Revisiting John Carpenter's 'Halloween'
A Childhood Memory, Now an Obsession
There was an uncanny spectral element to the film. The vintage aesthetic, the way the camera maneuvered throughout its entire duration. Its minimal use of spectacle and special effects. Its impeccable flow; transitioning from scene to scene without losing a grasp of my attention.
Its tone: dark, gloomy, eerie.
While many have fond memories of their childhood watching Disney films and animated features, introductory cinema full of innocence, my memory recalls a tempest through familiar purlieus, a sinister score, a courageous and skillful protagonist. And a hollow and blank mask, lurking behind hung linens and behind trees and doors, simply watching, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
John Carpenter’s 1978 thriller Halloween is deeply embedded in my childhood memories as much as bike riding and ice cream trucks. Intertwined with coloring books and Power Rangers is Micheal Myer's emotionless, expressionless mask. His dull mechanic's coverall. His slick, steadily walk. His deep breathing. His impending acts of evil. Michael Myers was as much of a household name in my family as was Mickey Mouse.
And just like Mickey Mouse, the character of Michael Myers was passed on from generation to generation.
I first watched Halloween at about the age of four, mesmerized by the music and the outdated overall semblance of the film. Its murky look and crackling scenes typical of VHS tapes only added to its credibility as something unfamiliar, from a different time. Something unbeknownst to a young child who had previously only watched traditional Mexican films starring Cantinflas and La India Maria or Saturday morning cartoons. Yet some element of Halloween made it seemed so relevant, so believable. And that what was most terrifying.
The culprits of my premature exposure to such macabre were my older brother and cousins, young boys fascinated with the trendy slasher genre of the 1980s. I, inevitably, also saw the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as well as the Friday the 13th, Child's Play and copycat-like versions of each that proliferated during that cinematic era. But there was a completely unique factor to Halloween that produced a profound obsession with the film which well-endured decades of horror-movie watching. Film after film, none have matched the esoteric power of allure as The Shape-as Michael Myers is dubbed as in Carpenter’s script and the film’s ending credits-peering in on oblivious babysitters on Halloween night in 1978, completely unaware of their inevitable demise. The opening sequence- a simple wide-frame shot of a flickering jack-o-lantern which the camera zooms into-immediately sets the tone for the rest shuddering 91 minutes. Halloween stands alone as not only a great horror film, but simply just a get film. Its as good now as it was then.
Halloween was replayed in a plethora of TVs, VCRs, DVD players and Blu-Ray players throughout my life since then. It's my favorite movie, no doubt. I know every single line and every single scene by heart. For me, no other film has gotten close to its perfection. It's simple plot and simple execution is what makes it great. Other films come close, but it still reigns.
At its core, Halloween capitalizes on what we all fear most; the unknown. Prior to its 1978 release, most horror films used fictional monsters and the paranormal to scare audiences yet allowing them to detach from their experience once they've left the theater. Halloween, however, did the complete opposite. Halloween's plot and setting are ingrained in realism. Haddonfield, Illinois-the imaginary town in which Michael Myer's gallivants around with a butcher's knife, can easily be any American town. Laurie Strode-played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut- is any innocent, naive young American girl forcefully turned heroine through a violent act of crime. Strode is interchangeable with any of us as any of us can be victims to true murderous crime.
But it's Halloween's vicious and menacing villain, Michael Myers, that, when analyzed, is most horrifying because at his core he is, as Dr. Loomis puts it, "pure and simply evil."
Dr. Loomis is Michael Myer's psychiatrist, played by the late Donald Pleasence. In Halloween, he is the only source of insight into Myer's cynical nature but only through extensive dialogue. "I met this six year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes. The devil's eyes," Loomis says in the film.
There is no other context to Myers other than he killed his sister at age six, escaped a mental institution at age 21, and went on a killing spree. No explanation. And, quite frankly, no need for one either. He simply projects the existence of evil in the world in its most raw and honest form. It simply exists, embodied in human form.
Without providing Michael Myers with much background and motive for his killings, its him who makes the viewer wonder: Who is this man? Why is he doing this? Why does he want to kill people?
Can this happen to me?
That question alone is why Halloween remains a horror classic. It plays with the notion that real life, life as we know it, can change completely on one unfortunate night. Michael Myers is merely a psychopath with no interior motive propelled by passion, by anger, by conflict or by personal interest. He simply is evil.
Even thinking about that today as I did when I was young, evil does exists, is gruesome to ponder.
Evil incarnated does exists. And that's terrifying.