Halloween

Halloween ★★★★★

Halloween is one of the best examples of a film portraying the feelings of a generation. In the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and in the midst of the late-70s recession, it's no doubt that teenagers felt betrayed by their nation and by their parents. John Carpenter is able to utilize these feelings of betrayal and abandonment to turn a once-idyllic landscape (suburbia) into a living Hell for the teenagers who are left to defend themselves.

Sheriff: "You want to know what Haddonfield is? Children. Families, all lined up in rows up and down these streets. You're telling me they're lined up for a slaughterhouse."

Loomis: "They could be."

These quotes appear halfway through the movie, before Myers begins his attack in Haddonfield. The Sheriff perfectly describes suburbia as a row of sitting ducks. Part of what makes the suburbs (especially in Halloween) so terrifying is how empty they are. The only adults we see are Laurie's dad, Loomis, and the Sheriff. Laurie's dad is on screen for mere seconds and makes Laurie do his job for him. Loomis is an imbecile who let Myers escape and, guilty, is trying to rectify the situation. The Sheriff is supposed to represent law enforcement, but his continued refusal to believe Loomis, and Annie's constant disrespect of him lead the audience to distrust him. With the absent parent figures, Halloween spends the majority of its runtime focused on teenagers and children.

All of the parents in Haddonfield are... somewhere on Halloween night. The streets are empty. Annie and Laurie babysit. The community is at ease, as these separate families share keys. Their doors are unlocked, vulnerable. Everyone assumes the suburbs are safe. Why shouldn't they be? John Carpenter's greatest achievement in this film is effectively turning the everyday (home) into the most terrifying hellscape.

He does this two ways: 1. by showing you the familiar, and 2. lingering. Most of the shots in Halloween are long takes. In the first act of the movie, these are typically of streets: trees, houses, sidewalks, cars, the typical. He lets his camera linger as we watch Laurie walk to school. When Myers enters the scene, he lets these long takes increase the tension. The long breaks in takes build suspense, until Carpenter breaks the typical mold he built by introducing new things to the scenery (namely Myers' silhouette). In the second and third acts, the film occupies the home. His camera lingers on kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms until you recognize them as your own. This allows the terror of when Myers starts killing hit closer to home. If you recognize a space as familiar, then the unfamiliar (death) will resonate stronger. Myers turns a bed into a grave. He hangs bodies in closets and folds them in drawers instead of clothes. He turns the normal abnormal. So at the end of the film, after the bloodshed, Carpenter returns us to the spaces he introduced us to at the beginning of Act 2. This time, instead of remembering our own homes, we remember the atrocities he committed there. This is exactly like how the members of the community stopped relating the Myers house to the family, and started relating it to the murder.

Myers status as an anybody is central to how the film creates fear. In the first act of the film, Myers walks and drives through the community like any other neighbor. Lynda mistakes him for a fellow classmate. Loomis doesn't notice when he drives behind him. For all intents and purposes, Myers could be any member of the community. His mask, a white face, a blank slate, could be any face. You can project anybody onto Myers' body. In this way, Carpenter has created the perfect villain: a mindless killing machine that can take the form of whoever scares you most.

To loop how Carpenter turns suburbia into Hell back to my initial argument that the film represents teenagers' feelings of abandonment in the 70s: Laurie is the perfect protagonist. She's smart, virginal, and she cares for kids. She's referred to several times as a Girl Scout. Where the other teenagers are smoking, drinking, and having sex, Laurie is (mostly) pure. (She does smoke weed in the car with Annie, but this is portrayed more as peer pressure, and based on how much she coughs, Laurie is not an avid smoker. Also, who didn't smoke weed in the 70s?). So, when Myers tries to kill her, his knife swipes her shoulder, a scar she wears like a Girl Scout badge. She's the only one able to hurt Myers. Once she unmasks him, and reverts him from an anybody to a somebody, Loomis is able to shoot him and scare him off for good. If anything, Laurie's strength and good qualities represent a shift away from the parents that abandoned them and back to a potential future where adult figures care. Unfortunately, she's the only one.

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