In anticipation of the release of the 11th film of the Halloween franchise (including remakes), I’m revisiting the original Halloween (1978).
I have a history with this film. I was obsessed with it as a teenager, and in grad school, I devoted an entire chapter of my thesis to it. I titled the chapter “Male Gaze/Maternal Gaze,” and in it, I analyze the way the film’s plot and cinematography play with power dynamics through the use of the gaze. Michael Myers gains power through his male gaze, while Laurie gains her own power through her own gaze – one that is framed by her role as a female caretaker. Her ability not only to see, but to look, makes her an epic final girl. I also love her willingness to use the domestic sphere to her advantage – knitting needles?! Kind of brilliant. Best of all, Laurie is a hero. She may not defeat Michael (yes, Dr. Loomis technically saves her in the end), but she does save the children, and that’s not nothing.
A Little Franchise Background
Halloween is usually touted as the first modern slasher film. Not true. You can argue the slasher goes all the way back to Psycho or Peeping Tom, but where modern slashers are concerned, I’d give it to the Canadian film, Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974).
Halloween is also usually named as the first film to use the Killer POV, a trope that became central to the genre. Also, not true. The first film to use this technique was, once again, Black Christmas.
As far as following the franchise goes, Halloween is kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you include remakes, 2018’s release will mark the 11th film – but if you were to watch them 1-11, you’d be really confused. “So, how do I watch them?” you ask. I’ll explain, but first I’m going to number the films, to make this a bit easier.
- Halloween (1978)
- Halloween II (1981)
- Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
- Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
- Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
- Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
- Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
- Halloween (2007)
- Halloween II (2009)
- Halloween (2018)
Storyline A follows films: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6. A purist might argue that this is the original, “truest” storyline. In it, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) stars in 1 and 2 (3 has nothing to do with the Myers franchise so you can skip it altogether). In 4, we find out Laurie has died in a car crash, and the horrors continue for films 4-6 following her daughter, Jamie (see what they did there?).
Storyline B follows: 1, 2, 7, 8. A different kind of purist might call this the “truest” storyline, as it follows Laurie the whole way through. That’s right, in this adventure, Laurie did NOT die in a car crash, or have a daughter. In fact, she has a son instead, played by Josh Hartnett.
Storyline C is a straight-up remake of 1 and 2: 9 and 10. These are the Rob Zombie films.
Finally, Storyline D will follow: 1, 11. That’s right, the newest film (also simply called Halloween) will star Jamie Lee Curtis, again, and will act as a direct sequel to the original, again. This will disregard all films from 2-10.
The film opens on Halloween night, 1963. Michael Myers, a little boy in a clown costume, inexplicably and brutally stabs his sister to death. He is then hospitalized, considered by his doctor to be “pure evil.” Then, on Halloween of 1978, he escapes. He returns to Haddonfield, where he committed his first crime, and spots a teenage girl, Laurie. He immediately becomes infatuated with her, stalking her all day.
Laurie notices something is off right away, but she tries not to fixate. That night, while she’s babysitting two youngsters, Michael attacks and she finds herself in a terrifying game of cat and mouse. Using her wits and admirable survival instincts, Laurie manages to save the children and wound Michael. But, just when she might be about to meet her end, Dr. Loomis saves the day, taking Michael down with six lethal gun shots. Only, they aren’t lethal, because when the camera takes us to where Michael’s body has landed, it’s gone. The film ends on this chilling note.
Why I Love It
Halloween is a simple, straightforward, and terrifying film. It takes you to a typical anywhere-USA suburb, introduces you to otherwise typical characters, and then it plants there an unspeakable horror. At its core, it warns that danger lurks everywhere, even in the quiet backyard of your safe, white, suburb. Worse, it tells you people can sometimes just be evil. There’s nothing to reason with, no way to understand it – it just is. Michael is faceless (in that stark mask), which means he could be anyone. Simply lurking; hiding in plain sight – planning his attack. Chills!
But, I also love that Halloween is almost paradoxical in its ability to be so simple, and yet so accessible to film analysis. Whether you want to explore horror tropes, gender tropes, feminist theory, spectator theory – Halloween has something for you. It’s a film that can get any group of film buffs talking. It engages you, if you want to be engaged. But, if you just want to close the drapes, eat popcorn, scream and laugh, it’s great for that too (see above!).
Some Fun Facts
Before I sign off, I thought I’d list a couple fun facts about this film, in case you are heading off to a really specific trivia night for Halloween (I wish I was).
Does that oh-so-creepy Myers mask look familiar to you? It should. It’s William Shatner (as Captain Kirk); painted white, of course.
Director and co-writer, John Carpenter, composed that now iconic score himself. He reprised this role for the 2018 film, composing an updated version of it for new audiences.
The script was actually co-written by a woman, producer Debrah Hill (It’s actually credited on-screen as A Debrah Hill film). She had a large role in many Carpenter films; one of my favourites is still The Fog (1980), which is just a GREAT horror flick.
Connection to Psycho
The film has two connections to the Hitchcock classic, Psycho (1960). Michael’s doctor is named Sam Loomis, the same name as the main character’s lover in Psycho. That main character, Marion, was played by Janet Leigh – Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother. After Psycho, Leigh was dubbed the original Scream Queen, and this film certainly allowed Curtis to follow in her mom’s footsteps.
The Bechdel Cast just released an episode about Halloween, wherein they chat about the portrayal of women in the film. I haven’t heard the full episode yet, but the hosts are hilarious, so I expect it to be a really fun listen.