Rembrandt Q Pumpernickel’s review published on Letterboxd:
John Carpenter is a history buff.
No seriously, hear me out. I don't mean that I have knowledge of his scholarly habits, and that he is a voracious reader of history texts, but that above many directors, he has a respect for the context and history of a place while others too often ignore it.
This is most clearly true in The Fog where the history of the town quite literally rises from the dead to enact vengeance on those who have ignored it, but it's a thread throughout a number of his films. In The Thing, the spaceship is buried for thousands of years, in Big Trouble in Little China there's a mythology in place that sets up the whole story, and even in Assault on Precinct 13 the importance of a place's history and meaning couldn't be more clear. "This is a police station," Bishop says. Even though it's just a building, and one in a liminal position between being a police station and not.
Given Carpenter's massive respect for giving places a history and meaning, in some ways, there is no clearer antithesis than the suburb, a community designed specifically with a flat historylessness in mind. Houses look the same, streets look the same, and the community is more like a long term hotel stay in some ways. Houses aren't homes but simply where you're currently at. In this way, the humanity and the human ties to a place are erased. Safety is traded for community and purpose.
In this way, Michael Myers is the perfect horror complement to the suburbs: a complete erasure of a single person's humanity (his plain white mask only reminds us of this). And in that lack of humanity, we do not find safety of course, but perhaps the most entropic and terrifying figure in film.
What's ultimately so terrifying about this film isn't its slow build (although modern horror directors could learn a lot about tension and release from studying this film and Carpenter in general more closely), its almost superheroesque origin story of an unstoppable killer with a knife, or even the unsettling beauty of so many of the shots accompanied by Carpenter's terrifying and cyclical score. It is that the fundamental promise of the suburbs, safety, is a lie. That at the end of an erasure of humanity is not people who are never hurt, but people who have no empathy. The suburbs are a beautiful promise, but Michael Myers is the cold hard reality of it.
We only need to look to the common refrain when something terrible does happen in the suburbs to know that this still holds true. "This is a good neighborhood." "No one expects something like this to happen here." As if humanity can be put on hold when it moves out of the city.
It's important to remember that America was built on this ideal, the bulldozing of history and peoples to make a "nice place" for a specific type of people. Some argue that while Carpenter is a great technician that his films aren't about something serious enough to merit real canonization. I disagree. I think he's one of the most important American filmmakers of all time and gets to a depth that most can't see do to his work in genre.