Controversial opinion: I don’t think John Carpenter’s Halloween is a classic. I know, horror fans are clicking away from this review with a large groan but it’s how I feel, it’s not a classic. Director John Carpenter is a legitimate legend of the realm of horror but Halloween is too full of holes to be considered in the same arena as Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Nightmare on Elm Street, superior contemporaries of the genre.
With another new take on the legend of Michael Myers now hitting the big screen I decided that reviewing Halloween and confronting the flaws of this giant of the genre was worth a full write up. I understand that this is not a widely held belief and that many will say that I am picking at nits but that’s kind of what we all do when it comes to criticism. What you see as nitpicking, I see as legitimate criticism of what is supposed to be a high example of the form.
In a flashback to 1963 we watch the murder of 15 year old Judith Myers through the eyes of her killer, 6 year old Michael Myers, Judith’s brother. The entirety of the sequence is shot from Michael’s perspective as if we were watching through his eyes. We watch him spy on his sister and her boyfriend through a window, we watch him pick up a knife, we listen to his breath as the boyfriend escapes the seen unaware and we watch as Michael puts on a Halloween mask. Through the eye holes we watch Michael rain the knife down upon his terrified sibling.
15 years later and we have no idea why young Michael did this. We are stuffed into a car with with a psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and a nurse who are traveling to the institution where Michael has been locked up all of this time. It’s a rainy night but in the distance we can make out patients in gowns wandering aimlessly and we know something terrible has happened. Soon, Michael attacks and Dr Loomis and the nurse flee as he takes their vehicle.
Cut to Haddonfield, Illinois, Michael’s hometown where he’s presumably headed in the stolen vehicle. We meet Laurie Strode, 16 years old and a perfectly normal young woman. We see Laurie with her friends, Annie (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda (P.J Soles), and planning for babysitting kids on Halloween night. What we know and Laurie doesn’t is that the creepy figure she sees repeatedly on her way to and from school is Michael Myers, he’s settled on her and her friends for his Halloween victims.
Why did Michael Myers choose Laurie, Annie and Lynda? Who knows, the film doesn’t care to give Myers a motivation beyond what we assume to be an obsession with sexually active women of a similar age to his sister, Judith. We know that he saw Laurie that morning when she went to the abandoned Myers’ house to drop off a key under the mat for her father, a real estate agent, but beyond that, Michael’s motivation appears unimportant to the filmmakers.
The opening scenes of Halloween are cherished among horror fans even if that fascination is something of a mystery to me. I find Michael’s murder of his sister to be remarkably clumsy and oddly filmed. Does it look kind of cool to shoot from the eye perspective of Michael Myers? Yeah, kind of but it creates awkward issues of continuity as well. For one, how tall is 6 year old Michael? The scene makes him appear to be nearly 6 feet tall if we account for the furniture height in the Myers’ home.
Then there is the strange perspective of the murder. At a particular point mid-stabbing, Michael turns his head to watch his own hand bring the knife down on his sister. How this is possible given the angles involved is anyone’s guess but my guess is this was done so that the film didn’t receive an X-rating. After-all, Michael’s supposedly 15 year old sister is topless in the scene and if the camera spent time lingering too long her being stabbed in the chest, an X-rating might have been the least of the film’s problems with censors.
Then there are Michael’s apparent supernatural qualities. Michael Myers, on top of being a psychopath, has supernatural qualities that allow him to appear and disappear on a whim. One moment he will be off in the distance, the next he has vanished into thin air. I can’t be the only one who chuckles at the idea of a giant, masked psychopath dodging through bushes and backyards so he can remain spooky to a pair of teenage girls.
Also, what is with Michael Myers and his bits of business. What exactly does Michael Myers accomplish from appearing and disappearing? Why not just get down to business and start in tih killing? Who taught Michael Myers to drive a car? Why does he use that ability to drive around following teenage girls? Why did he steal his sister’s headstone and set up an elaborate display around Annie’s body after he killed her?
Why did Michael Myers throw on a bedsheet and a victims glasses before killing a girl? What was the point of that? Suspense? Was that suspenseful? Was it supposed to be funny? Is Michael supposed to have a sense of humor? You may call it nitpicking but I am calling it all of the many reasons why I was unable to emotionally invest in any of the action of Halloween. My suspension of disbelief was broken far too often during the film.
Halloween does pick up some steam once Michael turns his attention to Laurie Strode but by then it is far too late. For me, Michael Myers is a figure that I mock far more than I ever fear. The film fails in every way to lend a believable context to the character and I am not specifically talking about the film being unrealistic by a real life standard. The film fails entirely to create a universe where Michael’s abilities make sense.
Let’s, for instance, take a character remarkably similar to Myers, Jason Voorhees. By no standard is Jason Voorhees a realistic character but what director Sean Cunningham and subsequent directors do, rather than ask us to simply suspend disbelief, they establish Voorhees in a universe where he functions as a demon-esque figure whose supernatural qualities are a built in part of his character.
Sequels to and remakes of Halloween have attempted to create backstories for Michael Myers but that’s an entirely separate conversation. We are talking about the original movie and that original, 1978 Halloween is a movie far too flawed to deserve classic status even within the genre it is believed to be iconic within. Michael Myers is simply not the equal of Leatherface or Freddy or even Jason Voorhees.
Feel free to disagree. It will be interesting to see if the new Halloween 2018 is able to paper over some of the holes in the original. We will find out for sure, tomorrow.