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.
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. 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.