The Quarantine Stream: 'Halloween' Is Still Scary After All These Years

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The Movie: HalloweenWhere You Can Stream It: ShudderThe Pitch: John Carpenter accidentally invents the American slasher movie by making a low-budget fright-flick where a guy in a William Shatner mask terrorizes teens.Why It's Essential Quarantine Viewing: Look at today's date.

No one could've predicted that Halloween, which had a script initially called The Babysitter Murders, would turn out to become a piece of iconic horror. The type of movie that would spawn numerous sequels, countless imitators, and create a trend. The bare-bones for the slasher movie as we know were around before John Carpenter's Halloween, but it was Carpenter's 1978 film that really broke the mold and created the formula that so many others would copy.

And it's oh so simple. When you step back and look at Halloween, there's not a lot to it. And yet, Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill were able to craft something terrifying. Sure, Halloween might not be as scary today as it was in '78, but it's still damn effective. And imagine seeing this thing for the first time that year. Roger Ebert put it best in his review at the time of release: "Halloween is a visceral experience — we aren't seeing the movie, we're having it happen to us. It's frightening. Maybe you don't like movies that are really scary: Then don't see this one."

And then there's this, a great video that overlays audio actually recorded in a theater in 1979, featuring an audience losing their god damn minds during one of the film's climactic moments:

Carpenter was somehow able to tap into some sort of raw, primal power and concoct something that was tailor-made to scare the shit out of people. And despite all the sequels, and spin-offs, and remakes, that power remains, and prevails. The idea of Michael Myers – this unstoppable killing machine who wants nothing more than to destroy the lives of anyone in his path, for absolutely no reason (it was the sequels that tried to give Michael a motive for his killing) – remains as scary today as it was over forty years ago.

The set-up: when he was a child, Michael Myers stabbed his sister to death on Halloween – for no real reason. Now, as an adult, Michael escapes from the loony bin in time for Halloween and comes back to his home town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Once there he sets about targeting a group of babysitters. Why? There's no real reason. He's just a malignant force – a Shape, as the script calls him – who must kill. And one of his targets is innocent, naive Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the ultimate final girl. She survives (spoiler alert, I guess), but there's no triumph. No victory. The final moments of the film have Laurie curled up in a ball, sobbing and clearly irreparably traumatized. And Michael Myers? Well, he's still out there. Somewhere in the darkness. And Carpenter closes the film with a series of locations we've seen all throughout the film. They're darkened now; empty. And Michael's heavy breathing is heard over all of them, as if he's become omnipresent. He's everywhere now. And you can't stop him.

Happy Halloween.