HALLOWEEN: The Mythology of Michael Myers

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SHOCK’s Alexandra West slices into the deep, cinematic mythology of mass-murderer Michael Myers.

Michael Myers – the man, the myth, the enigma. Since he slowly lumbered on to the screen and into horror fan’s hearts in John Carpenter’s 1978 classic HALLOWEEN, Michael has become synonymous with horror movies and the stuff of nightmares. While Michael was on the pop culture scene before his counterparts Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, both of whom arguably exist due to Michael’s influence, Michael has had a harder time fitting into a larger pop culture context. Easily recognizable to horror fans, many mainstream audience members didn’t click with Michael the way they had with the wise-cracking Freddy (despite his history as a child murderer/pedophile) or Jason’s oddly sympathetic rage. Michael never fit into a mold which would grant him mainstream recognition. It didn’t help that while the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13th franchises grew into wacky parodies of themselves, the HALLOWEEN franchise maintained its stoic and dark roots. Michael Myers is the blank canvas of evil; producers, directors and writers added to his mythology as though they were playing a never-ending game of Jenga hoping they weren’t the one to pull the piece that would make the entire franchise come tumbling down. So, how do you solve the problem of an unstoppable force that is seemingly stopped at the end of each film he appears him? Revise, rewrite and hope the audience isn’t paying too much attention. But for the horror fans who have a soft spot for the figure originally known as The Shape, his convoluted back story is part of his charm. Each Halloween sequel has its supporters so the purposes of this piece we’re going to treat each one as canon in an experiment to see what we truly know about the man behind the mask.

 

 Myers began his reign of terror as a boy, killing his older sister, Judith on Halloween when he was six. He was then committed to Warren County Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where he escapes from on Halloween 1978 kicking off the events of the first film. He returns to his home of Haddonfield, Illinois wreaking havoc on the small town. Focusing his attention on Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends Michael is an unmovable force. Laurie is able to defend herself long enough for Michael’s attending physician and boogeyman expert Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) to arrive and shoot his patient. Unfortunately for Loomis and Laurie, the madness is far from over as Michael’s body disappears at the end of the first film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwKeYSiYQ5U

Primed for return, Michael Myers tracks Laurie down in a hospital in HALLOWEEN II (1981) which picks up immediately after the events of the first film. HALLOWEEN II takes on many of the same thematic and filmic styles of the first film but the main thrust of the action (outside of the randy nurses and doctors) stems from Michael consistent pursuit of Laurie who the audience learns is Michael’s younger sister who was adopted by the Strode family. Dr. Loomis is still at work trying to track Michael down eventually connecting him to the occult and Samhain, a Gaelic end-of-harvest festival which ushers in the beginning of the “darker” half of the year. These two connections, which are briefly mentioned in the film are meant to explain some of Michael seeming indestructibility, come across as throwaways but these elements will return soon enough. After some more stabbings and shootings in the hospitals Laurie and Dr. Loomis manage set Michael on fire. The final images in the film are of fire pouring out of Michael’s white mask implying an almost certain death.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) attempted to deviate from the slasher set-up favoring witchy Halloween masks and the sex appeal of Tom Atkins. When HALLOWEEN III proved to be box office poison producers decided to resurrect Michael Myers with HALLOWEEN IV: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) a title decision playing on the name recognition which had already been established with Jason and Freddy and a promise to the audience that while HALLOWEEN IV would deny them a shirtless Tom Atkins, Michael would indeed be back. HALLOWEEN IV would begin what became known as the Thorn Trilogy which would see a mysterious cult try to control Michael adding some of the most outrageous yet interesting elements of the Michael Myers mythos.

The opening of HALLOWEEN IV explains that Michael survived fire shooting out of his mask in Halloween II though sustained burns and has been in a coma since. While transferring Michael to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium by ambulance, the two paramedics discuss the events of the first two films and in doing so; they mention that Michael has a niece, Laurie’s daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris). Michael attacks the paramedics, crashing the ambulance and beelines to Haddonfield to find his niece. The young Jamie is tormented at school and still struggling to find her place in the world after the death of her parents. Though her adopted teenage sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) does the best she can to make Jamie feel at home, Jamie can’t shake the strange presence of her uncle Michael that she feels is growing closer to her. The character of Jamie functions in a similar capacity as Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) in the Friday the 13th series suggesting a child would take up the mantle of a malevolent killer. Halloween IV keeps to the chasing and slashing but ends with a final coda mirroring the opening prologue of the first film with Jamie attacking her stepmother while the camera adopts her gaze from behind the mask that she wears as part of her clown costume.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNA-zQobo5o

HALLOWEEN V: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989) begins with Jamie institutionalized and almost mute after the experiences of the previous film. While her remaining friends and family are picked by her un-killable uncle, Jamie’s psychic bond to Michael grows stronger and Dr. Loomis becomes determined to use this power against Michael. Luring Michael to his old home where Michael killed his older sister all those years before, Loomis uses Jamie as bait. At the moment when Michael shows some semblance of humanity and reaches out to Jamie his urge to kill overtakes him and he attack her and Loomis subdues him by beating him with a piece of plywood. Michael is taken to jail but is broken out by the mysterious Man in Black.

HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995) not only complicates the story of Michael Myers but also caused it to fracture with the release of the Producer’s Cut which would add in various subplots which were filmed but ultimately cut from the film’s original release creating two divergent plots for the film. HALLOWEEN VI follows Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd) who’s all grown up after Laurie Strode’s Adventures in Babysitting (aka Halloween 1978). Tommy is still obsessed with Michael as is the entire town of Haddonfield. Jamie is also all grown up and is being held by the mysterious Thorn cult. Michael kills Jamie after she gives birth (in the Producer’s Cut it is revealed that Michael is the baby’s father). Tommy finds Jamie’s baby and takes it for safe-keeping. The film runs at a cutthroat pace in an attempt to resolve many of the questions asked in the previous films but only serves to leave more loose ends in its wake. Ultimately, the final take away from HALLOWEEN VI is that Michael Myers is sort of controlled by a cult who has been a part of Michael’s life since he was institutionalized. Yes, there could be other take-aways, such as Michael is anatomically correct and can be filled with corrosive goo for a Fun-Time version of Michael but these elements are more like wacky add-ons that you get with a special edition action figure. There are multiple uses of a sinister tattoo and star configurations that appear around Halloween causing the Curse of the Thorn which Tommy speculates causes Michael’s murderous rages to wipe out his entire family. Tommy theorizes that the Curse of the Thorn is what makes Michael invincible and that his son/great-nephew is his Michael’s last sacrifice which makes about as much sense as anything else in this movie.

A mere three years later, Michael Myers would reemerge in a filmic landscape reinvigorated by the reception of SCREAM (1996). Ignoring the events after HALLOWEEN II, HALLOWEEN H20 (1998) focuses on Laurie Strode now a dean at a private school. Still traumatized after the events of that fateful night she watches over her son John (Josh Hartnett) like a mother bear on steroids waiting for Michael to show his face again which he inevitably does. In the larger mythology of Michael Myers, HALLOWEEN H20 only serves to illustrate that Michael is very good at taking off his clothes and putting them on someone else. At the climax of the film, Laurie unleashes her rage and kills who she thinks is Michael. A lot of the press materials and interviews given in 1998 noted that this would be the final movie and that Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the role not only for the fans but also to give Laurie some sort of closure….

But when HALLOWEEN H20 performed better than expected, Dimension Films greenlit what would be the final sequel HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002) which saw Michael finally kill Laurie and terrorize a reality show that was being filmed in his old home. So we know that Michael hates reality television and is probably more of a PBS guy.

As remakes became the go-to studio model for horror after the success of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003), it was only a matter of time before HALLOWEEN got a makeover. Rob Zombie’s two HALLOWEEN films divided audiences but ultimately served as an exercise for Zombie himself rather than an exploration of the notions of good and evil. Zombie adds extensively to the Michael Myers backstory depicting his family as low-income with his well-intentioned mother (Sherri Moon Zombie) serving as the only one able to tap into his humanity though she ultimately loses her son to the darkness that would consume him. Through the two films, Zombie cannibalizes elements from all the other HALLOWEEN films re-framing them as 1970s grindhouse, exploitation films making Zombie’s HALLOWEENs an experiment in aesthetics rather than plot. While Carpenter’s film (as well as its subsequent sequels) depicts Michael as the emblem of the banality of evil, a small child from an average suburban family driven to commit unspeakable acts for no reason, Zombie’s imbues Michael’s story with a level of sympathy. Could Michael have been saved if the rest of his family weren’t suck dicks? Probably not. Zombie’s HALLOWEENs provided enough fodder for other properties (FRIDAY THE 13th and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET etc.) to be remade with an emphasis on the backstory of the killer.

Michael Myers has been viewed as many things. He lacks the kicky backstory of a Freddy or a Jason but can instill as much, if not more, fear in an audience. For all the films in which Michael has appeared, we now know for sure that the easiest way to subdue Michael is to beat him with an inanimate object (see HALLOWEEN V & VI for a detailed how-to), his eye color is black and that he can be filled with goo (HALLOWEEN VI). What we do not know, and will never know, is what drives Michael which is the scariest unknown of all…

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Weekend: Jan. 24, 2019, Jan. 27, 2019

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