Shadowvision: “HALLOWEEN” (1978)News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
In the weeks since beginning this column, I’ve re-examined an array of films in black-and-white, from classics such as THE EXORCIST to recent creepers like THE INNKEEPERS. While I’ve tended to cover more atmospheric films for somewhat obvious reasons, there’s been a bit of ignorance on my part in terms of recognizing the importance of color within the films. In revisiting these films in black-and-white, my analysis on that very aspect overshadowed (no pun intended) any analysis of the colors used in their intended form in relation to the experience.
Of course, this revelation comes ironically in time for a film that isn’t very colorful at all, aside from its use of autumn aesthetics for a setting conducive to its title. That film is John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, a seminal film from a filmmaker whose sensibilities lie in the age of black-and-white. In fact, much of Carpenter’s pre-CHRISTINE oeuvre happens to be devoid of many vibrant colors, instead taking inspiration from colorless industrial or military influences, such as ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or THE THING, or the muted colors of suburbia, such as in THE FOG or HALLOWEEN.
HALLOWEEN is also a film incredibly reliant on atmosphere, using basic, paced visual cues to achieve the most scares. It was this reason specifically which drew me to revisit HALLOWEEN in black-and-white. Would a monochrome HALLOWEEN play closer to the slasher films that it had inspired, or would I perhaps see HALLOWEEN in a new light altogether? Considering the thematic conflict between innocence and evil, there’s even a chance HALLOWEEN could even play closer to films like PSYCHO and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER when removed of color.
Technically speaking, there’s little you can do to particularly change the contrast no matter what level you set. Three quarters of the film takes place at night, which means the dark sequences are very difficult to spruce up without also blowing out the whites in the images. Considering the heavy of the film is wearing a white mask, you may be safer increasing the contrast and brightness only slightly for the best experience.
Viewed in black-and-white, HALLOWEEN’S opening moments set the bar high for the rest of the experience, as the dark home in which Michael commits his first murder feels desolate and creepier, rather than simply regular and empty. In that sense, the film does lose its eerie normalcy, as the familiar, plain color is a large part of why it connects with unsuspecting suburban audiences. Stylistically however, the black-and-white template defines HALLOWEEN rather fittingly, as Michael’s drive and perspective is not driven by humanity, but rather lifeless evil.
As for the rest of the film, HALLOWEEN is somewhat polarizing in black-and-white, as the film never feels comfortable in the new style despite fleeting moments of horror feeling incredibly powerful. As mentioned before, the autumnal color is gone in this reexamination, and therefore the film suffers noticeably in terms of aesthetic, especially during the daylight sequences. Furthermore, some scenes are frankly too dark when removed of either the blueish moonlight hue, which could be confusing to less attentive viewers.
However, black-and-white does serve the film effectively when ramping up the terrifying aspects of the story. When Dr. Loomis first arrives at the mental hospital, the scattered patients in the rain feels ominous rather than random, almost as if the image itself was pulled from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Smaller moments of Michael’s stalking are even stronger in their subtle dread, almost as if he is physically one with the darkness. Perhaps the most effective image in black-and-white comes in the discovery of Annie’s body, which feels more like a carefully planned serial killer shrine than the work of a plodding murderer, and makes the audience consider whether Michael has planned every move thus far.
Whether or not Carpenter was attempting to make a monster movie with the creature being that of a remorseless psychopath, HALLOWEEN certainly plays that way in black and white, especially when paired with the reverberating philosophy of Sam Loomis. While certain aspects of the film are interesting to interpret through a black-and-white lens, the intended effect of the film is neutralized in the process. By removing the suburban element and painting the locales black-and-white, the voyeuristic fear of HALLOWEEN goes by the wayside of classic horror imagery and Carpenter’s expert use of tension. I can’t give HALLOWEEN a full recommendation in that regard, but those who cherish the original over the sequels may find this new perspective worth examining for themselves.
Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: Maybe.