Saturday, October 24, 2015

Halloween: The Shape, Michael Myers, & Cthulhu

Full disclosure...I would be very hesitant to call myself a fan of the Halloween series.

That isn't to say I have no appreciation for them. I definitely recognize and respect the original for being such a ground-breaking film. As a fan of Friday the 13th, I certainly know those movies wouldn't exist without Halloween. And whenever the Halloween season comes, and AMC or some other channel has its inevitable marathon, I usually end up watching most or all of them.

Except Resurrection. Fuck that movie.

But of the big slasher icons—as I've mentioned in previous posts—I've always been a Jason guy.
Even back when I was young enough to actually be scared of these movies, Michael Myers just never hit me.

A lot of that can be chalked up to personal taste. I just found the atmosphere and background music of Friday—especially the earlier ones—scarier than that of Halloween. For whatever reason, I thought Jason's hockey mask more intimating than Michael's Captain Kirk.
Different strokes and all that.

But I think the biggest thing that always kept me from really getting into the Halloween movies and Michael Myers as a characters was, frankly, I just didn't buy him.

If you follow the series, you know that much is made about Michael Myers being "pure evil," and therefore—apparently—unstoppable, super-strong, and unkillable. And this just never rang true to me.

For starters...okay, he's "pure evil."
Why? How? Because he killed his sister? So what? And suppose one accepts he just became pure evil, how/why does that make him immortal? I understand the notion of "pure evil" being something that cannot be controlled or truly stopped, but how/why does Michael Myers just one day wake up and become "pure evil"?

Furthermore...okay, let's accept he became "pure evil" just because. And let's accept, by becoming "pure evil," this somehow makes him super-strong and impossible to kill. So what does this unstoppable force of pure evil do? What does it want?
He wants to kill his sister—or failing that, his niece. That's it? Why? And if he succeeds in killing the remains of his family...then what? According to Halloween: Resurrection, he just goes home and sits there.


Now, when I posit these questions about Michael Myers and the Halloween franchise and other horror movies that require similar leaps in logic—looking at you The Ring—the answer/explanation I often encounter is that there just is no explanation and if I can't enjoy it, it must be because I need things explained to me.

And I would wonder about that. Is my inability to buy into Michael Myers as a concept simply because I'm the type of viewer that likes to have things explained? That I need a thought out origin and explanation for why things work within a story?

And that just wasn't true. I can think of several stories where things aren't properly explained. Just as an example, the whole basis of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos is steeped in the notion that some things are inherently inexplicable, can't be figured out, and to even try would drive a person mad.
Or to compare with some of Michael's fellow slasher icons: Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. I'm content to accept Jason and Freddy as undead being/spirits that haunt/kill the living. I didn't need Jason to turn out to be some kind of hellspawn creature related to the Necronomicon, or the source of Freddy's power to be mystical "dream demons."

Besides, attempts to explain Michael Myers have been laughably nonsensical. The whole Cult of Thorn thing in Halloween 6 explained virtually nothing and only created more questions.
I don't see how/why Michael being raised by a white-trash family—as presented in Rob Zombie's remakes—explain his being "pure evil" any better. In fact, I thought his shitty family life and mommy issues only seemed to make Michael even more mundane and unimpressive.

Sometimes, things are best left unexplained.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it wasn't the lack of reason for Michael Myers that troubled me. I can handle horror villains and concepts that have no origin and explanation. Sometimes it's even preferable (the Black Bride in Insidious was much scarier without a backstory).
It had to be the execution. Something about the execution just wasn't working for me.

So even though I wouldn't necessarily call myself a fan of the Halloween movies, I was never satisfied to simply leave it at, "It's not for me. I just don't like them." I wanted to figure out what wasn't working. Why could I so easily accept Jason Voorhees—who, let's face it, began life as a blatant rip-off—but not Michael Myers?
I had to unlock this mystery.

After watching the first one again—a few times—I think I've might've figured out what's not working for me: so much of our accepting Michael Myers as this unstoppable force of evil is taking Dr. Loomis at his word.
It's the "show, don't tell" principle. We know Michael is pure evil just because Dr. Loomis says he is. And we've little indication how or why Dr. Loomis has come to this conclusion—he just figured it out somehow. Now don't get me wrong, Donald Pleasance sells the hell out of those speeches—and, given the film's limited budget and running time, this is probably all they could manage under the circumstances—but in the end, we just have to accept Loomis insisting Michael is pure evil as justification when he starts surviving stab wounds and gun shots.

Now I imagine—watching the first movie completely cold, knowing nothing about the sequels or mythology of the character—maybe that was meant to be the point. Maybe we, the audience, like other characters in the film, are supposed to regard Loomis as a half-crazed, overly paranoid doctor over-hyping this escaped mental patient we—in the first film at least—are not meant to regard as anything out of the ordinary.
And therefore, maybe when Michael does start doing superhuman things, we're supposed to then think: "Oh shit, Loomis was right all along! Michael really isn't human!"

I can see if that's where they were going, but it didn't quite work for me. Because when Michael did start doing that shit, my response was: "Wait...why is he superhuman? Oh, Loomis said he was pure evil. Why?"
Et cetera.

Maybe this could've been helped if we actually saw Dr. Loomis figuring out that Michael Myers is pure evil ourselves?
I mentioned the Cthulhu Mythos earlier, and it's worth noting how a large part of those stories usually involve the protagonist trying to figure out and explain the Great Old Ones, failing, and either accepting they simply cannot—by their very nature—be figured out, or going insane from the effort. Sometimes both.

Maybe I could've had a better time accepting the "pure evil" nature of Michael Myers if they just acknowledged that it's something beyond comprehension. There is no reason. No explanation. Michael just became this thing—The Shape, as he was originally credited—and to even try figuring out how and why would be futile.

I think maybe this is what the remake should've been.
Instead of focusing on Michael's shitty childhood, they should've focused on Dr. Loomis and his attempts to figure out how/why this seemingly normal child just suddenly turned bad. He could gradually come to realize—and we, the audience, along with him—that Michael isn't just some disturbed little boy. That he's something inhuman and monstrous, that cannot be comprehended or justified. 

That goes into the realm of Cosmic Horror—something John Carpenter would actually delve into in future films like The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness.
Although Michael, the Shape, became the codifier of what became known as the "slasher movie villain," perhaps that was a mistake. No mere crazed goon in a mask, but a human avatar of the Great Old Ones. Azathoth in human form, wreaking murder for no true reason.

Big ideas which make me re-evaluate the first Halloween and Michael Myers as a character......that immediately become moot once the sequels hit.

'Cause, yeah, a lot of the stuff I just said there is dependent on the notion you pretend there were NO sequels to Halloween—including the second one—and completely divorce yourself from the revelation what Michael is/was after was to kill his sister, Laurie Strode. Or, if not her, his niece, Jaime Lloyd.

And that, I've found, is another (and much bigger) reason I've had difficulty buying into Halloween and Michael Myers as a villain. Because by now, with so many sequels, the sister motivation has become so ingrained in the mythology, it's hard to imagine a Michael Myers who isn't after his relatives. Rob Zombie kept it in his remake. Whenever the producers decide to ignore/retcon certain sequels—like H20—they still keep Laurie as his sister.

I imagine one of the reasons the sister thing gets a pass is because Halloween 2 still had Carpenter involved, but as I said before, I think that really taints the character and the notion he's "pure evil" incarnate.

Again, let's look back to the first Halloween completely cold and pretend there were no sequels. Why did Michael start stalking Laurie?
Because she was there. She was the first person he happened to see. He could just as easily started following around anyone—but he went after Laurie because she happened to walk by his house.

Now that is scary. That is the action of pure, incomprehensible evil.

The moment you give the "pure embodiment of evil" a specific motivation—especially one as mundane as "wants to kill relatives"—you've immediately undermined the notion. You've humanized it. To take it back to Lovecraft again, it's like revealing Cthulhu really just wants money. It's just comes across as so...beneath him.

Looking back, when the original plan for the Halloween franchise was to make it an anthology series of unrelated horror movies, I can see why they'd reveal Laurie was Michael's sister.
The first Halloween was a huge success and inspired numerous other slasher movies—most famously, Friday the 13th—so it was natural the producers would insist a follow-up with Michael Myers was made. And being as she was the star—who went on to star in other horror movies—it was natural the producers would insist Jamie Lee Curtis be brought back.

And given the filmmakers, at the time, thought this would be the last we see of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, they probably figured it'd be good to have some sort of revelation in the sequel. A reason for Michael's stalking of Laurie.
And thus, we discover Laurie was adopted, she's actually Michael's sister, and that's why he went after her.

Pretty weak twist in my opinion—almost like revealing the Joker was the one who murdered Bruce Wayne's parents—but whatever. The problem is, when Michael Myers was brought back for Halloween 4—because the anthology idea did not go over well with audiences—they kept the "hunting relatives" angle and that has become the defining aspect of Michael Myers.

As I've said, it really clashes—for me anyway—with the notion of this guy being the unstoppable embodiment of pure evil. To have him obsessed with hunting down and killing his sister and her children just seems so...petty. Very unlike the destructive monster Dr. Loomis hypes him up to be throughout the first film.

So yeah...I guess that's a long way of saying, "the sequels ruined Michael Myers." 

But could they have made the franchise about Michael Myers without tainting his character? I know it's easy for me to sit here and say the sequels ruined him, he should never have been the franchise, and they should've stuck with the anthology idea—but I don't like leaving it at that.

So, just as food for thought, here's what I think they could've done...

First, ditch the sister revelation. Laurie Strode should never have come back and Michael should've just moved on. If any characters return from the first one, have it be Dr. Loomis. He disappears after he gets shot and returns the following Halloween to stalk and kill completely unrelated characters for, again, no true reason.

If the first movie was essentially a live action version of the old "babysitter urban legend," with an escaped mental patient stalking babysitters, have the next one follow some other urban legend. In the next one, have him be "the guy with the hook outside your car." Have him be the "thing under the bridge."
Make him the "evil" of every small-town Halloween spook story. He has no backstory, no motivation or goal. "Michael Myers" is irrelevant—he is The Shape, nothing more.

In essence, run with the idea of Michael Myers being "the boogeyman."

In the end, although I still wouldn't necessarily call myself a Halloween fan, I do have a greater appreciation for the first one and what it was trying to accomplish now. I might never really be into Michael Myers like I am Jason Voorhees, but that initial concept of The Shape certainly seems intriguing. And even as I give flak to the sequels, they're still watchable in that fun way many 80's slasher movies are. 

And for what's it's worth, I don't care what anyone says about the much maligned Halloween 3, this is a bad-ass speech:

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