In 1978, the BBFC viewed John Carpenter's teenage slasher picture Halloween. At the time, John Carpenter was a successful young writer-director with films including Dark Star (rated A earlier that year) and Assault on Precinct 13 (rated X in 1977).
Our records show that the Examiners thought about the director's work, background and the genre of the film when considering the appropriate category for Halloween. The file includes an industry review from the period, vouching for the film's quality, despite being one of a swathe of low budget horror films released in the 1970s, which had not received such positive critical recognition. Examiner reports on file note, for example, that the distributor assured the BBFC that the film was 'part tribute to Hitchcock and part send-up/tribute to William Castle, the maker of many 'B'-picture horror films'.
The story is set in Haddenfield, a small Illinois town, and opens with a grisly flashback: to the murder of a young couple by a child. The killer, Michael Myers, grows up in a psychiatric institution and the action picks up years later, when he escapes and goes on another killing spree, terrorising babysitters in the street where he committed his original murder, pursued by his psychiatrist Dr Loomis.
The reports detail the murders and horror sequences in the film, noting that they are 'fairly bloody'. It also explores the 'macabre' tone of the film, including the surprise twist ending in which Michael's body disappears, suggesting he will live on in subsequent stories, and the fact that the audience sees much of the film from Michael's point of view 'with his heavy breathing', which creates a 'chilling atmosphere'.
Given the lack of lingering detail, the reports conclude that X is the natural category, and therefore recommended passing it at that level, without cuts. X was similar to the modern 18, and meant only adults could watch the film in the cinema.
When Halloween arrived for classification on video in 1986, there was a new suite of certificates available, including 15, but the Examiners noted several 18 level elements. They also highlighted further issues for discussion, reflecting changes in BBFC policy, and growing public opinion regarding video classification.
The Examiner reports focus on the gender relationships in the film, and the fact that several of the murders show a male psychopath attacking young women, plus the moderate sexual element to the first killing (at three minutes) when we see the female victim's breasts exposed. They also discuss the casual drug use, in a scene where two girls are seen smoking pot in a car. The Examiners in 1986 therefore recommended that the horror, violence, 'psychokiller' theme and other issues merited an 18 classification.
The film's distributor submitted it for DVD release in January 1996. We considered whether the smaller screen format diminished the work's 'scary impact', but concluded the adult category remained reasonable and defensible given the moderately sexualised first killing shown from the child attacker's point of view.
Halloween was sent to the BBFC in 2012 and remained an 18 for strong threat and horror with long form BBFCinsight that detailed the key classification issues.
In 2018, forty years after the film's first release as X, its distributers resubmitted again. A compliance team viewed the work and recommended 15 under the current BBFC Guidelines.