Halloween, the 1978 horror film directed by John Carpenter, is regarded by many critics as being responsible for creating the slasher film which features a knife-wielding psychopath stalking a defenseless woman, or several defenseless women. (Halloween can be seen for free now on the Roku Channel, or on October 1 at 8 p.m. ET on AMC.)
In the 1980s, after Halloween made more money than any independent film ever had, there were dozens of such exploitations including Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day, Child’s Play, Graduation Day, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Prom Night.
(Halloween star Jamie Lee Curtis starred in Prom Night as well, leading to her being nicknamed, ‘The Scream Queen.’)
There were so many slasher films in the 80s that Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to ‘1980s Slasher Films’ with individual links to 187 different ones!
“(Halloween) showcased a strong and powerful female lead,” self-titled horror expert Dr. Johnny Walker said in 2018, “which has since become a staple not only of the slasher film, but the horror genre writ large.”
Walker notes there were similar films prior to Halloween, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974 and Black Christmas in 1976. But Halloween is the one that made the big bucks, and that always exaggerates a film’s influence.
So Halloween often is attacked for contributing to societal misogyny and violence towards women. But many of the critics may not know that the film was rooted in a strict moral code, albeit one that promoted puritanical morals.
Jamie Lee Curtis, who (spoiler alert!!!!!) survives the attack, is the good girl. She doesn’t have sex. She doesn’t curse. And she’s nice to everyone. But her girlfriends, played by P.J. Soles and Nancy Kyes, are the epitome of the stereotypical bad girl of the 1970s — they like casual sex, they smoke cigarettes, and they cut school whenever possible.
And, consequently, they get ‘cut up’ in the movie, as do various boyfriends with equally dubious virtues.
But Carpenter, now 72, has denied that he was trying to make anything other than a successful movie.
“It has been suggested that I was making some kind of moral statement. Believe me, I’m not. In Halloween, I viewed the characters as simply normal teenagers,” he said in an interview in 2003.
But Curtis, who was 19 when Halloween was filmed, was keenly aware of the differences between her character, and her pals. In fact, that’s why she didn’t want to play Laurie, the good girl.
“I was very much a smart alec, and was a cheerleader in high school,” Curtis said years later. “So I felt very concerned that I was being considered for the quiet, repressed young woman when in fact I was very much like the other two girls.”
Regardless of whether Carpenter and Debra Hill, who co-wrote the script, were trying to make a statement, or just a box office smash, there’s no denying that Halloween‘s influence is still pervasive, although the slasher film genre has cooled over the years.
And there’s also no denying that it’s a great movie.