The horror movie opening I will be analysing in this essay will be Halloween, dating back to 1978. The film is stated to be inspired by Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, and was one of the first iconic slasher films made, inspiring many more to follow and a popular following still to this day. The film sold 30 million tickets worldwide when it was released in cinema, and was instated into the National Film Registry of America in 2006, for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The film was directed by John Carpenter.
The target audience for Halloween is primarily a male audience, of the ages between 18-30. We know that the audience is mainly male because of the attention to sexual imagery and combined violence within the film. It’s a stereotype that this is a trope that will appeal to men, and so this was incorporated into the film. The killer is male, and the ‘final girl’ is saved by another male and so the film is made to be ‘relatable’ to men – if there were more female characters (or if the killer was female) it would be less relatable to that audience.
The film faced controversy due to the portrayal of women and society – with Myer’s victims being sexually promiscuous and substance abusers. It was suggested that this was a social critique of 1970’s American youth. In addition to this, critics suggested that the film was sadistic and misogynistic because it was made for viewers to be able to relate to the killer. Carpenter however dismissed these theories.
Halloween is an iconic and prime example of horror movie conventions, particularly in slashers. The trope in which all characters die except for one female survivor is known as the ‘final girl’ trope and Halloween brought this into mainstream horror. In addition to this, the opening is conventional of the genre. It starts with Michael Myer’s POV, walking into the house. We see him watching his older sister with her boyfriend, and go upstairs. We then see him creeping into the house, following them before stabbing his sister. Watching this from the killer’s perspective is a convention as it adds tension because we know exactly what is happening and can predict what will happen.
When his sister goes upstairs, the lover leaves for the night, leaving the girl defenceless. This is conventional horror – women in early and stereotypical films are often the victim of the killer, and by leaving her defenceless, we already know that she won’t survive.
Another way in which we know this is a generic slasher is that the killer has his own musical theme – as begins his journey to kill his sister an eerie tune begins to play – this is also a conventional signal that leaves the audience expecting a murder. It leaves the audience on the edge of their seat.
In Halloween, the representation is specific and significant, especially in regards to women. Halloween is a classic film that popularised the film trope of killing off the slim, blonde and pretty woman, and this character is usually the first to be killed – as with this film.
In the opening, the first shot we see of characters is from Michael’s point of view – we see him looking through a window and seeing his older sister kissing her lover. As the audience we know that she is going to die because we know of this trope. We then see the characters running upstairs to the bedroom, furthering our knowledge that she is going to die. When the lover leaves, she is left defenceless and we know Michael is going to kill her. He creeps up the stairs and kills her, leaving her on the floor. Throughout this whole scene, the sister is represented in a promiscuous manner – when she dies, we see her on the floor in none/little clothing.
The killing of the sister after being with a lover presents the idea of intimacy as a sin, which is a narrative that continues throughout the film. The film may have been constructed this way because it combines intimacy with horror, and it also suggests the idea of male dominance which may appeal to the target audience, particularly at the time of release when gender stereotypes were firmly in place.
The narrative of the opening of Halloween is single strand narrative – up until we see the killer revealed at the end, the entire opening is from the perspective of the killer – Michael Myers. We see exactly what he is seeing from a first person point of view. This engages the audience because we can begin to understand his thought pattern and why he does what he does (considering that we are familiar with the female representation trope). We also see him picking up the knife from his perspective, making us anticipate what is about to happen. In addition to this, the killer picks up as clown mask and puts it on – the mask would only fit a child, so it alerts us that this killer is not an adult, which could be argued that this makes it creepier. This is the only thread that we see in the opening – it makes hang on to the story and it is creepier because we aren’t given a break from it – it is the only thing to focus on.
Whilst Halloween can be considered an objectifying and problematic film in terms of representation, the tropes that the film popularised are still being modelled after in today’s horror. Horror films are made to be uncomfortable, scary and/or suspenseful, and these tropes have worked out successfully for the horror industry with Halloween being a shining example that continues to enthuse horror fans across the world.