In stark contrast to the slasher movies it spawned, and even to its own sequels, barely a drop of blood is shed in “Halloween.” Carpenter and his co-writer and producer, Debra Hill, spend much of the film’s first hour crafting distinct, memorable characters, particularly Myers’s final would-be victim, the bookworm babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and his psychiatrist and antagonist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence).
So rather than reveling in guts and gore, the original film’s emphasis is on suspense, terror and mood. Carpenter’s elegant direction makes inventive use of negative space and darkness (particularly when moving Michael’s ghostly white mask in and out of the cinematographer Dean Cundey’s inky night spaces), and of foregrounds and backgrounds, which frequently reveal the killer’s presence to the viewer before he is seen by his potential victims. Carpenter also masterfully manipulates the pace, which rises and falls in waves through the first and second acts, casually accumulating dread and fear, before moving into the relentlessly scary closing scenes.
“Halloween” was a commercial sensation, grossing roughly $47 million on a budget of $325,000. That tremendous return on investment prompted a slew of quick, cheap imitations — after all, the logic went, you didn’t need stars or production values, just some attractive young unknowns and a guy with a knife. None of the successors was more transparent, or more successful, than the “Friday the 13th” series. Its makers couldn’t replicate Carpenter’s stylistic flair, so they invested in elaborate, intricate killing scenes and blood by the bucket.
“Friday” and its first follow-up had already come and gone by the time “Halloween II” hit theaters, in October 1981, but that series’s influence is keenly felt in this sequel. Though Carpenter and Hill wrote and produced again (with directorial duties handed off to Rick Rosenthal), the violence is much more extreme and the body count is higher, as is the volume of jump scares, a sure sign that the filmmakers didn’t believe their audience had the patience for the slow builds of the initial installment.