Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)

If John Carpenter’s Halloween doesn’t feel as fresh today as it once was, it’s understandable. After all, it was the slasher film back in the day—the one that spearheaded a craze that we all know so well. Masked men with sharp weapons stalking vulnerable women until the final girl ends their reign of terror. Shadows in the night. Lonely houses and telephones ringing, with no one on the other line. The camera slipping into the POV of a demented killer, creeping on stairwells and peering maliciously behind corners. If that’s not scary enough, we have no idea exactly when he will strike, or how. False alarms are rampant. The innocent go about their routines, blithely unaware of the danger until it’s too late. Then BOOM. The kill.

Viewing it now, Halloween ticks off all the requisite boxes. Yet it does so with a genuinely eerie atmosphere, refusing to indulge in gratuitous violence and instead focusing on the spectacle of psychosis let loose. While we don’t know much about Michael Myers (at least, in this installment), the danger he poses with his butcher knife is real. His pale mask renders him featureless, yet it gives him an amorphousness that allows him to haunt all spaces. The fear he invokes comes not from his physicality, but from what he brings us: the evil that taints our tranquil existence, which even the placid face of suburbia cannot escape.

And so, Halloween balances a certain campness in its amateur acting and idiosyncratic murders with the truly terrifying implication that the bad things of the world cannot be so easily killed—that, in a world meant to do us harm, we can only survive through constant vigilance. Even now, despite the slasher genre’s descent into self-parody, its origins still unsettle us because there’s really nothing to laugh at. A bleak worldview is exactly that.