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(Welcome to The Final Girl, a regular feature from someone who has steered clear of horror and is ready to finally embrace the genre that goes bump in the night. Next on the list: John Carpenter’s 1978 seminal slasher film, Halloween.)

Ah, Halloween, my old nemesis. We meet again.

If you remember from my first column, the 2007 remake of Halloween is the bane of my relationship with horror movies — a source of teenhood trauma that forever put me off slasher films…and horror remakes directed by Rob Zombie. The remake that I saw was gratuitous schlock that even I — as a horror hater who was only vaguely aware of the ubiquity of the Michael Myers Halloween mask — couldn’t fathom living up to the far-reaching legacy of John Carpenter’s 1978 original.

The original Halloween spawned several sequels, one of the most iconic horror villains, and the trope upon which my column name is based. And another movie is on the way, with Jamie Lee Curtis set to reprise her role in a sequel that ignores about half of the films in the franchise. So in honor of all final girls out there, I had to pay my dues to the OG Final Girl, Laurie Strode, and watch the original Halloween.

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Sex and the Slasher

When I first started writing for /Film, nearly everyone I told asked me, “So…you’re writing about horror movies?” I would always adamantly deny it, but here we are — several months later and I’m writing about slashers.

But, despite being the movie that birthed the slasher genre as we know it, Halloween is surprisingly bloodless. My impression of slashers was always somewhat conflated with “torture porn”: gratuitous, grisly, and brutal. The 2007 Halloween remake was certainly that, and it had to have come from somewhere. But there are only maybe three scenes in the 1978 Halloween that could be described as particularly gruesome — the first of which happens in the first 10 minutes of the movie. It’s perhaps this scene, of a six-year-old Michael Myers stabbing his nude sister to death, that would go on to influence future slashers’ fixation on sex and violence. (It’s an easy formula: phallic knife + naked female body, and you’ve got all the subliminal messages that you need.)

But the unsettling thing about this first death scene isn’t the shock of violence or even the nudity. It’s the voyeurism. The entire opening sequence takes place from the unsteady POV of young Michael Myers, who later dons a clown mask with slitted eye holes when he does the deed — resulting in a murder in which you see only glimpses of the sister and her body. I can see how Carpenter drew heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and its own fixation with voyeurism — not to mention the parallels between Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Sam Loomis and Detective Milton Arbogast.

But “while Psycho opens with the camera slowly tracking in through a window to intrude on two lovers in a seedy hotel room, Halloween takes it a step further,” film historian J.P. Telotte points out. “As a result of this shift in perspective from a disembodied, narrative camera to an actual character’s eye … we are forced into a deeper sense of participation in the ensuing action.” It’s a perspective that continues to be sprinkled throughout Halloween, accompanied by the intimate sound of Michael Myers’ heavy breathing. But as deep as Carpenter places us in Michael Myers’ POV, remarkably, there is never any danger of empathizing with him. We may see through his eyes, but he manages to remain the biggest mystery of the movie.

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It Was the Boogeyman

“It was the boogeyman.” “As a matter of fact, it was.”

The two classic horror films I’ve seen so far for this column seem intent on building their own pop culture mythology. Frankenstein drew on classic Greek myths and German cinematic influences to create a firm foundation for the monster movie, while Halloween merges the language of film with fairy tales. Throughout the night in which Halloween takes place, Laurie and her friends watch classic black-and-white monster movies, their gaze barely averting from the televisions. It doubles down on the movie’s themes of voyeurism, but it also introduces a pop culture-ingrained mythology for Michael Myers. He is not a human, but one of the monsters from the movies — a veritable boogeyman.

Dr. Sam Loomis insists on speaking about Michael Myers in only histrionic language, calling him “the evil” or the devil incarnate, producing an even denser air of mystery around this villain. “I met him 15 years ago, I was told there was nothing left,” Loomis monologues at one point. “No reason, no conscience, no understanding, and even the most rudimentary sense of good or evil, life or death, right or wrong. I met this 6 year old child with this blank pale emotionless face and the blackest eyes…the devil’s eyes.”

Michael Myers’ superhuman strength and seemingly endless close calls with death only serve emphasize this “boogeyman” mythology. It’s the franchising of a villain. Soon Michael Myers would be followed by other iconic human monsters who would terrorize unwitting teens: Freddy Krueger, Jason, Jigsaw. But Michael Myers feels like the first human villain to receive the same horrified awestruck treatment as a classic movie monster and this is why the mythology-building is so effective.

Continue Reading A Horror Newbie Watches ‘Halloween’ For the First Time

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