Horror Newbie Watches Halloween For the First Time

There’s Something About Laurie

Laurie Strode with her cardigans, long skirts, white tights, Farrah hair, and deep voice cuts an interesting figure. She just doesn’t look or act like a traditional “scream queen.” Yes, I know that Curtis would end up be crowned the queen of the screams after her performance in Halloween, and yes I know that scream queens aren’t necessarily limited to delicate, flailing blondes. But there’s something austere about Curtis’ performance as Laurie Strode, which only becomes more clear as she sheds her dowdy sweaters for her signature blue button-up and high-waisted jeans.

Her clothes sign her fate just as much as Curtis’ subdued, perceptive performance. Covered head-to-toe for the entirety of the film, Laurie is the only one of her group to be coded as “the good girl” — and her cardigans and long skirts can say that even more loudly than she can. But long skirts aren’t enough to deem her “worthy” of survival and final girl status, it’s her masculine outfit of the collared shirt and jeans — flattering of her figure but still projecting a certain machismo. That’s the formula to the final girl, it seems: a balanced dichotomy of feminine and masculine, plus the requisite chastity.

It’s so fascinating to see the final girl at her genesis. She’s like a confluence of both archaic and progressive ’70s second-wave feminism ideas about the idealistic woman: she’s smart, she’s subtly sexy, she’s chaste, she’s got agency, but she can still cry. She feels like an early prototype for the “badass female character” role that I hate so much. As a type, the final girl feels backwards — a patriarchal attempt to squeeze women into Madonna-Whore complexes. But as Laurie Strode — lone, complex, and the first of her kind, it feels a little revolutionary.

Halloween screening audio clip

So Much for Peripheral Vision

My least favorite thing about horror movies is how they immediately cut their characters’ IQs in half. Except for Laurie — and perhaps Dr. Sam Loomis, who really acts like the resident loon of the movie — everyone is an idiot who has terrible peripheral vision.

The good thing about the characters’ sudden onset of idiocy: it makes for good filmmaking. While the characters become increasingly unsuspecting, the audience becomes even more hyper aware of each tiny detail in the film. The build-up of suspense is masterful and Carpenter makes sure to build a sense of paranoia with each steady wide shot that lingers too long and each ominous shot of Michael Myers standing in the background. The loss of peripheral vision makes for some of the most terrifying and beautifully composed shots in the movie: Michael Myers rising up from “the dead” in the background as Laurie sobs in the foreground, the suspense of Annie on the phone as Michael Myers approaches her in a cheesy sheet. And the jump scares, oh man, I yelped every time. Without the characters constantly looking out the corner of their eye, it forces the audience to, and it makes them an active participant in the horrors affecting these people.

Still, there’s only so many moments I can take of Laurie seeing Michael Myers in broad daylight while everyone else misses him because they were rummaging through their bags. Or Annie and her boyfriend doing the deed when a shadow walks by them from two feet away. And for once, just turn on the light!

halloween 1

Final (Girl) Thoughts

Halloween surprised me. It was less about violence than it was about voyeurism, and the violence that it did have was relatively bloodless and not even as erotic as I assumed (though you could argue that being choked to death has its own intimate implications). As someone who adored Hitchcock’s Psycho, I was pleased with the constant homages and nods to it — especially in its emphasis of suspense punctuated by random bursts of violence.

Laurie Strode too, surprised me. I’m not sure what I expected of the original final girl, but she impressed me, even 30 years later. Before she was a trope, she was a complex, flawed character who — considered outside of the context of her genre and the copycats she spawned — was quite revolutionary.

I’m still not completely sold on the slasher, however. The mythology-building of Michael Myers as some sort of urban legend boogeyman is effective, but didn’t compel me. I don’t mind villains that are pure forces of chaos, but Michael Myers was just not…enough for me. Maybe it’s the legacy that Halloween left, or how much that damn Michael Myers mask has spread through the costume shop markets. Michael Myers is the least interesting part of the movie. But give me a Laurie Strode franchise any day.

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