• Halloween at 45: How Horror’s Scariest Franchise Makes Sense of the Senseless

    On the Many Masks of Michael Myers, from Unknowable Force of Nature to Explainable Antagonist

    In 1978, a young man escaped from the psychiatric institution where he had been held for fifteen years, ever since he murdered his older sister as a six year old boy. After his escape, he began a brutal killing spree that left at least four people (and one dog) dead. Anyone looking for a rational explanation for his actions came up short-handed; his own doctor once said, “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.” The massacre that night was the very definition of a senseless crime.

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    Or was it? Maybe he was actually tracking down his long-lost sister, and killing anyone who got in his way. Or maybe he had been marked since birth, destined to become an avatar of violence by a sinister cult. Or maybe he was the real victim, a product of childhood abuse and neglect, which left him no other choice but to take bloody revenge on a cruel world. Maybe it didn’t matter at all, who he was or what he wanted or what dark forces drove him. Maybe it depended entirely on the perspective of whoever was telling the story.

    John Carpenter’s Halloween, which came out on October 27th, 1978 and turns 45 this year, is one of the most totemic and influential films in American history. It wasn’t necessarily the first slasher—a topic that inspires much debate, but at the very least, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas had both been released four years earlier, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho had come out another fourteen years before either of them, not to mention the dozens of Italian giallo films that are a key strand in the DNA of the slasher. But it undoubtedly set the template for the wave of horror movies, particularly the ones that feature iconic masked killers, that followed in its wake.

    It was at the time of its release, and still remains, one of the most profitable independent films of all time, grossing $70 million on a budget of a little more than $300,000. It made a star out of its young lead, Jamie Lee Curtis in her feature film debut—but it also made a star out of her co-lead, the aforementioned psychopathic killer, the inimitable Michael Myers. Like many of its imitators, Halloween birthed a long-running, ever-evolving franchise, comprising thirteen movies that span five decades—a host of sequels, remakes, reboots, and no less than five separate continuities, and apart from a brief foray into alternate mask-related horror in 1982, Michael Myers has been the one constant of them all.

    Loving a horror franchise is a little like loving a person over a long period of time.

    Loving a horror franchise is a little like loving a person over a long period of time. We are, all of us, different people—sometimes wildly different—over the course of our lives, and true love means accepting and embracing all those different people. And while most, if not all, of the major horror franchises live in the shadows of their original installments, regardless of their overall consistency of quality, the true aficionado knows that there are hidden gems to be found in the unlikeliest of places, that each franchise is greater than the sum of its parts. No Halloween movie holds a candle to the original, but each of them is interesting in its own way. Michael Myers has been all those things previously mentioned—killer, brother, uncle, supernatural entity, misunderstood anti-hero, each identity abandoned once a new creative direction proves more fruitful. He’s worn a lot of different masks over the years, both figuratively and literally (for some reason, they cannot seem to get the mask exactly right since the first entry, and an entire piece could be written ranking the various masks across the series).

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    But all those different versions of the Michael Myers story represent more than a jumbled, contradictory chronology, a series in constant, chaotic need of reinvention, continuity be damned. Each retcon and new development in the Halloween franchise functions as a different method of ascribing order and rationality to the senselessness and randomness of the original film; their attempts to explain its events serve to enhance its horror and prove why it has remained an enduring classic of the genre.


    (Note: spoilers abound for the original Halloween and all of its sequels, as well as other pertinent slashers.)

    Revisiting the original Halloween on its 45th anniversary, with the full knowledge of everything that has come after, is a fascinating exercise. The film’s relative simplicity stands in stark contrast to the more elaborate plotting and pyrotechnics of the later installments of the series. While the revolutionary camerawork is prurient and voyeuristic at times, in terms of its narrative, Halloween is almost Hemingway-esque in its austerity. Michael Myers (played by Nick Castle while masked and Tony Moran unmasked) escapes from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium on the night before Halloween, and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, at some point along the way acquiring a rubber mask.

    His psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence, one of the other franchise stalwarts, appearing in nearly as many installments as Curtis), is convinced that Michael is going to kill again, and resolves to track him down and stop him. Along the way, we meet high-schooler Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her friends, Annie Brackett (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles). Most of the film is spent watching Laurie and her friends go about their day, dealing with classes, boys, and babysitting, all while Michael skulks around in the background and Loomis fails to locate him; Michael doesn’t kill anyone on screen until nearly an hour into the movie. Once night falls, however, he kills Annie, Lynda, Lynda’s boyfriend Bob (John Michael Graham), and then sets his sights on Laurie and the two children in her charge: Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards). He nearly succeeds before he is shot six times by Loomis and falls out a second-story window—but when Loomis looks out to check on him, he’s nowhere to be found.

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    And… that’s pretty much it. Carpenter, a devotee of classic Hollywood director Howard Hawks, emulates his economical and minimal style here, to an almost ruthless degree; his script, which he co-wrote with producer Debra Hill, is spare and light on incident, depicting only the bare essentials of the narrative without delving deep into the backstories or home lives of its cast. The characters don’t particularly grow or change over the course of the movie; they either survive, or they don’t. As an antagonist, Michael is mostly a cipher (in the credits, he is identified as “The Shape”). It would be disingenuous to say that he is completely without discernible motivation—he does choose to return home in the first place, and despite Loomis characterizing him as some unknowable, unreachable evil, he demonstrates a certain kind of pathology.

    On some sort of abstract level, he seems to be ritualistically recreating his sister’s murder, even going so far as to steal her headstone from the cemetery where she was buried. He seems to take pleasure in his kills, from donning a makeshift ghost costume and Bob’s glasses in order to toy with Lynda before killing her, to the infamous head tilt moment, in which Michael cocks his head from side to side after pinning Bob to the wall with his knife as if in silent admiration for his own handiwork. But in terms of why he’s chosen these people… they are simply unlucky enough to cross paths with him. Carpenter famously drew inspiration from a college psychology class visit to a psychiatric institution in Kentucky where he encountered a young boy whose blank, unsettling stare stayed with Carpenter; Dr. Loomis’ description of a young Michael, quoted at the beginning of this piece, is based on this incident. Michael has been a killer ever since he was six years old; the film is uninterested in why he is the way he is, save for the simple explanation that he is Bad.

    Halloween’s pared-down approach to narrative and character almost gives it the feeling of reportage.

    A kind of conservative social ideology has often been read into the slasher genre by critics and scholars—namely, that the teenage characters who drink, party, and have sex are the ones who typically die and the more virginal characters are the ones who survive, suggesting a kind of Puritanical morality, a bloody Sunday School lesson for any young viewer thinking of engaging in any sort of risqué behavior. Films like Wes Craven’s meta-slasher Scream (1996) helped codify the rules of surviving a horror movie, with Jamie Kennedy’s Randy Meeks exclaiming, “number one: you can never have sex,” and “number two: you can never drink or do drugs.” While some cultural commentators confine their interpretations to the social effects of the slasher, rather than attempting to ascribe intent to the various filmmakers who made the genre what it is, it frequently gets conflated, and thus the slasher’s reputation as a reactionary genre persists. It is always a tricky proposition to assume intent in any work of art, but especially in the slasher, which as a genre has a specific demographic (young people) and a specific goal (to scare them).

    What do teenagers and young adults, at least a decent percentage of them, love to do? Have sex, drink, and do drugs—all activities which lower one’s defenses and make one vulnerable. What is scarier than being attacked when one is most vulnerable? It’s almost a corollary of the old precept, “correlation does not imply causation”—these movies are not necessarily cautionary tales of moral instruction; they are designed to scare people (whether one wants to ascribe inherent conservatism to the desire to scare young people is a deeper, more abstract philosophical question, and one that is largely irrelevant here).

    All this is to say: the dynamic of the virginal being prioritized over those who are sexually active has always been flawed, and there are countless examples of movies that subvert or undermine that notion, but possibly none more so than Halloween—and, furthermore, any attempt to interpret Halloween along those lines undermines its essential horror. While later slashers would play up their characters’ sexual desires to almost cartoonish levels, with some unlucky victims scampering off to do the deed despite obvious signs of danger, Halloween feels comparatively subdued. Annie and Lynda are normal teenagers; their sexual activity isn’t wildly irresponsible (save for Annie abdicating her babysitting duty to hook up with her boyfriend, though logistically speaking it doesn’t seem as though continuing to watch little Lindsey would have saved her life). Laurie is a normal teenager too, for that matter. While it is often assumed that Laurie is a virgin, she does express desire for her classmate Ben Tramer. What’s more, she smokes pot with her friends, just before a babysitting job.

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    The conventional, rule-oriented moral framework of the slasher would dictate that she die too, and yet she doesn’t. Michael simply gets to her last on his rampage from house to house, giving her enough time to notice that something is amiss on her previously peaceful suburban street and prepare her defenses (and giving Loomis enough time to get there with his gun). The slasher rules are at their core an effort to make sense out of senseless acts of killing, to force a random and violent universe to obey a strict internal logic. If you do X, you’ll die, but if you don’t, you’ll live. But Halloween doesn’t neatly adhere to that system.

    Furthermore, compared to the rest of the pantheon of iconic horror movie villains, Michael Myers in the first Halloween is uniquely anarchic. Many killers have a set of rules—narrative rules, not inherent moral codes—by which they operate. Some have a specific territory in which they dwell, and they kill those who are unlucky enough to wind up there. For example, Leatherface and the rest of the cannibalistic Sawyer family in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre kill the main characters because they wander onto the Sawyer property. Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series functions almost like an apex predator, hunting anyone who trespasses in his domain of Crystal Lake. Other killers are driven by revenge. Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series targets the children of the parents who murdered him, before he became a supernatural dream demon. In some respects, Jason (and his mother Pamela, the villain of the first Friday the 13th) also follow this logic, killing camp counselors after the original Camp Crystal Lake employees failed to come to Jason’s aid as a drowning child. Michael Myers, however, has no idea who these teenagers are. They mean nothing to him. He comes to their territory, not the other way around.

    He also doesn’t have as clear-cut a pattern as others—in addition to teenagers (both male and female), he kills an adult man, a mechanic, early in the movie, acquiring his iconic coveralls in the process. This flouting of clear narrative logic both makes Michael scarier and also places him in a more true-to-life mold. The late 1960s and 1970s saw a proliferation of spree and serial killers, including the Zodiac Killer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, among others. They killed people who were strangers to them, for the most part. Their crimes made people realize that danger could come to them in their homes—it could seek them out, even if they did nothing to invite it. Michael evokes these killers with his methodology. You can’t take proactive steps to avoid him; you can only hope for the best.

    Halloween’s pared-down approach to narrative and character almost gives it the feeling of reportage. One could almost imagine Sergeant Joe Friday saying, “Just the facts, ma’am,” and getting some version of this story. Apart from the haunting ending in which Michael seemingly survives being shot multiple times and falling from a great height, it is brutally realistic and eminently believable. It has all the potency of a small-town folk legend. While the characters are not generic, they are very simply and directly drawn, which makes it easier to imagine oneself in their position. That is the terrible power of Halloween—this could happen to anyone. Even you.

    And then came Halloween II.

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    A film does not reach the level of success that Halloween did without Hollywood taking notice and demanding more, but with that impulse comes a fundamental problem: how do you follow up on something that, while technically open-ended (where did Michael Myers go?), feels fairly complete, even limited, as a narrative? Michael Myers came back home, killed Laurie Strode’s friends and nearly killed Laurie, and that’s it. There’s not much left to explore. As Carpenter himself later said in an interview with Vulture, “I didn’t want to direct sequels. I didn’t think there was story left.” What do you do? Do you just essentially remake the first movie and watch Michael Myers kill different people? It’s certainly a valid option, and one that other slasher franchises have resorted to. Or maybe you take the series in a different direction entirely—abandon the characters and use the title, the holiday itself, as your guiding principle.

    The Halloween franchise as a whole stands as a monument to the human capacity for rationalization, our need to explain the terrifying things that happen to us.

    Carpenter and Debra Hill’s original vision for the franchise was to turn it into an anthology of different horror stories all set on Halloween, having nothing to do with Michael Myers, and indeed, 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (the art director and production designer on the first Halloween), is exactly that. (Unfortunately, Halloween III, which is about a Druidic cult implanting slivers of Stonehenge in mass-produced children’s masks that will kill the wearers and release swarms of bugs and snakes when exposed to a certain television commercial, is not incredibly relevant to a piece about the legacy of Michael Myers and the original film.)

    But after Halloween, Michael Myers was a star, and for the first sequel (and the ten subsequent sequels after Halloween III), it seemed unthinkable not to feature him, as well as the other characters made indelible by the 1978 film, like Laurie and Dr. Loomis. But why would Michael, who was defined by the first movie as an unfeeling killing machine, continue to be in the orbit of other returning characters? And so a decision was made that would radically alter the original’s story and shape the trajectory of the franchise going forward for nearly forty years.

    Halloween II, which came out in 1981 and was directed by Rick Rosenthal, but was written by Carpenter and Debra Hill, takes place in the immediate aftermath of Halloween, continuing on that same Halloween night. Laurie has been taken to the hospital after her injuries and trauma, and Loomis continues to search for the escaped Michael. Over the course of the film, Laurie, who spends a solid stretch of time confined to a hospital bed, dreams about childhood memories of learning that she was adopted, and visiting a young man in a hospital. Meanwhile, Loomis learns a terrible secret that was hidden, even from him. This is the bedrock that provides the narrative thrust of this second movie: Laurie Strode is Michael Myers’ younger sister, put up for adoption after the death of Michael’s parents while he was in the sanitarium and she was still very young.

    Therefore, the random attack from the original film was not random at all. It was extremely targeted; as Loomis himself exclaims when he discovers the truth, “He killed one sister fifteen years ago, now he’s trying to kill the other!” On a scene to scene level, Halloween II is fairly similar to Halloween, except with the action transposed from a quiet suburban street to a hospital and the victims now hospital employees rather than babysitters, but Michael’s movements are now suddenly purposeful: he is reuniting with his long-lost sister, and mowing down anyone who stands in his way.

    What this does is turn the story of Halloween into a bizarre funhouse mirror version of the Chosen One trope, with Laurie Strode functioning as its Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter, except instead of unimaginable power and heroic destiny, Laurie has been cursed with a dark family legacy and a perpetual boogeyman on her heels. And just like Chosen One myths can have the unintended side effect of reducing a universal “anyone can be a hero” message into “people who have the right parents and/or backgrounds can be heroes,” this alteration to the Halloween canon takes what was a horrifying senseless crime that could have happened to anyone, and recontextualizes it as something that was always going to happen to one person (albeit with some collateral damage of unconnected bystanders along the way). It defangs the original’s bite, grabbing hold of its swirling forces of chaos and randomness and shoving them into a neat and tidy box of narrative and character-based logic (psychopathic, murderous logic, but undeniably something more rational than what existed before). It was the first attempt to explain away the incomprehensible horror that is Michael Myers. It would not, however, be the last.


    After Halloween III’s lackluster performance (it grossed $14.4 million at the domestic box office against a budget of $4.6 million, which made it the least successful Halloween film so far), the decision was made to bring back the franchise’s star, in a film called Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Directed in 1988 by Dwight H. Little, it would begin an era of the Halloween franchise that fans dub “The Thorn Trilogy” (for reasons that will become apparent), which also includes 1989’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard, and 1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, directed by Joe Chappelle. The Thorn Trilogy centers on Michael, Loomis, and a new character: seven-year-old Jamie Lloyd, played by Danielle Harris, who is the daughter of Laurie Strode (Laurie is revealed to have died in a car accident in between Halloween II and Halloween 4, thus resulting in Jamie’s adoption by the Carruthers family). After Michael, who has been comatose for a decade since the events of Halloween II, learns of his niece’s existence from a careless attendant, he springs to life in search of her, with Loomis once again hot on his trail.

    It is at this point that things begin to get… weird. It is a common stage in the life-cycle of a slasher franchise that has always been terrestrial in nature to at least flirt with the supernatural—at a certain point, it simply strains credulity that the villain in question would be able to withstand so much damage in one movie only to return in the next, ready for more. For example, Jason Voorhees is a mortal man, albeit an extremely durable one, up until 1986’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, in which Jason’s corpse, after having been unquestionably killed in the retroactively hilariously-titled Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter only two years prior, is struck by lightning, thus re-animating him into an even more durable zombie. The Thorn Trilogy marks Halloween’s supernatural era. The signs start small—Jamie seems to share a link with Michael that could be instinctual, could be outright psychic. At the end of Halloween 4, Jamie seemingly attacks her adoptive mother out of nowhere—an indication that Michael’s evil has taken hold of her, forcing her to emulate his own history of familicide. (An initial pitch for Halloween 5 involved a fully evil Jamie as co-antagonists with Michael, but this was rejected and Jamie’s apparent heel turn softened so that The Revenge of Michael Myers reveals she only wounded her mother, and she is now living in a children’s hospital with her family’s full support.)

    But Revenge (and its follow-up, Curse of Michael Myers) has an even wilder plot twist up its sleeve. Throughout the film, we see a mysterious man (credited as The Man in Black) stalking around Haddonfield, searching for Michael. This man has a strange runic symbol tattooed on his wrist—a symbol, coincidentally, that Halloween 5 reveals is also tattooed on Michael’s wrist (in the original opening for the film, we see a hermit resurrect Michael in an occult ritual after his death in Halloween 4, tattooing him with this rune in the process; reshoots removed this opening but left the tattoo without its origin, thus leaving audiences with no explanation other than he secretly had this the whole time). At the end of The Revenge of Michael Myers, The Man in Black detonates a bomb at the Haddonfield police station to free Michael Myers in an enigmatic cliffhanger that would not be unraveled until The Curse of Michael Myers. To sort through these developments is a challenge—at the time of Halloween 5’s filming, director Othenin-Girard and producers were unsure of who The Man in Black was, having added him solely as a tease for future installments, and The Curse of Michael Myers had a notoriously troubled production, with at least two extant widely-differing cuts of the film in circulation (the hastily re-edited theatrical version which confused audiences at the time of its release and the more coherent Producer’s Cut).

    It would take too much time to unpack all of the variations in the canon between the two versions, but broadly-speaking, Curse reveals that a nefarious Druidic organization (though not the one from Halloween III), the Cult of Thorn, is manipulating Michael and his blood relatives as pawns in their evil agenda. Through the investigations of an adult Tommy Doyle, Laurie Strode’s young charge in the first film (interestingly enough, now played by Paul Rudd in his first starring role, coming out the same year as his feature film debut in Clueless), we learn that Michael is not just a psychopathic killer—he is the victim of the Curse of Thorn, which surfaces throughout generations and compels its host to slaughter their family members. The cult is attempting to harness his power through various methods, including cloning his DNA and, in a particularly disturbing turn of events, using it to impregnate a now-older Jamie.

    This is a particularly convoluted stretch of the narrative, more reminiscent of a soap opera than the original Halloween. But ultimately, what this amounts to is a further recontextualization of the events of 1978, going even beyond the revelation that Laurie and Michael are sister and brother. In this version of the story, all those innocent people (and the dozens since then) died because their killer was driven by a supernatural pre-ordained directive. Michael Myers is not just a faceless boogeyman, and he’s also not just a brother in search of a family reunion—he is damned by destiny. The simple potency of the first film is now truly a distant memory, replaced by grandiose myth-making—once again retconned to be something that could not happen to just anyone.


    The next major phase of the Halloween saga ignores the events of the previous three films: 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, directed by Steve Miner, and 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection, directed by Rick Rosenthal (returning to the franchise after Halloween II), reveal that Laurie (with Jamie Lee Curtis herself returning to the franchise for the first time since 1981) faked her death and relocated to California where she’s now working as a boarding school instructor, along with her son John (played by Josh Hartnett). While interesting films in their own right, they do not meaningfully advance the recontextualization of the Michael Myers mythos—they strip out the supernatural elements and return to what now constitutes a baseline for the franchise, with Laurie as Michael’s sister and Michael killing his way to get to her.

    And so, for the purposes of this piece, we will skip forward to a controversial period: the Rob Zombie era, named after the heavy metal provocateur who helmed the first outright remake of the original film, 2007’s Halloween, as well as its direct sequel two years later, Halloween II (which, despite the title, is not a remake of 1981’s Halloween II). After various failed attempts at following up on Halloween: Resurrection (including a fascinating what-if scenario proposed after the release of 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, in which Halloween would crossover with the Hellraiser series), the reins were handed over to Zombie for a hard reboot of the franchise. The result is for the most part a scene-for-scene recreation of the original movie, except infused with Zombie’s more grindhouse sensibilities and a modern, gorier flair. The key difference, however, is an extended prologue featuring Michael as a ten-year-old boy. While the 1978 film limits this period of Michael’s life to just the cold open where he murders his sister, Zombie’s film expands on it, showing the sordid details of Michael’s childhood as a whole, including dire socioeconomic circumstances, his mother’s crass, abusive boyfriend and his intense bullying at school. In general, the Zombie movies engender a kind of sympathy for Michael (played as an adult by Tyler Mane). They retain the canon that Laurie (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) is his sister, except now Michael seems more interested in an actual emotional reunion rather than a murderous one, pulling out a childhood photo of them together in the climax to show her instead of trying to kill her.

    Halloween II reveals that Dr. Loomis (played by Malcolm McDowell) is more of a craven opportunist who doesn’t really care about his patient. He publishes a book about Michael’s case and cashes in on the resulting fifteen minutes of fame; in many ways, more of the film’s ire is directed at Loomis than at Michael, who kills Loomis at the end in a semi-triumphant moment of vengeance.

    Many fans at the time were upset at the demystification of Michael Myers, their faceless, mysterious avatar of evil now redefined as a mere mentally-troubled young man.

    Many fans at the time were upset at the demystification of Michael Myers, their faceless, mysterious avatar of evil now redefined as a mere mentally-troubled young man. Zombie explicitly wanted to inject new life into the old myth and bring more psychological realism to Michael Myers’ story; in an interview with Bloody-Disgusting.com in 2007, Zombie explained, “First thing I wanted to start with is: ‘What is the reality of someone like Michael Myers?’ And the reality is he would be a true psychopath, he has no concept of what he’s doing.” While this framework does not excuse Michael’s actions, it does help explain them. No longer the victim of a magic curse, he is now the victim of a broken home life and a system which failed him. “It was the Boogeyman,” exclaims Laurie at the end of the 1978 film, but one would be hard-pressed to describe this version of Michael Myers in such black-and-white terms.

    We see all of the circumstances that led him to this point in painstaking detail. He is an all-too-human figure, not a mythical monster. This added childhood context, an attempt to really understand evil in a way that the series had yet to do up until that point, represents just one more aspect of the multi-faceted project of the Halloween franchise to rationalize what happened that fateful night. One can make sense of what was previously senseless if one has all the facts—this doesn’t necessarily remove all the horror, but what one can’t comprehend is always scarier than what one can comprehend.


    This brings us to the final era of the Halloween franchise (at least for now): the David Gordon Green era, so named for the director who shepherded the last three installments, 2018’s Halloween, 2021’s Halloween Kills, and 2022’s Halloween Ends. This era also arguably marks the end of the recontextualization project. After decades of sequels and reboots, the 2018 Halloween represents the fifth distinct timeline—this time, ignoring everything except the 1978 film. Yes, that includes the detail that Laurie and Michael are siblings. As Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter (played by Andi Matichak), explains to a friend who asks if Michael was Laurie’s brother, “No. That’s just a bit that some people made up to make them feel better, I think.” In this timeline, Michael’s massacre was indeed what it appeared to be in the original film—a random act of brutal violence, with no easy explanations as to why it took place.

    Instead, the focus of this sub-trilogy is the survivors of Michael Myers, including a now older Laurie Strode (a returning Jamie Lee Curtis), having to draw their own conclusions and interpretations from something that is so hauntingly unresolvable. Meaning cannot be found in learning more about what makes Michael tick—instead, meaning can only be found in trying to live alongside and move through one’s trauma. In fact, the characters who attempt to understand Michael on a deeper level, including a pair of true-crime podcasters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees), Michael’s current attending doctor (Haluk Bilginer), and Halloween Ends’ tormented young protagonist Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), are all doomed in varying ways by their efforts to get closer to the heart of evil. The true hero of the trilogy, Laurie, rejects all attempts to analyze Michael—she tells the podcasters, “There’s nothing to learn. There are no new insights or discoveries…. Michael Myers murdered five people. And he’s a human being we need to understand?” In Laurie’s perspective, the only recourse when confronted with an evil like Michael’s is not to explain, but simply to vanquish, and then move on with your life.

    In a 2014 career retrospective with Deadline, John Carpenter said, “Michael Myers was an absence of character. And yet all the sequels are trying to explain that. That’s silliness—it just misses the whole point of the first movie, to me. He’s part person, part supernatural force. The sequels rooted around in motivation. I thought that was a mistake.” While that motivation was first supplied by Carpenter himself in his co-written script for Halloween II, the point remains. Explaining that essential unknowable question does take away from the inherent mystique of the character and what he represents. It takes what was once a shot to the heart of random terror and turns it into a saga: one of complicated family dynamics, supernatural curses, and a decades-spanning murderous mission. In many ways, it is less scary. But is it fair to characterize this decision as a mistake?

    The Halloween franchise as a whole stands as a monument to the human capacity for rationalization, our need to explain the terrifying things that happen to us. To borrow Allyson’s words, it’s a way to make us feel better. The same impulse can be found in how we respond in the real world to real-life tragedies and horrors, always looking for that fundamental why. But the totality of the series, at the end of the day, only serves to strengthen the legacy of Carpenter’s indelible original, and makes it more timeless and impactful, even now, forty-five years later. For only 1978’s Halloween, the first, the best, has the awful and powerful wisdom to know that sometimes, there is no why. No reason, no order. Sometimes, bad things just happen. What could be scarier than that?

    Michael Kraus
    Michael Kraus
    Michael Kraus is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter who has written for TNT’s Snowpiercer. His essays about movies and television appear in Lit Hub and CrimeReads.

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