Countdown to Halloween: The Legacy of Michael Myers Part 1

In anticipation of the upcoming sequelboot of the Halloween franchise, in which every entry but the first are to be eliminated from canon, I decided to give one last look at the whole series before it is banished into the Soul Stone for good. As it currently stands, the Halloween series has a pretty crazy continuity, complete with alternate endings, ridiculous retcons, and an unrelated anthology entry about magic masks that fill kids’ heads with bugs. There’s a reboot and a sequel to the reboot, both of which have multiple conflicting endings of their own as well. It’s a glorious mess, so there’s really no reason to treat any future story developments as anything out of the ordinary. No, Michael Myers has never made it to outer space, nor has he dueled with another horror heavy (although Halloween vs Hellraiser did almost happen) but he’s certainly been around the block enough times to merit an investigation into just what has kept this killer alive for so long, and just why we are now throwing most of his work in the canonical trash. I will be watching the entire series in order of release, starting with John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 classic which, for my money, remains one of the finest fright films ever made.

Halloween (1978)

Director: John Carpenter

Writer: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes (as Nancy Loomis)

Michael Myers played by: Tony Moran (age 23), Will Sandin (age 6), Nick Castle (The Shape), Tommy Lee Wallace (Michael Myers – uncredited)

Plot: Fifteen years after murdering his sister on Halloween night, a soulless psychopath named Michael Myers returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to wreak havoc on its residents. 

Review: This, alongside Black Christmas, is the classiest slasher ever made. Yes, there are plenty of the standard slasher ingredients, such as bare-breasted women and gruesome murders, but what separates this from the legions of masked murderers who followed is that none of these elements are employed to titillate the viewer. If anything, the sexually active teens at the center of this tale are depicted in such a way as to exploit the notion that our most intimate moments are also our most vulnerable. Much in the same way that Jaws brought terror to the beach and Psycho brought it to the shower, Halloween brings the horror home. Residents of any sleepy old town would be right to feel safe behind closed doors, but Halloween suggests otherwise. 

The violence is not meant to excite the viewer either. This isn’t a showcase of gore effects, nor is it meant to revel in the creativity of the violence. The murders of Halloween are chilling because they’re so plainly staged. They are certainly imaginative, but we are not rooting for Myers in the same way we root for Freddy or Jason.  We laugh when Jason shatters a teenaged skull, but when Michael Myers strangles a victim, we get queasy. I do wonder if this will hold true in future entries.

One of the things that makes Halloween so fundamentally scary is the notion that Michael Myers exists without MO, and without reason. He kills simply as a force of nature. Even when it is revealed that he is constructing a gruesome tribute to the anniversary of his first kill, it never feels like he’s exorcising some sort of emotional demon so much as he’s celebrating his own knack for evil. But even that read feels charitable – he’s just doing this stuff because that’s what he does. Carpenter and Hill have smartly added a few inconsistencies into the script in order to capture the madness of Myers. For example, the math doesn’t add up for his age. He is incarcerated at six years old, but escapes fifteen years later at the age of twenty-three. This purposeful inconsistency functions similarly to the geographical inconsistencies within the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining – it’s not explicitly nonsensical, but it creates an unease in the viewer which escalates the fear response. Myers also somehow learns to drive a car despite spending his entire adolescence in a mental institution. Dr. Loomis pays lip service to his driving abilities but never offers explanation. Same goes for Michael’s superhuman strength, invulnerability to bullets, and ability to cover immense distances with teleportation-like speed. There’s even a shot where it is suggested that he literally disappears in front of Laurie’s eyes. Yet despite all of this, the stakes feel very much based in reality. The juxtaposition of seemingly (though not explicitly) supernatural occurrences resulting in real-world consequences is deeply unsettling to say the least. 

And that score! I once went to a Q&A with John Carpenter and when someone asked why he does so much of his own music his response was “well, I work quick and I work cheap.” His blue collar dismissal of his immense musical talent is as charming as his score for Halloween is scary. I remember as a youth, my dad would constantly tell me that when I was older he’d show me Halloween, and in the same breath he would remark that the music was heavily instrumental in making the film so scary. He wasn’t wrong.

Best kill: Poor Bob. He just wanted to use the rare opportunity of an empty house to have a sexy romp with his girlfriend. After their first lovemaking session ends, Bob heads out of the room to grab a beer and refuel for round two. During these few minutes he runs into Michael Myers who lifts him up by the throat and stabs a knife through his chest and into the wall, pinning Bob a foot off the ground like a morbid decoration. What makes this kill so special (and chilling) is the cold stare that Myers gives to his victim. We hear only his grunting breaths as he tilts his head to the side and watches the life leave Bob’s body. It’s the strongest depiction of Myers’ capacity for evil. He doesn’t have any beef with Bob, but he does want to watch him die. Why? Because he just does.

Best Line: “Death has come to your little town sheriff. You can either ignore it or you can help me to stop it!” – Dr. Loomis

Or this legendary exchange between Laurie and Loomis

“Was that the boogeyman?”

“As a matter of fact, it was.”

Worst line: “He’s gone! He’s gone from here. The evil is gone!” – Dr. Loomis, after the newly escaped Michael Myers steals his car and drives off. To be fair, this isn’t really a bad line. I don’t think there’s one in the entire film. It’s the delivery which makes this one such a clunker. 

Lore: At this point there really isn’t any. Michael killed his sister as a boy and now he’s back to kill again. There’s no grander story besides young Laurie Strode fighting to survive against a masked murderer while the murderer’s doctor tries to recapture his escaped patient. 

Mask: The original Michael Myers mask is famously a William Shatner mask painted a cold white. It looks positively chilling here, both up close and at a distance. 

Dr. Loomis’ Health: Donald Pleasence was 59 at the time of the film’s release, and he looks like he’s pushing 70. Such is the physical toll taken on these old timey actors. The veins which pulse from his sweaty temples are so big and pronounced that they perpetually threaten to steal the focus from his famously striking eyes. It doesn’t bode well for the actor’s longevity, but it works for the character. The dude looks EXHAUSTED. Just like someone who spent 15 years trying and failing to understand pure evil would look. 

As I remember it, the law of diminishing returns applies to the Halloween franchise almost perfectly, but it’s been a while so I guess we will see. Come back next week for Halloween II.

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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