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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Michael Myers Death Stare (A Halloween Essay)



[Note: In honor of Halloween, I am posting an essay I wrote about the film, Halloween.  I have provided an old review of that film in the past, which can be found HERE, as well as a commentary for the film, which can be found HERE, and I previously submitted this essay to Brandon Peter's blog, Naptown Nerd, which has been a tremendous source of info all month for articles related to the Halloween franchise.  Read more about that HERE.  Still, I wanted to post something for Halloween, so here it is.]

Dr. Loomis:  I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall - looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off.

John Carpenter’s 1978 landmark horror film Halloween is one of my favorite horror films and a film that I watch annually (let alone most times it appears on TV throughout the year).  It is a good thing, as Brandon has tasked me with writing an essay for his site, which has been providing an ungodly amount of Halloween-related content this month (though it is all really good stuff).  In an attempt to head in my own direction, I have decided to try and describe why I admire the horror that Michael Myers brings to the first film in the franchise, simply by standing in stationary positions.  While horrible acts are committed by this escaped mental patient, as the film continues on, I am always most freaked out by the Michael Myers death stare.




When staring at a potential victim, it is obvious that Michael must move around in an effort to reach his desired location.  Halloween begins by setting up the craftiness of Michael, as Carpenter’s choice to open the film with an extended POV sequence shows that Michael is very much a voyeur, with no reason as to why his voyeuristic pleasures end with the death of innocents.  This opening sequence ends with a mask being taken from Michael’s young head, revealing a boy staring off into the distance.  What is he looking at?  What is on his mind?  I am not sure, but the future finds him staring at a pure and simple goal in the form of evil doings to be committed against even more innocent people.

Fast-forward 15 years to the film’s present, 1978.  The audience is returned to Haddonfield, IL, after just witnessing Michael’s escape from the mental hospital, with one likely destination on his mind.  Before reaching its non-stop 3rd act chase sequence, Halloween functions as a film that builds and builds its threat, with Dr. Loomis describing the evil that is Michael Myers, while Myers creeps around the streets of Haddonfield, stalking Laurie Strode and her friends.  Take away the retconning that occurred in the sequel, establishing Laurie as Michael’s sister, and his focus is seemingly triggered by Laurie arriving at the Myers house to drop off the keys.  Michael, in masked form, first rears his head here and proceeds to continue appearing throughout the day, always from a distance, with only Laurie acknowledging his unnerving presence.


The appearances get creepier as the film moves along.  One of the most notable is during the day, while Laurie is in class.  While in something of an impossible location for a person to single out, Laurie is rightfully put off by the appearance of a man staring at her from outside of a window.  Never mind that this person is wearing a creepy mask and is able to disappear in less than 30 seconds, based on Laurie turning her head for a brief moment, the fact that someone is putting themselves right out in the open and allowing their potential victim to see them early on, in the daylight, is the kind of scary thing that builds the tension, atmosphere, and mystique of the film.

Other appearances of Michael simply standing and staring during the day are present through much of the rest of the second act as well.  Michael emerging from behind the bushes is wonderfully scary in the simplest way possible.  A shape appearing between the white sheets, on the clothesline outside of Laurie’s bedroom is another classic image.  These are all creepy scenes, aided by the camera placement, the subtle reactions by Jamie Lee Curtis, the music created by John Carpenter, and the simple fact that nothing is actually happening, but it is hard not to feel weirded out this person’s presence.  It is a foreboding image and the night delivers on the many alerts seen during the day.



These creepy shots of Michael standing continue into the night, as the focus shifts to Laurie’s friends.  Annie receives a good amount of focus, as Carpenter teases the audience with danger throughout her various babysitting activities, which includes making popcorn, visits to the laundry room, and the eventual fateful attempt to drive to her boyfriend’s place.  During all of these scenes Michael is watching every step of the way, constantly appearing in doorframes, only to disappear after a minor camera shift, suggesting he could be anywhere at any time.

One of the ultimate segments of the film’s nighttime Michael Myers death stares takes place during the murders of Bob and Lynda.  The first is Bob, who Michael surprises, lifts up, and then impales onto a door with a large knife.  This leads to one of the most intriguing stares in the film, as Michael curiously looks at what he had just done.  He stares at Bob’s body, tilts his head, tilts it again, and then the film moves on.  What is Michael doing here?  Is he admiring his work?  Is he figuring out his next move?  The movie has no desire to answer this question.  


Lynda’s death is preceded by another quality staring moment and certainly Michael’s most ambitious attempt to stare at a distance, while the onlooker quietly becomes unnerved.  This is the scene that involves Michael covering himself with a sheet in an effort to get closer to Lynda, without her realizing that Bob is no longer with us.  The scene is not only creepy because of Bob’s giant glasses completing Michael’s clever disguise, but because it has us watch in terror as Lynda taunts evil, before turning her back on it.  Again, all Michael does is walk through a doorway and stare for moments at a time, before the scene takes a drastic turn, but it is scary nonetheless.

I am going to skip ahead again, this time to the end of the film, which features not only what I consider to be the ultimate Michael Myers death stare, but one of the scariest shots of the film, and one of my favorites.  We have just watched Laurie strode fight against Michael, stabbing him in the neck, eye, and chest.  This has not stopped Michael though, as he once again gets up with his sights set on killing Laurie.  Luckily Dr. Loomis has finally arrived and fires an initial shot to stop Michael.  In what I can only describe as my thought on what a picture of the word “chilling” could look like, the next scene, where Loomis goes to see the effect of what his first gunshot accomplished, he is met with Michael standing upright and staring back at him, pure and simple.  Everything that Loomis has described about Michael, leading up to this point, has been completely accurate.  There is no stopping this person; no reasoning with him; no way to understand him.  Michael Myers is a force of evil through and through and his one goal was to always be a malevolent force that happened to catch Laurie and her friends in his crosshairs.


Dr. Loomis stares back at this looming presence and proceeds to fire five more shots into it.  Michael winds up falling from the second floor of little Tommy Doyle’s house, seemingly killed, but of course we know that is not true.  Skipping past the boogeyman talk, the final images of this film are of various locations Michael has been stalking around, finally ending on his childhood home, where we hear his breathing.  Where has Michael gone?  Will he strike again?  Again, these are questions that do not matter.  The film has accomplished its task of showing you what unstoppable evil can look like.  Even when evil stands still and stares, one most certainly does not want to gaze at it, let alone become its focus.

Dr. Loomis:  I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes... the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil.



[Be sure to check out my favorite horror films, found HERE.]

Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.


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