Bob Clark’s slasher is widely considered the first of its kind by horror aficionados, even pre-dating John Carpenter’s “Halloween” by several years, and it’s that lack of blueprint that makes the movie all the more interesting. After all, in “Halloween,” Laurie Strode is the virginal “goody-two-shoes” who set the blueprint for decades of “final girls” in countless slashers since, but here, Olivia Hussey’s Jess is nothing like that: She’s responsible, yes, but she’s also an active college student, pregnant and planning on having an abortion, and ready to break up with her longtime boyfriend over his demands that she change her life path after his circumstances change. It’s a riveting thing to watch a slasher, in particular one from the 1970s, that does something rare in many horror movies: It treats its female characters like complicated, multi-dimensional people with thoughts, anxieties and feelings of their own that supersede their gender. It makes it easier for the audience to relate to their predicament, and by the time the sorority murders start, we’ve grown attached to the characters so the stakes are raised. Add in a truly intelligent, well-structured screenplay that doesn’t waste any of its lines on superfluous, unnecessary details but doesn’t feel rushed either, and a growing sense of claustrophobia and encroaching danger as the evening progresses into night, and you’re left with one of the best horror movies ever made, not to mention one of the genre’s most organically feminist entries. The grim, nihilistic ending can feel a little anticlimactic upon first viewing, but the more one thinks about it, the more the climax compliments and honors the narrative that came before it.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)