If there was a horror film that perfectly embodied the spirit and aesthetic of the Halloween season (that isn’t called Trick ‘r Treat), it may very well be the aptly named Halloween. On a holiday that favors the darkness and anyone can be anyone, an escaped lunatic returns to the town where he killed his sister as a boy to continue his mindless killing spree.
From the mind of legendary writer/director/composer John Carpenter, Halloween is often considered the film that heavily popularized the slasher genre, taking inspiration from predecessors such as Psycho and Black Christmas. Using a simple premise and a tiny budget, Carpenter was able to craft a chilling piece of horror that went on to upend the genre and bring it into a new age spattered with blood.
The character of Michael Myers is so basic yet so effective not only because of what he does, but how the world he exists in compliments him. Dressed in a boiler suit and a painted William Shatner mask, Myer’s intimidating appearance also works as a suitable form of camouflage. On a night where everyone is dressed in costumes and masks, Michael’s appearance allows him to blend into the world and go about his night. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t run, and by all accounts he isn’t human. He’s a force of nature, one that can only be delayed, never stopped. There’s something about a killer that takes their time that’s so scary, knowing they’re in no rush to end their chase but will remain unrelenting in their pursuit. Michael is such a blank slate of a killer that one has to wonder if he’s symbolic of any one particular idea. Is he a metaphor for the bad luck that follows teenage sexual promiscuity? A deconstruction of male power fantasies? The personification of the dangers of white suburbia? Maybe he’s just evil. Maybe that’s all he really needs to be. Whatever way you interpret this monster, there’s no denying Michael’s appearance and murder style is now iconic, birthing many copycats and modern twists (It Follows being one of my favorites).
Michael Myers definitely carries the most gravitas in the film despite his limited screentime, but he is additionally supported by other leading roles that more than carry the film when he isn’t around. We have Jamie Lee Curtis, whose mother Janet Leigh practically helped invent the slasher genre thanks to her shower stabbing in Psycho, as Laurie Strode, the prototypical girl-next-door. While everyone else is out partying and getting their jollies off, Laurie finds herself babysitting and carving pumpkins. Her unintentional aversion to these devilish activities inadvertently leads to her survival once Michael comes home to kill. While her friends drop like flies at the hands of Mr. Myers, Laurie puts up the only real fight Michael faces in the runtime. She stabs him with a variety of household objects before turning Michael’s own knife on himself. Thus was born the concept of the “final girl”. A character who, more often than not, is a virgin or at least semi-responsible compared to her sex crazed, pill popping, delinquent attitude peers. She is usually the last one standing by the climax of the film, and is usually the only one who manages to fight back against the killer. Curtis earned the title of “scream queen” because of this film, and there’s been much debate over whether or not characters like this are positive portrayals of women in film. While some believe “final girls” and “scream queens” are simple damsels in distress that serve no purpose but to run and shriek, others find the roles empowering. The killer, who is most commonly a big terrifying male, being defeated by a young woman? Many see these roles, Curtis‘s included, as positives because these characters have to use their smarts to ultimately win. While not every “final girl” is the same, I find Laurie Strode to be a trailblazer when it comes to capable, resourceful female protagonists.
Dracula has Van Helsing, Frankenstein’s monster has angry village mob, and Michael Myers has Dr. Loomis. Played by Donald Pleasence, Loomis is Michael’s psychiatrist that gave up on curing him and focused on keeping him locked up after diagnosing him as pure evil. When Michael escapes his confinement and returns to Haddonfield on Halloween night, Dr. Loomis feels personally responsible to hunt down and put an end to Michael’s rampage. Pleasence portrays Loomis as the only man who truly understands the capabilities of Michael Myers, a man who believes himself to be his wolfsbane. In a way, Loomis and Michael’s souls feel intertwined, knowing the two will continue to do battle as long as at least one them remains alive. While Loomis’s role in this film is relatively small compared to his other appearances in the franchise, he still serves as a suitable witch hunter that further drives home the power of the evil that they’re up against.
For a movie that would go on to inspire other slasher films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream, there is a shocking lack of blood and viscera. What makes the film scary without excessive violence is the pacing, use of darkness and and a masterful understanding of suspense. The film perfectly captures the aesthetic of the Halloween season in both a comforting and spooky way. The red and orange leaves blowing in the breeze, the decorations, the jack-o-lanterns and classic horror movies on the TV all bring back cozy feelings of nostalgia for me. At the same time, there’s this hesitance that comes with holiday as well. Knowing anything can be out there hiding in the dark ready to jump out to scare/kill you is an uneasiness I carry even though I am now a grown ass man.
One of the most defining aesthetic elements of the film is how it puts us in the shoes (and mask) of the killer. From the opening scene, we’re looking through the eyes of peeping Tom spying on two teens getting a little frisky. As the scene progresses, our POV dons a mask, grabs a suitably large kitchen knife, and proceeds to stab to death a topless teen. We get many more shots like this, coupled with some heavy breathing, that make us feel like we’re in control of the situation. We soon realize that we’re just along for the ride, and we can’t do anything to warn the completely oblivious teens being spied on. When we aren’t seeing through Michael’s eyes, we’re seeing him hiding just out of view, always present but rarely seen. Once night falls, the neighborhood becomes Michael’s domain. He hides in the darkness, with his mask usually being the first thing you see emerging from the shadows. Its a restrained type of slasher movie, one that got the basics and the understandings of the genre right from the get-go.
Halloween is a very straight forward film, which according to John Carpenter, is all it’s meant to be. There’s no intentional underlying themes or symbolism. It’s a guy in a mask killing teenagers. What it lacks in depth or age-appropriate teenage actors, it makes up for it in aesthetic, atmosphere and embodying a holiday defined by mystery and suspense. It’s a trailblazer, a trendsetter and an undeniable, bonafide classic.
Even though the killer was given the name Michael Myers in the film, the actor that portrayed him, Nick Castle, was instead credited as “The Shape” in the credits. It’s a cool little nickname for one of the most iconic horror villains of all time, and a fitting name for a cocktail inspired by him.
Much like Michael himself, The Shape is tall, pale and dangerous. Packed with more than enough bourbon that would make Doctor Loomis blush, this cocktail is milkshake like thanks to its milk/vanilla extract combo. Additionally, the rim is slathered with a little bit of fake blood to complete this slasher cocktail. Be sure to drink this one as slow as Michael walks.
- 2 oz bourbon
- 3 oz milk
- 1 oz simple syrup
- 2 dashes vanilla extract
- Red food coloring
- In a small bowl, mix a bit of honey with 1-2 drops of red food coloring.
- Drip some of the honey mixture around the rim of a collins glass. Stick in freezer for later.
- Shake bourbon, milk, simple syrup and vanilla extract with ice.
- Pour over ice into prepared glass.
- Dust nutmeg over top.