Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Directed by John Carpenter
A Compass International Picture
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode); Donald Pleasance (Dr. Sam Loomis); Nancy Loomis (Annie Brackett); P.J. Soles (Lynda); Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Brackett); Brian Andrews (Tommy Doyle); Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace); John Michael Graham (Bob); Sandy Johnson (Judith Myers); Nick Castle (The Shape)
In 1977, someone had a good idea: make a horror movie based around a certain day of the year. Although the producers could not have been thinking of the possibility that their movies would be watched year after year on the day that their film was titled after (this was the 1970s, after all; long before cable TV and home video), their plan made sense because the title of the film would be a great marketing ploy; the film would practically sell itself (that’s never true, but some films sell much easier than others). Throughout the 1980s, there were a multitude of films that were titled after certain days or events during the year – Friday The 13th (1980), My Bloody Valentine (1981), April Fool’s Day (1986), Happy Birthday To Me (1981), Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) – but John Carpenter and Debra Hill got there first and got first pick of the holiday which would provide the setting for their horror film. They picked the obvious one and, in doing so, were well on their way to creating a classic of the genre: Halloween.
Halloween gives us much of what we now look at as horror film clichés: it provides us with a “good girl” heroine, something of a social outcast, who is the last girl to survive when the killer has murdered all her friends, it gives us a silent masked killer with little motivation for his crimes, and, most importantly, it gives a killer who defies the very laws of the natural world. Michael Myers is quite possibly cinema’s first unkillable killer.
This revelation, given only at the very end of the film, is amazing because, up until the moment when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) looks over the porch railing and finds that the apparently dead Michael has disappeared, we thought we were watching a film about an ordinary, run-of-the-mill serial killer (as it were). There is little in the film that points to any hints that Michael might be something other than human; true, he can inexplicably drive a car even though he’s been locked up in an asylum since he was child (“Maybe somebody around here gave him lessons,” Loomis says before dropping the matter for the rest of the film), and there is the occasional weird detail like when Loomis and Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) find a dead dog (offscreen, thank goodness) and Loomis says, “He got hungry.” The main reason why we don’t see the final twist coming is because everything we know about Michael (with the exception of the opening murder sequences, which we see through Michael’s own eyes, literally) is filtered through the perceptions of Dr. Loomis, and that guy is weird. No wonder the guy can’t get anyone to listen to him when he uses phrases like “The Evil has gone from here.” Donald Pleasance plays the role to its creepy hilt, whispering his lines and trying to convince the Sheriff that he isn’t the craziest guy to have come to town lately. But everything that Loomis says betrays him. “Death has come to your little town… he had the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes… I realized that what was behind those eyes was purely and simply evil.” The Sheriff’s response is, at one point, “More fancy talk,” and we can’t really blame him. Loomis’s years of treating Michael has turned him into a creep and he might as well have a sign stapled to his forehead that reads “Hello, I’m Michael Myer’s weird psychiatrist. My job is to tell you that you’re gonna die, which you will ignore because I’m too creepy to be taken seriously.”
Loomis may be a weirdo, but the evidence of our eyes tells us that everything he says can be trusted. Michael is a dangerous creature, leaping over cars and smashing windows with his bare hand, killing at will and playing with his potential victims like a mean-spirited child teasing a starving dog. Until Michael is briefly unmasked at the end of the film, the only real image we have to go on is the blank look gives when, as a six year-old, he’s discovered by his parents in the aftermath of his sister’s murder. As a six year-old, Michael actually looks rather sweet-natured and the reveal of his face (after the tour-de-force point-of-view steady-cam shot that opened the film and recorded Judith’s murder) is brilliant. The audience is meant to gasp and ask, “That’s the killer?” It’s obvious from both his sister’s and parents’ reaction that Michael has never shown any violent tendencies before and the film never gives us any indication as to why a six year-old boy turned to murder and has taken up with it again following his escape (True, there is the sex element, which we’ll get to later, but nothing Loomis says confirms this suspicion). As strange as Loomis’s prognosis is, that Michael is simply evil, it just might be the truth. Michael seems to have the same fascination with horrible things that many children do and, like a school-yard bully, he pursues his interest with a sense of fun. He enjoys appearing and disappearing in front of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) during the film’s first half and playing dead for her during the second half. He could take out Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) anytime he wants to, but he’s playing with them: he locks Annie’s car door and then unlocks it when she returns with her keys, and stands with a sheet over his head and wearing Bob’s (John Michael Graham) glasses in an attempt to creep out Lynda. Interestingly, Michael feels no need to play with Bob when he finally has him cornered; although he seems to be fascinated with his handiwork (like a brat who’s just pulled the wings off a fly); it seems as if its only fun to tease the girls.
Which brings us to the girls in question – Laurie, Annie and Lynda. After watching a scene where little Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) is getting bullied by a bunch of young jerks (who later get their comeuppance when Loomis scares them away from the Myers house), we are then treated to a more subtle, high school version of bullying. Laurie is friends with Annie and Lynda, but it is difficult to understand why; Annie takes the shy and reserved Laurie down at every opportunity and Lynda is a moron (try to catch her monolog about why she never brings her schoolbooks home to get a taste of her “totally” deep thoughts). The only reason that I can see them hanging out is that they probably all grew up together (which, if true, shows that Laurie didn’t pick any fashion tips from them; check out those baggy leggings); Laurie obviously needs her two friends in order to avoid becoming a complete social outcast while Lynda and Annie need her to take their shit (and probably help them out with their homework). No doubt Laurie feels as if a portion of her teenage years has already passed her by, that she somehow skipped the fun years and went straight to domestication (although a conversation with Annie about a cute boy at school shows that she does “think of things like that,” it is quite clear that she is more at home playing den-mother to Tommy). This provides the all-important contrast between Laurie and Annie during the middle of the film (Lynda remains offscreen through the bulk of the running time). Laurie sees her babysitting of Tommy as a duty, and not an unpleasant one: she reads to him, makes a jack-o’lantern, and just takes the time to talk to him. Annie plops her charge, Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), in front of the TV and uses her job as a way to sneak some heavy-petting time with her boyfriend (humorously, this attitude backfires on her; when she locks herself in the laundry room, Lindsey can’t hear her calling for help over the TV – Carpenter even uses the same cutaways to Lindsey several times to show that the girl hasn’t moved a muscle all night).
This, of course, introduces the concept of illicit sex in horror films and its consequences (pioneered by this very film). As stated earlier, Michael has no real motivation for killing his sister; it is implied that her having sex with her boyfriend might have been the reason, but this is never made explicit. His return to Haddonfield is equally problematic; although it is now common knowledge that Laurie is Michael’s other sister (something revealed in Halloween II (1981), nothing of the sort is even hinted at in this film and, without that information, we can only assume that Michael is intent on recommitting his original crime with girls as equally naughty as his sister (this interpretation can be backed up by Michael’s decision to place Annie’s body underneath his sister’s headstone). But Laurie hasn’t done anything naughty; Michael is only alerted to her presence because he hears her voice over the phone after Lynda’s murder. Possibly, Michael would not have targeted Laurie if she hadn’t crossed the street from the Doyles’ house to the Wallaces’ to see what was going on. Or maybe Michael sees all young women as the same: little naughty girls like his sister, all of whom must be punished. Michael, however, is not one for talking and we never really find out. If sex has anything to do with the deaths of Annie and Lynda, it has more to do with their distraction from what really is important; in anticipation of sex with her boyfriend, Annie passes off her responsibility, taking care of Lindsey, to Laurie and thus places herself in the killing zone. Upon learning the Lindsey will be sleeping at the Doyles’ the whole night through, Lynda and Bob finally get down to doing what they came there to do and get slaughtered in the aftermath. Laurie, however, takes her duties seriously; she checks on the sleeping children before venturing to the Wallaces’ house and thus has an extra reason to come out alive – she needs to keep the children safe.
And that’s a good thing because if it weren’t for Laurie sending the children down the street to call the police, Loomis (who spent hours standing outside the Myers house before he spotting his own car, which Michael stole, parked a block away) never would have figured out where Michael was. Loomis rushes in and does what he always wanted to do, put as many bullets in Michael’s body that he possibly can. But even before he takes a second to find that Michael has escaped yet again, the movie takes a moment to pronounce sentence on him: “It was the boogeyman,” Laurie says, referencing a notion that she’d been trying to dispel from Tommy’s imagination since the beginning of the film. Loomis, who has been describing Michael as pure evil and “it” rather than “him,” doesn’t argue with her, maybe relieved to finally find someone who understands. “As a matter of fact, it was,” he says before finding Michael gone and that incredible main theme playing one more time.
John Carpenter will always be remembered for a small, independent film he made in the late 1970’s starring one name actor and another who was the child of two Hollywood stars and featuring a score that he wrote himself. And he called it Halloween, guaranteeing that it would be revisited every year on October the 31st. It invented whole swathes of the modern horror film that have now passed into cliché and, without it, the world of horror would be just a little bit less fun and exciting. Carpenter did manage make at least one other terrific horror film (his remake of The Thing (1982) has the bite of a sledgehammer to the brain) and some not-so-good ones, but for his initial venture into horror, he will always be remembered as the director who brought horror into modern times. Halloween was one of the first modern horror films that made it fun to be scared and that, dear readers, is what this series of articles was all about.
Happy Halloween and Goodnight.