Movie Discussion: John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)

  • Monthly Theme: Slashershalloween78-poster-and-another-one
  • The Film: Halloween
  • Alternate title: n/a
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: October 25, 1978
  • Studio: Compass International Pictures & Falcon International Productions
  • Distributer: Compass International Pictures
  • Domestic Gross: $47 million
  • Budget: $300,000 (estimated)
  • Director: John Carpenter
  • Producer: Debra Hill, Kool Lusby & Irwin Yablans
  • Screenwriters: John Carpenter & Debra Hill
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematographer: Dean Cundey
  • Make-Up/FX: Conrad Rothmann
  • Music: John Carpenter
  • Part of a series? Yes. This is the first entry in the long-running Halloween slasher series, including Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Curse of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) and Halloween: Resurrection (2002). In 2018, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride teamed up to direct and write Halloween, a direct sequel to the 1978 original that ignores all the other previous films in the franchise. Two more Green/McBride films are scheduled to be released: Halloween Kills (2021) and Halloween Ends (2022).
  • Remakes? Yes. Rob Zombie remade the film in 2007, then followed it up with his own riff on Halloween II in 2009.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Psycho’s Janet Leigh), star of Prom Night, Terror Train, and many more. Genre actress P.J. Soles (Carrie, Blood Bath, etc.). Horror icon Donald Pleasence (Phenomena, Wake in Fright, etc.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Nancy Loomis went on to appear in the next two Halloween films.
  • Awards?: Critics Award at the 1979 Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. New Generation Award at the 1979 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. Halloween was listed on the National Film Registry in 2006.
  • Tagline: “The night HE came home!”
  • The Lowdown: Conceived as a simple “killer stalks babysitters” picture by producer Irwin Yablans, John Carpenter and his co-writer and co-producer Debra Hill turned the material into something much more: a mythic exploration of evil menacing small-town America. The plot of Halloween involves an escaped mental patient, Michael Myers, returning to his hometown on Halloween Eve to stalk and murder a small group of carefree teenagers in the suburbs of Haddonfield, IL. Michael is hunted by his former psychiatrist, the intense Van Helsing-esque Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), as he closes in on a bookish high school student, Laurie Strode (the screen debut of Jamie Lee Curtis), who is she babysitting two young children. The film’s silent, masked killer, Michael Myers, has become one of the most recognizable horror villains of all time, and the leading figure in the “slasher” pantheon alongside Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, Chucky and Pinhead. 

If you haven’t seen Halloween our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.

Kristine: So I’ve been thinking about the book The Psychopath Test ever since we watched Halloween. Are you familiar with it?

Sean: Yes. That’s the one about how to identify “psychopaths” right? This American Life did a thing on it and all the people who work on the show took the test, including Ira Glass. They also profiled this monstrous CEO and he scored really high on the test, but then they explained that since he didn’t have a history of torturing animals and stuff, then he wasn’t really a psychopath. So I guess you can score really high and still not be considered a psychopath.

Kristine: Well, I have to say that of the Big Three slasher luminaries (Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers), Michael was by far the scariest and the best. And I think that is because he is the purest psychopath of the bunch. He is not killing out of revenge or hurt fweelings. I loved Halloween. And I have decided that John Carpenter is a smart dude.

Sean: I can’t believe it… You didn’t find it “boring”?

Kristine: Nope. I thought it was great.

Sean: Phew! I just wiped sweat off my brow with a dishrag.

Is that Joan Crawford under there!?

Kristine: I know you were chewing your nails off waiting for my reaction…

Sean: Well, what elements of it did you like? Why did you respond to it do you think?

Kristine: Michael Myers is a scary motherfucker.

Sean: You mean he actually scared you?

Kristine: Yes! And I really liked how this movie, unlike Friday the 13th, really presents the normal world as a scary place. Michael Myers might be a freak of nature, but this can happen… anywhere. It’s not in an idealized, bucolic setting like Crystal Lake (which almost feels like a fantasy land by comparison).

Sean: I have a couple of things to say, and one of them is that I was struck this time around by how Halloween is really about Jimmy Carter’s America and made me realize that other slasher films also reflect the America that exists at the time they’re made. Like how A Nightmare on Elm Street is very “Reagan’s America,” and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is this post-Vietnam movie full of Nixon/Ford-era anxieties. But Halloween is really the first horror movie that’s about the death of suburbia that I can think of – maybe there’s obvious pre-1978 ones out there that I’m forgetting… There’s something primal and universal about the movie. It’s funny how many other movies have copied the aesthetics of Halloween over the years but none of them actually have any of its thematic depth. It really is a movie that is full of ideas. Unlike Friday the 13th, which I’m not really sure is about anything actually…

Kristine: I agree, and I think one of the most telling scenes, with that in mind, is when Laurie is being hunted and is frantically screaming and knocking on doors for someone to save her and no one will. I was all, “Holy Kitty Genovese.” Except that case was from 1964, fourteen years before Halloween and of course was all about vilifying urban spaces. So it’s almost like the fear of the urban manifesting in the mid-’60s was by the time of Halloween creeping out of the cities and into the suburbs. It’s like, ‘You fucking white people left the city because you thought it was dangerous, huh? Well, now your suburbs are ruined too and by your own sons, who have been driven crazy in your shitty suburban bubbles.’ I loved how this nice suburban neighborhood was turned into a cold killing ground by a native son.

Sean: What is Kitty Genovese?

Kristine: Sean! Are you serious? It’s like the cautionary tale of the 20th century.

Sean: Ok… Enlighten and encaution me.

Kristine: It’s a very famous case that is always studied in sociology classes. In 1964 this woman Kitty Genovese was attacked in her neighborhood in NYC. Her screams were allegedly heard and her stabbing was seen by 38 witnesses, none of whom called the police (that number has been disputed) or came to her aid. She managed to get away from her attacker, even though she was badly injured.

Sean: Ugh.

Kristine: Her attacker retreated and then came back and methodically searched the neighborhood for her. She was hiding in an alley or something, bleeding to death…

Sean: Was it a stranger or someone she knew?

Kristine:  Total stranger.

Sean: Holy Maniac vileness.

Kristine: So, he found her and continued to stab her. Again, the crime was seen and heard, but no one wanted to “get involved” because, get this… They thought it was her boyfriend or husband.

Sean: Oh, the 1960s. How quaint….

In this lighting it is impossible to tell if that’s Michael Myers or Michael Jackson.

Kristine: So he stabs her to death then rapes her while she is dying (he was a necrophile)…

Sean: Jeez!

Kristine: Yeah.

Sean: Stop it!

Kristine: He is up for parole next year, by the way. While in prison, he has killed people and once he took hostages in the prison hospital where he was admitted for a self-inflicted injury. He raped one of the hostages in front of her husband.

Sean: Umm… This is really fucked.

Kristine: So, that exists. The extra sucky thing is that he is black and she was Italian, so… The coverage of the crime was all racialized. But again, to wit… in 1964 white people were terrified of Black urban spaces and in 1978 they’re scared of their own children in their bullshit suburban ‘utopias.’ Oh, and Genovese was a lesbian who lived with her girlfriend, so she was kind of” the Other” in her neighborhood all ready.

Sean: You’re right that the Genovese incident is about the city, and is a story about alienated urbanites who “don’t want to get involved,” which is a stark contrast to Halloween’s pastoral suburbia. But I think what makes the horror in Halloween so palpable is that you’ve got that same kind of horror and apathy but now infiltrating to the very heart of Americana – the small town neighborhood.

Kristine: Duh, I just said that! And I think the point is that people are crappy, all over, and it’s all about their own self-interest. I think Carpenter is saying, “There are monsters all over.”

Sean: I think it’s easy to say that now, in 2012.

Kristine: Right.

Laurie takes her “crazy cat lady” costume out for a trial spin.

Sean: But I think that, in the decade following the 1960s (which was America’s big “coming of age” decade where the anodyne narratives about America that were constructed in the post-war era were being disassembled and rewritten) it makes sense that Halloween would get made, and that it would find an audience and also really impact that audience. Remember, this was a huge sleeper hit. One way of thinking about this is that since the late 1960s our sense of America as a “safe place” was eroding and by 1978, it would be just about time to fully face the new reality. And I think in the American imagination social ills – prostitution, crime, murder, etc. – spread outward from the cities, infecting and compromising the smaller communities that surround them. So Halloween is in some ways a record of that despoiled America. The world Laurie and Annie and Linda inhabit is almost retro (even for 1978), a truly “innocent” 1950s-esque world. Remember, too, that the 1970s saw a huge boom of nostalgia for the 1950s – American Graffiti, Happy Days, Sha-Na-Na, etc. And I think John Carpenter (a child of the 1950s) was the perfect person to come along and put a cap on all those nostalgic daydreams about a safer, cleaner, more innocent time in America. Halloween invokes that 1950s-ish small town milieu and totally violates it. It definitively ends the boom in 1950s nostalgia and forces us to face the facts, that “that America” is gone and is not coming back.

Kristine: Perhaps so. See, I feel way safer in a city than in a suburb.

Sean: I just want you to know how much I’m getting out of this blog project….

Kristine: That’s great!

Sean: Because I totally found myself rethinking the whole movie, watching it with you this time. It really struck me as a total masterpiece. As a kid, I never really warmed up to the Halloween movies. I loved the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movies the most, and sort of just watched the Halloween movies with a shrug. Maybe that’s because the Michael Myers-focused sequels were so goddamned atrocious, while the other two franchises were better at making entertaining sequels and were also way more experimental (see Friday the 13th: A New Beginning and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors as examples of what I mean). They really played with the premise and had more fun with the possibilities – What if the killer is actually a Jason copycat? What if Jason fully becomes Frankenstein, re-animated by a blast of lightning? What if he fights Carrie White? Or goes to New York? Or space? What if Freddy Krueger terrorizes kids in a hospital for suicidal teenagers? What if he actually turns Springwood into a post-apocalyptic teenage wasteland? Or what if we go meta and he terrorizes the cast & crew of the original film? Wheres the Halloween sequels (save the third) are punishingly derivative… the same fucking format over and over and over. They really suck. So maybe that’s why I didn’t pay attention to how incredible Halloween is. I now think that this movie is maybe the most important horror movie of 1970s America, the one that provides the best snapshot of where our minds and imaginations were at that moment in history, in much the same way that Night of the Living Dead is the definitive horror movie document of the 1960s. It’s interesting that both of these movies came towards the end of their respective decades. It makes me wonder about what horror movies really encapsulate the psychology of the other decades. Here’s my nominees: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which is the ultimate 1950s Red Scare, McCarthyism movie), They Live (all about 1980s Reaganite shopping mall consumer culture), for the 1990s I’d stray from horror and choose The Matrix as the movie that’s “about” the decade in all its technophobia and technophilia and Y2K hysteria, and for the 2000s it’s a toss-up between Saw and Hostel or maybe they’re just a package deal – the ultimate post-9/11 ‘holy shit we torture people now and we do it gladly’ movies… [Editor’s note: For the 2010s, it’s gotta be Get Out right?]

Kristine: Can I present a piece of evidence to support my theory that Carpenter thinks humanity rots? The James Ensor poster in Laurie’s room.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: Are you familiar with him?

Sean: Not beyond the fact that he is the subject of a They Might Be Giants song.

Kristine: Despite my fancy art history background, I was not that familiar with Ensor, but a famous painting of his is owned by the Kimbell (an art museum in Fort Worth) so I know more about him now. He was a painter in the late 1800s/early 1900s and he was major influence on expressionism and surrealism. He is best known for painting very dark works, featuring people wearing…. grotesque masks! So Carpenter is being very funny here.

Self-portrait with Masks (1899)

Sean: You know that Michael’s mask is a spraypainted William Shatner mask? Just another way the movie takes an icon of 1960s utopianism and desecrates it.

Kristine: I did know that and I love it. Ensor was censored by the Pope and caused big scandals with his scary mask people.

Sean: That is awesome.

Kristine: It’s just such a funny little thing for Carpenter to do, and to put it in Laurie’s room made perfect sense. I found Michael’s mask very fucking scary.

Sean: I think Michael in the bedsheet with Linda is the scariest scene. Did you like Laurie, Annie and Linda?

Kristine: I loved them! You know I love P.J. Soles, the actress who plays Linda.

Sean: Yes, she rocks.

Kristine: I loved her filing her nails after sex.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Another contrast with the Friday the 13th movies is that in those movies a lot of the women are kind of coerced into sex, or sex itself is a threat, but here the ladies are all about it and it’s just a normal part of life.

Sean: Yes. They are kind of amazing.

Michael wears his mask to hide his droopy eyehole problem apparently.

Kristine: This is a better movie, Sean. Way better. My one complaint was I didn’t like the reveal of Michael’s face. In Friday the 13th Part 2 the reveal was good because it was all about what an inhuman monogloidal freak Jason was, but here I didn’t like it.

Sean: A scary scene that I’d totally forgotten about: when Annie yells “Hey jerk. Speed kills!” and then the car screeches to a halt.

Kristine: Oh my god, that scene scared me! The car screeching to a halt was terrifying. Who hasn’t screamed at a stranger and then been like “Oh shit!”

Sean: I yelled at a car and it screeched to a halt, when I was like 14.

Kristine: I thought you were going to say you did that, like, last week. Did you run away?

Sean: My friend Mike had to talk five guys out of beating me up.

Kristine: Ha!

Sean: True story. But the point is, I love Annie. Though after she does that she goes “I hate a guy with a car and no sense of humor…” which makes no sense.

Kristine: None at all.

Sean: Can I make one quick Friday the 13th point? Rewatching these with you, I realize how much the Friday the 13th movies were indebted to the giallo films that came before them. I really think the filmmakers where just huge giallo buffs, and that really shaped the style and feel of the early movies (especially the first two). But with Halloween I truly think that Carpenter invented his own form, or his own take on a form, and made something original. It doesn’t feel like anything that came before it. (I think a lot of this might have to do with Carpenter’s score for Halloween, which is… a total masterpiece in and of itself).

And Annie’s boyfriend tells her this isn’t what he meant by spicing things up in the bedroom.

Kristine: I loved the score as well. The only real “staging” of the bodies is that one scene when Laurie finds them. Honestly, I thought that scene was kind of weak. With the sister’s gravestone? Whereas the Friday the 13th movies are all about staging the bodies.

Sean: Yes. Again, so much of the aesthetics of the first Friday the 13th, including its somewhat nonsensical feel and bizarre asides (like Marcie’s weird prophetic dream), feel lifted from the Italians. But Halloween? Especially the first hour, with that washed-out autumnal glow? I mean, the movie still looks great in 2012.

Kristine: I agree.

Sean: You know it was like the Blair Witch Project of its day. A total surprise juggernaut success, made on a shoestring budget. It is still considered one of the most profitable indie movies of all time.

Kristine: Ok, there is something I wanted to talk about… You are Tommy Doyle. That little boy is exactly how I imagine you were as a little boy. I mean, I’m right, right?

Sean: Yes, I am Tommy. Next?

I am a dowdy pumpkin lady and this is my helpling.

Kristine: You are! That is exactly how I imagine you.

Sean: But I was way faggier. Are you Lindsey?

Kristine: No. Do you know who Lindsey is?

Sean: Wednesday Addams?

Kristine: No. One of my biggest complaints about you is your refusal to watch reality TV. Lindsey is played by Kyle Richards, who is now on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She was also in The Car, Eaten Alive and The Watcher in the Woods! And her sister is Kim Richards, the child star who was in Escape to Witch Mountain and also…. Assault on Precinct 13. Another John Carpenter movie, right?

Sean: Ugh. Real Nopewives of I’ll Never Watch It. So can I ask… did you know the cold open reveal that the killer was a little boy? Because that was a big shock back in the day.

Kristine: No, I didn’t know.

Sean: Was it shocking?

Kristine: Medium shocking. Not crazy shocking. That is kind of a trope in horror movies, right?

Sean: I guess you’ve already seen Sleepaway Camp so… this must have seemed tame in comparison.

Kristine: Yeah, exactly.

What’s more shocking? A murder or a clown costume?

Sean: I was struck by the frozen tableau/anti-realism of the parents pulling the clown mask off of young Michael.

Kristine: But this goes back to the psychopath test… Especially because in this scenario, the parents were supposed to be normal and not abusive freaks. Do you believe in psychopaths, Sean?

Sean: I mean, sure. There are people who don’t believe in psychopaths?

Kristine: I think there are a lot of people who believe it’s nurture over nature and psychopaths are made, not born. So you believe in “bad seeds”?

Sean: Um… Yes, I guess I do.

Kristine: Hmmmm. How Darwinian of you!

Sean: Some people are just… wrong.

Kristine: Like Bret Easton Ellis?

Sean: Like the Real Nopewives.

Kristine: Oh boy. I am more of a bleeding heart liberal than you, I think. I used to think people’s personalities were 80% nurture. But according to my dad, I have the exact same nature I had when I was born. Like, experiences = nothing. Once you’re born, you are cooked and done and there is no changing it. Depressing. Or liberating…

Sean: I don’t know why, but the nature vs. nurture debate is profoundly uninteresting to me.

Kristine: It is like the debate of life! And free will! And self-actualization!

Sean: I guess, but I don’t care. Maybe it’s because I got burned out on that conversation in relation to gayness.

Kristine: But it has been debated by the greatest minds for centuries.

Sean: Yawn. I’m just saying, it bores me like Evil Dead II bored you.

Kristine: Okay, then.

Sean: Do you really think that it is a fundamental question?

Kristine: Yes, I do, but we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want…

Sean: Why?

Kristine: I mean, right now it seems important because I feel like it’s the Dems versus the Repubs.

Sean: Isn’t it dumb when people have gayness debates in this framework though?

Kristine: Yes, that is dumb but I don’t feel like that is a “real” conversation. Everyone knows the truth and that debate is totally over.

Sean: I guess I think whenever people have big raging debates about “Is it this or is it this?” I always think the answer is usually “It’s both.”

Kristine: You are all about fifty shades of grey, Sean.

Sean: Like, some people are probably born with innate strong imprinted identities and others are more malleable and so are shaped by their environment.

Kristine: Maybe…

Sean: Remember the cemetery man’s speech about “every town has a story like this” and then tells the story of the father who gets the hacksaw and kisses his family goodbye and then kills them? The Story of America in the 1970s.

Kristine: That guy was another trope of horror movies… the “warning voice,” like Ralph the town drunk in Friday the 13th, which The Cabin in the Woods parodied very well.

Sean: Yes, I felt like he was more nuanced than that archetype. He wasn’t employed in the most obvious way. He was this minor resonance of the film’s major theme, which is…. the unexplainable darkness of the modern man.

Kristine: Like I said, Michael stealing his sister’s gravestone and staging the bodies was one thing that didn’t work for me in Halloween, because it spoke to emotional damage on Michael’s part. Like he has some sort of regret or need to “work through” murdering his sister. And my read on Michael is that he wouldn’t need any of that. He is a pure psychopath, and he only comes back to his home town because it is familiar, not to give himself murder therapy, you know?

Look behind you! It’s Matthew Fox!

Sean: Right…. I guess I was more interested in the gravedigger’s narrative because it advocated for the idea that every town has some man in it that one day just…. goes crazy. I feel like Halloween hinges on man’s darkness being inexplicable and unforeseeable.

Kristine: One super scary scene for me was when Laurie goes to put the key under the Myers’ welcome mat and Michael is standing there. That was almost as scary as when Leatherface first appears in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, all ripping aside that huge industrial door and running out to grab Pam. I totally freaked out in both instances.

Sean: That was great.

Kristine: Right? Fucking terrifying. But I’m not sure I find the gravedigger’s soliloquy all that significant. Why don’t you tell me what struck you as so important about it?

Sean: Just the universality of it. How the gravedigger establishes that Michael Myers really isn’t an anomaly, that modern American life, by it’s very nature, results in these bizarre fissures in the normal. That the story of middle-class American life involves how it drives some men crazy –  and I think it’s absolutely significant that these stories emphasize men, that the pressures of the everyday affect men differently because of their social role. Of course, in 2012 a lot of that has changed or has begun to radically shift. But in 1978, the “cost” of the American Dream on the psyches of men in the culture is something that, I think, Halloween is obsessed with (as well as many other horror movies from the period). Also, I don’t know if you remember the scene early on where Laurie is in English class and the teacher is going on and on and on about fate.

Kristine: Yes, of course.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…

Sean: The teacher’s voice (she is unseen, significantly) is really driving home the idea that there is no avoiding your fate, that there is this dark inevitability. I mean this is a moment when I think Carpenter is really pushing Halloween to have these big, epic themes that resonate all the way back to Greco-Roman dramas and mythology. I think it works well enough, though I’m not exactly sure the movie fully realizes it’s own ideas about fate, especially vis-à-vis Laurie. Once the sun sets, the movie runs with all the “boogeyman” stuff and, for me, kind of abandons the bigger, epic questions it seemed to be posing in the first half. Remember that Laurie’s last line, to Dr. Loomis, is something like, “Was that the boogeyman?” and Loomis responds, “Yes, it was.” End picture. I’m not sure the movie actually gives us some sense of what this epic encounter with the boogeyman actually means to Laurie, and what it says about her fate/destiny. So while some of that stuff doesn’t quite work for me, the gravedigger’s soliloquy does work, because it syncs up with that final exchange between Loomis/Laurie quite nicely. I feel like it pinpoints the movie’s biggest idea about the New America of the post-‘60s, that our collision with darkness is inevitable, and that it will come from within our communities, not from without. That’s the horror, that it is internal and not external.

Kristine: Sorry to bring this up since you are bored by it, but this goes back to the Big Question. Is life predetermined (Nature) or do we have free will to shape our lives (Nurture)? But I agree with your read as well…

Sean: I mean, so much of the discourse about American life, right up through the current moment, is about identifying boogeymen that come from outside the culture. Communists, terrorists, the Yellow Peril of the 1890s, American Indians of course, the Irish, freed slaves, illegal immigrants, Bolsheviks, etc., etc. I mean, the hysteria about communism in the 1950s is directly responsible for the huge popularity of alien invasion movies. But where a movie like Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956 depicts this ‘soft invasion’ where our citizens are replaced with evil twins, the threat still came from outside. Americans had to be covertly murdered and replaced for the threat to manifest. In 1968 Night of the Living Dead takes it one step further – the threat has moved inward a bit to the dead bodies of our own citizens, but the “essence” of our Americanness has been removed from the zombies. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the enemy looks like us, but is not us, not really. But Halloween directly names our own sons as the enemy, the one’s attacking our way of life at the fundamental level: the small town communities that comprise the “heart” of America. While Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Night of the Living Dead displace the source of the evil (to alien invaders and a bizarre supernatural event), Halloween integrates the evil completely into our own world. As the movie’s cold open indicates, Michael Myers is an American son, one of our own, who has inexplicably turned out… wrong.

Kristine: This goes back to the artist, James Ensor, who depicts all of us as wearing the scary boogeyman mask. Ensor’s work implicates everybody in the crowd (and audience). As INXS says, “Every single one of us, the devil inside.”

Sean: Did you notice that Lindsey is watching the original 1950s version of The Thing on tv?

Kristine: Yep! I noticed that. Are you proud of me?

Sean: Yes! And also a bit later Forbidden Planet is on. So Carpenter is purposefully juxtaposing this new 1970s horror with the 1950s horror movies he grew up with. And those movies look so quaint and cheesy in the context of Halloween, right?

Kristine: Yes. Carpenter is all about references on top of references.

Sean: Let’s talk about Laurie Strode in her white tights. Are white tights as sick as wet hair? Maybe. Someone in white tights with wet hair might be the grossest. I actually think Laurie’s white tights are meant to connect back to Annie’s comment about her that she’d “make a great Girl Scout.” They’re meant to be infantilizing and de-sexualizing, right?

Kristine: Yes, but I think Laurie is more complex than that. I know it’s an easy read to say that Michael Myers picked his victims based on their sexy teenage behavior, but I think that’s a reductive and simplistic way to look at it. I don’t think this movie is a condemnation of sex and drugs, in other words.

Sean: Why not?

You hurt my feelings.

Kristine: Just because! Remember that Laurie, our supposed “final girl” and Great American Virgin, smoked weed and was interested in screwing as much as Annie and Linda. I’m a little tired of the Carol Clover-esque status quo about what slasher films “mean” and that they’re all about punishing the counterculture, etc. I mean, maybe that’s true for some or maybe even most slasher films. I haven’t seen enough to really know. But I think that if this movie is “about” America, than it makes perfect sense for the victims of the killer to be teenagers. First of all, I think it is commentary on the absence of adults in the suburbs. The adults are always elsewhere in this movie (and most other slashers we’ve watched). If these movies are about an “American nightmare” than what better way to articulate that than to have the evil strike out at teenagers because they’re the “next generation” that’s just on the cusp of true adulthood. If Michael Myers and his ilk eradicate that group of people, it leaves this big hole in the cultural/social fabric. That is scary to think about. So all this hooplala about how the kids in these movies are always fucking and getting high… I mean, that’s what teenagers do! And they were doing it in 1955 and in 1945 and in 1935. If you’re going to target the teenagers and bring a killer into their milieu, then of course it’s going to be one of slightly-out-of-control sexuality and drug use.  And to get even more practical about it, the victims being teenagers makes sense because (a) they are hot and it is more fun to see hotties on screen and (b) they are the target audience for this movie, and everyone wants to see themselves on screen.

Sean: Well, one thing that struck me about Halloween this time around was how Laurie’s dad was the head of the town realty firm (Strode Realty) and Annie’s dad is the police chief. They are total daughters of the leaders of community, daughters of the patriarchy. So even though I think it’s true that the target audience for this movie is teenagers, I think one of the reasons it was such a huge success and all kind of other audiences saw it is that the nightmare of having your daughters stalked and butchered by a madman is one that parents can relate to.

Kristine: True. And their dads are totally ineffectual! So the parts of our society that are supposed to be protecting our youth and ushering them into adulthood (the fathers, the law enforcement, the captains of industry) are totally impotent and powerless in the face of someone like Michael Myers.

Sean: That’s part of the “horror” – the older generation can’t protect the younger one. Remember in Friday the 13th when Annie arrives in town and is scoffing at the ghost stories being told by the older generation? It’s like, in that movie, the older people sense the danger and try to warn the kids. But in this movie, no one even thinks anything bad will happen. No one is prepared for Michael (except crazy Dr. Loomis of course).

Kristine: But Laurie does protect her youthful wards, remember?

Sean: Can I just say that I think Michael’s pursuit of Laurie is kind of the weakest part of the movie? She is so…. weepy and clumsy. All stumbling and falling through the world, with tears in her eyes.

Kristine: And she locks herself in the closet? I would never. Dumb! Also, she kept throwing away weapons after not-killing Michael. I would never let go of that knife. I would carry it with me for the rest of my days.

Sean: Laurie just all limp-wristedly goes “Meh!” with a knitting needle. I mean, she really is kind of useless and has to be saved by Loomis. It’s blind luck that she survives, more than her own ingenuity (unlike, say, Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2).

Why is this sexy?

Kristine: Okay, I thought of another thing I don’t like. Michael Myers being supernatural at the end? Gross.

Sean: Well, I think the movie is ambiguous enough about that… But yes, I don’t like that so much either. Though he is supposed to be ‘the boogeyman’ right?

Kristine: Weren’t there like a million sequels?

Sean: Oh Kristine they’re… a situation. He is an unkillable revenant in the sequels who gets shot, stabbed, set on fire, exploded and keeps coming.

Kristine: But if we are to believe that the boogeyman is among us, and every town has one… then that omits the need for one omnipresent, supernatural boogeyman. We don’t need Michael to survive because, according to the gravedigger’s soliloquy, there is a Michael Myers in every community.

Sean: Right. Paradox.

Kristine: I think it’s scarier to believe that you can kill Michael Myers… but that there will always be another person like him right around the corner. The next town over. So, I thought it was fascinating that Carpenter’s partner-in-crime for this movie was a woman, Debra Hill.

Sean: Debra Hill was married to Carpenter, right?

Kristine: I thought she was his girlfriend.

Sean: Oh whatever. They were straight people together.

Kristine: The heteros care about these distinctions.

Sean: But they remained creative collaborators even after their romantic relationship ended, which is cool.

Kristine: I love couples that collaborate. According to my research, she was a big deal in terms of being a female producer, and a strong advocate for ladies in film.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: I guess I find her so interesting because she really got her start with Halloween, which is part of a genre so often derided as being anti-lady.

Sean: Remember how significant it seemed that DePalma cast Tippi Hedren’s daughter in Body Double? Do you think Hill and Carpenter were doing the same thing with Jamie Lee Curtis here, who is Janet Leigh’s daughter?

Kristine: I do think that, yes. So you think JLC is a disappointing Final Girl? I thought you loved her.

I don’t like that upholstery either, Laurie.

Sean: I think Laurie is a dud but I love Jamie Lee.

Kristine: Huh, interesting.

Sean: She starred in a bunch more slashers and horror shows.

Kristine: Such as?

Sean: Prom Night. Terror Train. Roadgames. Halloween II. She’s still a dud in Halloween II though. In Prom Night she does a DISCO DANCE SOLO and it lasts like 5 minutes.

Kristine: Amazing!

Sean: Reality.

Kristine: If you saw Michael Myers standing outside your window staring at you, what would you do?

Sean: I would die. Michael Myers is scary and horrible.

Kristine: He is so horrible and scary. I think I would die, too.

Sean: See, I actually liked that Laurie rips the mask off his face at the end because it happens so quickly, you don’t even really register what his features are. You just see… a face. It works to keep him this unknowable presence, I think.

Kristine: If so, why does Michael wear the mask at all?

Sean: Ask James Ensor.

Kristine: Okay, another scary-ass scene – the asylum inmates milling around the field at the beginning when Michael escapes from the mental hospital. Dude, that is scary.

Sean: I felt like that was a bit of a shout-out to Night of the Living Dead. They looked like zombies all in their mortuary gowns.

Kristine: Ah, yes…

Dr. Loomis did NOT like the way House ended either.

Sean: Loomis was an over-the-top diva, all Shakespearian-ly quoth-ing and prithee-ing. We haven’t watched any Gothic horror from the 1930s yet, like the o.g. Dracula or Frankenstein, but Loomis feels straight out of that milieu to me. He’s literally Van Helsing hunting Dracula. Do you think this movie qualifies as American Gothic?

Kristine: Loomis was definitely in a gothic movie, but I don’t think anyone else was.

Sean: I thought the image of Michael carrying Annie’s corpse into the house was a big Gothic moment. That is a classic Gothic image: the prone woman in the arms of the lumbering monster. I also thought it was a clever parallel to have Bob carry Linda into the house later in the same manner.

Kristine: I didn’t notice that at the time, to be honest with you. You know what I thought was well done? When Annie got trapped in the laundry room window. That scene might seem like a throwaway scene or just a chance to see her ass in panties, but I actually think it did a great job at ratcheting up the tension by showing how vulnerable she was.

Sean: Were you sad when she died?

Kristine: I liked her, but honestly I didn’t feel any emotion about any of the deaths.

Sean: As a kid, she was my favorite and every time I’d watch it I’d sort of hope that this time she’d get away and not get killed.

Kristine: I didn’t feel anything. Am I… a psychopath?

Sean: It’s possible.

Kristine: Exactly. You better watch yourself.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Masterpiece!

The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!

Shirts from Sears tear so easily..
Shirts from Sears tear so easily..

11 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)

  1. Just picked this up on bluray, and it looks amazing. Will give it a full viewing soon – haven’t watched it for four or five years. Always remember the scene that you have a shot of above, MM in the back yard, with the washing flapping around, during the day – still sends a shiver down my spine!

  2. Awesome! Have you seen that new Blu-Ray release of Part II and III? I’ve heard they also are really well done and look great, with good extras. Totally agree that the Michael in the laundry scene is so so awesome. Like Kristine said, the way this movie makes the everyday world a scary place is really the key to how effective it is.

  3. Haven’t got 2 or 3 yet. In fact I haven’t watched them since the good old days of VHS.
    The first printing of #2, on bluray, came with a ‘Haddonfield Hospital’ nurses hat!

  4. I actually love the very end of Halloween, the way that after Loomis shoots Michael he just disappears and then we see a series of shots of places that Michael also isn’t, with the Halloween theme playing over the top. It shows that after something like this has happened, everything is different and everywhere is dangerous and scary now.

    My friend Chris has a great theory about the Halloween theme. (I am completely musically illiterate and so cannot give the correct terms for what he is talking about.) He says that the fast treble part of the music represents the victims and their fear and panic, while the bass drone represents the implacable nature of Michael Myers. I’m not expressing it very well, but I hope you get what I mean.

  5. Thanks for helping me re-think those final moments of the movie… I like them so much better now! Question: Did Halloween II ruin the ending of the original by picking up right where it left off and then going downhill from there? I haven’t watched the sequel in a while, but I remember it being boring.
    Love Chris’ theory. In fact, a blog that does close readings of classic horror movie scores (this, Suspiria, The Thing, and on and on) would be amazing and I would read the shit out of that.

  6. This is an absolutely interesting and deep conversation about one my favorite horror films of all time. I am enlightened by the commentary, especially the part about how the film’s theme centers around the cultural history of the 70s; and the discussion about how post-war America really changed the way we thought about our enemies- that it was possible for evil to exist in small town USA.

    I actually disagree with Sean about Michael Myers’ pursuit of Laurie as being the weakest part of the movie. Yes, I think it would be scary if he could RUN after you, but there is something more terrifying that he is walking to get you. As if he knows that you have nowhere to hide. That’s what scares me. You could outrun Michael, but you have no idea that he is lurking from behind.

    I am going to end with Kristine’s comment about the disappearance of Michael at the end of the film. They are right about the paradox- if evil is among us, meaning if there is more than one Michael Myers out there, why make him disappear (invincible) and not kill him? It’s an interesting argument but I want to point out something Dr. Loomis said earlier in the film when he went to investigate Michael’s escape from the psychiatric ward. He stated, “I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.” That statement made me think how much more scarier Michael is than the devil himself. It reinforces the paradox that even if evil is among us, there is none as dark and scary as that of the boogeyman.

  7. I love your point about Loomis’ speech concerning Michael’s true nature. And I like, also, how you point out how much scarier it is that the movie subverts any idea of the there being a Biblical “devil” – a mythic and inhuman repository for evil – in favor of that evil existing in the most banal of places – a young boy’s inner self. It’s so much more comforting (culturally) to use myth-figures like Satan to explain evil, and also to tuck it away in some other, off-screen, dark space. But Michael is very much on-screen, present and endemic to the culture.

    I stand by my comments about the ending chase being the weakest part of the movie, but I actually completely agree with you that Michael’s plodding, unrelenting pursuit is quite scary/unnerving. I don’t like the sequence because of what a stumbly, weepy, hysterical mess Laurie is. It’s funny to me that Jamie Lee Curtis has been canonized as the Ur Final Girl of the slasher era, like Laurie Strode was ever some kind of badass. Laurie’s conduct in that final scene is some of the most slapdash, jellyarmed bullshit I’ve seen in a horror movie (and her Kim in Prom Night and Alana in Terror Train are almost as useless). She survives by accident, by fucking up and being sort of incompetent. Compared to almost any heroine from the first few Friday the 13ths and all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Laurie is the worst. When Dana, the hysterical crier from Friday the 13th Part 3, looks like a gladiator in comparison, there’s a problem with your final girl….

  8. I suppose in a horror film we would want to see a strong heroine defeat the psychopath in the end. But Carpenter chose a shy and innocent character like Laurie to go against something maniacal and dangerous as Michael Myers. The fact that he doesn’t talk nor makes any kind of gestures makes it even more terrifying. Oh yeah, and the whole head tilting slightly that Michael does when someone calls out to him, creepy as hell. It’s not just him but even if a scary-ass clown did that, it gives me the chills.

  9. I agree with you about the ending. It was masterfully done by weaving all those still shots of where Michael had been and then playing the theme music over it. It is utterly eerie. I believe we only hear this original score at the beginning and at the end.

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