David Gordon Green’s “Halloween Kills” is the 12th film in the horror franchise, but it might as well be the third.
The film, currently in theaters and streaming on Peacock, premiered at last month’s Venice Film festival after the pandemic delayed its original release by a year. The sequel picks up right where the 2018 reboot ended, a story that connected directed to the 1978 original, skipping all the previous chapters.
Halloween season is always a good excuse to re-visit the scary movies that formed the expression of the sub-conscious terrors we all suffered in our youths. For my generation, John Carpenter’s 1978 classic (instant classic, by the way) “Halloween” casts a dark, looming shadow.
We Gen-X’rs were too young in 1978 to be aware of any horror movie perhaps before 1973’s “The Exorcist,” which many of our parents simply forbade us to see, or perhaps Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), which we probably heard about but saw much later.
But we were the adolescent generation who cut our teeth on the Manson Family Murders—not because we were aware of them (they happened in 1969), but because one of the biggest television events of 1978 was “Helter Skelter,” based upon the book of the same name from 1974 by prosecutors Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry.
DID YOU KNOW: The trial of Charles Manson and many of the principles who committed the murders was presided over by the honorable Joseph Wapner, who would later go on to be the first television judge on “The People’s Court” and help inaugurate that cultural phenomenon we know as “reality TV.”
I remember “Helter Skelter,” and it marked me. I was 13 or so at the time and watching it made me realize—in words I probably could not have uttered to myself at the time: “The World is Not the Way I Thought it Was.”
Carpenter’s 1978 “Halloween” is a film and story that conveys the same meaning.
And Michael Myers, whose progenitor is (after some thought) so clearly Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates, introduced a new generation to the reality of evil as a pathology. But something more.
Where “Psycho’s” anti-hero inaugurates the idea of evil as a pathology (I.e. as a disease; something to be studied and cured by some scientific formula, if we can only unlock its DNA), “Halloween” dispels the iron-clad but ultimately vain Age of Reason hope in the infallibility of Science’s ability to solve all problems.
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Norman Bates is a damaged person within whom is housed a secret trauma that, once discovered, can be treated. But, as Dr. Loomis finally concludes in the original “Halloween,” evil itself is not merely a pathology; it is a force.
Not only can it not be cured; it must be defeated.
It’s for this reason we so crushed on Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode as the ultimate hero of the original film. She cares nothing for the niceties of psychological explanations of evil as a discipline. She, like the audience of the film, simply wants to survive.
And she discovers an important lesson about evil in the world: running away from it won’t cut it.
Hence, Carpenter nicely reverses the old faerie-tale of the knight in shining armor rescuing the damsel in distress. The knight, in Halloween, IS the monster. The film then is a paleo-feminist promotor of the innate and unique strength in womanhood capable of defending not only itself but the community at large.
Re-watching the 1978 classic, one notes that the male characters are the ultimate victims, even if Michal Myers mysteriously disappears at the end.
As we reach @DavidMVining‘s top 3 selections from John Carpenter’s filmography, he says of 1978’s #Halloween “there’s something subtly intelligent about Carpenter’s work” and ” there’s obviously some very smart stuff going on underneath the surface.” https://t.co/qba3KVRExt
— Bleeding Fool (@BleedingFool) October 29, 2021
Obviously, Carpenter’s original is a story with a spine, ribs and musculature capable of spawning a miniature universe that rivals any of the great slasher franchises. In between the first and the latest, there have been the goofy, the exploitative, the lame, the inadvertently funny, and the failed attempts at meta-satire.
At the same time, a belief in the basic mythology suggested by Carpenter’s original has driven sequel makers to a certain level of fundamental respect: Michael Myers’ mask and his back story have never been fully violated.
Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake is a very respectful treatment by a filmmaker whose formative teeth seem to have been cut by Carpenter’s original vision. At the same time, Zombie’s treatment was, I think, a colossal mistake—for, in delving into Michael Myers’ trauma in specific terms, Zombie fell into a kind of trap.
In knowing the level of trauma Michael Myers’ himself suffered as a boy, we cannot help but sympathize with him on a human level and then excuse his maniacal lashing out as the monster he becomes.
This was a mistake.
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We don’t want to sympathize with Michael Myers. It’s not in our best interest to think of him in human terms. It’s best that we think of him not merely as a monster but in the name given to him in Carpenter’s original script: “The Shape.”
He’s not really a person. He’s not a pathology. He’s not a sympathetic monster formed by the underserved suffering inflicted upon him: Michael Myers is the embodiment of the malevolent forces arrayed in the universe, without explanation, against the good. And the good in turn are represented by his victims—who, unlike the victims in other slasher franchises are arbitrary and innocent.
Michael Myers kills indiscriminately. He kills for no reason. Well—he kills for reasons that refuse to be explained. Michael Myers will not speak.
He is the embodiment of an ancient human complaint: Why won’t you tell me?
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This is Melville’s Ahab’s complaint against the God of Nature (in the form of the white whale) who refuses our demand to make an accounting of itself to us. Melville asks in Moby Dick—is the universe benign (the dolphin), malevolent, (the shark), or ambivalent (the white whale)?
The third option is the intolerable answer because it is the one that refuses to say. It’s against this that Laurie Strode mounts her rebellion, and we side with her because her question is our question. We side with her not because she ever screams “Why are you doing this?” but because her response is the one that speaks best about what our own response might be: “I say, then, ‘NO,’ and I WILL not only survive, I will defeat you!”
She embodies, then, the reason for our downfall (and the reason for our suffering) and, at the same time, the reason for our own redemption—one in which we are required to participate, even if that redemption will be delivered ultimately by someone else.
It’s as if Carpenter intuited that Laurie Strode represents that within each of us that says, “I may not be the one who will ultimately have defeated EVIL, but I will be able to say ‘I did my part.’”
It is for these reasons that we ought to prize Carpenter’s original vision and applaud David Gordan Green’s 2018 “Halloween” and his 2021 “Halloween Kills.”
These are the three truest films in the franchise and deserve pride of place among all of the films this true mythology has inspired. Each hews to a morality play that speaks in the language (universal) of the human condition as it struggles with the most important questions of human experience and existence, the nature of reality, and ultimately, the relations between good and evil.
Each embraces the mystery at the center of that question in positing a force over and against which humanity must strive to work out its place in the grand scheme of things.
Capenter’s original asks “Is there anything worth surviving for?” The newer films ask the next logical question: “Is there anything worth killing for?”
Whatever that is, Laurie Strode devotes her life, according to the 2018 “Halloween,” to answering with a “Yes.” Even if it means she might be rejected by her only daughter and her extended family to save them.
Whatever the true “Halloween” scheme of things is, these films imply, with the victorious Laurie Strode, it’s worth it.
Gregory Borse teaches film appreciation, history & development, philosophy, literary theory and a variety of literatures on a small campus in a large university system in the South. His short story “Joyellen” was selected as an online exclusive for West Trade Review’s Summer 2021 issue. He has published or presented in the past on Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Stephen Frear’s “The Grifters” and seminal horror films ranging from “Nosferatu” to “Halloween,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and “The Strangers,” among others.