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‘Halloween’ and the Value of Bogeymen

Plus some other random thoughts about the smash slasher sequel

Warning: There will be spoilers. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the new Halloween.

She knew this day would come — in fact, she’s been waiting all her life for it. In the new Halloween, which is a direct sequel to the 1978 original, Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, the babysitter who barely escaped with her life in the first film. Back then, she was a smart but scared teenager screaming her lungs out. Forty years later, she’s a steely, buff, grizzled grandma in a state of constant readiness — after all, she’s learned that terror comes when you least expect it. Laurie knew that, eventually, Michael Myers would get out of prison — and on that day, she would again face her nemesis, the man who has haunted her since 1978. And at that moment, she would finally have her revenge.

The sequel, directed by David Gordon Green, has been billed as a feminist horror movie, an examination of trauma and a #MeToo call to arms, which are all accurate readings of the film. But while this Halloween can be seen as empowering, it’s also a grim metaphor for the bogeymen we all have in our lives. Like Laurie, we didn’t necessarily ask for these monsters to dominate our psyches. But now that they’re there, they’ve become part of the fabric of who we are — for better or worse.

The Laurie we meet in the sequel is almost unrecognizable. Now with long, wild, gray hair, she’s remade herself into an expert shot, turning her home (where she lives alone) into a compound complete with surveillance cameras and a heavily fortified panic room. Her marriages have collapsed, her own daughter Karen (Judy Greer) seems freaked out by her intensity, but Laurie’s focus is entirely on the inevitability that Michael will return. People might think she’s crazy — and certainly she’s been traumatized by the events of the first Halloween — but, ironically, she’s the most alive character in this new film. Paranoia becomes her.

Laurie was an innocent in the original Halloween, but her encounter with Michael taught her never to lower her guard or to trust anyone ever again. That would seem like a terrible way to live — by comparison, Karen has tried to instill in her daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) a sunny optimism in defiance of her dire mother — but one of the sequel’s cruelest jokes is that, to survive this franchise, you may have to adopt Laurie’s worldview. Only by embracing your bogeyman can you keep it from killing you. Laurie may be emotionally unsteady, but when Michael finally returns to wreak more havoc, she’s ready. If anything, she never looks more centered or at peace than when she sees him at last. He’s still a psychopath who did irreparable harm to her at a formative age. But he’s her bogeyman, and she alone knows how to handle him.

It’s not news that horror movies capitalize on our fears — that’s sort of their m.o. But in real life, do we learn to overcome fear, or is it something we learn to live with? That question haunts the relationship between Laurie and her daughter, who holds desperately to the idea that the world is actually a place of goodness. Ultimately, Halloween sides with Laurie’s world view, and near the film’s end, Karen is forced to descend into her mother’s basement panic room for safety — in essence, giving into her mother’s dark outlook and giving up her protective bubble of self-denial.

Because we all have our personal bogeymen, it seems strange that we seek them out in horror movies. And yet, on some level, we must enjoy having Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees terrorize us over and over again. Deep down, maybe we need our bogeymen to keep us sharp — the fear they trigger ensures we don’t become complacent. We wrestle with them because, if they weren’t around, we’d somehow miss them.

Halloween hints at the possibility that we all have a strange co-dependent relationship with our dark side. At the film’s conclusion, Michael may have burned to ashes in a fire, but we’re not sure — we never see a corpse. (Horror villains have a nasty habit of not dying when it seems like they should have.) As Laurie, Karen and Allyson ride off in the back of a truck, there’s no moment of exhilaration — there’s no chance for them to relax. The film ends on a close-up of the knife in Laurie’s hand — the weapon that Michael used to slaughter so many. She doesn’t let it go because she knows she can’t. Maybe Michael will come back. That constant fear has been what’s kept her alive, but it’s also a fear that’s made life itself a prison.

It’s this new Halloween’s scariest observation: She can’t live with her bogeyman, but she can’t live without him, either.

Here are three other takeaways from Halloween.

#1. John Carpenter’s music is amazing.

Of course, the man behind the original Halloween was director and co-writer John Carpenter, who went on to make indelible thrillers like Escape From New York and The Thing. But Carpenter isn’t just an expert genre filmmaker: He’s also an ace composer. Many of his movies feature his scores, including Halloween. That famous, eerie opening credits music? That’s Carpenter.

David Gordon Green directed the sequel, but Carpenter is back (alongside his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies) to revisit the original’s music and add some new themes. But even if you’re familiar with his soundtrack work, there’s a whole other set of Carpenter songs you need to know.

At the top of the list is 2015’s Lost Themes, a collection of instrumentals composed by Carpenter, Carpenter and Davies. They’re not for any movie, but they’ve got the same spooky, minimalist tone that Carpenter brought to his film scores. You can imagine your own scary movies within the songs. Also, Lost Themes underlines something underrated about Carpenter’s songwriting: He actually makes pretty danceable music. That original Halloween theme has one hell of a groove to it, and so do several of the Lost Themes tracks.

This is the opening cut, “Vortex,” which I bet has been used by plenty of aspiring filmmakers for their student projects. I picture a bleak cityscape in a dystopian future. Or a haunted, abandoned spaceship that’s quietly orbiting around a distant planet. In the best of ways, “Vortex” (like the rest of Lost Themes) encourages your mind to wander.

#2. Good news: Michael and Laurie aren’t siblings anymore.

There are plenty of Easter eggs embedded in the new Halloween, but the most significant is also an important rewrite of the franchise’s history: Allyson tells her classmates that there’s no truth to the rumor that her grandmother and Michael are siblings. “He was not her brother,” she says. “That’s something that people made up.” It’s a cheeky nod to 1981’s Halloween II, which revealed the twist that they were actually brother and sister — a fact that had been kept from Laurie.

For decades, horror aficionados have debated whether that reveal was amazing or lame. I vote for lame — and the makers of the new Halloween agreed. Danny McBride, who co-wrote the script with longtime pal Green, made the case for jettisoning that plot point:

“I was pushing for that removal right off the bat,” he said. “I just felt like that was an area where he wasn’t quite as scary anymore. It seemed too personalized. I wasn’t as afraid of Michael Myers anymore because I’m not his fucking brother so he’s not coming after me. And also you’ve seen it, so wouldn’t it be interesting just to see what would happen if it wasn’t that, and what does that open up for us if it [was] this random killing that has affected this character? So it just seemed like new territory to bite off.”

The new Halloween works pretty effectively without the sibling dynamic. Removing that makes Michael’s desire to kill Laurie less personal and more monstrous. He’s just this unknowable psychopath — he could be anybody. But definitely not her brother.

#3. Name the actor who hasn’t been in a ‘Halloween’ movie.

Although this new sequel pretends that none of the other Halloween sequels happened, they do, in fact, exist. There have now been 11 Halloween movies, and only the original was directed by John Carpenter. (He did co-write 1981’s Halloween II.)

The franchise has gone through a lot of permutations over the last 40 years — including Rob Zombie offering his own spin on the first film with his 2007 reimagining — and a lot of actors have played their small part in this series. So I decided to put together a little quiz. Can you name the one actor from the below list who hasn’t been in any Halloween movie?

  • Adam Arkin
  • Busta Rhymes
  • Chris Hardwick
  • Christina Applegate
  • Dana Carvey
  • Dee Wallace
  • Howard Hesseman
  • Janet Leigh
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt
  • Josh Hartnett
  • Katee Sackhoff
  • LL Cool J
  • Malcolm McDowell
  • Margot Kidder
  • Michelle Williams
  • Octavia Spencer
  • Paul Rudd
  • Sean Patrick Thomas
  • Tyra Banks
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic

The answer is…

Christina Applegate. If you thought it was Dana Carvey, here’s his pivotal role in the 1981 film.

Don’t remember that Chris Hardwick or “Weird Al” was in a Halloween movie? Here they are together in 2009’s Halloween II.

Yeah, some of these Halloween sequels are very strange.