Earlier this month, John Carpenter’s seminal genre work Halloween, and its spectral force of pure evil Michael Myers, celebrated 35 years of hacking and slashing the residents of Haddonfield, Ill. Halloween was a pitch-black examination of Original Sin wreaking havoc upon quiet suburbia. Myers, also known as The Shape, was the ultimate boogyman: undeterred even by daylight, Myers’ white mask and butcher blade seemingly sprang forth from the fissures and cracks within Middle America, bringing death to the nuclear family and sexually active teens. Halloween was landmark of the horror genre, providing a template that would spawn a seemingly infinite amount of sequels and imitators; but no other slasher, sequel or otherwise, has managed to match its visceral rigor. Halloween’s utter command over the cinematic form is best exemplified by it’s opening shot – which is as much a testament to Carpenter’s genius as it is an example of the production’s budgetary constraints.
In the 1979 Cahiers du Cinéma article “Partial Vision: Film and the Labyrinth,” Paul Bonitzer expands on the concept that cinema as a form functions through “partial vision”. Unlike a play or a painting whose borders function as barriers, the narratives presented in these works halt at the edges of the frame. In cinema though, the barrier between on and off screen is constantly in flux – at any moment new information can be revealed – the frame has the ability to expand infinitely. This fluid interaction between the on- and off-screen space creates a sense of perpetual tension and suspense – at what point will the borders of the frame expand, flipping the current narrative information or reveal it to be counterfeit?
This moment of visual and narrative expansion occurs almost immediately during Halloween’s opening sequence. As Carpenter’s self-composed electronic score thumps and drones, the camera shakily zooms in on a seemingly banal white house, proceeding to stalk the home like an unseen predator – peering through windows and navigating the shadows until it suddenly penetrates the interior of the home. Shockingly, a hand protrudes from the ether, turning on the lights and grabbing a very large knife. After slaying his older sister post-coitus (because of course), what was ostensibly the viewpoint of a disembodied, and therefore passive observer, has quickly been revealed to be the POV of a prepubescent Michael Myers. This revelation proves crucial – as my colleague Alex Engquist Tweeted, that the “genius of 1978 HALLOWEEN is that opening with a POV shot means that any shot that follows could also be a POV shot. The camera is complicit.” Taking that assertion a step further, not only is the camera complicit from that point forward, it’s antagonistic. Within Carpenter’s malevolent suburbia you may be able to run from Michael Myers, but you can’t outrun the camera, and at any moment they can be one in the same. Evil has truly come to Haddonfield.
2 thoughts on “Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Opening Shot of Halloween”
As Colin said, “nicely stated.”
But I have to point out that “it’s” is only a contraction of “it is.” “Its,” without the apostrophe, is the possessive pronoun you need in “best exemplified by its opening shot.” People are confused by this all the time, since we do use apostrophes to denote possession, but not in the case of pronouns. “Its” is the possessive pronoun, as is “his,” “hers,” or “theirs.”