Horror movies have been a staple of filmmaking for decades and will continue to be for years to come. With the Halloween holiday fast approaching scary movies are generally in high demand. There’s nothing like curling up in a blanket, turning off the lights and watching a movie that will keep you awake all night. A sub-genre of horror are slasher movies. These are the ones where a killer is one the loose and murders most of the characters in the story until one can fend off the killer in the end. We have a lot of those but we have one film to thank for giving us slashers and that movie is Halloween. Being forty years old now and seeing numerous sequels, a remake, and now a direct sequel to the original that ignores everything else, Michael Myers is back!
So, what led this story to begin with? Why was it so successful? Which ones are the best to watch? To find the answers we don’t have to analyze every film but we can focus our attention on the main entries. So, moving ahead I will be skipping Halloween 2-6 as I have a theory about these films in relation to the others. So, let’s explore the story of Michael Myers and answers the forty-year-old question: why does he kill?
We begin with the classic story of the “babysitter murders” which was the original title of this film. It tells the story of an escaped mental patient named Michael Myers who makes his way to Haddonfield, Illinois and murders several people on Halloween night. His psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is in hot pursuit and later explains the evil that hides behind the eyes of a young boy he met many years ago, Michael Myers. An impressive opening sequence that is a reminder of Peeping Tom (1960) shows a young Michael murder his sister on Halloween night. He’s eventually locked away in a mental hospital only to escape fifteen years later with blood lust running in his veins.
The story behind this film is quite interesting and explains in great detail of how this project began. After the release of Assault on Precinct 13, John Carpenter was approached by independent film producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad and pitched an idea where babysitters are stalked by a psychotic killer. Carpenter agreed to make the film only if he could retain creative control and bring his then girlfriend Debra Hill onboard. The producers agreed and funded the project with a $300,000 budget. It took three weeks to write the script. Hill focused on the female dialogue whereas Carpenter wrote the dialogue for Dr. Loomis. After a twenty day shoot the film was released and saw an unprecedented success grossing over $70 million making it the most successful independent film until The Blair Witch Project twenty years later. It was Irwin Yablans who suggested the movie take place on Halloween and even gave the title to which Carpenter agreed.
Credited as defining the slasher genre, Halloween features a great amount of suspense and very little gory violence (something which slasher films are known for today). Additionally, it also features something that Roger Ebert would later call the Friday the 13th franchise, “the dead teenager movie”. Halloween features sex, violence and all the young people getting butchered by the masked killer until there’s one left alive to fight him off. There has been some speculation as to Laurie Strode’s character (played by newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis) as being the virgin hence her survival; John Carpenter has dismissed this suggestion. Halloween works as a suspense film as it slowly builds the tension leading up to its final act.
With its massive success a sequel was guaranteed to happen which now leads me to my next topic.
Halloween 2-6 (1981-1995)
You’re probably wondering why I’m skipping a vast majority of the sequels; well I have a theory on this but first I would like to mention something about the filmmakers who made these entries. As I said before, Halloween was built on tension and suspense but with the release of other slasher movies in the early eighties most notably Friday the 13th, the genre embraced the idea of on-screen violence. Originally, when Carpenter and Hill returned to write the script for Halloween II it was intended to be identical to the first movie, very suspenseful. Instead a decision was made to copy the other slashers on the market and feature more violence and less suspense something which in my opinion has ruined the franchise. With the exception of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which doesn’t feature Michael Myers, I won’t mention the plot outlines for these movies but I do have a theory for these films.
Let’s suppose that Michael was killed at the end of Halloween. Dr. Loomis shot him dead (which is interesting seeing as a doctor is hell-bent on killing his patient instead of helping him. Isn’t this a violation of the Hippocratic oath?). Michael returns in the never-ending sequels and continues to murder numerous people all the while Dr. Loomis is after him. Dr. Loomis was shocked at the level of violence that Michael displayed in the first film. He was aware of what he’d done as a child and warned the authorities about who they were dealing with.
My theory is this… Halloween 2-6 (excluding part 3) never happened. They are all part of Dr. Loomis’ imagination. Once he shot Michael dead, he suffered a mental breakdown and still believes that Michael is alive. Seeing his brutality deeply upset the doctor into believing that evil could never really die (which would explain Michael’s ability to never die despite being stabbed, shot, burned, run over and falling into a mine shaft). Dr. Loomis is only attacked twice by Michael and doesn’t seem to be the main focus of Michael’s blood lust. Plus, every time the doctor sees him, Michael always vanishes without a trace, I guess that’s why they call him “The Shape”.
It’s just a theory to explain how over-the-top the franchise has become and how silly it is. These movies aren’t scary in the least bit but they are fun to watch. Remember that phrase “so bad it’s good”? Well, I describe these movies as “so bad it’s entertaining!” The real reason to watch these movies are to see Dr. Loomis played to perfection by Donald Pleasance. His screen presence makes for the most interesting character in the franchise.
Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later (1998)
The first reboot of the franchise sees a direct sequel to Halloween II. Michael burned to death at the hospital after Loomis laid a trap in order to kill his patient. In this film, we see that Laurie Strode faked her death and relocated to California under a different name. Her past is completely unknown to everyone around her and she still lives in a constant state of fear in the event of Michael’s return. Sure enough Michael is back!
The direction is better this time around when compared to the sequels. The suspense also returns and the grisly violence, while still there, mostly occurs off-screen. The original script was handled by Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson and while his script wasn’t utilized in the final product, there are some elements that reminded me of Scream. This marks the early appearance of Joseph Gordan Levitt, the film debut of Josh Hartnett and the return of Janet Leigh after nearly twenty years. That’s right Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother appears on-screen with her daughter in the franchise that shot her to fame!
The reason I like this film is how it ends. I don’t care what Halloween: Resurrection says, Michael was killed by Laurie in this movie. Plus, the shot of when they both see each other face-to-face is one of the movie’s best moments. It’s definitely cheesy, but isn’t a bad film when compared to the other sequels. At least the suspense is there, just watch the opening sequence again!
A second reboot of the franchise but in a remake/re-visioning sense of style. Rob Zombie takes the director’s seat in this version which paints a picture into examining how and why Michael becomes the way he does. In comparison to the other films, Zombie’s version is grisly, savage and in all honesty, a depressing sit. I do praise some of the actors in the film most notably Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis and the hulking figure of Tyler Mane as Myers, but everything else fall flat. Let me explain further.
I do appreciate what Rob Zombie did in establishing the psychotic mind of young Michael (marking the first time that Michael speaks). Look at his home-life. Growing up in a very abusive environment surrounded by people who care nothing for him, and to make matters worse, he has no friends. He’s tormented in school, accosted by his step-father and largely ignored by his sister and mother. Here’s the problem that I have with the film. There’s no character development in the teenagers whom Michael goes after once he escapes, something very prevalent in the original film and the violence is just so sadistic. This movie seems to embrace violence to the point of having a love affair with it. It’s in your face, unforgiving and cruel.
The hospital scenes between Loomis and Michael are well done but seem cut short. McDowell does great work but his character isn’t expanded enough. The movie needed way less violence and more examining of the character at hand. Why did it skip over the court-room scenes, is one example I can mention. Another thing is the writing. I don’t often complain about foul language in a film but Zombie’s script is over-loaded to the point that feels excessive just to be excessive. I’m not here to judge, but in my opinion, gory sadistic violence coupled with a depressing story doesn’t make for entertainment or insightful viewing. Zombie had a good idea, but over-loaded on violence to keep the audience interested instead of writing a well-thought out script.
Personally, I think psychological scares are more effective than mountains of gore and brutality. Halloween isn’t scary nor thrilling. It’s an exercise that follows genre clichés and formula in the attempt to make money from the audience without giving us a script that speaks intelligence and memorable moments. But on the bright side, Brad Douriff appears, and anyone should know that he’s the voice of Chucky from Child’s Play. Interesting that Chucky and Michael were in the same movie together.
One of the most anticipated films of the year was seeing the return of Jamie Lee Curtis battle Michael one last time. A third reboot (gosh after all this time you’d think the writers would get something right) that serves as a direct sequel to the 1978 classic and completely ignores every other movie is worth the wait. While not as scary as the original, I don’t think you should compare this movie to the original while watching it. Take it for what it is and enjoy yourself. The violence is there and thankfully it isn’t sadistic or too brutal. There are some suspenseful moments which kept me on edge, something that seemed to be missing in most of the entries. Plus, not to forget the numerous references to the 1978 original and the build-up of Laurie battling Michael on-par with Freddy vs. Jason.
David Gordon Green and Danny McBride have crafted a thoughtful story in showing us a terrified and paranoid Laurie Strode. She’s waited for Michael’s return and wants nothing more than to put an end to what happened to her and her friends so many years ago. This was a big surprise for me and I was hooked right from the beginning. In my opinion, it’s the best sequel we’ve gotten in a forty-year old franchise and serves quite well to the original film. The only thing that’s bad about the movie is the title, why not Halloween: 40 Years Later!?
Seeing the box office success of the film (which broke several records) may see the return of Michael once more. For some reason, audiences love a good villain and as long as the money keeps coming in, iconic horror movie villains will remain commonplace. The original Halloween took brave steps and defined what would be known as the “slasher genre” and there’s no film quite like it.
The Big Question
So, why does Michael kill? It’s been the subject of constant speculation, and I think that most of the filmmakers involved (specifically the ones I skipped earlier) couldn’t tell me why. I have two thoughts on this.
- If you consider the idea that Laurie Strode is the sister of Michael, then I would say that Michael fits the type of a family annihilator. Someone who murders his entire family before being arrested or committing suicide. She’s the main focus and his pursuit of her which never end until he gets what he wants. Rob Zombie’s Halloween seems to fit into this mold.
- If we follow the original film and its direct sequel that was just released then Michael has found his true victim- Laurie Strode. The one that got away and the source of his obsession. He’ll kill anyone who gets in his way and doesn’t care who it is. A stalker who couldn’t let go of the person who caught his eye.
In the end, Michael Myers is the definition of a psychopath. He has no feelings for his victims and shows no remorse whatsoever. The films never fully examines the mind of Michael and I think that’s something worth exploring but give us less violence in doing so. Michael is a good example of a stalker who takes his obsession too far leading to a bloodbath with victims laying at his feet. Once again, this is just my opinion.
If you want my suggestion on which ones are the best to watch then they are Halloween (1978), Halloween (2018) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. They have the most payoff and are worthy of your time whereas the others are same old thing. Of course, there are some that will make you laugh even though it’s supposed to be scary. The Halloween franchise has taught me one valuable lesson: when working with a good idea, you should hold firm onto what makes the idea a success. You shouldn’t resort to what everyone else is doing in the hopes of making a profit. Stick with what you’ve got and deliver an experience that will stand the test of time.
Think about it, why is the original Halloween still talked about forty years later? It made a massive impact, introduced us to a scary villain and the story itself felt almost too real. Just read any story of serial killers or anything related to real-life murderers. Halloween is a classic and for all the right reasons, but the sequels have never fared equal, with the exception of the newest entry.
As a closing note, the mask we’ve been afraid of for so long is a converted Captain James T. Kirk mask from Star Trek. That’s right, all they did was widen the eyes, paint the mask white and gave us a terrifying villain. Michael Myers may not be the greatest or scariest movie villain, but in some ways, he still makes me look behind the shower curtain, be cautious when entering a dark room or looking over my shoulder when I hear a noise.
Michael is a deranged killer but has made an impact on the horror industry and its all thanks to John Carpenter and his team in establishing a great movie. When thinking of the most memorable horror movie murderer, more than likely the name Michael Myers will certainly be mentioned and I think we’ll being seeing Michael again soon enough.