This October I watched a plentiful amount of gruesome horror, and towards the end of the month I found myself revisiting the Halloween series. It’s not my favourite slasher, so often I'll skip it in the days leading up to Hallowe'en in favour of something more darkly comical or over-the-top gory.
This year, the new entry started me down the road: Halloween Kills (2021). Its uninspired awfulness prompted me to quickly follow it up with something better from the series, to wash the bad taste out my mouth.
I rewatched David Gordon Green's first entry, the 2018 reboot Halloween (better), before lining up Rob Zombie's two entries from 2007 and 2009 (distinctive, interesting, enjoyable).
Following Zombie's Halloween II, the journey still felt incomplete. I had to watch a classic entry. It seemed logical to jump back to the original, 1981 version of Halloween II.
Rick Rosenthal directs, and John Carpenter has writing, producing, and music credits. Jamie Lee Curtis is at the peak of her powers as Scream Queen, and Donald Pleasence gives one of his most enjoyably theatrical performance as Dr. Loomis.
The atmosphere of Halloween II is immediately and obviously different from the newer movies. The presence of Michael Myers is heavy, palpable, and sinister. Fatiguing. His pursuit of Laurie, as Dr. Loomis pursues him, feels like a mythological battle of good versus evil.
Unlike recent entries in the series, it is hard not to become emotionally invested. This contrast brings out what makes the first movies special: they are full of dread and tension. Less about scares than the looming, suffocating sense of a malign presence approaching.
In Halloween II, Michael Myers matches up to what Dr. Loomis says he is: an embodiment of evil. Not a man, and not a monster who exists for the purposes of crazy kill scenes, jumps, and blood-spattered thrills and spills (that’s what Jason Voorhees was made for).
A simple question asked by Laurie with interrogative despair towards the end of the film captures the essence of Myers:
'Why won't he die?!'
It’s one of the most obvious lines you could put in a slasher, but Jamie Lee Curtis makes it land. The supernatural properties of Myers have a gritty and real fear factor.
It taps into a core function of horror: at its best, the genre offers (usually) non-religious stories that explore the nature of good and evil in unconventional ways. They channel the fire and brimstone of the bible, without the ideology.
Michael Myers pops up as if he materialised out of nowhere, unleashing brutality on his victims before they have the chance to establish his intentions. He is disguised behind a neutral and expressionless mask that could represent “anyone.”
He has no recognisable form — just an imposing, nondescript body in disguise, used to express a violent and destructive will detached from reason (Dr. Loomis' failed attempts to reach him bring this out).
You can shoot him, but he probably won't even bleed. He might fall down and look dead momentarily, but it won’t take long for him to re-animate, pop back up, and resume walking down whatever is in his path in the same way as before (like a menacing man with an invisible lawn-mower).
He can be locked up in prison, but he cannot be rehabilitated — and it's a matter of time before he seizes on some opportunity to escape. He can be given all the psychological treatments available to humanity, but it won't change him. The way he closes in on Laurie while appearing to be physically indestructible creates the feeling of a nightmare with no resolution.
Even if the war can't be won against him, though, Laurie can still win each battle: this is what hooks and emotionally invests us.
Laurie can outsmart him through her bravery and resourcefulness, find respite by reaching shelter, secure the partial protection offered by police or other protective forces around her, or simply put distance between herself and Michael. She can also slow him down by inflicting physical blows, even if they don’t kill him.
Meanwhile, there’s always the chance Dr. Loomis, who is like a weary, mad scientist in the field of psychology, can figure out a better solution.
A dreadful fact remains and sustains the tension: due to his superhuman ability to stay alive, nobody knows how to stop Michael Myers.
Myers is a simple embodiment of evil, but his simplicity is also what gives the character force. It makes him more effective as a metaphor.
His traits mirror the fight against evil in the real world. You can kill evil individuals, but you can't kill evil itself — it is spread out among too many people, in too many directions. Anyone can wear its mask.
Even if the population of the human race was reduced to a handful of people, all Confirmed Definitively Non-Evil, it would only be a matter of time before evil individuals were born again. It would materialise from an idyllic blank slate civilisation, popping up as if out of nowhere, like Myers.
Without knowing how to stop evil, the sensible thing is to focus on winning each battle against it - like Laurie. Maybe behavioural scientists (Dr. Loomis) can find a permanent solution, but that seems unlikely (even to Loomis).
You can shoot evil people and they will bleed and die, but you can't shoot the body of evil itself and expect the same. That’s why Michael Myers won't die.
You can also never be sure evil is dead (and it won't be!). Winning big victories over highly visible examples of evil in the world can create that impression, however momentary. Like pumping six bullets into Michael and seeing him fall to the ground and lie still.
Take the victory of the Allies over the Axis Powers in World War 2, as the perennial but obviously instructive example. Six rounds into the chest of evil. Or, in a very different and mutated form, Donald John Trump suffering inglorious defeat in his 2020 re-election campaign and being banned from social media. Myers lies still on the ground.
But as Dr. Loomis strongly advises - don't poke its body to confirm!
It will pop up, often in new forms but with the same base nature: malice, hatred, greed, power, desire. It is spread through society in so many forms, many of them hidden or disputed, that there is no way to accurately identify all the things that are evil in the world, never mind destroy them.
The nature of the fight against evil is, at its core, a fight against something that nobody knows how to kill, like Laurie sure-footedly fighting Michael Myers with the exasperated but determined help of Dr. Loomis. It is something we shoot six times in the chest, then become perplexed when we realise it hasn't died.
Maddeningly, often those most intent on destroying it are the ones who carry out evil deeds in that pursuit. Not just bad intention, but faulty judgement comes into play. Human judgement is wayward and deeply imperfect - often over confident at the wrong times (e.g. when looking for scapegoats), or hesitant when it should be sure of itself (e.g. when we are told stories we want to believe).
Stanley Kubrick, perhaps the greatest director of all time, came back repeatedly to the idea of “the duality of man” — good and evil as two things existing in every individual. This theme ran through almost all of his films, binding them together across many genres, including horror (a genre which, as an aside, I include both Eyes Wide Shut and A Clockwork Orange in, as well as The Shining).
This duality complicates things further. The difficulty of identifying all the evil things in the world becomes null and void. Instead, the potential lies in every heart, and fighting it requires looking both inwards and outwards.
What makes Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis great characters to fight Myers is that they are not angelic embodiments of good, or exact mirror reflections of the boogeyman. They have rough edges, are flawed in a human sense, make mistakes and have imperfect judgement. But they have a self-awareness of this, too. They are simply committed to opposing Myers and the evil he embodies with a robust fighting spirit.
Michael Myers might be the simplest metaphor of "evil" you can find in cinema - which might make him the most effective one, too. He embodies its destructive force in a minimal way, without speaking a word. Other villains are specific manifestations, but he is evil itself.
In the subtext, he represents much more than his literal reading as a big, dumb, violent brute plodding forwards with a knife. And the fact he won't die is not a lazy storytelling device.
Those first two movies have a dreadful weight that is not recreated later in the series. They show on screen an elemental battle that demands to be reckoned with, though it presents impossible challenges. Both Laurie and Dr. Loomis know that even if final resolution is beyond reach, they must win each battle against the dark autumnal boogeyman we see on screen, and the evil that lies somewhere behind his mask.