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halloween

Posted on November 14, 2017

Interview with John Carpenter: Horror Films Reinforce Our Fear Instincts

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With his classic suspense film Halloween from 1978, John Carpenter launched the slasher subgenre into the mainstream. The low-budget horror picture introduced iconic Michael Myers as an almost otherworldly force of evil, stalking and killing babysitters in otherwise peaceful Haddonfield. It featured a bare-bones plot, a simple, haunting musical score composed by Carpenter himself, some truly nerve-wracking editing and cinematography, and it spawned a deluge of sequels, prequels, rip-offs, and homages. There’d be no Scream films without Halloween, no Friday the 13th franchise, no “rules for surviving a horror film.” Cinema—suspense and horror cinema in particular—would be a lot poorer without Mr. Carpenter’s massive influence.

Halloween is now hailed as a masterpiece of horror, consistently showing up on “Best Horror Films” lists, but it has also sparked controversy over alleged misogyny and sadism. In this film, some critics argued, young women are punished for having premarital sex—all but the chaste “Final Girl.” Michael Myers, they claimed, was an agent of conservative morality, and viewers indulged misogynistic, sadistic pleasures by identifying with him. But that approach is misguided. Myers is an agent of pure, anti-social evil, and the characters who are killed are the ones who fail to be vigilant. The film does not invite us to identify with Myers—it invites us to identify with his victims. The pleasure of watching Halloween is the peculiar pleasure of vicarious immersion into a world torn apart by horror.

I spoke to Mr. Carpenter as research for my book, and the rest of this blog post is a transcription of that conversation.

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Posted on September 4, 2017

The New Final Girl: More Sex, More Persecution

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The slasher flick is absorbed in the heroine’s experience of incessant trauma. But unlike the genre’s other characters, she is the one who does not die: she is the “Final Girl.” A victim-hero, she is resourceful and intelligent and ultimately vanquishes the masked murderer.[i] A slew of recent horror films like The Final Girls (Todd Strauss-Schulson, 2015) and It Follows (David Robert Mitchell) have taken up the archetype seemingly in celebration of the female-empowering figure. After all, horror is one of the few genres that enables its female protagonists to “kick ass.”

And on the surface, It Follows, a 2014 Cannes Film favorite, seems like just another in a long line of likeminded slashers. The film centers on 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), a college student from the Detroit suburbs. After having sex with the outwardly charming Hugh (Jake Weary), Jay is drugged, bound to a wheelchair, and is told she now carries a sexually transmitted curse. An amorphous monster—it—will follow her everywhere she roams, and although no one else can see it, for Jay, it could appear like anyone. It is painstakingly slow but inescapable. Temporary respite occurs only by passing it on through sex with somebody else. In a way, the plot feels like an urban legend of sorts, and the formula obeys many of the same rules touted by Randy (Jamie Kennedy) in Scream (Wes Craven, 1996): “There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex.”

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Posted on February 19, 2016

The Final Girl, Part 3: The End?

Dawn

By the end of the 1990s, the Final Girl trope had arguably run its course, at least within a conventional slasher narrative. One reason for this, I think, is because of the self-reflexivity of horror in the 1990s. The persistent reflection of one character by another, on TV screens and in mirrors, started to disclose how characters were trapped in a mirror of reflections that was preventing radical transformation.

The Halloween and Scream franchises are deeply reflective of each other. And while one of the things the Scream franchise was known for was its self-reflexivity—its internal explicit references to other films—the Halloween franchise (beginning twenty years earlier) was actually the first to build into its narrative meaningful references to other horror films.

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) famously weaves Christian Nyby’s 1951 sci-fi horror film The Thing from Another World into its plot. Lindsey and Tommy are watching the film throughout the fateful Halloween evening—and it’s not just a throwaway reference. In the earlier film, the “Thing,” an alien from another planet, is called a “boogeyman on ice”—and is an utterly inhuman, emotionless killing machine. Michael Myers, called “The Shape” in the credits, is also, of course, an inhuman, emotionless killing machine, and the last exchange of the film is Laurie (Jamie Lees Curtis) saying to Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), “It was the boogeyman.”

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Posted on February 12, 2016

Short Cut: The Walking Dead and Halloween

Dawn

This Short Cut comes from a convergence of the two big horror-related happenings in my life right now: the upcoming mid-season premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead on Sunday and Horror Homeroom’s series on the Final Girl for Women in Horror Month. With that broader confluence in mind, I want to explore a particular point of connection between Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Steve Miner, 1998) and the season 3 episode of The Walking Dead, “Prey.”

In H20, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been hiding from her murderous brother, Michael Myers, for twenty years, but on October 31, 1998, he finally finds her. In the frame below, she looks at him, in a moment of recognition and horror, through the window in a door.

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Posted on December 28, 2015

Formless Horrors: John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980)

Dawn

John Carpenter’s first three horror films—Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), and The Thing (1982)—are not only exceptional films, but, taken together, they constitute a kind of trilogy in their similar exploitation of the horror of formlessness.

Halloween may be the film least self-evidently about formlessness (its monster is “human,” after all), but I would suggest that Michael Myers actually stands in defiance of all categories. He is called the “bogeyman” more than once, including at the climax of the film, when a traumatized Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) stammers out to Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence)—“It was the bogeyman.” Kendall Phillips has pointed out that the bogeyman occupies a position “at the boundaries of notions of cultural normalcy”—and that he “embodies the chaos that exists on the other side of these cultural boundaries.”[i] True to form (or, rather, true to formlessness), Michael-as-bogeyman is often portrayed at boundaries—at intersections, on the other side of a road, in doorways, at windows.

1. Michael drives by Loomis

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