The Night HE Bored Me to Tears: Why HALLOWEEN Fails to Impress Me

The Night HE Bored Me to Tears: Why HALLOWEEN Fails to Impress Me

John Carpenter is a brilliant filmmaker, and what’s more, I think he is a legitimate “Master of Horror,” a worthy successor to the likes of Poe, Lovecraft and King. He’s responsible for some of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen (such as BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA), some of the most thrilling action films I’ve ever seen (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK comes to mind) and absolutely the most terrifying horror films I’ve ever seen (THE THING, THEY LIVE, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS).

This is not to say he’s a filmmaker without flaws. He’s had a couple films fall flat on their face. The VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED remake, for example.  The ill-advised GHOSTS OF MARS (itself a sci-fi remake of Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13) is another.

Halloween_coverFor me, 1978’s HALLOWEEN is another.

Put down the torch and pitchfork there, bucko.  Sit back down and wipe the spittle off your chin before you stroke out, alright? Hear me out.

HALLOWEEN was the last of the major slasher movies I saw.  I had watched the entirety of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise, the entirety of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, and most of the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACREs before I got to HALLOWEEN.  I’d also seen PSYCHO and Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS before I got to HALLOWEEN.

So by the time I reached Haddonfield, I’d seen every note it had to play a dozen times already.  It contained no shocks, no surprises, no, to be truthful, thrills.  I’ve watched it a few more times since then, trying to find something in it to enjoy.

And I just can’t.  My mother still considers HALLOWEEN the scariest movie she’s ever seen – but she saw it when she was 17 and supplementing her income by babysitting, and had never seen a horror film like it before.  I’m not in a position to make the same connections to the film as she did in 1978.  I’ve seen too many of its successors — and its predecessors — to feel any sort of awe towards HALLOWEEN.

And the be perfectly honest, Michael Myers pisses me the fuck off.  I get what Carpenter was going for with making Myers something of a blank slate upon which the audience can project their own personal fears and anxieties upon, but it just doesn’t work for me within the context of what it’s meant to be a monster over the last 3,000 years of human history.  As Judith Halberstram pointed out in her book Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, monsters are “meaning machines” — they exist to tell us something about ourselves.  Monsters need meaning to be monstrous; they’re a distorted mirror in which we have to face ourselves.

There’s some debate about the etymology of “monster” — one camp holds that it comes from de monstrare, meaning “to show” (“demonstrate” comes from the same root).  St. Augustine of Hippo argued, in the 5th Century, that monsters exist to show us the power and glory of God.  The other etymology advanced for the origin of “monster” is that the word derives from monere, meaning “to warn” in which case monsters exist as a moral lesson against sin.

It could be argued that Michael Myers is a monster of the monere camp, in that he’s a scourge on those engaging in premarital sex.tumblr_ltslflYXXM1qaye4so1_500  I don’t buy that.  While Laurie Strode is a virgin and the sole survivor of Michael’s rampage, those two things aren’t necessarily so closely linked.  Both Carpenter and co-creator Debra Hill have stated numerous times over the years that Laurie Strode did not survive because she was a virgin, but because she wasn’t preoccupied by trying to get laid, allowing her to pay more attention to what was going on around her.  While HALLOWEEN’s successors ran with the idea of virginity being a magical shield protecting the heroine from the masked slasher, here we have the creators’ word that that was not their intent with HALLOWEEN.  If Laurie Strode had been a little more glued to the TV and Lynda a little less orgasmic, there’d have been a different Final Girl.

In making Michael Myers a blank slate, a thing with no motivation, no backstory, nothing in it that can be comprehended or understood, he’s robbed of his power.  He might as well be a random mugger instead of the Bogeyman.  He’s incapable of telling us anything about ourselves, or teaching any sort of lesson, and in that he fails as a monster.  He vanishes at the end of HALLOWEEN not because he’s the Bogeyman and he’ll be back to kill again, but because he never had any substance to begin with.

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Bill Adcock likes long walks off short piers and eating endangered species. In addition to his work for the Blood Sprayer, his writing can also be found at his personal site, Radiation-Scarred Reviews, which he's maintained since 2008. Bill has also contributed, as of this writing, to GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY issues 2 and 3, and CINEMA SEWER issue 27.

6 Responses to “The Night HE Bored Me to Tears: Why HALLOWEEN Fails to Impress Me”

  1. Interesting article. Growing up, HALLOWEEN was a terrifying film, but after so many repeat viewings, along with viewings of the countless other slasher films that followed, it has lost a lot of its power. It’s fun to subject it to others who haven’t seen it or are easily scared and watch THEM watching the film.

    Btw, you should watch HALLOWEEN II right afterward to get the full effect methinks. The two films take place on the same night so it fills in a few blanks. There should be a fan edit that just combines both of them into a single nearly three-hour epic.

    As for Michael’s motivations, even after seven sequels they never quite pin down a reason for his urge to murder family members, or his inability to die. He was truly dead at the end of Part 2; the series shouldn’t have gone on as long as it has. I mean, for f*ck’s sake, this famed slasher villain shares the same name with a Canadian comedian/actor. That’s definitely a blow to his street cred.

    As for him being a blank slate and all of that, I think (sometimes) that it’s scarier when you don’t know the origins or motivations of the antagonist. We’re a society that needs a reason (or scapegoat) for everything, and it makes us uncomfortable thinking that sometimes terrible things just happen. Sometimes some big creepy dude in a white Shatner mask kills his sisters… and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.

    But I agree, despite his “Boogeyman” categorization, Michael Meyers is the least interesting of all the slasher villains. All the rest had a backstory, and many were just tragic characters lashing out at a world that couldn’t understand them.

  2. You’re just too young to understand the context of the times. Everybody “got it” back when it came out, but times are much different now. Just having some non-specific horror tearing up suburbia was enough back then. There didn’t need to be any backstory because the idea that it was going on at all was more than enough to freak people out at the time.

    • It wasn’t so much that everyone “got it,” back in the 70’s, so much as it was a new and exciting type of film. Age has nothing to do with it. I saw it when I was a kid and it terrified me, but now the movie just doesn’t pack the same punch. Also, if someone comes “late to the party” after a ton of hype, odds are they aren’t going to be too impressed with the film.

      It is a film that deserves respect and recognition, and it is SO much better than the Rob Zombie remake, but it isn’t the crown jewel of the genre that everyone makes it out to be.

  3. Well, you have to consider the spirit of one upmanship that dominated the early years of the genre. If John Carpenter had turned out Friday the 13th Part II, instead of Halloween, it really wouldn’t have had greater impact per se. He was already at the forefront of a brave new genre, so it’s very hard to compare it with what followed. Sure there was a lot left to say in the slasher genre, but at the time, this said plenty. If you’ve already seen several, more recent, slashers, you can’t have the same experience. It kind of forces you into apples and oranges comparisons, and I find it very hard to resist the temptation to adopt a sliding scale of sort.

    That said, today’s audience does seem to expect a lot more explanation in films than the audiences of the 70’s and 80’s did. Ignoring the quality issues, The new RoboCop is positively remedial compared to the original. I get that the PG-13 audience is perceived as less intelligent than the R audience, but kids can’t be this dense. It seemed to me nearly impossible that any two audience members could have anything but an identical set of thoughts and experiences regarding the ideas in the film because absolutely everything was spelled out in the context of the film, and then explained again by Samuel L. Hannity, in case you slipped out for popcorn or something.

    A lot of horror remakes and reboots do this too, but I’ve already kicked enough sacred cows, so I won’t name names.

  4. I’ve never cared much for Halloween either.
    I liked the Fog better.
    Honestly I also like Halloween 3 better.

    But I respect its significance.

    Some people say its one of the first movies along with TCM to introduce the Female horror survivor before Alien and that would go on to become an imitated cliche a thousands times after those 3.

    That doesn’t make the movie more interesting or effective to watch for me personally, but is another of the innovations JC had a hand it.

  5. I was living with a girlfriend and we were piss-broke at the time and I was between jobs, so my introduction to classic slasher horror cinema of the 80’s (I have always been more of a sci-fi and satanic imagery buff) came for me when I was about 28. I went to the library and just started renting every single film I could of the Friday The 13th series, Elm St. series and a few others that I can’t remember. Halloween was the only one of the ‘slasher classics’ that didn’t make me want to throw my shoe at the screen out of utter stupidity. I was so upset that 80’s audiences were REALLY THAT easy to upset. THIS was what all the uproar was about? My parent’s forbade me from watching THIS? Halloween, however, had actual impact on me, whereas most of the others I just saw for what they were, cheesecake and fake blood (which is fine in it’s own right) I though it was genuinely atmospheric and tense, whereas most of the others just weren’t. Wes’s beloved Texas Chainsaw Massacre, while fun, contained ABSOLUTELY ZERO BLOOD and I just couldn’t get over that. How is the screen not dripping after he disembowels a guy in a wheelchair? It’s a fave, as is The Hills Have Eyes (which I discovered at that time as well) but I couldn’t get over the flaws (watching it all for the first time in 2004 or whatever didn’t help either) Halloween just has SOMETHING that gave it more oomph than the other slasher classics I had watched from the late 70’s/early 80’s. I like III the better than the first two because my complaints are about the same concerning Michael Myers motive, which just wasn’t there aside from stone cold psychopathy, but still, the original HALLOWEEN delivers to a first time viewer that is just getting into the genre, much like had I been 12 in 1978 (rather than 18 months old)

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