The blueprint for how to make a truly intense, actually scary horror film that drips with tension and atmosphere in EVERY scene was created in 1978 with the release of the brilliant Halloween. It's a simple, elegant story - Killer stalks people, slaying them whenever the mood strikes him. How does this film work so exceedingly well where nearly every slasher film to follow does not? The answer lies in how expertly crafted the film is in both direction and cinematography.
John Carpenter is responsible for some of the greatest exploitation films of the late 70's - mid 80's - Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China. The list goes on. But nothing compares to what he accomplished with Halloween. The full extent of his skill on display. His patience is staggering. Why was this film so scary? Because he draws everything out until the last possible moment and then just when the killer is going to strike - he pulls the rug out and has Myers attack from the opposite direction. Every time we think we know what's going to happen, Carpenter makes sure to surprise with a bold and riveting choice.
The mood is set with his excellent score right from the title sequence with the creepy and painfully slow push in on the jack-o-lantern, which echoes the slow, methodical stalking Michael Myers exhibits upon his victims. The characters are well defined - these are people both likable and believable - people you go to school with, children you babysit - this is a world that exists right outside your door - and death is now at YOUR doorstep. Because John Carpenter understands what is truly terrifying is not buckets of blood. It's a killer who will strike without reason, without hesitation, without fear of being caught, completely at random, and when and where you least expect it. Terror is something that can happen to you. Terror is something that you connect with on a very personal level.
The shot selection adds so much to the tension here. Wide shots with a small dot in the background - the man in the mask - the man standing there, examining you from afar. Medium shots with the Myers shoulder in the foreground. Everywhere the characters go - Myers is there - omnipresent - ready to strike - maybe? Maybe he just wants to observe until whatever evil runs through him overflows.
Halloween is what true horror is all about. Enjoy, kiddies! It's Paris - Paris in Fall!