John Carpenter’s Halloween is a classic. That is a scientific fact of science. Even if you’re not a fan of the film, you can’t deny the power of the soundtrack, the simple brilliance of its scare construction, and the impact it has had on the entire horror genre. You know this. Even casual film fans know this. We can dissect, break down, analyze and lionize Halloween all day long. What doesn’t get talked about enough is how the movie affected us on a personal level. Art does that, you know. It impacts. It leaves marks. We can discuss this, right? We’re all grown-ups here. At least, we’re pretending to be. So here, in this quiet conversation, this charmed internet circle, I can admit to you that Halloween left a palm-print across my psyche that still stings today.
Here, sit closer. Let me tell you a story.
I have always been attracted to frightful things, the dark side. Scary stories were always my favorites, which may seem odd for a child afflicted by recurring nightmares and bouts of sleep paralysis. I hated sleep, the darkness of my bedroom, and all the things hidden within it. In the light of day, tales of terror gave me strength, a sense of security that the monsters I feared could all be overcome. From old Richard Matheson and Robert Block pulp fiction to episodes of The Twilight Zone, there was always the hope that good would overcome evil, that light would conquer the festering gloom.
Then, at the age of ten, I was allowed to watch Halloween.
This was not in a dim theater surrounded by horny, squealing teenagers. Hell, this was before cable television was the norm in the town I grew up in. It was in my parents’ den via a terrestrial subscription service called ON TV. Men came and installed a special antenna onto the roof, one that could receive and decode those scrambled signals over the air. I’m sure there was debate between my parents concerning my viewing the film at such a young age. After all, I had bad dreams constantly. I was impressionable, vulnerable. But they let it happen and, to their credit, watched Halloween with me.
I think the aspect of the entire Halloween franchise that most mishandled was the supernatural element. Later films tried to explain Michael’s superhuman strength and resilience too much. I know there are some who thoroughly enjoy the storyline that tries to pin those attributes on the Cult of Thorn (my colleague, Tim Murr, among them), but I’ve always felt that was a major mistake. You see, they explain it just fine in Halloween.
Michael Myers is the Boogeyman.
Dr. Loomis knew it. His was the lone voice of experience crying in the wilderness to beware. Loomis understood what had been unleashed upon the tiny town of Haddonfield as well as Tommy Doyle knew it. As soon as the bigger kids at school told him the Boogeyman would come for him on Halloween night, he knew it was true. Tommy told little Lindsay Wallace he saw the Boogeyman across the street, and she believed him immediately. It was Laurie Strode, the closest thing to an adult in the situation, who doubted. No one ever believes the children until it is too late.
I was a child. I knew what it was like to be overlooked and shunted aside in favor of grown-up things. I knew what it was like to have important things to say, only to be asked to wait until later. And as a kid already well acquainted with fear, I identified with Tommy Doyle. I knew, as he did, that Michael Myers would indeed come for him. The older kids were the keepers of wisdom. They knew it all. Every word that fell from their pubescent mouths was gospel.
And, as it turned out, Michael Myers did come after them, all of them. Tommy, Lindsay, Laurie and all her friends. He was a masked mute hulk of a man, cold rage in his eyes and murder on his mind. He was everything and everyone I had ever been afraid of, boiled down and condensed into a single human being. I drew my knees up under my chin in a vain attempt to protect myself from this movie I was watching with my parents. I couldn’t bolt out of the room. If I did, then future horror movies were out of the question. I would be consigned to a regimen of goddamned Disney movies and Schick Sunn Classics about pioneer families making friends with bears.
So I stayed. I watched. I kept myself in my father’s red leather swivel chair as Michael Myers carved a surprisingly bloodless swath through the senior class of Haddonfield High, but blood wasn’t the trigger for my fear. It is was Michael’s seeming power of teleportation. He lived in the shadows, the thing in the closet, the phantasm you can only see in your peripheral. He was the impossible creature you could not prove existed until it was too late.
I was okay. I really was. I was fine until that iconic scene in the bedroom. Laurie fought her way out of the worst closet in the whole subdivision by stabbing an attacking Michael in the eye. She paused for just a few moments to catch her breath. Behind her, out of focus but still in frame, Michael sat up. Like a robot, he turned his head towards Laurie and I knew at that moment, I fully understood, that the nightmare was never going to end. I whimpered. I couldn’t believe it. The good girl who did nothing but take a half-hearted puff from a friend’s joint couldn’t put him away.
What hope did I have when the Boogeyman came for me in the middle of the night? I, saddled with the ancient weight of original sin and a comprehensive fear of the dark that bled over into daylight, suddenly understood the concept of evil and I knew I was powerless against it. Evil was eternal. It could not be destroyed. Belief systems made no difference; you could not walk up to Michael Myers bearing a golden cross and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, as if he were a simple vampire. Myers would regard you with a cocked head and proceed to strangle you with a telephone cord. Your prayers were worthless, empty, a waste of precious breath.
Enter Dr. Loomis, bursting into the house to rescue Laurie and the kids. He is carrying the great equalizer, a handgun, and even though he has a British accent, he is America. He jumps in to save us from the bad guy and make everything all right again! He fires, and he keeps firing, until Michael falls over a second story balcony, landing with a thud in the yard.
Laurie: It was the Boogeyman.
Loomis: As a matter of fact, it was.
He knew. Loomis knew evil walked on two legs. He knew it had a face. And although he had a human name, Michael Myers, he was an elemental force. He was the Bad Thing. He was all my nightmares. And I cried hot mournful tears, because I got it. At that moment, I fully understood that evil was not just a spiritual concept. And when Dr. Loomis looked over that balcony railing and saw nothing but the imprint of Michael in the dew, I wailed.
The Boogeyman was real.
And he could not be destroyed.
He was out there, somewhere, and he always would be.
I’m a grown-up now. At least, I’m pretending to be. I’ve been through marriages. Raised children. Hell, I’m a grandparent now. And I know the time is coming when my grandson is going to ask me if there is really such a thing as monsters.
I will think of wars. I will think of human rights abuses. I will think of the oppression of women, minorities, and the marginalized. I will think of the empty eyes of children separated from their parents. And I will think of Michael Myers, the man who could not be destroyed, the blackhearted embodiment of every bad, unfathomable thing you can imagine. I will envision the purest cinematic image of evil I have ever seen.
And I will have to tell that sweet child, “Yes. There is a Boogeyman. He is real. And he is everywhere.”
Give it a name, right? But to me, he’s Michael Myers. The Shape. And you can shoot him, stab him, set him on fire. It won’t make a goddamned bit of difference.
Evil will never die.
He is the Boogeyman.
I learned that from Halloween and, so far, nothing has proven me wrong. The sequels may have dampened the ferocity of Michael Myers or obscured his motivations, but nothing will sway me from the belief that he is the most perfect depiction of depravity ever portrayed in a film.