Halloween is almost universally regarded as a game-changing horror classic that plummeted us back into the pulse-racing, sweat-beading stretches of tension of Hitchcock's heyday, but back in 1978 not all critics were so convinced by the moody, low-budget movie's mastery.
Unlike movies such as Friday the 13th, which have taken years to marinade and be recognized for the cult classics that they are, Halloween was instantly identified as something groundbreaking by many reviewers of its time.
In honor of the announcement that the franchise will be revived once more by Blumhouse with Carpenter acting as executive producer, below is a round up of the reviews that Halloween garnered when it first whipped cinema-goers into a screeching frenzy. Believe me, some of them cut deeper than Michael Myers's trusty blade.
Halloween Fan Club
When Halloween was released it was praised by many critics for its artistic and surprising camera angles and the pared-back, tension generating music that throbs through the scenes.
Critics also praised the surprising lack of blood and gore that made the killer seem terrifyingly analytical and almost emotionless without the addition of graphic violence. Check out the classic scene below to see what I mean:
Tom Allen (The Village Voice) - 'John Carpenter’s Halloween, Alone In The Last Decade, Stands With George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead'
Tom Allen is regarded as the journalist who managed to turn the tide of negative reviews in Halloween's favor with an honest review that acknowledged the movie's "schlock" qualities but also suggested it had potential to become a genre classic.
The review begins by describing how the low-budget slasher would never be considered highbrow, but that it had an unmissable charm all of its own that parallels the work of Romero and Hitchcock:
It’s useless to take a lofty view on an instant schlock horror classic, but there are reasons why John Carpenter’s Halloween, alone in the last decade, stands with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and, before that, with Psycho, in which Hitchcock subverted the subgenre to different ends. The resemblance of Halloween to the Romero film—an assault on credibility couched in documentary prose—is the utter implacability of the antagonist, a faceless psychopath of terrifying strength and preternatural ubiquity who lays siege to two households of teenagers. Otherwise, Halloween, a study in warm colors, dark shadows, and ceaselessly tracking dollies, owes much more to the expressive possibilities raised by Vincente Minnelli in the Halloween sequence of Meet Me in St. Louis than to any films in the realistic school.
Allen also took the time to praise the character development of the victims in the movie and how culturally aware Carpenter was compared to the stuffy, bigger movie studios:
"The trio of teenage girls in Halloween are victims truly worth caring about. They speak more intelligent dialogue and are more attractively contemporary than the hundreds of blithering idiots in all the Universal, Columbia, and Paramount youth films in any given year."
Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) - 'Credit Must Be Paid To Filmmakers Who Make The Effort To Really Frighten Us'
Roger Ebert praised Carpenter for his simple goal of scaring the audience shitless and slammed those who were putting the emerging director down for being to focused to frightening cinema-goers:
Halloween” is a visceral experience -- we aren't seeing the movie, we're having it happen to us. It's frightening. Maybe you don't like movies that are really scary: Then don't see this one. Seeing it, I was reminded of the favorable review I gave a few years ago to “Last House on the Left,” another really terrifying thriller. Readers wrote to ask how I could possibly support such a movie. But it wasn't that I was supporting it so much as that I was describing it: You don't want to be scared? Don't see it. Credit must be paid to filmmakers who make the effort to really frighten us, to make a good thriller when quite possibly a bad one might have made as much money. Hitchcock is acknowledged as a master of suspense; it's hypocrisy to disapprove of other directors in the same genre who want to scare us too.
Gene Siskel (Chicago Tribune) - 'It's A Beautifully Made Thriller'
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune also praised the ability of Halloween to whip up mass hysteria with its shocking jump-scares and automatically saw 30-year-old Carpenter's full potential:
Don't see Halloween in an empty theater on a weekday afternoon. See it on a weekend night in a packed house. Halloween is a film to be enjoyed with a boisterous crowd; it's an "audience picture," a film designed to get specific reactions from an audience at specific moments. With Halloween, the most often desired reaction is screaming. It's a beautifully made thriller -- more shocking than bloody -- that will have you screaming with regularity. Halloween was directed by John Carpenter, 30, a natural filmmaker and a name worth remembering.
Ron Pennington (The Hollywood Reporter) - 'He Builds A Properly Terrifying Atmosphere'
Hollywood Reporter's rather understated review quietly praised the emerging Carpenter's clear love of the horror genre that fueled his nightmarish vision:
Carpenter obviously knows the genre well and he builds a properly terrifying atmosphere through his well-paced direction. It’s an effective entry for its intended market.
Pennington also took the time to recognize the importance of the babysitter victims for making the movie a roaring success:
Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent as the girl around whom the action revolves and she creates a natural, sympathetic character. Good support is provided by Nancy Loomis and P.J. Soles as her two friends and by Charles Cyphers as the town’s sheriff.
Some critics couldn't get behind the sometimes lengthly slots that helped to cement Micheal Myers's brooding, deadly presence into our psyches and a handful of Halloween's first reviewers didn't hold back when it came to sticking the knife in good and hard.
Pauline Kael (The New Yorker) - 'It Isn't Ashamed To Revive The Stalest Device Of The Genre'
Kael is cited as one of the first people to be unashamedly scathing about everything Halloween and she slammed Carpenter for his unoriginal ideas and "childish" plot:
Carpenter doesn't seem to have had any life outside the movies: one can trace almost every idea on the screen to directors such as Hitchcock and Brian De Palma and to the Val Lewton productions. Maybe when a horror film is stripped of everything but dumb scariness—when it isn't ashamed to revive the stalest device of the genre (the escaped lunatic)—it satisfies part of the audience in a more basic, childish way than sophisticated horror pictures do.
Gary Arnold (The Washington Post) - 'A Plodding Exercise In Sham Apprehension'
If you thought Kael's Halloween review was enough to make even stone cold Michael Myers wince, wait until you get a load of Gary Arnold's take. Seems like this dude would rather have gone the way of the babysitters than watched this movie again. First he attacked the movie's pacing:
Not that this plodding exercise in sham apprehension would look impressive even if one felt starved for morbid stimulation. Now at area theaters, "Halloween" is far more proficient at torpor than terror.
Evidently conceived as a genre talent showcase by 30-year-old John Carpenter, who also collaborated on the minimal scenario and composed the undernourished score. "Halloween" is a stab at a derivative minor classic. It's apparent where Carpenter got his horror devices - and a minor misfortune that he hasn't been able to synthesize them in a fresh or exciting way.
Before trashing just about everything else about the movie and then, hilariously, digging his how grave by ended the review like this:
The movie ends with the sound of heavy, heavy breathing still haunting the pleasant tree-lined streets of Haddonfield. A horror melodrama that resorts to an "irony" like that obviously wants to be congratulated for digging its own grave. Congratulations.
I actually Lol-d!
If reading these reviewers gave you a taste for John Carpenter, you can learn more about his career and tumultuous relationship with Halloween HERE.