Why Halloween Is The Best Horror Movie Of All TIme

Dissecting what makes John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ an enduring classic and the best horror movie of all time.

I remember my Dad letting me stay up late when I was 11 and we watched ‘Halloween‘ on cable in the early 80’s. I was hooked.

And I wasn’t alone.  ‘Halloween‘ was a massive hit and for many years remained the highest grossing independent film ever made. The story was taut simplicity;  a bunch of teenagers get drunk and horny and get slaughtered by a crazed killer. Only the virginal heroine survives.
As with any Hollywood success story, it inspired imitators (‘Friday The 13th‘, “Nightmare On Elm Street“, etc) but all pale in comparison and lack the mood and suspense that made Director John Carpenter’s film unique.

<img src="Michael Myers Best Horror villain .jpg" alt=Michael Myers Best Horror villain" />

Now many will say “Halloween” isn’t the scariest horror film. Fair enough. But its atmosphere, mythology, and holiday trappings, make it the “It’s A Wonderful Life” of scary films.


<img src="Halloween is the best horror movie ever.jpg" alt="Best Horror Movie is Halloween" />

So what makes ‘Halloween‘ the best horror movie of all time? Let’s break it down.

  •  Vision:

John Carpenter was on a roll in the 70’s & 80’s, and remains a beloved cult director (“The Thing” is my favorite film of all time). No one can do panicked isolation better. And he was ably assisted by cinematographer Dean Cundey.

Their use of the steadicam (a device new to filmmaking at the time) was crucial. Suddenly a handheld camera was fluid; perfect for the POV shots of Michael as the killer, and those long gliding stretches of an unaware suburbia.

They  turned sunny L.A.  into the autumnal midwest (although the occasionally palm tree sticks out). The neighborhoods felt at once idyllic and haunted. In the late 70’s  we were entering the age of  serial killers and increased violent crime. Things didn’t feel safe. Our parent’s tales of the wholesome 1950’s seemed like a fairy tale. Carpenter stressed that psychic nerve.

<img src="Halloween-Haddonfield-Michael-Myers.jpg" alt="Haddonfield Halloween Michael Myers" />

  • Music:

Carpenter’s iconic score is masterful minimalism used for dramatic effect. It feels like Michael Myer’s psyche, making up for his silence. It emits unending sonic dread. The main theme is haunting, but the whole score is amazing, from the spooky etherealism of “Laurie’s Theme” to the two note sucker punch of “The Shape Stalks/Lurks“.

Click here to see where Halloween ranks in my list of Top 20 Horror Movie Scores

  • Casting:

Jamie Lee Curtis’s casting was inspired; she was the daughter of ‘Psycho‘ actress Janet Leigh, which was Carpenter’s acknowledged main influence for the movie. She clearly inherited the scream queen gene for her mother, but took it in a new direction as Laurie Strode,  the heroine who fought back, refusing to be a victim. This set the template to countless other horror movies.

<img src="Jamie-Lee-Curtis-Halloween.jpg" alt=Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween" />

And Donald Pleasance gave the film immediate grace as Myer’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis. He made dialogue that was admittedly wonky seem credible.

<img src="Halloween-Sam-Loomis-Donald-Pleasance.jpg" alt="Donald Pleasance as Sam Loomis in Halloween" />

  • Michael Myers:

 The biggest piece in the puzzleAs a society, we’re obsessed with explanations. Randomness makes us uneasy. But sometimes bad things happen to good people, and no explanation will satisfy. ‘Halloween‘ doesn’t play fair with its audience; a killer embodies pure evil and can’t die. By defying logic it pulls away the safety net.

There is no reasoning with this blank slate.  No ability to persuade or dissuade him from his cause.  Myers cuts this line off. He’s a dead-end in every respect.

And in this era of smart phones, instant messaging and the need for constant interactivity, ‘Halloween‘ is even more unsettling. This film came out even before call waiting and answering machines. If no one picked up the phone, you were on your own.

<img src="Michael-Myers-phone.jpg" alt="Michael Myers breathing in phone" />

On the credits to the original ‘Halloween‘ actor Nick Castle is credited as ‘The Shape‘ instead of ‘Michael Myers‘. While he’s never referred as such in the film (his nickname there is appropriately, ‘The Boogeyman‘), it’s an apt moniker; all husk, no soul. And Castle’s performance is key. Sure he says nothing, but his eerie automaton movements are brilliant, showing that Myer’s is human in name and name alone.

(the above image is from the scariest scene IMHO)

  • The Mask:

William Shatner is a man of huge ego, so it speaks to poor manufacturing that the Captain Kirk mask made in the 70’s had no life in it. Carpenter seized on this; and painting it white made it even more diffuse and formless.

It’s part clown, part mime, part corpse and part ghost. When it’s in shadow the eyes are blank and when eyes are visible their predatorial gaze is discomfiting. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. So the lack of a soul makes the eyes bleak mirrors to the viewer’s (victim’s) discomfort.

<img src="Halloween-The-Shape-Laurie.jpg" alt="The Shape Attacks Laurie" />

I remember buying the mask when I was in high school. It creeped me out even then. There is just something jarring about it, even when I stared at myself in the mirror, it made me feel less human.

<img src="Michael-Myers-Halloween-Mask.jpg" alt=""Michael Myers Halloween Mask" />

 There have been many sequels to ‘Halloween‘. Some are good (I still enjoy ‘Halloween 2‘ and have this to say about ‘Halloween III’) and some are terrible. Rob Zombie’s remake had some scares, but over explaining Myer’s past defeated the concept. The unexplained is better, and the original ‘Halloween‘ remains impossible to beat and the best horror movie of all time.

Lots of ‘Halloween‘ goodness from Amazon below. And be sure to check our my list of scariest film scenes and forgotten horror films.

About SLIS

Middle Aged Gen-Exer obsessed with Alternative rock, metal, cult movies, comic books and cable TV.

Follow Us

Follow Smells Like Infinite Sadness

, , , , , , , ,

11 Responses to Why Halloween Is The Best Horror Movie Of All TIme

  1. Jack Sommersby November 1, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    “Their use of the steadicam (a device new to filmmaking at the time) was crucial.”

    And you know what? I think Carpenter used it a lot better than Kubrick did in “The Shining,” where it was more show-off-y than integral. You make a good point about Myers’ background not needing explanation, but I didn’t mind it in Zombie’s film because at least it was a remake that added something new. And my critic pal Mike Bracken and I agree that without Pleasance’s solidity, the film wouldn’t be quite as good as it is — I still think it’s the best work he’s ever done, which is quite the accomplishment being that it’s not the most challenging of roles.

  2. Jack Sommersby November 1, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Oh, and I didn’t know this was filmed in California! Well, whatever neighborhood selected was a good one, because it really does look like the Midwest.

    • SLIS November 1, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      Yeah, my wife agrees with you on Zombie’s film; she likes that it explains his motives. It does help make it distinctive, but I guess I prefer the mystery. But there were some very brutal, scary scenes in that film (but the sequel was terrible).

      And yep, Halloween was shot all around L.A.. I remember going with my parents on one of those star tours when I was in middle school, and the driver said can you name this house? And I said is that the house where Laurie was babysitting? And he said “you got it”! The Myer’s House is in Pasadena and is a chiropractic center now lol. Here’s a YouTube link to a doc that was on the DVD/Bluray. I believe they go into details on how they made the location look like Fall among other interesting tidbits.

      • Tuna84 October 24, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

        I have always said that we do not need to know Myers past that what makes Halloween the best horror flick of all time. I was just watching it last and after all these years it is still scary.

  3. SLIS October 24, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

    In the end I prefer the mystery. I don’t think Zombie’s filmed has aged particularly well, but I do give him credit for trying something different.

    It appears that the new Halloween movie will keep his backstory sparse but I’m really worried that Danny McBride doesn’t have a good handle on the method. His comments have been kinda inconsistent with the original vision.

  4. SLIS October 24, 2017 at 8:50 pm #

    Meant good handle on the *material.


  1. Christmas Gifts Best DVD and Blu-Ray Sets of 2012, Great Movies and TV | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - November 24, 2012

    […] going all year-long? Whether it’s the satisfying sequel to John Carpenter’s original (the best horror movie ever), or the underrated part III,  these Shout! Factory special editions have great HD transfers and […]

  2. Top 7 Worst Holiday Movies and TV Specials, Bad Christmas Films,horror | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - December 11, 2012

    […] and cringe-worthy Christmas family films? Or the holiday themed horror movie? Halloween as I wrote about in October, remains the best and most imitated.  Black Christmas is a classic creepfest (same director as ‘A Christmas […]

  3. Album Review: Kavinsky 'Outrun' | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - February 27, 2013

    […] sequenced keyboards could be straight out of John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” and “Deadcruiser”  references Harold […]

  4. 40 Great But Forgotten Horror Movies Part 4, underrated scary films | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - June 25, 2013

    […] And stay tuned as up next I celebrate the enduring appeal of John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’. […]

  5. Top 20 Best Movie Sequels Of All Time, best film sequels ever made | Smells Like Infinite Sadness - August 14, 2013

    […] Carpenter’s Halloween birthed the slasher genre, and remains the best of its kind. But the sequel is entertaining, and the hospital setting gives it an added unease. The fact that […]

Leave a Reply