Graveyard Shift

'Halloween' Isn't Actually A Fable About The Dangers Of Teenage Intimacy  

Christopher Shultz
Ranker.com

In the original Scream, film buff and horror expert Randy (Jamie Kennedy) outlines the "rules" of surviving a slasher film. Rule number one: no intercourse, because, as Randy puts it, that "equals death." It is telling that this character utters this line while Halloween - the breakout hit written by Debra Hill and John Carpenter (who also directed) - plays in the background, since it was this film that popularized the concept of masked slayers targeting teens who do it. Or rather, Halloween planted the seed, while the Friday the 13th series tended the garden, producing film after film featuring deranged slayers (originally Mrs. Voorhees and later her son Jason) punishing young camp counselors for their transgressions (though technically, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho can be seen as the true progenitor of the slasher genre).

The first 13th film's creators acknowledged outright the influence of Carpenter's film. As The Week's Scott Meslow explains:

The filmmakers literally reverse-engineered 1978's Halloween, which had grossed $47 million on a $325,000 budget, to come up with their own variation. "Basically you start with a prior evil that happens before the movie opens," explained screenwriter Victor Miller at a reunion event in 2009. "You have a bunch of randy teenagers who are outside the help of formal authority. Adults cannot come to save their *sses. And you knock them off one by one. Especially the ones who [hook up]."

Miller was not alone in his reading of Halloween as a film that "offs" frisky young adults. Critics immediately linked Michael Myers's desire to harm with "adult relations." Take, for instance, Tom Allen's Village Voice review, in which he called Michael a "masked psycho ignited by any sight of pubescent sexuality." In her infamously scathing review, Pauline Kael stated, "[Michael] has no trouble when the lights go down picking off the teen-agers who 'fool around'; only Laurie has the virginal strength to put up a fight. And Lou Cedrone of the Baltimore paper The Evening Sun directly linked Michael's activities with Carpenter's intentions (disregarding Hill's contributions): "...because these kids are always racing for the nearest bed, you come away with the suspicion that the man who did the script doesn't believe in premarital [intimacy]."

Thus, the bedroom act "equals death," and, in contrast, virginity equals survival. This dichotomy is echoed in Victor Miller's script for Friday the 13th (though that film's protagonist, Alice - played by Adrienne King - was not a virgin, she was notably "more virginal" than her fellow camp counselors), which accidentally invented another trope in the process: the Final Girl. 

The problem is, despite the fact that there are two post-coital slayings and one pre-coital slaying in the film, there aren't any concrete indications that Michael Myers attacks based on some puritanical rage. His actions seem more rooted in a desire to spread terror in a sleepy, idealistic small town - to reintroduce horror to the innocent, naive citizens.

Both John Carpenter and Debra Hill advocated for a less charged reading of the film. The pair shared their thoughts with David Konow in a piece for Consequence of Sound:

"It was never a conscious decision," Hill said. "The people who mentioned that [intimacy equals death] in reviews applied their own morality to it. I thought they were being ridiculously introspective about a film that was meant to have no social statements."

Carpenter agrees, saying, "It wasn’t my intention to make a moral point. I just hadn’t thought of it. The other girls were busy with their boyfriends, they were busy with other things. Laurie had the perception because she’s not involved in anything. She’s lonely, she’s looking out the window."

"We wanted to make Laurie a strong character who was very willful and feared nothing," Hill says. "Someone who was quiet yet defiant and faced the enemy. Laurie had an inner strength you didn’t see on the outside."

This quiet strength actually attracts Michael, and stands as the sole reason he targets her, not only as a victim of the knife, but also - and more importantly - as a victim of his sadistic games. He first notices Laurie when she and Tommy Doyle stop by the old Myers place to drop off a key for her father (he's a realtor attempting to sell the house). Tommy warns Laurie not to go near the home because it's a "spook house... it's haunted... awful stuff happened there once" (referring to Michael's slaying of his sister Judith 15 years prior). Laurie, however, no longer believes in haunted houses, and bravely walks up the porch and places the key under the mat. She isn't aware that Michael watches her just behind the door and, moments later, emerges from his childhood home to watch Laurie walk away. She sings as she goes, without a care in the world. 

If Michael is enraged by anything, it's Laurie's lack of fear. It isn't enough to simply end her, though. He stalks her, makes his presence known throughout the film, breaking down her confidence, shattering her nerves. These scare tactics culminate in Michael luring Laurie over to Lindsay Wallace's house, where he has staged Laurie's now-deceased friends, Annie, Lynda, and Bob, in a horrifying tableau. In essence, Michael creates a personal "spook house" for Laurie to enter, featuring actual bodies. It is only at this moment that he attempts to slay her - after he has thoroughly terrorized her and reinstilled her fear. Laurie does have the wherewithal to fight him; however, as Tommy points out, "You can't kill the boogeyman." Michael gets away, leaving his victim physically and mentally scarred by her experience. The final moments of the film take us through each of the movie's primary locations while Michael breathes over the soundtrack, ending on an image of the old Myers place before cutting to the credits. This symbolizes Michael's reinstation of terror in Haddonfield, making his old home a place to once again fear, as well as a reaffirmation of his status as the boogeyman, an embodiment of evil and horror. 

All this, combined with the fact Michael attempts to end Laurie despite her virginal status, makes it clear that neither the film's boogeyman nor the filmmakers are overtly concerned with physical intimacy. Michael simply sees in their activity an opportunity to dispatch Annie, Lynda, and Bob, and nothing more.