When it comes to the heyday of slashers in the 1980's, I always preferred the corny jokes of Freddy Krueger and the one-liners of Hellraiser
's Pinhead to the sullen silence of Michael Myers and his compatriot Jason Voorhees. It's not that I didn't like the original Halloween
when I saw it on video in the 80's, but I admit that most of what I've always loved about the original was John Carpenter's synth-tastic soundtrack. Apparently I wanted to hear something.
But I did hear good things about this 2018 incarnation of Halloween,
especially the performance of Jaime Lee Curtis. John Carpenter is back, too; he updates his classic soundtrack with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, but leaves the directing to David Gordon Green this time.
So, how is it? Maybe not the greatest horror movie ever, but a lot deeper than you'd think. It turns out that a movie about a silent killer may have something to say.
Jaime Lee Curtis does a great job reprising her role as Laurie Strode, haunted by her experiences with the killer Michael Myers back in 1978. She has gone almost, but not quite, full-on Sarah Connor paranoid--instead of retreating to the desert and ending up in an asylum, she sticks around and makes family dinners awkward for her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matachak). But she also has a compound in the forest with steel shutters and a safe room in the basement.
Some British journalists are doing a story on Michael Myers, so they come to America to meet his psychiatrist and visit Myers, bringing him his trusty old mask (which was originally a Captain Kirk mask!
). Michael annoyingly remains entirely silent. Michael is set to be moved to a new location (for some reason on the 40th anniversary of his original murders), and well, of course, the move does not go as planned (maybe it's according to Michael's plan ...?).
And of course good old fashioned 80's slasher mayhem ensues, only with a few 2010's twists (the teenagers have smartphones and talk about their feelings). I admit it's fun how retro it all is. It's also great how this incarnation pits a few women against the antagonist as a representation of... what, exactly? Toxic masculinity? Marginalization? An uncaring universe?
Slasher movies aren't exactly known for their philosophical depths. Although arguing with a philosopher can often feel
like being pursued by a crazed murderer, slashers tend to be the horror equivalent of fast food: cheap, easy, and oddly satisfying even if you're not sure why.
But while watching the new Halloween
movie, I noticed something interesting in the fact that Michael Myers remains silent despite the desire many have for him to speak.
Humans are typically driven by a deep desire to understand. As Aristotle says in his Metaphysics
, "All humans by nature desire to know." This desire has given us cool things like science, philosophy, and literature, but is this desire always healthy?
The journalists and Michael's psychiatrist, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) are horrified by Michael Myers yet they want to understand what makes him tick. Another nice touch of the film is that we never get a clear view of Michael's face without the mask on. I don't want to give any spoilers, but if you haven't seen the film yet, watch for what this desire to understand does to these characters and the people around them. Laurie Strode, on the other hand, has decided that Michael cannot be understood.
What if Laurie is right? What if her life has been destroyed by an unfathomable horror beyond our human ken? What if she has to fight it anyway? What if what makes Michael scary is precisely the fact that he doesn't
speak, that we never hear from him any explanation for what he's doing?
A lot of people spend a lot of time trying to understand serial killers, from true crime fans to FBI profilers (I enjoyed the TV show Mindhunter
, but there's an odd hubris about the whole idea of profiling serial killers with any degree of accuracy). Every time we have one of our all-too-common American mass shootings, people try to understand the mind of the killer (for my part, I think we'd be better off understanding our easy access to firearms than the minds of killers--it's not his style, but how many more people could Michael Myers have killed with a gun?). In the last week, we Americans have had bigotry-fueled murders in Kentucky
. Our hearts break, and many ask: what makes them hate?
But what if the answers to these sorts of questions are sometimes beyond our ability to ascertain? What if the true horror is not the answers we find,
but the answers we lack
? What if the cruelties, suffering, and bigotries of this world simply make no sense
? (To be sure, most bigots say
a lot, but they never explain the deeper why
of it; their vitriol revolves around a secret core of hate).
What if the minds of some of our fellow humans are as unfathomable and as silent as the universe itself in something like the sense you find in the work of Albert Camus and as represented by the Great Old Ones of H. P. Lovecraft?
The universe and Michael Myers are equally unspeaking horrors, refusing to divulge their motivations and plans, hinting that we may not understand what they would say, if indeed, they have any answers to give.
Like the universe, however, Michael Myers can destroy you whether you understand him or not. And in both cases this destruction may be either physical or moral. Halloween
invites the audience to consider whether Laurie Strode can fight this unspeaking horror without destroying herself in the process, and indeed, whether we can fight the horrors that threaten us--physically, philosophically, politically--without destroying ourselves as well. Not bad for a dumb slasher flick.