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Halloween is as pure and undiluted as its title. In the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, a teenage baby sitter tries to survive a Halloween night of relentless terror, during which a knife-wielding maniac goes after the town’s hormonally charged youths.
Director John Carpenter takes this simple situation and orchestrates a superbly mounted symphony of horrors. It’s a movie much scarier for its dark spaces and ominous camera movements than for its explicit bloodletting (which is actually minimal).
Composed by Carpenter himself, the movie’s freaky music sets the tone; and his script (cowritten with Debra Hill) is laced with references to other horror pictures, especially Psycho. The baby sitter is played by Jamie Lee Curtis, the real-life daughter of Psycho victim Janet Leigh; and the obsessed policeman played by Donald Pleasence is named Sam Loomis, after John Gavin’s character in Psycho.
In the end, though, Halloween stands on its own as an uncannily frightening experience–it’s one of those movies that had audiences literally jumping out of their seats and shouting at the screen. (“No! Don’t drop that knife!”) Produced on a low budget, the picture turned a monster profit, and spawned many sequels, none of which approached the 1978 original.
Curtis returned for two more installments: 1981′s dismal Halloween II, which picked up the story the day after the unfortunate events, and 1998′s occasionally gripping Halloween H20, which proved the former baby sitter was still haunted after 20 years. –Robert Horton