Halloween (1978) movie poster

(1978) dir. John Carpenter
viewed: 08/17/02

For those of you familiar with the film diary, you will realize that I have seen more John Carpenter films this year than from any other director. It’s part coincidence and part intentional look at a pretty interesting horror auteur.

This film was my pick for my nephew Jordan and my second mini-horror movie fest of the summer.

We had the misfortune of picking up the “extended edition” of Halloween which added in eleven minutes of extraneous footage, shot to pad out its initial television airing. Though the footage was apparantly shot during the filming of Halloween II (1981) and looks relatively in sync with the film, the padding only tended to “fatten” the film, which unfortunately took away from its leaner original form.

The narrative and backstory are filled out, which slows down the pace of the film and offers more “explanation” about the “origin” of Michael Myers, the film’s undying killer. For me, this lessened the film in two ways, slowing it down considerably, and offering unnecessary and contradictory explication.

The opening sequence is largely wordless. Seen through the eyes of the eight year old Michael Myers, the only conversations are overheard whispers. It’s never really explained as to why Myers decides to take a butcher knife to his sister, though he does witness her engaging in a sex act, an potentially explicit Freudian site of trauma. While this sequence maybe doesn’t explicitly quote Hitchcock’s Psycho, it echoes it both visually and thematically.

What does Myers represent in the film? The hand of an angry, vengeful “god”, punishing horny teenagers for their “sins”? Certainly there is that undercurrent to his initial murder and the murder of a few of the later characters, each either engaging in sex or planning to. That undercurrent is never explicitly examined by the film and no overt religious references populate it as a text. It is interesting to note that Jamie Lee Curtis, the protagonist and main stalking victim of the film, is virginal, yet motherly (baby-sitting sans boyfriend on a Saturday night while all of her friends are out looking for action), a bookwormy wallflower who is not sexually active. She, of course, manages to escape his murderous advances.

Donald Pleasance, who plays Myers’s utterly unsympathetic psychiatrist, touts Myers as the personification of evil. He explicitly describes him as less than human and seeks him out with a cold societal “vengence,” not unlike my above suggested reading of Myers himself. Pleasance represents a system that desires to hold an eight-year old boy for a murder until he is old enough to be tried as an adult. His monolithical protrayal of Myers as “evil” and “non-human” attempt to rip Myers’s humanity away.

Myers has little humanity depicted in the film. His face is shown twice, very briefly, both times in a literal “unmasking.” The first time, Myers is the little boy behind the clown mask and the carving knife, looking dazed and vacant, having just murdered his sister. He is later unmasked by Curtis as he fights her in the film’s striking finale. This time he wears a second mask beneath his largely featureless white “mime” mask that is his and the film series’ signature, he wears a prosthetic piece on his face where his eye had been gouged out. In this brief flash, there is also little expression on his face.

Myers is, of course, not human in other ways. He is super-human, unstoppable, ubiquitous.

So is Pleasance’s character meant to be espousing “truth”? Does Carpenter boil down Michael Myers as simply the personification of “evil”? Pleasance’s Dr. Samuel Loomis is ineffectual, ignored by his peers (though he appears to have been someone that they “should” have listened to), and ultimately impotent to stop Myers (his bullets only temporarilly fell the stalker).

The more I think about it, the less likely I think that Carpenter would have intended this “humanist” reading of his film that I am working towards, in which the system, represented by his heartless doctor ends up “creating” him, his inhuman superhuman, personification of evil.

Maybe my bleeding-heart liberal reading of this film is a personal “balk” at the notion of some simplified image of evil. But perhaps even that is some societal projection in the film?

Whatever the film’s meaning or significance, I would like to say that the opening sequence is excellent visual story-telling and the finale is both visceral and astounding, even now. Jamie Lee Curtis, huddled in the closet, seeing the shadow moving through the slats of the door is an Expressionistic image right out of 1920’s German cinema.

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