.
  • Meaningful Background Event:
    • During Annie's attempt at washing her soiled blouse, Michael can be seen watching her through the windows.
    • He also lurks in a similar way while she chats on the phone with her boyfriend.
    • While Laurie is telling Tommy and Lindsey that she killed Michael, Michael's shadow can be seen behind her as he comes upstairs to attack her again.
  • Monster Clown: Michael's childhood Halloween costume.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: Can be seen in the background as Loomis is talking in a phone booth.
    • Some palm trees are also visible as Laurie and Tommy are walking to school.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: Sometimes accompanied by Vader Breath.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: The three girls again. Laurie is the Nice, responsible bookworm. Annie is the Mean, rebellious brat. Lynda is the In-Between - still rebellious but considerably nicer than Annie.
  • No Ending: Michael is shot several times and presumed dead, but vanishes without a trace moments later. End of movie.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Used throughout the film, most effectively in the final scene: Michael's ominous breathing grows louder and louder as we see shots of some of the places he's been during the final act, until... the credits roll.
  • The Oner: The opening scene is one continuous shot until the Dramatic Unmask.
  • Orphaned Setup: A non-joke variant comes when the cemetery keeper begins to tell Loomis about another grisly past incident from the next town over, but gets cut off before he can finish.
    • According to a comic book tie-in regarding said story, it was just as well that it was left unfinished.
  • Peek-A-Boo Corpse: Laurie finds all three of her murdered friends in a 15-second span near the end of the film, the last two via this trope. This setup was mercilessly poached by future franchise nemesis Friday the 13th for most of their climaxes.
  • Police Are Useless: Downplayed compared to other slasher movies. Sheriff Brackett takes Loomis's warnings seriously and joins him on an all-night stakeout of Michael's old house. Unfortunately, Michael's actions don't meet Loomis's expectations, and he and Brackett only belatedly realize what's happening.
  • Pom Pom Girl: Lynda's Establishing Character Moment is talking about all the new cheers she has to learn.
  • Quizzical Tilt: Michael does one after killing Bob.
  • Recut: During the filming of the sequel, John Carpenter shot more scenes for the ABC broadcast of the film to help it pad out the allotted time. While largely just character exposition, one scene (a visit to Michael's asylum room where the word "sister" is carved in the door) serves to help validate the twist of the second movie.
  • Red Herring: Loomis and the police stakeout the old Myers home, thinking that Micheal will return there out of instinct. He's wrong. Micheal was after Laurie this whole time.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Judith and her boyfriend make out on the couch, then head upstairs. From Michael's point of view, we see the lights in her room go out, telling us that they're having sex.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slashers Prefer Blondes: Lynda, although it's semi-averted by having brunette Annie get bumped off first. Michael's sister Judith is another aversion.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Lynda and Bob light up in bed after their sex scene is done. Useful for TV edits of the film where the toplessness can be cut without losing the context of the scene.
  • Speed Sex: Only a few minutes pass between when Judith and her boyfriend head upstairs to when we see him leaving.
  • Spiritual Successor: In many ways, the first film is this to Psycho. One of the two main characters is played by Janet "Marion Crane" Leigh's daughter, and the other has the same name as Marion's lover. Many of the stylistic choices are also clearly influenced by Hitchcock, like a repetitive Leitmotif used for a butcher knife-wielding bad guy; the camera work in Michael's first kill, where we never see knife penetrate flesh, and the cuts between the Wallace house and the approaching Laurie echoes the scene where Lila walks towards the Bates home.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Pulled off repeatedly by the Shape, most notably in the ending. Especially egregious at an earlier point of the film; Laurie sees Michael staring at her from a neighbor's yard, but after a close-up on Laurie that lasts all of a few seconds, he's gone without a trace, with no sign that Laurie had even taken her eyes off of him.
  • Stoners Are Funny: Annie has a few amusing moments while high on marijuana.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: The Shape (aka Michael Myers) is repeatedly compared to the boogeyman, apparently unkillable, and deeply enigmatic. He also seems to particularly target teenagers who are transgressive against social norms. In a subversion of this particular trope, he doesn't show much if any interest in actual children.
  • Time Skip: After the opening, the film skips from 1963 to 1978.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The original theatrical trailer gives away the first scene's twist: that the killer is the victim's six-year-old brother.
  • Trope Codifier: Halloween, alongside Friday the 13th, serves as this for the entire slasher film genre.
  • Uncommon Time: The score uses deliberate repetition of 5/4 to unsettle the audience.
  • Vader Breath: Michael is constantly heard breathing heavily beneath his mask, a trait that was fazed out in later films.
  • Valley Girl: Lynda is "Totally!" a proto version of this. Amusingly enough the movie was filmed in California.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After the opening prologue, we never see Michael's parents again or learn what happened to them. (In Halloween II it's finally revealed that they were killed in a car accident in 1965... and their youngest child, Laurie, was subsequently adopted by the Strodes.)
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: In the 1979 novelization based on the film, Michael Myers is portrayed as this. In the original film, however, this is absolutely avoided.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Lampshaded early on in a lecture by Laurie's English teacher.