John Carpenter’s Halloween

John Carpenter’s Halloween is an iconic film that perpetually changed the horror genre. Halloween modernized slasher films and brought it to mainstream media; its release in 1978 caused a cult following, and filmmakers instantly took notice. Even before Halloween, “horror cinema prospered and developed its unique forms of expressions in many film industries around the globe, [but] it is in the United States and in the American film industry that horror, for as long as film has existed, has been a staple genre” (Hantke).

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American horror was an industry in itself; finding creative ways to overstep the boundaries proved to be difficult for most who attempted. So, how did Halloween break the confines of American horror and introduce techniques that filmmakers would use for decades to come?

A trope is a common or overused theme or device (a cliché). When watching a horror movie, an audience that recognizes a trope is more likely to predict the plot, and therefore be less scared. When Halloween was released, audiences were terrified. John Carpenter did not use tropes; he pioneered his own. By watching movies today, it is proven that the tropes Halloween created have become completely synonymous with the slasher genre.

The most influential trope seen in Halloween is “the final girl.” The term, first theorized by Carol Clover, describes the conception of gender in horror films. It specifies that the last person left alive is a woman, and she alone can stop the killer. The final girl is typically virginal, has a unisex name, and avoids sin. In Halloween, Laurie Strode is sin-free and therefore unpunishable. She is the only one with unfiltered access to Michael Myers, making his defeat an outlet for sexual frustration. Clover argues that “the first and central aim of horror cinema is to play to masochistic fears and desires in its audiences.” By introducing the “final girl” in Halloween, John Carpenter toys with the audience’s emotions and the fear that comes with masochism. Intense trepidation is conveyed better by a woman than a man, and viewers of Halloween experience it more by having Laurie as a final girl.

Another effective technique Halloween uses is setting. Haddonfield, Illinois is a classic all-American town where the fictional plot takes place. There are friendly neighbors, picturesque suburban streets, relatable high school students, and young children going to school. It would be the last place audiences would expect the psychotic monster, Michael Myers. Halloween takes the dark side of suburbia and criticizes the safety people feel outside of a large city. Michael Myers is the product of that environment; he was a suburban child who murdered his sister in cold blood. When audiences view Halloween, they fear for their own safety and question the suburban life they live. Today, most slasher movies take place in suburbs similar to Halloween because it proved to be a shocking setting for horror.

Upon its release in 1978, Halloween became one of the most successful independent movies of all time. It was shot in just 20 days, with a limited budget of 325,000 dollars. John Carpenter’s ability to pull off such a successful movie with such a low budget affected Halloween’s impact. His success inspired many small filmmakers to follow in his footsteps. The cast and crew were virtually unknown; watching Halloween feels like one is watching a movie random teenagers spontaneously decided to create in their backyard. Even the iconic mask Michael Myers wears throughout the film was a haphazardly put together William Shatner mask. Being low-budget caused audiences to underestimate how easily they could be scared, and therefore changed the way horror movies could be created.

Now known as one of the most profitable independent films ever created, Halloween became a cinematic blueprint that influenced horror films that followed. The techniques John Carpenter pioneered are now responsible for the rise of slasher movies and the new wave of horror that emerged in the 1980s. A $3 William Shatner mask, an effective script, and creative fear strategies not only created a piece of cinematic history, but inspired horror films to follow. Halloween is a definitive part of the horror genre, and its successful outcome will continue to inspire slasher movies for years to come.

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