The film ‘Halloween’, directed and produced by John Carpenter, establishes the horror genre and builds suspense through symbolic, written, audio and technical codes and conventions with a number of different factors such as iconography, contact with the audience, characters and setting.
The film is based on a six-year-old boy, Michael Myers who murders his sister on Halloween night in Haddonfield, Illinois, 1963.
The iconography of the film and horror itself includes innocent victims, blood, darkness, screaming, etc… Characters in the horror genre are usually quite predictable. For example the villain in ‘Halloween’, Michael Myers, is an outcast to society, this is a typical trait to the horror genre and eventually as the film progresses he is sent to a mental asylum. Another conventional feature of the horror genre is that a lot of low-key lighting and shadows are used; this shows that there is a lot of darkness and mystery associated with the film, this can also attract more of an audience.
The Horror genre contacts the audience by evoking powerful emotions such as fear, increased heartbeat and shock. The typical view of the horror audience is usually based towards young adult males. They are generally drawn towards horror films because they are addicted to the buzz they get from fear and suspense; there was quite a lot of this in the opening sequence of the film.
The opening credits of ‘Halloween’ already give away clues as to what genre the film is. It starts off with a small candle lit pumpkin on one the left side of the screen and some quiet eerie music. This music soon gets loud enough to hear properly. The connotation of this is suspense – as if something is going to happen even though it is just the start. As the opening credits appear, writers’ names, etc, it could be noticed that all the names were in capitals and all slowly changed between red and orange. These colours were used to represent Halloween, anger and possibly danger. During the credits, the pumpkin zooms in slowly without the viewer realising. When the credits eventually end, the pumpkin has zoomed in full screen. Then after a few seconds the light in the pumpkin fades away and in white writing on a black screen, ‘Haddonfield, Illinois’ shows up. Those words soon fade and ‘Halloween night 1963’.
The screen soon goes blank and the non-diagetic sound of children chanting a Halloween song begins. It stops and cuts into a persons view created by a hand held camera. This type of shot is usually creepy which gets the audience more involved and also interested in what’s going on. The character seems to already be in the front garden and walks towards a white house which looks like a typical setting for horror. The house is surrounded by trees, has the porch light on and a pumpkin on the ledge, this links back to the connotations at the opening credits. One upstairs light is on suggesting that there is one person alone at home. At this moment there is no sound. As the camera gets closer to the door a light goes on a figure walks past behind the curtains.
This brings more mystery to the story. The person with the camera as his eyes walks round to the side of the house and looks into a window. The room in view had a few pictures on the wall, was very beige, had a flowery couch with two seemingly innocent teenagers, a boy and a girl, sitting and talking, this also represents the horror genre as in ‘someone’s going to die!’ After a while they start kissing and the boy playfully puts on a mask as amusement. This is when the sound cuts in and straight away heavy breathing can be heard. The boy says, “We’re alone aren’t we?” to which the girl replies, “Michael’s around here someplace” this links back to the audience, as we know where Michael is and they don’t. Soon Michael goes round to the back entrance of the house and enters through the kitchen door, as this happens, a non-diagetic, eerie ear-piercing screech begins. This also links to the audience with mystery as to why.
The music changes slightly whilst in the kitchen and a silver knife could be spotted on the table. Still on the hand held, point of view camera shot, a, what looks to be like child’s arm dressed in a green, most likely, Halloween costume, picks up the knife and continues towards the end of the kitchen and through the dining room. Soon the staircase can be seen and a males voice, “I’ve got to go.” The same boy who was previously in the living room is seen going down the stairs and out of the door. He does not see the person (the camera) as he goes. The camera goes toward the bottom of the stairs where it looks very dark at the top. As he is going upstairs there is a clock chime, which also represents the horror genre and there is humming from somebody else.
The 1st person sees a mask on the floor and picks it up and puts it on. Now we are looking through two eyeholes as if we are wearing the mask. This also gets the audience even more involved as it is a limited view. The teenage girl seen beforehand with the boy can be seen brushing her hair in a bedroom; this shows even more innocence indicating that she is most likely going to die soon. As the camera, always in 1st person, draw closer to her, clothes can be seen on the wooden floor. The ‘1st person’ approaches her from behind, knife in hand. She turns around startled with a confused look on her face, as horror victims are usually unsuspecting, “Michael” she says. This is probably the Michael that she had mentioned earlier. He raises the hand with the knife in and begins to murder her.
This opening sequence of ‘Halloween is perfect example of the horror genre. It is very typical and not very unusual. Personally I do not find that many films ‘scary’ but I believe that this is one of the greatest horror films of all time as it is one of the classics. I also think that it is easy to tell who will be murdered and by whom, right from the start.