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The Boogeyman, Fear, and Responsibility – A Close Analysis of ‘Halloween’ (1978)

Guest blog by Nathan Steinmetz (@Humanstein)

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Tommy Doyle: Laurie, what’s the Boogeyman?
Laurie: There’s no such thing.

With October 31st fast approaching, the hype and scrutiny building around the Blumhouse remake, and the recent supposed feud between John Carpenter and Rob Zombie, Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween has been on a lot of people’s minds lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot as well. Honestly, I just spend a lot of time thinking about Halloween, remake or no remake.

Just about every horror fan knows the story of Michael Myers. Lunatic, killed his older sister when he was six, sat silently in a mental institution until he was 21 and decided it was time to kill his little sister. However, as most slasher fans know, there’s no indication Laurie is his sister in the first film, nor that those are his motives.

The franchise, including the sequel penned by John Carpenter, do the original film and Michael’s motives therein a great disservice by reducing him to an immortal simpleton who wants to kill his family. Michael Myers is more than that. He is a force of nature. He’s judgment incarnate.

Halloween, the original Halloween, isn’t about a lineage of evil, or psychic kids, or druid cults, or live streamed haunted houses or even Busta Rhymes. Halloween is about Michael Myers and, perhaps most importantly, the concepts of fear and responsibility. It’s about The Boogeyman. a specter of judgment and fear designed to scare children into behaving and punish those who don’t.

Slasher films, which Halloween is widely considered to have spurred to popularity, are notoriously conservative when it comes to sex, drugs, drinking, and any other form of fun a teenager might be having. However, I don’t think Halloween as a franchise approaches these issues in quite the same way. Yes, Michael Myers is killing teenagers who are drinking, smoking pot, and having sex, but I think these murders are primarily motivated by the fact that these teenagers are throwing off their responsibilities in a way that reminds Michael of his first victim, his older sister Judith.

One of the most obvious qualities of Michael Myers that sets him apart from his slasher brethren is that he is a stalker. He is methodical and calculated. He observes, he judges, and only then does he act. He’s not bringing down terror and death on the children of those that wronged him or any other of the later slasher tropes. Michael Myers weighs his observations of his would-be victims on some unknowable scale, and once his decision has been made, he kills.

Halloween (1978) opens with one of the most memorable sequences in horror film history. That infamous continuous Panaglide shot (not Stedicam as most folks think) exploring the Myers home forces us, unknowingly, into Michael’s point of view in the minutes before his first kill. It is Halloween 1963 and Michael Myers has been left in the care of his older sister Judith. Unfortunately, Michael has been mostly forgotten, Judith favoring hooking up with her boyfriend to babysitting her weird little brother that chose to be a clown for Halloween. The opening sequence starts with the camera gazing through the frosted glass door at a teenage girl and her boyfriend kissing. We then move past the living room window, where we see the continuation of our first on-screen instance of irresponsibility as well as his first victim, his own sister, shirking her babysitting duties to make out with her boyfriend.

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“We are alone, aren’t we?” Judith’s boyfriend asks. Judith responds, “Michael’s around someplace.” Judith’s boyfriend suggests they go upstairs, so they turn the TV off and head to her bedroom. Circling around the home, Michael enters through the open back door, methodically making his way into the kitchen and selects a long butcher knife, immediately brandishing it like only someone who is prepared to kill would.

Michael has clearly made up his mind about what is he going to do. This is no act of impulse, this is no crime of passion. This is a calculated, deliberate decision, one that has less to do with psychopathy than it does with cold judgment for what he believes to be a transgression of trust and responsibility, and for Judith’s refusal to acknowledge the very real threat he would soon pose.

Moving through the home, he sees Judith’s boyfriend putting his shirt back on and heading down the stairs after some comically short sex. Michael hides, allowing him to leave. Making his way up the stairs, Michael silently walks in the even-keeled manner that has become so synonymous with him he. When he reaches Judith’s bedroom, he reaches down and picks up a clown mask. Placing the mask over his face, I argue that Michael becomes The Shape, or The Boogeyman, for the first time and the camera mats to reflect his obscured vision, symbolically representing the distorted way in which he views the world.

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He enters Judith’s room, she sits topless at her vanity, brushing her hair, ignoring the danger he presents as so many tragically will in his life. She simply regards him as a nuisance. Michael exacts his vengeance for not only being ignored, but for her supposed irresponsibility in a sudden flurry of stabs. It’s only after the murder that Michael makes his first audible sounds; his breathing elevating as he makes his way out of the home, presumably to face punishment for his crime. His parents return home and his mask is removed.

We then see the face of our killer, a six-year-old in a blood-spattered, homemade clown suit staring blankly into the distance, still brandishing his murder weapon. Michael Myers is gone by this point, and what remains is The Shape. The Boogeyman. A specter of fear, of cold, calculating judgment. Michael has been transformed into a silent tool of fate designed solely to punish the irresponsible.

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The film and our analysis flash forward fifteen years to October 30th, 1978, the night before Halloween in Smiths Grove, Illinois, some 150 miles away from Haddonfield. Here, we meet Dr. Loomis, our hero figure, and Michael’s psychiatrist. Loomis refuses to refer to Michael as a “He,” instead referring to him as an “It” in the first of numerous instances of depersonalization. Loomis believes that Michael Myers is not human. Michael Myers is something else. In addition to being something else, Myers has also escaped Smiths Grove, a mental institution where he has spent the last 15 years. Throughout much of the film, Loomis one of the few individuals (but not the only one) to fear and acknowledge the threat Michael presents and immediately speculates that he will return to Haddonfield – and we, of course, know he’s right.

When the story returns to Haddonfield, it’s Halloween morning in 1978 and we’re introduced to two characters that are the core of both the film and this analysis – Laurie Strode and Tommy Doyle. Tommy is a young boy, Laurie his teenage babysitter. Laurie’s father, a real estate agent, has asked her to drop a key off at the Myers home. Unbeknownst to our new leads, Michael Myers has returned and is watching from inside his childhood the home, analyzing and judging their actions. Tommy informs her that she shouldn’t go up there, that the Myers home is a spook house and should be avoided at all costs.

Of course, Laurie is too old for such childish superstition. She teases him for it before completing the task she’s meant to. Laurie is a beacon of responsibility, but Michael only sees the few instances in which she behaves, well, like a teenager. What he sees is a young boy being mocked for his fear by someone sworn to protect him. I posit that Michael begins to immediately identify with Tommy Doyle and begins to fear for his safety, perhaps seeing Tommy as himself and, horribly enough, Laurie as his sister.

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For better or worse, the later films do the things we know they do, namely retroactively making Laurie into Michael’s sister. But throughout the course of Halloween I believe he’s simply projecting  whatever judgment led him to kill Judith onto Laurie. Supporting the idea that Michael has begun to identify with Tommy is the fact that Tommy is the first person Michael actively stalks in the film. He witnesses Tommy being bullied and mocked by his peers. This scene is key because the bullies are attempting to scare Tommy by informing him that The Boogeyman is going to get him, and ominously telling him that he doesn’t know what happens on Halloween.

Of course, what happens on Halloween in Haddonfield is Michael Myers, The Boogeyman, kills. Every town has its local legend of horror and evil. Haddonfield’s is Michael Myers. He’s become a ghost lingering over the town, remembered mostly by children in schoolyard taunts and ghost stories. In fact, the children of Haddonfield are the only ones expressing an appropriate amount of fear.

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Michael follows Tommy as he walks home and soon after we (along with Michael) are then introduced to Laurie’s decidedly less responsible friends, Annie and Lynda, as they head home from school. They discuss their plans for the evening, including how Lynda is getting out of taking her little brother trick or treating so she can hook up with her boyfriend Bob, Annie lamenting her inability to hook up with her boyfriend Paul because he’s grounded and she has to babysit, and both of them chiding Laurie for her responsibility. Walking along the path home, Laurie gets her first good look at Michael Myers and begins harboring a quiet fear that I believe is what allows her to survive the course of the film.

Across town, Loomis has asked the caretaker of the Haddonfield cemetery to bring him to Judith Myers’ grave, which they find missing. The caretaker laments kids who always do this sort of thing, but Loomis knows better. The headstone plays an important role later in the film, too. Shortly thereafter, Loomis meets the Sheriff, who also happens to be Annie’s father, outside a burglarized hardware store. Loomis speculates that it was Michael, but the Sheriff, like the caretaker, simply chalks it up to kids getting into trouble on Halloween. Here again we see this simple truth, a truth the children know and the adults have forgotten: fear can keep you safe.

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Michael continues to stalk Laurie and Annie as they drive around smoking pot on the way to go babysit Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace, respectively. My interpretation of Michael Myers lends itself to viewing this scene as the key inciting action that leads Myers to intently stalk Annie and determine her fate before deciding what to do with Laurie. Michael is still undecided about Laurie, but going off of what Michael has seen, Annie was more clearly irresponsible. Laurie’s fate is still up in the air.

Laurie and Tommy are reading on the couch and Tommy asks, “Laurie, what’s the Boogeyman?” Laurie calms him by asserting that there’s no such thing and that she will do everything in her power to protect him, should the need arise. As we know, later she will hold to her word. At the Myers’ house, Loomis is presented the with an opportunity to prevent the deaths to come, or at least warn against them, by putting out a news bulletin. Every victim of Michael’s is shown either watching television or listening to the radio, but tragically Loomis decides against it for fear of inciting a panic. Even Loomis to an extent underestimates what Michael is going to do tonight.

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Stalking Annie through the window, Michael sees her neglecting Lindsey in favor of calling her friends on the phone. She distractedly spills butter down her clothing, so she strips down to her underwear, no bra, and I believe Michael flashes back to Judith. In this moment, Annie has completely become Judith to him and his mind is made up. Annie must die.

He stalks her as she washes her clothing, as she speaks with Paul on the phone about how she’s going to get rid of Lindsey, and as she takes Lindsey to the Doyle house across the street, taking advantage of Laurie’s responsibility. Annie returns to the Doyle house and meets her fate in her car as Michael silently chokes the life out of her before finally slitting her throat. There is once again no panic or frenzy in his actions. This is the culmination of his judgment. Annie, like Judith, must die, and so she does. At the Doyle house, Tommy sees Michael carrying Annie’s body and becomes terrified. He sees The Boogeyman come to life before his eyes.

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Lynda and her boyfriend, Bob, arrive at the darkened Wallace house and begin making out on the couch. Michael watches them as Bob and Lynda assure themselves they are alone as things get hot and heavy. This scene, so reminiscent of the opening sequence, triggers Michael and he once again decides what he must do. They head upstairs and begin to have sex in one of the Wallace’s bedrooms. Michael’s silhouette informs the audience that he sees what we do. After another comically short sex scene, Bob heads downstairs to get some beers. Unlike with Judith’s death, the boyfriend dies here, first. If he doesn’t, Michael will have a much harder time killing his primary target, Lynda.

By now, we know that Michael Myers prefers to take his victims while they are unaware. He is calm and calculated as he waits until he can claim what he wants, and what he wants is an easy kill. Unlike so much of his slasher kin, he’s an executioner. He doesn’t torture or fight unless he has to. This is brought into focus as he dons a quickly made ghost costume and Bob’s glasses to lure Lynda into a fall sense of security so he can strike at her more efficiently. And strike he does, once against calmly strangling the life out of his victim, this time with a telephone cord as she speaks with Laurie on the phone. Laurie initially interprets the squealing sounds of her death as the exhibitionist sex sounds of Lynda and Bob, but later she isn’t so sure. Once Lynda is dead, Michael waits. He does not go to stalk Laurie any further, he does not come to the Doyle home with a knife planning to kill her. He simply waits to see whether Laurie will come.

Michael is torn about Laurie. He has seen her make some irresponsible choices, but he has also seen her be kind and responsible. He has heard her friends chide her for not being like them, but he has also seen her behave like them. He doesn’t know which version of her to believe, so rather than stalk her in the Doyle home and put the children at risk, he waits to see if she too will shirk her responsibilities as her friends have.

Every person who entered the Wallace home that night did so with the intention of violating the trust placed in them by others. Annie used babysitting as cover for sleeping with her boyfriend; Lynda got out of taking her brother trick or treating in order to do the same, and further abused the trust the Wallace family placed in Annie by bringing her boyfriend into that home for the purpose of hooking up. To this end, Michael waits in the darkness to see if Laurie will do the same by abandoning the children to come join the party.

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She does enter the Wallace home. Once the children have gone to bed, she heads over to check on her friends, out of fear and responsibility. Laurie is understandably worried about her friends. Annie, who she hasn’t seen come back, and Lynda who last she heard was squealing. We know that Laurie is being responsible, Michael however doesn’t see that, he simply sees her leaving the children to come join the debauchery. As Laurie explores the home, she first sees Annie’s dead body sprawled on the bed, posed by Michael underneath Judith’s stolen tombstone – a clear statement that Annie is the individual he most closely identifies with Judith.

Laurie is understandably upset and horrified, and as she turns to leave she discovers Bob and Lynda’s bodies. That’s when Michael emerges from the shadows, a stark white figure ensconced in darkness. He lunges at her suddenly with the knife, uncharacteristically sloppy, perhaps out of some distant hope that she wouldn’t have come. This gives her just enough of a window to escape, beginning the climax of the film.

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Laurie escapes the Wallace home by falling from the second floor and flees back to the Doyle house, her refuge from The Boogeyman and a symbol of her responsibility. Michael forces himself inside the home, and Laurie must fight to protect herself and the children.

The Doyle home, and the elements within it, are symbols of motherhood – arguably the ultimate responsibility – but they’re also the tools with which she fights and survives. She first defends herself by stabbing Michael in the neck with a knitting needle, later with a wire clothes hanger, and finally with a kitchen knife. Her fear for herself and the children drive her to embrace the responsibility she has been derided for throughout the film, and this embrace is what allows her to survive.

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Further driving home the point that Michael attacks those who do not possess both a healthy level of fear and responsibility is the fact that every time Laurie believes Michael to be dead and herself safe, he rises again and attacks her. She effectively has to kill him three times before Loomis arrives and puts every bullet he has into Michael. Even then, once Loomis breathes his sigh of relief at the nightmare finally being over, Michael’s body vanishes. The children having gone to safety, Laurie embracing her fear, and proving she will do what is necessary to protect them,  Michael is gone. The Boogeyman’s work is completed.

Taken as an individual film, Halloween is about the value of fear and the necessity of being responsible.  Those that chose to ignore their fear (or shirk their responsibilities) are punished, lest their bad example corrupt or harm the innocent souls around them and lead them into danger. Myers’ identification with Tommy Doyle leads him to stalk and judge the actions of those deemed responsible enough to safeguard and protect the children of Haddonfield. Michael Myers does what he does because he is The Boogeyman, set to remind us all why responsibility and fear are important – because they keep you and those around you safe.

The final lines of dialogue in the film are between Loomis and Laurie. Laurie, huddled in the corner and frightened out of her mind, informs Loomis, “It was the Boogeyman.” Dr. Loomis affirms her belief, “As a matter of fact, it was.” The film comes to a close as we see the scenes of Michael’s crimes as his heavy breathing grows louder and louder, reminding us that Michael Myers, The Shape, The Boogeyman, can never truly be vanquished.

Nathan Steinmetz is a freelance writer, film critic, and junk food aficionado based out of Dallas, TX. You can find him waxing poetic about film, all things spooky, and food that’s bad for you over at his site Humanstein.com and on Twitter @Humanstein.



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COMMENTS

5 Comments
  • Blade4693

    Awesome write up! It is definitely a deep and different take on the film. I like it. I am sure in the coming days I will be viewing the film in a slightly different way after reading this analysis. Good stuff dude.

  • J Jett

    the most important part of Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN is “I WISH I HAD YOU ALL ALONE, JUST THE 2 OF US” song Laurie sings to herself when she’s walking home from school. 🙂

  • THGrimm

    I liked this more than I have ever enjoyed the film. This was brilliant, simply brilliant! You really broke it down and got in there. I’m not sure if even Carpenter imagined it this deeply when he wrote it. You write very well and I was captivated throughout. Fantastic analysis.

  • Halloween_Vic

    I fucking loveeee this!!!! I think you breaking it down in that aspect makes the film that more special and ties in the concept of the boogeyman and Michael Myers himself perfectly.

  • John Connor

    I’ve been wanting to comment on this wonderful article. Thank you. Wonderful analysis. Never quite saw it this way. I was getting sexual frustration vibes from Michael, but this makes so much sense.

    And taking this analysis into account, this should redeem Rob Zombie’s version in the minds of the enraged as this is very much the same/similar motivation to Zombie’s young Michael Myers.

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