©2021, by M. Keith Booker

When John Carpenter was hired to make Halloween (at that time provisionally entitled “The Babysitter Murders”), he had two feature films to his credit: Dark Star (1974) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). Both of those films are interesting in their own right, but Carpenter was not hired because of the quality of those films so much as for the fact that he had achieved that quality with very little in the way of financial resources. With films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Black Christmas (1974), The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), and Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) having demonstrated that slasher films could find at least a modest audience, money men Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad approached Carpenter with the idea for their project, hoping he could produce something successful on a small budget. He developed that idea into what became Halloween, made on a production budget of roughly $325,000. The result changed horror film history, not only because it returned more than $47 million at the box office, but because it was an impressively artful film. Halloween triggered a frenzy of slasher-film production that dominated horror for the next several years. It remains the defining film of the subgenre even today. As Adam Rockoff puts it, Halloween is “the blueprint for all slashers and the model against which all subsequent films are judged” (55).

Halloween succeeds to the extent that it does for a number of reasons, including the fact that it features a particularly sympathetic and effective Final Girl in high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, herself nineteen during filming) and an especially chilling slasher in the masked and enigmatic Michael Myers. The casting of Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh, called attention to the fact that Psycho was a clear predecessor of this film. But Halloween succeeds first and foremost because of Carpenter’s intense attention to detail, which includes the extremely artful use of such inexpensive elements as camera movements and music, the latter of which Carpenter himself composed (and largely performed). As a result, the influence of Halloween on subsequent slasher films goes well beyond the basic plot and characters to include stylistic elements as well, though few subsequent slasher films would succeed in coming anywhere close to the stylistic achievements of Halloween itself.

Halloween begins with a blank, black screen, as Carpenter’s simple but haunting piano theme begins to play—as it will throughout the film whenever the threat of slasher Michael Myers emerges. Opening credits are displayed over the black screen, eventually accompanied by the appearance of a lighted jack-o-lantern. The music grows more ominous as the jack-o-lantern slowly increases in size, moving toward the audience in a manner that makes this innocuous emblem of the Halloween holiday seem surprisingly menacing. Then on-screen text identifies the setting as Haddonfield, Illinois, and the date as “Halloween Night 1963.” School children are heard chanting about witches and goblins in a manner that is perfectly congruent with this familiar holiday, but that, after this opening, seems quite ominous and cult-like. The theme of innocence threatened has been firmly established even before the first actual shot of the film.

The film proper then begins with the shot of a house of a comfortable and very American-looking house, its exterior well-lit amid the darkness of Halloween night. An owl hoots as the camera moves unsteadily toward the house, mimicking the point of view of someone approaching the front of the house. At this point, most viewers probably suspect that they are seeing the point of view of trick-or-treaters coming to the house. The camera then moves around the house, following a couple who walk through the house on the inside, catching glimpses of them through windows. The camera thus creates an air of menace. We do not appear to be seeing through the eyes of ordinary trick-or-treaters. It is as if the house is under surveillance, the people inside possibly in danger. Finally, the camera moves to a window and peers inside, spying on a teenage couple necking on the couch. They are obviously a bit nervous about being discovered. “We are alone, aren’t we?” asks the boy. “Michael’s around someplace,” replies the girl—in a manner suggesting (wrongly) that Michael, at least, is nothing to worry about. The boy playfully puts on young Michael’s Halloween clown mask (foreshadowing the more familiar mask to be worn by Michael later) and tries to kiss the girl, then suggests that they head upstairs. Outside, the camera again moves, looking up toward the upstairs bedroom window where the boy and girl have gone, obviously to have sex. A musical cue suggests something very threatening about the camera’s gaze. The camera then moves around to the back of the house, goes inside, and shows a hand removing a large knife from a drawer in the kitchen, making even more clear that the camera’s point of view is that of the owner of the hand.

This artfully composed first scene has left a number of details unclear, but it has done a great deal to create an atmosphere of danger through the modest expedient of point-of-view camera movement, building toward the moment when the knife is withdrawn from the drawer. Meanwhile, the attention to detail in this scene (and even in the opening credits) has already effectively engaged the audience, 4 ½ minutes into the film. Within two more minutes, Michael’s first murder will have been committed, still shown from his point of view as the camera appears to be looking through the eyeholes of Michael’s clown mask, which he has now donned. Somewhat like in the shower scene of Psycho,relative little detail of the actual killing is shown, but the details of the careful build toward this killing makes this scene a highly effective one. This attention to detail will be a hallmark of the film throughout, which is probably the principal reason why Halloween is one of the few slasher films that actually gets better on repeated viewings, despite the fact that the plot from this point forward is so well known.

In the original Halloween, it is clear that six-year-old Michael Myers uses the kitchen knife to kill the girl (his sister Judith) in some sort of rage (apparently related to her recent sexual activity), but exactly why that would be is left unexplained. More explanation concerning the abuse young Michael has suffered is supplied in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake, but one could argue, I think, that Carpenter’s decision to leave those details unclear is more effective. Michael Myers is such a successful slasher partly because so many details about goes on inside his head are left unclear, making him less of an actual human being and more of an inhuman allegorical reminder that danger and death can lurk even in the places that seem safest, like a clean, well-appointed, comfortable home in the American suburbs.

When the respectable-seeming Myers parents return to find Michael standing in front of the house in his clown costume, bloody knife in hand, they pull off his mask to reveal their son, played by young Will Sandin. He is a beautiful child, almost angelic. The contrast between his appearance and the deed we assume he has just performed is shocking, encapsulating the main theme of the entire film—the contrast between surface appearance and the danger that lurks beneath. This theme, of course, seems almost trite. Versions of it have been embodied in all sorts of aphorisms so familiar that they have become a part of our everyday language: “you can’t tell a book by its cover,” “looks can be deceiving,” etc. What Halloween understands is that it is only through the expedient of presenting them via such shocking material that it can break through the familiarity of these platitudes and actually have a chance to have its audience take its message seriously and to critically re-examine the world around them.

After Michael kills his sister and is committed to a mental asylum in Smith’s Grove, Illinois, we are introduced to the film’s second major character, the psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Apart from sharing a name with Marion Crane’s lukewarm boyfriend (and thus providing one of the many links between Halloween and Psycho), Dr. Loomis also introduces a dimension to Halloween that few other slasher films can match, serving as a sort of Ahab/Van Helsing figure, but one who is so single-mindedly devoted to the destruction of Michael that he is himself a problematic figure.

After Michael’s initial unmasking by his parents, the film immediately cuts to October 30, 1978, when Loomis arrives (at night, in a driving thunderstorm) at the asylum where Michael has been held for fifteen years, never speaking a single word. At this point, Michael, still only twenty-one (and about to have a hearing concerning his possible release), seems an almost sympathetic figure, a victim of a mental illness that caused him to commit the murder that has apparently traumatized him ever since. It therefore comes as something of a surprise that Loomis seems to have no compassion for Michael whatsoever. He refers to Michael as “it” and is determined to see that he is never released from captivity.

Loomis thus initially emerges as a sort of stern, superego figure, playing the strict father to Michael, his wayward “son.” And, to an extent, he will continue to play that role. However, we quickly learn that he has a reason to want to see Michael stay in captivity. Michael, now large and powerful, attacks the nurse who drove Loomis to the asylum, steals their official State of Illinois car, and heads back for his hometown of Haddonfield (150 miles away), where he will embark on a relentless (and seemingly unmotivated) campaign of gruesome murders. This campaign occurs, of course, on October 31, 1978. Loomis’s designation of him as an inhuman figure of pure evil will eventually appear warranted. At the same time, Loomis’s pursuit of Michael is so relentless that he becomes a sort of stalker figure in his own right, providing a third term that complicates the eventual moral opposition between Michael and innocent Final Girl Laurie Strode that enhances the allegorical structure of the film by providing a figure of righteous masculine authority so uncompromising that he becomes a sort of official representative of the structures and systems that somehow created Michael in the first place.

Authority figures quite generally fail in Halloween. Michael’s parents have been unable to prevent their son from killing their daughter, and parents are generally absent altogether. In addition to Loomis, the other doctors and professionals at the Illinois State Hospital have been unable to help Michael during his fifteen years there. Back in Haddonfield, Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) and the other police seem completely unable to deal with the threat posed by Michael, which is so far beyond their ordinary experience. That Brackett’s daughter Annie (Nancy Kyes) is among those killed by Michael suggests even further his ineffectuality.

In Joseph Conrad’s classic novelette Heart of Darkness (1899), Charlie Marlow dismisses his listeners as being unable to comprehend his experience in darkest Africa because their bourgeois lives in London, protected by policemen, keep them insulated, safe from the dangers that lurk in the world outside their cocoon of privilege. In Halloween, John Carpenter suggests that Marlow himself was deluded to think that civilization really kept Londoners safe from life’s darkest truths. History would seem to side with Carpenter. It was, after all, only eleven years before the publication of Heart of Darkness that the notorious Jack the Ripper had slashed his way through London’s back alleys, providing a prototype for the entire slasher genre. Of course, Carpenter’s slasher rips through a much nicer neighborhood, and his film is aimed more at the illusion of safety entertained by so many in America, an illusion that famously made the 9/11 bombings so shocking. We might also remember that it was in 1978, the year Halloween was released, that handsome, clean-cut serial killer Ted Bundy committed his final murders.

It is only after Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield that we are introduced to Laurie Strode, teenage daughter of a realtor who is attempting to sell the long-abandoned Myers house. At this point, though, we are still less than twelve minutes into the film: those twelve minutes are a textbook case of efficient storytelling. Laurie walks through her pleasant, tree-lined suburban neighborhood in what should be an ordinary scene—except that the music makes it clear that something sinister is afoot. That something, of course, is Michael, who is once again “around someplace” and who apparently sets his sights on Laurie when (at her father’s request) she drops off the key to the front door of the Myers house, where Michael lurks inside. A small boy, Tommy Doyle[1] (Brian Andrews), for whom Laurie will be babysitting that night, warns her that the Myers house is haunted and unsafe, though she dismisses that suggestion as silly. She is, after all, the level-headed sort, her studiousness indicated by the stack of books that she carries as she continues her walk to school after dropping off the key. The hulking Michael is already following her, though, breathing heavily, seemingly somehow in his mind having substituted her for Judith.

Halloween II will introduce the idea that Laurie actually is Michael’s sister, adopted at age two, after the death of the Myers parents, but this wrinkle never really made sense. It also detracts from the sense in Halloween that Michael’s fixation on Laurie is essentially a random occurrence, caused by the fact that she happened to drop off the key to the Myers house as he lurked inside. This randomness greatly strengthens the allegorical significance of the film, in which Michael serves as an embodiment of the kind of violence that can strike any of us at any moment, despite the seeming safety of our modern, well-regulated lives.

In his excellent book-length critical study of Halloween, Murray Leeder reviews many of the critical discussions about Michael’s motivations, first in killing Judith, then in killing the other girls he kills and trying to kill Laurie. Leeder concludes (rightly I think) that such attempts to determine Michael’s reasons for his actions (which tend to focus on the psychosexual) miss the point that Michael is not really presented in the film as a human being with discernible human desires. For Leeder,

“Profiling” Michael is a fool’s errand. … Michael Myers is not constructed an as [sic] individual instance of human pathology—this despite the film’s overlay of psychoanalysis. … He is something more abstract. He is a ghost, or one of the implacable murderers from urban legends, or even … an inexplicable threat analogous to one of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic monsters. (20)

As Leeder puts it later, “A verisimilitudinous depiction of mental illness was not on Carpenter’s agenda; the creation of a cosmic threat beyond rational explanation, psychological or otherwise, was” (86).[2] Or, as Loomis keeps reminding us, “This is not a man.”

Many aspects of Halloween reinforce this notion by dehumanizing Michael, as when he apparently kills and eats a dog because, as Loomis puts it, “he got hungry.” Michael Myers is not a disturbed boy or man; he is a sort of all-purpose monster, reflecting our most basic fears. Indeed, this characterization even extends to the end credits, where the masked Myers is identified merely as “The Shape,” recalling the listing of Frankenstein’s creature in the credits for the 1931 Frankenstein simply as “The Monster.” Michael, though, is even more amorphous, his lack of specific identity emphasized by his insistence on wearing a mask.[3] Thus, while vampires, or ghosts, or zombies might continue to trigger frissons of fear in our modern, rational, technological age, they do so not because most of us really fear such creatures, but because such creatures serve as stand-ins for our real fears, which range from economic precarity, to crime in the streets, to terrorist bombings. One could argue that Michael Myers, who stands one level closer to reality than any of these other monsters, is even more effective as a personification of the very real fears we try so hard to deny. Finally, it is also worth noting that Halloween invokes a whole series of horror staples, involving, at various points, versions of a killer clown, a ghost, a haunted house, a graverobber, and so on, helping to reinforce Michael’s generalized status.

When Laurie arrives at school, we see her sitting in English class as her teacher drones on mechanically about the book they have been reading, by an author named Samuels.[4] The teacher sounds almost drugged, apparently repeating a lesson she has taught many times before and has little interest in teaching again, suggesting still another failed figure of authority in the film. Samuels’ book, the teacher recites, is about fate: “What Samuels is really talking about here is fate. You see, fate caught up with several lives here. No matter what course of actions Collins took, he was destined to his own fate. His own day of reckoning with himself. The idea is that destiny is a very real, concrete thing that every person has to deal with.”

At this very moment, the Halloween theme music kicks in. It’s a sort of leitmotif that tends to announce the arrival of Michael. Indeed, Laurie looks out the window and (of course) sees Michael staring through the window of her classroom from across the street. Laurie is, understandably, quite distracted at this point, which of course inevitably means that the teacher will call on her, asking her to explain the different views of fate as espoused by Samuels and someone named Costain. Surprisingly, Laurie (good student that she is) is able to supply an acceptable answer, noting that, for Costain, fate was always related to religion, whereas, for Samuels, “fate was like a natural element, like earth, air, fire, and water.” The teacher, still speaking like a bored robot, congratulates her on her correct answer and notes that “Samuels definitely personified fate. In Samuels’ writing, fate is immoveable, like a mountain. It stands where man passes away. Fate never changes.”

A sudden cut brings us to the elementary school at the end of the school, as excited children rush from the building, while the final bell rings. But the discussion of fate in Laurie’s class unmistakably serves as a gloss on Michael Myers, who is very much a force of nature, something like the personification of fate as described by “Samuels.” This scene, which at first glance contributes little to the film other than indicating more clearly that Michael is stalking Laurie, thus adds quite a bit thematically. For one thing, it indicates the ways in which the adult figures in the film go about the established routines of their lives, unable to swerve from habit in order to deal with an extraordinary threat like Michael. For another, it helps to establish the notion that Michael is more than a disturbed twenty-one-year-old, helping to make clear that he is not to be interpreted in any sort of literal way but in an allegorical way, as a figure of all the dangers that threaten us as we go about our seemingly safe lives. This reading, of course, will ultimately be solidified by the acknowledgement by the “scientist” Loomis by the end of the film that Michael is, indeed, the “boogeyman” of lore—though this idea proliferates throughout the text, beginning in this school letting-out seen as several bullies taunt the gullible Tommy by warning him that the boogeyman is coming to get him. The “boogeyman,” of course, is another all-purpose monster, a generalized figure of sinister threat sometimes used to frighten children, as in the case of these bullies. By identifying Michael directly with the boogeyman, Halloween makes it clear that Michael is also such a generalized embodiment of whatever frightens you, a characterization that begins to fade in the sequels (and especially in Rob Zombie’s reboot, which greatly humanizes Michael), but which is at least partly restored in the 2018 sequel.

Michael continues to cruise around town in the clearly-marked State of Illinois vehicle that he stole from Loomis at the asylum. That the state has thus inadvertently supplied him with transportation, while the police somehow remain unable to spot and stop Michael despite his easily identifiable vehicle, again emphasizes the inability of official authority to provide protection from the kinds of threats that Michael represents. Michael drives his vehicle past Tommy as the latter dejectedly walks home after his encounter with the bullies, but Michael has no interest in attacking children, a characteristic that probably makes the film more palatable, even as it diminishes its effectiveness as an allegory of the kinds of senseless and unpredictable violence to which we are all vulnerable. After all, that violence, as we know all too well, does not spare children. At this point, of course, we are not sure whether Michael spares children, either, so the continual appearances of children in the film helps to create tension and a sense of possible horror to come. Indeed, the scenes in which Michael skulks about the neighborhood at night, while the girls babysit innocent children inside, are clearly made much more effective by the presence of the children, who meanwhile reinforce the setting on the Halloween holiday, because that day is firmly associating in the American imagination with childhood.[5]

Michael also cruises by Laurie as she walks home from school with her friends Lynda and Annie, planning their night of Halloween babysitting. For now, he passes by the girls as well, but the way the camera follows them, accompanied by tense music, makes it clear that he has his eye on them as potential targets. After Lynda stops off at her house, Annie and Laurie nearly run into Michael spying on them from behind a hedge, but only Laurie sees him before he disappears. Meanwhile, her conversation with Annie clearly establishes Laurie as the virginal, bookish type, always studying, frequently babysitting, and never going out with boys, who think she is “too smart.” She is the prototypical “good girl,” the model for many Final Girls to follow.

This walk home, incidentally, displays one of the few clear signs that Halloween was shot on a limited budget. As the girls walk home together, it is a sunny afternoon; the street and sidewalks are completely dry. By the time Laurie gets home, having dropped off both Lynda and Annie, the streets and sidewalks are wet. Apparently, it has rained between the shooting of the first part of Laurie’s walk home and the last, and the production simply didn’t have the budget to wait for the street and sidewalks to dry again when it was time to shoot this scene. Meanwhile, when Laurie goes into her house and looks out, seeing a glimpse of Michael lurking outside, everything is again dry and the sun (the film was actually shot in Southern California) is again bright.

As Laurie heads out to babysit, she is getting jumpier and jumpier, and the air of danger that hovers over her is palpable. We are still less than thirty minutes into the film, yet so much has been established. Halloween is an extremely economical film that is able to use music and camera movements as effectively as any film ever made to establish the desired atmosphere. At this point, Carpenter cuts to a scene in a graveyard, furthering this air of dread. Loomis has come (for reasons that are unclear) to check out the grave of Judith Myers. The groundskeeper who takes him to her grave comments on her murder: “Every town has something like this happen,” he observes, adding to the sense that Michael is not simply a one-of-a-kind lunatic but a sign of the times. By this time, it is no surprise either to us or to Loomis to find that Judith’s headstone has been removed, a fact that really contributes nothing to the plot of the film and that makes no particular sense, but that quite effectively adds to the atmosphere that Carpenter has been building throughout the film.

One particularly clever bit of atmosphere-building occurs as Laurie and Tommy watch the 1951 science fiction horror classic The Thing from Another World on television. This film, whose title can be taken to describe Michael, was a big influence on Carpenter’s development as a filmmaker. It was also a film he himself remade in 1982 (simply as The Thing, which perhaps even better describes Michael). That extremely influential film is discussed in detail in the volume of The Horror Film Project on Science Fiction Horror. Laurie, by the way, gets completely immersed in the movie, though Tommy is ultimately able to pry her away from it. Later, when Annie drops Lindsey off to watch TV with Tommy, they watch Forbidden Planet (1956), another science fiction classic, and one that involves “monsters from the id,” which are materializations of unconscious fears and desires, brought about by advanced technology inherited from the alien Krel, who have themselves been destroyed by the monstrous power unleashed via this technology from the savage forces at work in their own unconscious minds. “The beast,” muses the human linguist Morbius in a moment of sudden understanding, “the mindless primitive—even the Krel must have evolved from that beginning.” Forbidden Planet thus features monsters who are embodiments of the most savage and primitive forces that still lurk deep within our own unconscious minds, a description that also provides a useful gloss on Michael, suggesting that he embodies not just the dangers to which all of us are exposed in our daily lives, but also a reason why those dangers still exist—because we ourselves have not fully evolved beyond the level of our most primitive ancestors.[6]

Almost another half hour is spent building an almost agonizing tension, as Michael lurks, teasing us time after time with the threat that he is about to strike. We are nearly an hour into this 90-minute film when he finally strangles Annie in her car, initiating his actual killing spree, though he had earlier killed a tow-truck driver in order to steal his uniform. Much has been made of the fact that Michael kills Annie as she is going off to pick up her boyfriend Paul, presumably to have sex, shortly after Michael has seen her nearly naked through a window. Even more strikingly, he later kills Lynda after she has totally bared her breasts on camera and totally had sex with her boyfriend Bob (whom Michael also kills).[7]

The killings of Judith, Annie, and Lynda all thus seem to be related to sex, a motif that would become a virtual cliché of the subgenre, though it was perhaps popularized even more by others than by Michael. Still, it is almost as if Michael somehow resents anyone else ever having sex, given that it is apparent that he never will. Meanwhile, Michael, before killing Lynda, dons a ghost costume with Bob’s glasses on the outside, thus making her think that he is Bob. It is almost as if he wishes he were Bob, that he were able to play the role of boyfriend and have ordinary sex with a girl. On the other hand, the actual killings of the girls do not appear to be particularly sexual in nature, and he does not sexually molest them or their bodies. It has also been noted that Judith, Annie, and Lynda are all neglectful babysitters, and it has been suggested that Michael, a neglected child, resents them for that reason and has decided they must be punished.

The problem, of course, is that Michael seems focused on killing Laurie more than anyone else, yet she is a dedicated babysitter who is entirely chaste. But if one views Michael as an all-purpose representative of the dangers and evils that are always present in the world, then this makes perfect sense. After all, those dangers and evils are there whether one is promiscuous or virginal, whether one is an attentive babysitter or a careless one. No one gets a free pass. No one is immune.

In any case, perhaps the most famous sequence of Halloween is saved for the last fifteen minutes of the film, when Laurie is the last of the girls left standing and Michael concentrates his superhuman efforts on trying to kill her (while Loomis concentrates on trying to kill Michael). The sequence begins as Laurie discovers the bodies of Annie, Bob, and Lynda, with the body of Annie laid out on a bed with Judith’s headstone at the head of the bead. This Gothic touch only adds to Laurie’s shock and fright, so that she basically stumbles through the rest of the film suffering from trauma. She puts up a fight, stabbing Michael three times with three different objects, but she spends much of the film’s crucial last sequence cowering and whimpering. And she survives Michael’s efforts to kill her more because of luck and Loomis’s interventions than because of her own strength or resourcefulness. In addition, though Laurie survives, she is left both physically battered and emotionally shattered by the end of the film. Her condition, in fact, seriously complicates any attempt to read her as a figure of female empowerment. As Leeder notes,

Even setting aside the gendering of Laurie’s final sad state (it is hard to imagine a male protagonist left in a similar position), it undermines the optimistic portrait of the American teenager that the film generally draws. It is dramatically unsatisfying at best and misogynist at worst, and does little justice to this remarkable heroine. (81)

Carol Clover, noting the way in which audiences are clearly maneuvered in the slasher film into identifying with the Final Girl as heroine, finds little of solace in this maneuver, because she argues that it is performed essentially by recoding the Final Girl as male. For Clover,

The Final Girl is, on reflection, a congenial double for the adolescent male. She is feminine enough to act out in a gratifying way, a way unapproved for adult males, the terrors and masochistic pleasures of the underlying fantasy, but not so feminine as to disturb the structures of male competence and sexuality. (51)

Indeed, though she moderates her tone a bit in the preface to the updated 2015 edition of her book, Clover has very harsh words for those who would see the figure of the Final Girl as a positive development in the filmic representation of women:

To applaud the Final Girl as a feminist development, as some reviews of Aliens have done with Ripley, is, in light of her figurative meaning, a particularly grotesque expression of wishful thinking. She is simply an agreed-upon fiction and the male viewer’s use of her as a vehicle for his own sadomasochistic fantasies an act of perhaps timeless dishonesty. (53)

Laurie is no Ripley, but, in the case of Halloween, I would have to say that Clover’s points are well taken, and that the ability of the boyish Laurie Strode to emerge as a figure of audience identification (rather than as a figure of the male gaze) is probably not as progessive a phenomenon as it first appears. The strength of Halloween is in its formal structure and attention to detail, as well as in the representation of the near-mythic struggle between Michael and Loomis. Laurie Strode is a compelling character, but (as Leeder puts it) the film doesn’t really do her justice. This does not mean, however, that slasher films are not capable of producing Final Girls who are more positive visions of female empowerment. In the following sections, I discuss the other two great slasher film franchises of the 1980s, which have some of the same issues with gender as Halloween. But my sections on You’re Next and Revenge tell a very different story.


Clover, Carol J. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Updated Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

Leeder, Murray. Halloween. Leighton Buzzard, UK: Auteur Books, 2104.

Leeder, Murray. Horror Film: A Critical Introduction. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

Rockoff, Adam. Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.


[1] Note that “Tommy Doyle” is also the name of a police detective in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).

[2] Leeder goes on to discuss in detail the ways in which Michael resembles the “cosmic monsters” of Lovecraft (87–93).

[3] Interestingly, the one moment in which Michael is briefly unmasked (by Laurie Strode) actually reinforces his lack of individual identity. As portrayed by actor Tony Moran, Michael looks completely ordinary, even handsome. This fact is not surprising if we remember his appearance as a child, but in this moment it seems striking that Michael does not appear at all monstrous, which suggests that dangers are not necessarily easily identified.

[4] As far as I have been able to determine, Samuels’ book is not a real book but is entirely Carpenter’s invention. The fact that “Samuels” shares the last name used by Marion Crane when she checked into the Bates Motel in Psycho would seem to support this notion.

[5] See Leeder for a discussion of the Halloween holiday, including its significance in American culture as well as its significance for the film (57–70).

[6] See my extended discussions of both The Thing from Another World and Forbidden Planet in my book Alternate Americas, which devotes entire chapters to each of these films.

[7] Indeed, Halloween is not quite as focused on female victims as it might first appear. During his adult skilling spree in Haddonfield, Michael actually kills two males (Bob and the tow-truck driver) and two females (Annie and Lynda).