By KJ Hamilton
Halloween – 1978 – dir. John Carpenter
It’s the story of a small-town girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) who is terrorized by Evil Incarnate, as Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) explains: “I spent eight years trying to reach him and another seven trying to keep him locked away when I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely, simply evil.” The boy is Michael Meyers. When he was six years old, he stabbed his sister Judith to death—on Halloween night. Michael was then institutionalized, and the Meyers’ home in rural Haddonfield, Illinois, became an icon of fright.
This film has always fascinated me. In fact, I once took a film criticism class in college just because I heard that this movie was on the syllabus. The story itself is a work of art, but what is most captivating is that this film hinges on suspense. The pace of the film is slow, but not in the boring sense of the word. It’s almost as if the camera is an accomplice to the murders. At times, the camera is in the back seat of the car, or walking behind the trio of teenagers. The camera moves as if it is stalking its subject, mimicking the antagonist in its deliberate gestures. It begins in the first scene. The shot is low, a six-year old’s point of view, where you feel almost as if you have to stand on your tiptoes to see into the living room window. The view changes when little Michael dons the Halloween mask; we’re given the view of the world through small holes in a mask. The holes in the mask may have been small, but it’s interesting to note the enormity of what was going on outside of the mask: murder. This could speak to the mind of our antagonist, as he only sees the world through the eyes of a mask. There’s nothing beyond what he can see right in front of him. Conversely, there’s nothing behind the mask when you look at him. It’s a frightening paradox, and the reason why Michael Meyers is so terrifying. In a world of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kreuger, Michael Meyers is perhaps the most terrifying because he can speak to every single fear we, as human beings, have.
Interestingly enough, Jason, Freddy and Michael are all armed with some form of knife.
This unusual bond is considered, by some, to be a direct correlation to the Master of Horror himself, Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, the writers of Halloween (John Carpenter and Debra Hill) named the Loomis character after a character in Hitchcock’s classic film, Psycho. Not to mention, of course, that Janet Leigh—the woman who made taking a shower terrifying—is Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother.
It is notable that the shower scene in Psycho had much more blood and gore than the entire Halloween film. Rather, the film absolutely hinges on and plays upon suspense and fear. There isn’t a kid in the world that hasn’t been afraid of monsters in the closet or under the bed—and the boogeyman. The common thread in all horror films is the fear of the unknown. While it’s true that other movies have a backstory—Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, even Jason and Freddy—Michael Meyers has no story. There is no rhyme or reason given to him in this first film. In fact, the reason why he broke out of the institution and came after Laurie isn’t revealed until Halloween: H20. But, in this first film, Michael is hardly given an identity other than he is Evil Incarnate. And, that is truly terrifying.
For most of us, fear usually has a name. We can be afraid of flying, or afraid of water. But, in this film, the name Michael Meyers is just a placeholder. There aren’t any redeeming qualities at all; no story to explain the madness; nothing to clue the audience in. The glimpse that the camera gives us behind the mask reveals only that the world is very small, almost inconsequential. Perhaps that’s the essence of Michael: inconsequence. He is resolute on his mission of fear, and nothing else matters. No stab wounds or bullet wounds will stop him. He snaps back up and turns his head towards the camera; his accomplice in visionary views of the world. Michael’s accomplice does reveal one thing about him, though: three seconds of his face. A reveal so quick that I just noticed it—even after screening this film at least a dozen times. Freeze frame on the face that the accomplice reveals does nothing to alleviate the sense of fear that Michael perpetuates. It’s a blank stare; no regrets or sorrow over the things that he’s done.
Why should fear or Evil Incarnate have regrets? They are what we make of them.