A Statistical Review of John Carpenter’s Halloween

The Halloween series holds a special place in my heart.  These are the movies that got me into the horror genre back when I was young and nerdy and I come back to them religiously.  One thing I’ve never done in my many, many, many viewings is really dive into how these movies are structured.  Being a statistician in my daily life, its a damn travesty that I haven’t analyzed these movies extensively!

Well with David Gordon Green’s Halloween set to come out in less than two months, I decided to embark on an ambitious journey and do a thorough statistical review of the Halloween series starting with the original. Yes much of this just reinforced my enjoyment of the movies. But there’s still little nuggets of info that I managed to glean from this analysis.

Note: All of these “statistics” are just my personal ratings so please enjoy them for what they are – my opinions.  Or irrefutable facts.  Whichever you prefer…

Halloween Breakdown By Type of Scene

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Figure 1 -Score and Impact by type of scene. Score is what it sounds like…higher is better. Impact is a metric that tells you the percentage of the overall Score for that particular scene type. So a high percentage means a higher Impact for that particular movie. But Impact only tells you how prevalent those types of scenes are, not how good they are. Confused?

Lets start relatively simple and talk about the different types of scenes.  Halloween gets a very high score of 95.64 which, on my scale, is basically perfect. Hardly anything ever reaches this level with most of my “great” scores hovering between 85-93. So yeah, I think Halloween is pretty damn swell. But how do the individual pieces stack up? Lets find out!

One major merit of Halloween is how lean and mean it is. The storyline is so damn simple….which enhances its effectiveness. This is seen above with Halloween’s plot-related scenes garnering a Score and Impact of 31.67 and 33.1%. No Thorn cults, reality shows at the Myers House, or white trash childhood trauma here. Just kid kills sister, escapes, steals Captain Kirk mask, sets out to kill girl who drops key off at his old house…

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…and finds love instead.

Figure 2 shows that the plot of the movie is introduced early on with Judith’s murder, Michael’s escape, and Laurie’s key-dropping-off which apparently tells Michael to “come hither”.  All of this happens in the first fifteen minutes….and from that point on, the plot developments are few and far between.   Essentially, John Carpenter introduced a very simple story and then let the mood, atmosphere, and tension carry it all the way till the end.  This can all be better seen looking at Figure 3 which shows the  Plot Impact Percentage (this is how “plot-focused” the movie feels over the duration of the movie).  It starts high and hovers around 50% for the first thirty minutes or so while everything is being set up.  Then the plot goes ahead and sidles on out of the way until the final moments.

Where Halloween really trims the unnecessary fat that would clog up the sequels is that it doesn’t force in any needless drama. Drama is driven by character conflict or revelations.  In Halloween, the characters are just focused on every day issues. Laurie, Linda, and Annie are focused on forgetting books, finding a place to shit, and no longer stalling for Paul.  Sheriff Brackett worries himself with what he thinks are kids breaking into a store to steal William Shatner masks. The only characters that aren’t concerned with just their every day lives are Dr. Loomis and Tommy Doyle, who both are fixated on the Bogeyman but in different ways. Loomis monopolizes this category, with his doom and gloom speeches to everyone who will listen. But those aspects of his character — you know, the ones where he trashes his former patient, breaking patient-doctor confidentiality codes at every turn — are heightened in the sequels. Here, they are are incredibly effective but are underplayed in comparison. Halloween gets a Dramatic Score and Impact of  21.81 and 22.8% respectively.  Pretty low but I think this helps enhance the effectiveness of the scares.  Figure 2 shows how sparse these dramatic scenes are.  By my count there are maybe six or seven moments throughout the 88 minute run-time where characters have a dramatic conversation or revelation.  Figure 3 shows The Drama Impact Percentage as staying at the 20-25% range for the entire movie.

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Figure 2 – Score over time of different types of scenes.  Steep is better.  Shallow is worse.  Flat is bad or not present.

One aspect of Halloween that differs from the majority of slasher movies is that the characters are likable and well-developed. Having never been a teenage female in the seventies in rural America being stalked by a guy in a Captain Kirk mask, I don’t really know how these characters would be acting. But that said, Laurie, Linda, and Annie feel real even if their acting isn’t Oscar-worthy.  They joke, they talk about boys, they bitch and moan and they feel like real people doing real things after school.  halloween1 Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis isn’t especially developed but his weary resignation, barely concealed fear, and theatrical speeches imbue Loomis with all the characterization he needs.  And finally Michael Myers (aka The Shape) is basically a cypher.  He’s mythologized by Loomis which aids the atmosphere but other than that, you are given no insight into his character.   And that is absolutely fine!  None of the character scenes in this movie seem forced and they all focus on making the world have this “down-to-earth middle America being assaulted by pure evil” vibe.  Character-focused scenes score 32.69 while impacting 34.2% of the movie.  Figure 2 shows that Halloween does all of its character work in the first 65 minutes.  Figure 3 shows how John Carpenter and Debra Hill allowed the character moments to compliment the tension in the movie.  The time period where the tension is easing up early in the Haddonfield sections is where the characters are introduced and start to shine.  The Character Impact goes from 0% to almost 60%  between  11 minutes and 45 minutes.  That steep increase is responsible for why the scares in the second half of the movie are so damn effective – we care about these characters because they are so well developed.

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Except for Bob. We know nothing about Bob.

But the reason this horror movie is so damn good is because of the damn horror (labeled in the graphs as Tense scenes).  A 72.85 Score and 76.2% Impact are nothing to sneeze at. Michael’s presence is so prevalent that the atmosphere is stifling. The long, moody shots of the streets of Haddonfield, or of Laurie walking are intensified when Michael makes it a habit to roam about in the background.  The fact that nearly the entire second half of the movie takes place in two houses across the street from each other helps heightens the horror with a claustrophobic feel.   I think John Carpenter described this movie as a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and I couldn’t agree more. Even the opening credits are scary…who would have thought a pumpkin and a piano could be so damn freaky?

Figure 2 makes clear that Halloween’s Overall Score is strongly correlated to the Tense Score. Makes sense since this movie is scary as hell. There is really only one section of the movie where the tension eases off and that’s from about the 25 minutes till 40 minutes (basically from when Laurie sees The Shape in the clotheslines until Michael starts to stalk Annie). Michael is still very much present but those intervening scenes are more about character development.

And Figure 3 show how well Carpenter weaves in his scares. The movie starts off with three straight scary scenes before we get to Haddonfield. From there until roughly 40 minutes, the Tense Impact Percentage drops from 100% to approximately 65%.  This is because that time period is focused on developing characters and instilling atmosphere.  Sure Michael is still around, stalking Laurie, but there are few actual scares in this section.  But after this section, the scares start to increase as we get the extended sequence of Michael stalking and killing Annie.  The movie steadily hums along at just below 70% Impact for tense scenes until the final eighteen or so minutes when it spikes up to 76.2%.

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Figure 3 – Impact Percentage of Type of Scene Over Time.  This can be interpreted as how focused on different types of scenes did the movie feel up to a certain time.  A high or low Impact does not mean it was good or bad.  

So, if I haven’t ruined Halloween for you yet, lets move onto the characters.  If I have, then at least I can proudly say that I have effected change.


Halloween Breakdown By Character

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Figure 4 -Score and Impact by character. In case you’ve forgotten my simple definitions: Score is what it sounds like…higher is better. Impact is a metric that tells you the percentage of the overall score for that particular character. So a high percentage means a higher Impact.  But it says NOTHING about whether that character is good, bad, or ugly.

Michael Myers comes in as the most important character (shocking, I know).  He’s the reason I love this movie and it shows with his Score and 2euqxshImpact being 71.91 and 75.2%.   Figure 5 shows hardly any flat sections to his graph which means he’s either the focus of the scene, the subject of one of Loomis’ diatribes, or hanging out in the background.  Once the opening credits are over, he’s impacting the majority of the movie, hovering between 60 and 75% as seen in Figure 7.  And Michael is consistently terrifying in Halloween.  The sequels somewhat dilute his scariness…but not here.  His breathing, the music and Nick Castle’s wraith-like movements all combine into creating my favorite horror villain of all time.

Laurie Strode is a great protagonist and Jamie Lee Curtis is so damn likable in the role. It surprised me a bit after doing this analysis that her Score and Impact were “just” 51.25 and 53.6%.  Part of that is explained by her not showing up until eleven minutes in (the movie is just 88 minutes long).  But I think the real reason she  comes in so “low” is that Annie — and to a lesser extent, Linda — becomes the focus around minute 40 (see Figure 6).  Laurie’s scenes are more about easing the tension during the middle of the movie.  This is reinforced in Figure 7 as we see how her Impact Percentage behaves.  It rises to ~50% around when she spots Michael creeping on her from her backyard.  It stays at around 50% for the next ten minutes until we arrive at the Doyle/Wallace houses.  Then when the focus shifts to Annie, it drops  down all the way to ~40%.  But once she has to deal with Michael,  she is phenomenal.  In the last 18 minutes or so, her Impact Percentage gets back up to 53.6%.  The climactic chase scenes with her and Michael make up one of my favorite endings to a movie (Halloween, Jaws, and Die Hard are neck and neck for me).

Clearly the biggest surprise is Sam Loomis.  There is no way I expected him to come in as low as he did here (Score and Impact of 20.27 and 21.2%).  Figure 5 shows Loomis’ graph is mostly filled with flat segments.  That doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective…it just means he wasn’t actually in the movie all that much (roughly 18 minutes of screen-time).  Other than his opening scene at Smiths Grove, the climax, and his tour de force speech at the Myers House, he just pops in periodically.  Since the stuff going on with the girls is so intense, Loomis’ scenes, dramatic as they are, act as a way to allow the audience to catch their breath.

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Figure 5 – Score over time of major characters.  Steep is better.  Shallow is worse.  Flat is bad (or that character was not present at that time).

Despite that, this movie would not be what it is without Donald Pleasence.  Michael’s aura and mystique would be neutered if not for the pathos and fear that Pleasence injects Loomis with.  His Impact Percentage (Figure 7) somewhat mirrors the Dramatic Scene Impact Percentage (basically implying that Loomis is a drama queen).  If Halloween is all about the ticking time bomb waiting to explode, Loomis is responsible for winding the timer on that bomb.

Dr.-Loomis-e1487354447791
“Say I wasn’t important to this movie…just say it.”

So now, lets talk about some of the side characters, starting with the lowest scorers (Figure 4). Bob has probably the best death scene but he’s not developed at all and is barely in the movie.  Brackett pops in regularly  as a foil to Doctor Loomis but is separated from the main thrust of the movie.  I think he resonates as a character (he’s well played, he feels real, etc) but he doesn’t have much to do.  The difference in how Brackett and Bob reach their similar final scores is pretty interesting though.  Brackett has numerous scenes peppered throughout. Bob meanwhile shows up at minute 60 and is pinned to the wall around minute 70 but his scenes are much more intense (Figure 6).

I don’t have much to say about Tommy Doyle.  He’s a good kid actor and gives us a child’s POV on the events of the movie. He is set up as another protagonist early on but his character is more or less attached to the hip with Laurie making any analysis of his character pointless (unlike the rest of this essential blog post).  And Lindsay Wallace didn’t make my graphs because I got lazy…

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Figure 6 – Score over time of different characters.  Steep is better.  Shallow is worse.  Flat is bad (or that character was not present at that time).

So lets talk about Laurie’s friends.  Halloween is interesting in that it makes Annie Brackett into a pseudo-second protagonist (Score and Impact of 31.55 and 33.0%) to great effect.  Not many horror movies can pull that off but John Carpenter handles it brilliantly.  Laurie is still around, chatting about Ben Tramer and judging Tommy for his comic book collection.  But we get nearly 20 minutes of incredible simmering tension when Michael stalks Annie.  I really think that middle portion is the scariest part of the movie.  Yeah, the ending is as relentless as it gets but the slow burn on display here as well as the manner in which these scenes are structured is something else.  We are in Michael’s shoes while he watches Annie spill butter on herself, then we are with Annie during the laundry sequence with Michael materializing in the background several times.  Then finally,  when she goes to pick up Paul, the emptiness of the house becomes the focus. We know something awful is going to happen but we just get these long-shots of the house in the wind or Annie walking across the backyard with no Michael in sight and no music. The inevitable keeps getting delayed and delayed…until she opens that previously locked car door.  Amazing.

So amazing that there’s a brief point where Annie’s Impact Percentage surpasses Laurie’s (Figure 7).  Annie is great and I love Nancy Loomis’ charisma.  I’ve heard her being labeled as a bad actor because of her inflection when she speaks but I think she just seems like a regular aloof teenager.

AnnieBrackett'sdeath
Michael unfortunately doesn’t deal with “aloof” very well.
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Figure 7 – Impact Percentage of Characters Over Time.

Of the three teenage girls, PJ Soles’ Linda is the least developed, playing into her Score and Impact of 16.87 and 17.6%.  Linda has a 40 minute dry spell where she doesn’t show up at all (Figure 6).  Once she shows up, I enjoy all of her scenes but the scares involving her aren’t as effective as when Michael stalks and kills Annie (check out the difference in slopes in Figure 6 for Annie from minute 40-55 and for Linda from minutes 60-73).  Annie’s murder is very elaborately set up and drawn out.  Linda’s is a bit more bit more cut and dry and we aren’t in Michael’s shoes for any of it.  However, it’s still very strong and that ghost sheet scene a classic.  I’ve never been all that bothered by the idea of Michael setting up such an elaborate prank.

(I’m more bothered by Linda’s dialogue when she thinks “Bob” won’t answer her.  She says “I wanna see where Paul and Annie are.  This is going nowhere!”  Really Linda???  Where did you want this night to go?  Your plans worked out, you got to have sex with your boyfriend in an empty house and he gives you the silent treatment for about 30 seconds and suddenly this night is going nowhere??  Yeeesh, I can only imagine what kind of complaining she’d be doing if Michael let her talk during the phone-cord strangulation.)

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“Ugg my call with Laurie got dropped.  This is going nowhere.

Halloween Viewing Experience Breakdown

And now I’m going to talk about how Halloween works as a whole.  I’ve broken it down by types of scenes and characters above but this section is about how much I enjoy the movie throughout it’s duration.

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Figure 8 – My enjoyment of the movie over time, color coded by what character is focused on. Basically, this is a chart of what the rating of the overall movie is at every point in time.

Previous figures (Figures 2, 5, and 6) showed how the score built up over time but I wanted a way of seeing how I enjoy the movie by the moment.  So Figures 8 and 9 were born.  They show what the rating of the movie would be if it ended at specific times.  Not a perfect system — obviously if the movie ended after Loomis leaves the cemetery, I’d rate the movie poorly for being incomplete — but this gives me a feel for how Halloween’s ebbs and flows.

And damn, is Halloween consistently awesome.  My score only drifts below 90 for about 8 or 9 minutes.  That means that essentially, I love every single moment of this movie.  It has a fantastic opening — the stalking and killing Judith is phenomenally paced and executed — which sets the tone for the rest of the movie.  The momentum slows a bit as we meet Dr. Loomis and Marion Chambers and we get a bit of exposition.  But John Carpenter is fantastic at making sure it doesn’t slow too much.  He immediately imbues the movie with an air of inevitability during Laurie and Tommy’s walk to the Myer’s house.

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Then just as things are slowing down again with Loomis making his trek back to Haddonfield, we get my third favorite sequence of the movie with the three girls just walking home and chatting about nothing.  There’s a subtle feeling of dread to everything as we fleetingly see The Shape multiple times during this sequence but none of the girls (except for maybe Laurie) have an inkling about the danger that’s looming.  It’s fantastically atmospheric and brings the movie back up to a score of 93.

And now that the plot and the characters are set up, Carpenter eases off the gas for about fifteen minutes.  During this time, we get a couple of  Loomis scenes as he arrives in Haddonfield and we get Laurie and Annie driving around town.  It’s the calm before the storm and this segment ends with Annie and Laurie arriving at the two houses.

Then at approximately minute 36, we get Loomis’ best speech of the movie (and maybe of the series).  It’s a perfect transition point and this scene is possibly the crux of the movie.  It’s where Michael is granted an almost mythical quality and it makes the rest of Halloween even more terrifying.  Its a fantastic segue because the rest of the movie is about actualizing Loomis’ perception of the evil that is Michael.

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Figure 9 – My enjoyment of the movie over time, color coded by what the scene is focused on. Basically, this is a chart of what the rating of the overall movie is at every point in time.

It’s here that the movie settles into it’s comfort zone from minutes 40-75.  Everything from Michael stalking Annie until Laurie finds her friends’ bodies occurs here.   During this section, the score stays steadily between 90 and 91 with some very minor fluctuations.  This portion is Halloween doing it’s “grunt-work” and it is executed flawlessly.

And then there’s that climax.  I swear, I could watch the ending of this movie for the rest of my life and not get bored.  Everything about it works.  Laurie finding the bodies works beautifully because of the amount of tension that Carpenter wrings out of her walk across the street (brilliant usage of music). halloween-jamie-lee-curtis Then, there is that moment where The Shape materializes in the doorway right next to Laurie.  Once he stabs her, and “The Shape Stalks” theme comes on, everything kicks into overdrive.  The claustrophobia in the ending is stifling with several examples of a stationary camera set up while Michael inexorably gets closer and closer (check out Michael loping down the stairs or walking across the street towards Laurie).  And what drives everything into classic territory is how well the music complements everything.  It just keeps on building and building….damn I need to watch this again.

And of course, things end with Dr. Loomis shooting Michael and then Michael disappearing.  Yeah, this has been played to death in other horror movies but its never been more effective.  The breathing and main theme work in unison to great effect but the part that sells me there is Donald Pleasence’s reaction.  He underplays the revelation that Michael is still out there and its absolutely brilliant.  That last ten minutes elevates Halloween from a 90 to almost a 96 (that’s the difference between a great movie and a classic movie in my book).


Conclusion

So there you have it, my first statistical deep dive into a movie.  It ended up going  longer than I would have preferred but I prefer to be wordy and explore everything that makes me passionate about Halloween rather than try to be succinct.  I’d love to hear your feedback because these reviews are something I want to do more regularly.  I’m still fine-tuning the format and may add/remove different types of graphs in future analysis.  Let me know what you liked/disliked!  And stay tuned…I’m hoping to have my Halloween II review up in the next week or so.

 

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