I almost saw it summer 1986. I was at a week-long summer camp, near the Occoquan Reservoir on the border of Fairfax County, VA. One night, some of the adults who ran the place drove to a video store and rented a couple of films to show us, Halloween being one of them. Before the opening scene (6-year-old Michael Myers kills his sister and her boyfriend) had finished, the camp counselors started arguing if the film was appropriate for us young teens. (I'd left sixth grade earlier that summer and was preparing for junior high.) The adults quickly decided to err on the side of caution, stop it (about when young Myers pulls out the knife) and switch films, luckily another good one, 1985's Mask. (Cher, Eric Stoltz, and Sam Elliott, in a real life-inspired movie Peter Bogdanovich directed.) Tantalizingly close, Halloween was.
I'm not a big horror hound, but I can appreciate it — and one of my favorite films ever is The Silence of the Lambs, and that's a horror film, not just a thriller — but I kept not getting around to trying Halloween again. I stayed vaguely aware of it as a franchise, especially in 1998 when the seventh film Halloween H2O came out, because I was reviewing films at the time. I didn't see or review H2O, though. Wasn't interested.
But I think, around then, some night in Hermiston, OR, I started watching the 1978 film. Part of it. Maybe the first 20 minutes, I think on TV, not video. I'm not sure I even reached when we first see Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the high schooler and babysitter who becomes a target of the escaped 21-year-old Michael Myers. I'm not sure why I stopped watching. Was it edited, and I wanted to see it unedited? I was intrigued by it, so did something else distract me? Again, a film I'd almost seen.
Since then, I've known more and more horror hounds. They grew up reading Fangoria when I was reading Starlog. (The only issue of Fangoria I've ever read is the March 1994 issue that interviewed Danny Elfman about The Nightmare Before Christmas.) They'd mention good, worthwhile horror, or show it — my first-year college dorm put on screenings of The Evil Dead then Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn — and I trusted them more. Recently, I finally read Clive Barker horror works, so far just The Books of Blood but with more to come. (The central image in Barker's story "In the Hills, the Cities" may have been what I found most disturbing in that collection, by far.)
Halloween, as a lot of you know, is a good horror entry point. It's quick and efficient, yet still with the almost loping pace John Carpenter films often have. As I once said about his clever 1988 film They Live, many of his films "amble, but don't ramble"; that's true of Halloween too. The characters are likable and with identifiable quirks, not ciphers just there to be mocked or killed. The film's not afraid to be quiet, even in its horror moments: and Michael Myers reacting in silence to wounds that would make any of us scream makes those moments even more horrifying. The gore level is manageable, not overwhelming; again, good for a start when still getting used to horror stories. Carpenter's score is justly, justifiably famous, pure stark synthesized mood. The camera work seems straightforward, but it encourages you to keep looking to the corners where Michael Myers might lurk.
From what I've heard, I don't really need to see Halloween II, because I've already seen its worthiest part: its opening credits. As for other Halloween films, maybe one of these days I'll try the offbeat third film in the series, Season of the Witch, the only one without Michael Myers. It was a confusedly-reviewed flop in 1983, but its reputation as a film trying to do Something Different has grown since then. But what I know of the other movies, they go in directions I'm just not interested in seeing, starting with II's ill-advised retcon that Michael Myers was Laurie Strode's older brother. He didn't need to be that. He was literally just the Boogeyman originally. That has its own horrific power.
Here's the film's original (Red Band restricted) trailer.