This article is part of a series. Click here for all entries.
This article contains minor spoilers, though I try to keep things vague.
John Carpenter’s Halloween is a movie that needs no introduction… but we’ll do one anyway! Even if you haven’t seen the movie, so many of its elements rank among the most well-known, recognizable, and parodied in horror cinema – namely the slasher elements, the iconic music, notably done by Carpenter himself, and many of the visuals and atmospheric elements. I recently revisited the classic horror film to see if it would hold up today.
As for my bias, I have very little experience with the series. I’ve seen this movie, the original, all the way through in the past, but have far less experience with the rest of the series, catching some of them on cable in passing or just learning about them through cultural osmosis. I decided I wanted to fill the gap, which is why I’m reviewing the entire series, starting here.
I chose to come at my analysis from the perspective of a modern young adult viewing the film for the first time, in an attempt to take off and smash those rose-colored glasses. Someone who grew up hearing about the film and understands its place in culture, and is looking to watch a well-regarded scary movie.
I know I’m breaking format again, as I recently decided to keep the final answer at the end, but I’m going to make an exception here for flow reasons. In my revisit of this film, I think that I can say that I do not believe the movie holds up today. That isn’t to say it’s a terrible movie by any means, and there’s a lot of cool stuff in it, but as a whole, I don’t think a modern viewer watching it for the first time as an adult will get too much out of it, even a hardcore cinephile (like I think of myself to be), outside of understanding its historical significance. Before you jump down my throat, let me explain.
What Holds Up?
So the cats out of the bag. I don’t think Halloween is a movie that holds up today. We’ll get into why in the following section, but I want to first dig into what positive aspects a modern viewer might get out of it today.
First and foremost, as a big fan of cinematography, there’s a lot to like from the movie visually. Shot by Dean Cundey (Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, The Thing, and a buncha other classics), and it stands as a damn fine-looking film. This might not be something that would stand out to a lay-viewer, but it’s generally very well-shot and there are some genuinely creepy and unnerving images in the film that stand the test of time.
I really like the clothesline shot, pictured below, where Michael Myers stands ominously in the distance, watching Laurie Strode, Jaime Lee Curtis’ character. The scene where Donald Pleasence’s character Dr. Loomis drives up to the sanitarium and sees the patients roaming creepily, as well as the scene (without getting too spoiler-y) towards the end where Myers walks across the street, also stand out. The long take in the introduction is fairly impressive, too. Not every image holds up perfectly today, but there’s some good stuff to be seen.
Although I generally didn’t find the film particularly scary (more on that in a bit), there are some genuinely scary moments, like the people in the house turning off their lights at the end. I also think that the film’s concept is pretty terrifying. There’s a creepy man somewhere out there brutally murdering innocent young girls on Halloween. It’s so stark and fits greatly with the film’s atmosphere. Speaking of which, if you’re a horror fan who leans heavily into atmosphere, there’s a lot to like here as well. Carpenter is a master of establishing atmosphere, horror or otherwise, and Halloween is certainly no exception.
The film also is well-known for its score. I’m generally not the biggest fan of Carpenter scores, but that’s definitely subjective. If you like his music, there’s a lot to like here, so I’ll say that it’s generally positive, despite my personal issues. The iconic theme is great, of course, and genuinely adds a lot of tension to many of the scenes. This is another personal thing – some people don’t mind the influence music has on movies, others don’t like feeling manipulated by score. For me, it entirely depends on the film, but I think the use of music to amplify tension works pretty well here.
What Doesn’t Hold Up?
Man… this is a tough one. I went into this movie with some pretty high expectations given the film’s reputation as one of the all-time horror classics. Having viewed the film from an analytical lens, I can certainly see why it has that reputation. The reason this movie is a classic is because of how unique it was in the world of cinema upon release. It didn’t invent the slasher film, but it certainly holds claim to the creation or popularization of many characteristics of the genre. If we separate ourselves from the history that followed the release and explosion of popularity surrounding the film, I can see why it holds the reputation that it does. But, it’s (unfortunately) 2020, and a modern person will, for better or for worse, have seen everything this movie does in one way or another.
The film just has nothing they haven’t seen before, and, outside of the horror elements, it just doesn’t have a whole lot else going for it, unlike something like Alien (1979), another horror/slasher from the same period, where there’s a lot more to the film than the slasher elements themselves. I want to re-emphasize that the reason a modern viewer has seen everything in this film before is because of how impactful it was to horror cinema – but that doesn’t change the fact that someone viewing this movie today just won’t get anything new out of it, which will be a detriment to a modern viewing experience. Remember: this isn’t a classic-style review. This isn’t me saying whether this is a good or bad movie or not. This is whether it holds up today.
On top of the horror elements being not particularly fresh today, some of the execution is downright cheesy by modern standards. This isn’t to say that I think all movies from this era feel dated – I definitely don’t! But man, some of the stuff in this movie came across as feeling very cheesy and dated. Some of the kills aren’t executed particularly well, and stuff like the now-classic body discovery scene come across as somewhat banal. Laurie falling down the stairs is downright comical and unrealistic. Again, I get it; this is where the clichés came from – but that doesn’t change the fact that a modern audience won’t see it that way. They’ll just see it as predictable, and maybe a little boring. It has some more style to it than a cheap-o modern horror film, but I doubt that would stand out to the average filmgoer today.
To put a tiny bit of my own personal spin, I think a modern viewer with a keen eye might have a lot of issues with the movie outside of the elements that don’t hold up. Certain lapses in logic, like Laurie constantly dropping her weapons and Myers’ apparent indestructibility, might come across as laughable to a modern viewer. The characters aren’t particularly strong or well-defined (a common issue with Carpenter). I didn’t particularly like how Myers’ character was explored. I didn’t get why all they had for Donald Pleasence to do for half the film was stand in front of a bush.
Halloween isn’t a horrible film by any means, but I would go so far as to say that there were much better horror films released in that era, and certainly many more released since 1978.
To me, Halloween does not hold up particularly well, but that isn’t to say it’s a terrible movie. As with other things I’ve reviewed for this DIHU? project, Halloween seems to fall under the “Seinfeld Is Unfunny” trope, where it’s clear why it had the impact that it had upon its release, but it’s also clear why someone in the present day might find that its elements do not hold up particularly well. There just was nothing like it, really, at the time, outside of a few notable American films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which didn’t get nearly the same level of viewership as Halloween, and giallo films, which didn’t make much of an impact on American cinema.
When I watched the film, I just didn’t feel much tension, nor did I get scared a whole lot. Some of it had to do with my overall issues with Carpenter’s filmmaking style, but a lot of it had to do with just how dated the movie feels now. Maybe if this is the first horror movie you’ve ever seen, it might come across as pretty terrifying, but given the stuff that has come out in the 30+ years since its release, it just came across as pretty dated to me. I would recommend the movie to teenagers, and maybe people who don’t watch a lot of horror films, but that’d be about it. There are movies from this era that I think hold up (stay tuned!), but Halloween is, unfortunately, not one of them.
Let me know what you think in the comments, as well as what you’d like me to look at next!