It’s an ordinary name. Nothing menacing or peculiar. The kid next door.
Malcolm McDowell, Daeg Faerch, Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton
(Dimension Films; US theatrical: 31 Aug 2007 (General release); 2007)
Which is what Michael Myers was—in “Halloween,” the low-budget 1978 thriller that reintroduced the horror movie as the “slasher” movie—and now is again, in a reinvented “Halloween,” opening Friday.
“Halloween” came out in 1978, before the words “independent movie” were part of the lexicon. Like most films not produced and distributed by name-brand Hollywood studios, it was expected to meander its way around the country on the drive-in and grind-house circuits. That was before critics for the Village Voice and the short-lived but influential magazine New Times recognized that it was more artful and frighteningly efficient than your everyday exploitation or Hollywood horror movie.
The film’s inventive director, John Carpenter, and his producer, companion and co-writer, Debra Hill, had scared up a similarly simmering underground reaction in 1976 with a hip “Rio Bravo” update titled “Assault on Precinct 13,” and were savvy enough to realize they had a potential hit. With their financiers—they would have the inevitable rights squabbles when the film became a smash—they designed a strategy that involved pre-screening “Halloween” in every market large enough to have a newspaper movie critic, then marketed it with quotes that essentially said, “This is what Hitchcock might be making if he weren’t old and working for the Hollywood studios.”
The new “Halloween,” directed by shock-rocker turned filmmaker Rob Zombie, is not being pre-screened for critics. According to press notes, it adheres to the original story while filling in the events that led to where Carpenter’s movie begins.
In case you haven’t been watching closely—or if you just want to relive every stab of terror—join us in a trip through the life of Michael Myers and his “Halloween” horror saga.
1978: The beginning
Michael is a trick-or-treating Illinois 6-year-old (identified in the original credits only as “the shape”) who, after being traumatized by the sight of his teenage sister Judith and her boyfriend having sex, murders her with a butcher’s knife while wearing the clown mask he wore earlier in the night. After 15 years in a mental institution, where he has his case anonymously documented in a book by child psychologist Sam Loomis (played in the original film and several sequels by the late Donald Pleasence, and in the new film by Malcolm McDowell), he escapes and returns to Haddonfield, Ill.
Michael’s target is his younger sister Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), who has been adopted. After dispatching a number of fornicating teenagers, Myers, now wearing a crude but more fearsome mask, finally homes in on his target, but she outsmarts him and stabs him, presumably to death. When he rises to finish her off, Loomis appears and shoots him point-blank, causing him to fall off a second-story balcony. But moments later, his body has disappeared, all but assuring a sequel.
1981: Death by flames?
“Halloween II,” also directed by Carpenter, was intended to wrap up the story. It picks up minutes after the first film, with the discovery that the other teens are dead, a police search for Myers, and Laurie being sent off to a hospital. There she pieces together that the killer is her biological brother. In the middle of a statewide manhunt, Loomis is informed of the connection, and knows where the killer is headed. He arrives with the cops to discover a dark hospital littered with corpses. Loomis again shoots Myers, with no success. But he gets to Laurie before her brother does, and arms her in time for her to shoot Myers in the face. When that doesn’t stop him, she unleashes oxygen, Loomis lights his lighter and Michael is engulfed in flames.
1982: No Myers at all
As proof of his death, “Halloween III” didn’t feature Myers at all. With Carpenter out of the picture, the plan was simply to release an original horror film exploiting the title on every holiday. But the plan died a lot easier than Myers, who comes back again—he has been in a coma.
1988: He’s free again
In “Halloween 4,” Michael finally gets star billing in the subtitle, “The Return of Michael Myers.”
Once again he escapes while being transferred from a hospital, after learning he has one surviving relative, a niece named Jamie. Laurie has died—or has she? After hacking and strangling his way through the usual assortment of teens as well as a family dog, he finds Jamie and her older adoptive sister, who kills him. But somehow, in the process, Myers has transferred what we will learn two films later is a family curse. Jamie is seen at the end of the film, in the clown outfit, murdering her foster mother.
1989: A family reunion
From here, Michael’s saga gets seriously skewed, but he is reunited with Jamie in “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers,” where they even share a tender moment. He removes his mask to reveal his twisted face.
1995: He’s cursed
In “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers,” it is finally explained that he was cursed and given amazing powers of strength and regeneration by a secret cult. At this point, even fans who had forgiven the inconsistencies and contrivances were nodding off.
1998: Sis returns
The series was revived with “Halloween H20” (to mark its 20th anniversary, more or less) with the return of Laurie Strode (Curtis, her movie career having hit the skids), who had faked her death and changed her name. Reinvigorated, Michael goes through a number of teenage victims before getting to sis. With some regret—he is her brother, after all—she finally does him in. Or not.
2002: Dead again?
“Halloween: Resurrection” reveals Laurie had killed the wrong guy, an impersonator. She’s arrested and institutionalized, and devises an elaborate trap for the Sibling Who Never Stops, but the tables are turned, and this time Laurie is killed for real, or so we can hope. Michael is killed too, but his eyes flip open at the end.
2007: Unraveling the mystery
Except for “Halloween H20,” which strived for a respectability that the other sequels did not, all the sequels have been successively gorier, keeping up with looser standards of the day.
Zombie, who cut his teeth on the horror genre’s nastier, meaner exercises, can be expected to take the new “Halloween” remake in some gruesome directions. (His previous two films were subjected to deep cuts to avoid an NC-17 rating.)
But his real challenge is preserving the mystery of Michael Myers. In revealing the true source of his psychopathy, he is making him understandable.
It proved to be a major mistake and potential franchise killer for Hannibal Lecter, named by American Film Institute voters as the greatest villain in movie history, when his horrible childhood experiences were revealed to be the source of his unthinkable sadism in the flop “Hannibal.”
And even Norman Bates, the original movie “Psycho,” became something less iconic after “Psycho 3” and “Psycho 4” ill-advisedly, and often contradictorily, detailed the events that led him to release his savage impulses.
The bogey man is diminished when subjected to analysis, when we feel anything except the strong desire to hide under the bed or in the closet.
The last thing anyone should want is to see another icon made human.