Film Highlight: Halloween

Pity the teenage movie fan who thinks Scream is the Rosetta stone of horror. If only he or she could've seen John Carpenter's peerless proto-slasher film in 1978—without advance word or warning, before decades of imitators turned its poppin'-fresh scares into formula. A suburban variation on The Thing (years before Carpenter directly remade it), the plot is simplicity itself: After escaping from an asylum and the care of obsessed Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), madman Michael Myers (Tony Moran in a William Shatner mask) spends Halloween night in the tranquil town of Haddonfield, Illinois, systematically slaughtering teenage girls. The killer picks off half-dressed Nancy Loomis and slutty P.J. Soles—plot points that inadvertently codified the slasher genre's hard-on for sexually active women—while Carpenter's sympathy lies with Jamie Lee Curtis's beleaguered babysitter, not because she's a virgin, but because she's tough, capable, and working. What countless rip-offs (and sequels) have never been able to duplicate is Carpenter's masterful, devious use of the wide screen, starting with that still-jarring POV shot through the eyeholes in a killer's clown mask. Tossing off nods to Suspiria, Mario Bava, and even the Halloween sequence from Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis, the director spring-loads every corner of the 'Scope frame with nasty surprises, using his implacable five-note piano theme to set the mood of pounding menace.

 
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