Is ‘Halloween’ Still Scary 35 Years Later?

John Carpenter's Halloween
John Carpenter's Halloween

We showed the film to 10 Millennials for the first time.

John Carpenter's "Halloween" changed the rules of horror filmmaking when it was released 35 years ago today, taking cues from Hitchcock's "Psycho" and shaping the "slasher" movie as we now know it.

The film about masked killer Michael Myers's holiday rampage in a sleepy Illinois suburb is recognized as bona fide classic, and generally considered one of the most frightening movies of all time. Of course, the voting body for many of the lists that "Halloween" (which Anchor Bay is celebrating with a 35th anniversary Blu-ray) tops remembers when the film opened in theaters, or discovered it on VHS in the '80s or on DVD in the '90s.

What about for younger generations who have witnessed horror's dramatic evolution in the decades since? Do the film's shock tactics still work on an audience accustomed to more advanced effects, bloodier, gorier murders, and more sadistically deranged "torture porn" villains? Just how much as the film "aged" since its 1978 release? Simply put, does it still hold up today?

We showed the film to a group of 10 college-aged viewers from around the country who had never seen Carpenter's original before, and then compiled their reactions on the film.

The general consensus? "Halloween" just didn't do it for most of our Millennial subjects in the scare department. In response to an overarching question asking to rate the film's "scariness" on a scale of 1-10, the film registered a meager 5.4 rating. The highest single rating it got? A 7.5. The lowest, a 2.

"It was extremely corny," said Ryan Eclarin, a senior English major at UCLA. "I found it immensely more comical than scary."

Jason Serio, 21, a business major at Glendale Community College, echoed Eclarin's sentiments that the film is unintentionally funny. "It was one of the LOL-worthiest movies I have seen in a while."

"Honestly, it didn't scare me," said Savannah Walker, a University of South Carolina student. "I wasn't startled by any of it."

Others disagreed. "I didn't find the thrill to be 'old' at all," said New York University student (and Yahoo intern) Erin Kim. "Sure the outfits were a little dated, but the fear was still there. I found myself gasping a lot."

"I definitely screamed more times than I'd like to admit," said South Carolina senior William Pettipone, who qualified his responses by saying he scares easy, even watching M. Night Shyamalan's much-maligned "Lady in the Water" ("that should tell you something"). He continued, "The suspense is timeless. Alfred Hitchcock has proven that in my book, and it held true in this film."

Caitlin Rowles, 20, found it "mildly" scary. "I definitely shrieked like a little girl at times," said the 20-year-old NYU global food policy major. "But I didn't leave afraid to go to bed, or babysit."

"There were parts in the beginning that were scary, and certain surprises in the film that were scary, but for the most part it got redundant," said Ritu Ghiya, a 19-year-old NYU junior. "The film didn't stick with me after I watched it."

And regardless of whether or not they felt any sense of dread, most of our subjects seemed to have an appreciation for the slasher pic's stature in film and pop culture history.

"It was cheesy by today's standards but I certainly see why it was so well received when it was first released," said Joseph Sewell, a 19-year-old psychology sophomore at South Carolina.


"I think a lot of modern scary films learned important storytelling techniques from 'Halloween,'" said Kim. "So in a way, it's lived on and done its work."

Ty Atkin, a 20-year-old social work major at NYU, said the film's influence on its genre ultimately makes it less impactful today. "After a movie introduces something that is unique, it gets a lot of attention and then many other movies use similar techniques and styles, so it becomes less sensational. "If I hadn't seen a slasher-horror movie before, it might have been scarier, but I've seen bloodier and scarier ones."

The most common complaint logged by our viewers seemed to be the film lacked the psychological terror of today's horror films, and seemed driven by "cheap scares," mainly Michael Myers' propensity for popping out of dark places.

"I think today's scary movies have instilled an expectation for believability in their narratives," Rowles opined. "And the ambiguous identity/powers of Michael are just not believable enough to scare."

Other words that were tossed around in describing the 1978 film that would help make Jamie Lee Curtis a star: cheesy, silly, dated and predictable.

The scariest part for many or our viewers? Carpenter's iconic, instantly recognizable score. "The only thing that made [the movie] scary was the music," said Eduardo Lopez, 20. Said Atkin: "The soundtrack helped build the tension."

Some viewers took issue with the characters' actions and the film's overall plausibility.

"Why did no one ever turn on a single light anywhere?," Eclarin asked.

"I kept thinking, where are the parents? Why aren’t they with their kids on Halloween?" Walker said.

"Seriously did people [in the '70s] just get naked while cooking because they spilled something?," Rowles wondered. "And seriously, Jamie Lee Curtis, you couldn't have made sure he was dead those TWO TIMES you beat him?" Rowles added that she spent too much of the movie "annoyed with how stupid the young women were to really be scared."

The gruesomeness of today's horror movies has desensitized younger viewers to older fare, according to a few of our subjects. Horror fans today are used to more gore, darker twists and better special effects.

Of recent horror films our subjects rated scarier: "1408," "The Cabin in the Woods," "The Conjuring," "The Descent," "Evil Dead" (2013), "The Omen" (2006), "The Ring," "Saw," and "Sinister." (It was somewhat of a surprise -- and also kind of comforting -- to learn that not one of our 10 subjects had seen Rob Zombie's 2007 remake of "Halloween," nor its 2009 sequel.)

"Just the trailers of modern horror films make me feel like if I watched the whole film, I'd have trouble sleeping," Eclarin explained. "After watching 'Halloween,' I won't lose an ounce of sleep."

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