Friday, October 19, 2012

Andrew Shares a Term Paper He Wrote on His Fav Horror Film: John Carpenter's "Halloween"

Andrew: Hello readers! Sarah and I feel bad about how I was a screw-up yesterday and forgot to print off my tickets to see Paranormal Activity 4, thus leaving us without a review to post today. So I got to thinking about how Halloween is coming up in less than 2 weeks and how John Carpenter's Halloween is my absolute favorite horror film of all-time. Then I remembered I had written a couple of term papers about Carpenter's classic while studying at Central Michigan University and I decided it might be kind of cool to share the term paper I wrote for my Modern Horror Films class!


So posted below, word for word, is the term paper I wrote on John Carpenter's Halloween. I wrote this all the way back on March 31, 2008 (literally a day before I turned 21), and while it's not perfect, I find it a fun and neat little representation of who I was four and half years ago and a way to share my appreciation for a classic film.

Because it was a term paper, it's broken up into segments that my professor made mandatory, so that explains the way it's structured. We also had minimum and maximum lengths, hence the lengths of some of the sections/paragraphs. So click on to read my term paper after the jump, and we hope you all enjoy this blast from the past, and absolutely let us know what you think of it!


Andrew's Modern Horror Film Class Term Paper on 
John Carpenter's Halloween (Written in March 2008) 

            The horror movie genre is quite possibly the widest ranging genre in all of filmmaking. Types of horror films can range from psychological to monster movies, from ghost movies to Japanese remakes, from gore-porn to slasher flicks. Every one of these can get a multitude of reactions from the audience, while at the same time allowing for the filmmaker to tell tales of morality and virtue – touching upon any number of human elements and values. A number of horror movies delve into all of this, but in my mind John Carpenter’s Halloween does it best.
            Carpenter’s vision of unspeakable evil in an everyday, tiny town is the ultimate story of absolute horror – the unstoppable force that has no rhyme or reason for what is going on. The villain of Michael Myers, or The Shape as the character is credited in Halloween, is one of the greatest of villains of all-time and it’s because we don’t know his motivation. At the same time, Myers is Carpenter’s vehicle for telling a tale of moral values and innocence even amongst chaos. Halloween is ripe with underlying themes and is a landmark horror film, helping to give birth to the slasher genre. In the following pages, we will take a look at those themes and the innovations or techniques that Carpenter and his crew used to help revolutionize the most popular genre of horror movies of the past three decades.

Themes:
            It is my ultimate belief that the main theme in Halloween is the battle between good and evil. While sounding simple, there are many facts to support this argument in regards to the main theme of the movie. Along with the battle of good forces versus evil forces, an underlying theme can also be said that Halloween is a morality tale.
            Good versus evil - the theme that stands out most in Carpenter’s masterpiece. The film’s villain, Michael Myers, as said right in the film is evil incarnate. Throughout the movie, Myers is a natural presence to be reckoned with both during the daytime and the night. Myers is simply the ever-surrounding evil in today’s world, and the protagonist, Laurie Strode, is the personification of righteousness and purity. It is the conflict between these two characters that the whole film is about.
            First and foremost, Carpenter created Myers as his personification of evil. Nothing less, nothing more. This is entirely evident in Dr. Sam Loomis’ speech to Sheriff Brackett at the Myers house when Loomis says:

                        “I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left – no reason, no conscience, no understanding or even the most rudimentary sense of life or death…of good or evil…right or wrong. I met this six-year old child with this blind, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes – the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply…evil.”

The personification of evil, Michael Myers, lurking in the shadows in one of
the most famous shots in horror film history

            In Halloween, Michael Myers is everything and anything in our world that is supposed to represent evil and that which surrounds us everyday. We can see this in how Myers stalks Laurie while she is at school, after she leaves school, while she baby-sits, and in how he flat out will not die. Michael Myers does not die, because pure evil doesn’t either. And when looking at the mask Carpenter put on his villain, it can be seen as symbolism as to how there isn’t any one face to the evils in the world.
            On the flip side of the theme of good versus evil is Laurie Strode – Jamie Lee Curtis’ portrayal of purity. Laurie is an every-girl kind of character that the audience can relate to. Her friends make fun of her virginity, which can be seen as a symbol of that purity. Laurie is responsible, though, too. She takes the job of baby-sitting because she truly cares for the kids that she watches and she enjoys what she does. While Laurie’s girlfriends are out on their way towards having sex, Laurie is busy playing a mother figure. Laurie even admits as much when Annie drops off Lindsay at the Doyle house and leaves – Laurie says to herself, “The girl scout comes through again.”
            It is this battle between Laurie and Myers, the evil lurking after the good and the good eventually coming through in the end. Myers focuses on Laurie very early on in the film – when Laurie has to drop off a key at the old Myers house, and Carpenter would have you believe it to be fate. The evidence lies in a scene at Laurie’s school when her teacher asks a question about two differing views on fate, to which Laurie replies, “Costain wrote that fate was somehow only related to religion, whereas Samuels felt that, well, fate was a natural element like earth, air, fire and water.” This is an obvious act of foreshadowing the inevitable showdown between the two forces of Laurie’s good and Myers’ evil.
            Morality can also been seen as another level of the whole good versus evil theme, where Myers kills Laurie’s friends who are taking part in immoral acts – consuming alcohol, smoking and having sexual intercourse. As a child, Myers killed his older sister after watching her and her boyfriend fooling around; Michael killed Annie, who was on her way to pick up her boyfriend (with no doubt that the two intended on having sex); and she killed Bob and Lynda after the two of them had sex as well.
            The fact that Myers can’t kill Laurie (who is “pure”) contributes to this theory. It is not necessarily implied so much as it is spelled out for the audience -  that Laurie is a virgin while her friends, in contrast, are sexually active. Laurie is not only pure in sexual terms either, but in how she reacts poorly after taking a drag off of a cigarette, in how she is a smart girl, and how she is a self-proclaimed “girl scout.” Laurie truly cares more about other people, such as the care of the children she baby-sits, than herself. In essence, however, Laurie’s virginity contributes to the overall establishment of her being pure as opposed to her friends being impure.
            Overall, the movie’s theme is that of good versus evil; with a side theme being that of purity versus impurity and the balancing of the equation in the movie. Michael Myers is the total embodiment of evil in its purest form, while Laurie is the embodiment of all that is right and pure with humanity in the world.

Symbolism:
            Symbolism is a major part of most movies, and there is a great amount of symbolism in Halloween. The symbolism starts from the very beginning and runs all the way until the very last scene of the movie. Myers’ white mask, to the opening scene of Myers killing his older sister, to the classroom scene where Laurie answers questions of fate are all symbolic of Carpenter’s themes of good versus evil and sexuality.
            From the very beginning, the first scene of the film is an uncut, first-person point-of-view shot from an unknown person watching a girl and her boyfriend – Michael Myers watching his older sister Judith, who is supposed to be baby-sitting Michael. Judith fools around with her boyfriend and we see through Michael’s eyes the heinous act of killing his older sister. But as Michael stabs his sister to death, because of the camera angle, we never quite see the knife plunging into Judith’s body. The camera, Michael’s view, looks at his hand and the knife going up and down in a stabbing motion yet we never actually see the knife penetrate. This is symbolism for the act of sex, of the physical act of sexual intercourse and of a male’s penis penetrating a female’s vagina. It’s a symbol of repression and hate that a six-year-old Michael already has towards the impure act of sex, but as the audience we never see it happening.
            Sex is an underlying theme/symbol in the movie, which can be seen in the opening scene as mentioned above, but also in later scenes. Another example is that of Myers watching Annie in the Wallace’s kitchen when Annie spills some oil onto her clothing and proceeds to strip down to her underwear before changing. Myers just stands and watches from outside, and he will later kill Annie. The same can be said of a scene where Myers is standing in a bedroom doorway looking at Lynda, who is covered in a bed-sheet. Lynda, believing Myers to be her boyfriend Bob, flirts with him, and Myers just stands in the doorway as though he doesn’t know what to do – as though he doesn’t have the mental state of mind to process the situation in a normal, sexual way. It is almost as if he still has the mental state of a child, which leads to another symbolic scene.
            The man-child aspect of symbolism in the film can be seen in the aforementioned scenes, but also when Myers is watching Tommy Doyle in the schoolyard and after Myers kills Lynda’s boyfriend, Bob. In the schoolyard scene, it appears that Myers doesn’t intend on harming Tommy whatsoever but instead empathizes with him, almost as if Tommy and Myers are one and the same. Later, when Myers kills Bob by stabbing him in the stomach and nailing him to a closet door, Myers just stands there and looks at Bob’s lifeless body as if he is admiring his own work. Myers cocks his head from side to side, almost like a dog would do, while looking at the body – exuding a sense of childishness.

Michael Myers admiring his work. Just plain creepy.

            Yet another symbol, and a large one at that, is in Myers’ actions while stalking people. First of all, a white, non-descript mask always conceals Myers’ face. This symbolizes Myers as the embodiment of evil and that he, as evil, has no true identity. As mentioned earlier, the end credits of the movie even refer to Myers only as “The Shape”, as if he is not human at all but is instead evil encompassed into one entity. On that note as well, as Liz Kingsley of the movie review website And You Call Yourself a Scientist!, says, “It is worth remembering that Michael is always masked when he commits his misdeeds; that Laurie inadvertently saves her own life by tearing off his mask. Perhaps, then, Michael represents the potential for tragedy that can lurk beneath any community; and which may ultimately be all the more violent for being too long repressed or ignored.”
            John Carpenter’s use of showing Myers out and about in the middle of the day adds to this thought. Myers does not necessarily hide from Laurie’s sight in the movie. He can plainly be seen during her school period out a classroom window, on her walk from home with Annie, and in her neighbor’s backyard. It’s as if Myers, as evil incarnate, isn’t necessarily constricted to the dark of the night but can also get to victims when the sun is out. This adds to a touch of creepiness to the film in its symbolism of evil being ever present.
            Lastly, you can look towards the end of the movie and its continued symbolism of Myers being evil incarnate. Myers is stabbed in the neck by Laurie with a knitting needle, then stabbed in the chest with a kitchen knife, shot six times in the chest by Dr. Loomis, falls off of a second-story balcony and yet he still survives. It’s as if Carpenter is saying you cannot kill evil and you cannot get rid of it. Finally, the last scenes of the films are all shots of the Doyle house, the Wallace house, the Myers house, and rooms within those homes. These shots, along with the sound of Myers’ heavy, masked breathing growing and growing symbolizes that even though Laurie and Dr. Loomis may have defeated evil, it is ever present. That evil is still everywhere and may eventually return.

Cinematography:
            Halloween is also notably for many directorial decisions that have since become staples of the horror genre. Among them include John Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey’s use of shadows at the corners of the screen to heighten the darkness and ominous feeling in the film. Halloween is also notable for the usage of a first-person point-of-view (POV) early in the movie, so that the audience is seeing Laurie and the girls from Myers’ POV numerous times. Using this POV, the audience feels like they are closer to the action of Myers stalking the girls, the audience is seeing things through the killer’s eyes and thus making the scene feel more uncomfortable.
            Carpenter and Cundey also have some tremendous Steadicam scenes where they use long tracking shots to follow the action. Examples include the aforementioned opening scene where Michael kills Judith, but also a scene where Annie walks around in a kitchen – in the scene, Annie walks past a door in the kitchen that leads to the backyard, and as she walks past it once the door is closed, she passes again and Myers is standing in the doorway, and once more she passes with Myers vacating his post. That shot is all one continuous shot and it displays an amazing directorial choice of showing the character’s vulnerability. Many movies after Halloween have used the tactic of having the villain appearing in the background unbeknownst to the protagonists, but never again like Carpenter did.

Impact on Genre:
            In a nutshell, Halloween (along with the Canadian film Black Christmas) gave birth to the slasher genre of horror films. It set the precedence and ground rules that film-makers would follow for decades and still do.
            The first rule in a slasher film, without a doubt, is that if you have sex you will die. This can be seen in two lights: a.) The killing of immoral teenagers is a message or theme of punishing the wicked; or b.) It’s an attempt to draw in teenage boys for the movie by juxtaposing sex and nudity with gore and violence.
            It’s conventional wisdom now in horror movies that if a character has sex, that person will be killed in some way, shape or form. This is only strengthened by the fact that the film’s token virgin is always the last person standing and beats the villain. As in Halloween, Laurie is the pure one of her group of friends, and since she embodies goodness, she in turn defeats the film’s evil. This is now common practice in horror movies today, and it can all be traced back to Carpenter’s classic. (Editor’s note: This has even been famously deconstructed in current horror films like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods) Another rule Halloween helped establish is that of the immortal killer, which was famously followed by the Friday the 13th series and A Nightmare on Elm Street series.

Conclusion:
            When all is said and done, with the themes of good versus evil, of the pure against the impure, of a serial killer hunting down and methodically killing immoral teenage characters, John Carpenter’s Halloween is a landmark film in the horror genre. Carpenter’s classic set many ground-rules for films to follow and has made an indelible image in the creation of Michael Myers. The last word on Halloween should be that it is the slasher films to start and end all slasher films. 


Photo Courtesies: DVDBeaverFanpopClassic-Horror

15 comments:

  1. Great work, Andrew. Very good analysis of the movie.

    Halloween is one of my all time favorite classic horror movies. Right along with The Howling and Evil Dead.

    The shot of the partially hidden Michael in the shadows is my favorite scene in the movie as well :)

    That John Carpenter made this killer movie on a shoe-string budget is just pure genius!

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    1. Thank you B2B! This is actually the second term paper I wrote on it in college. I wrote this one at the end of my junior year, and I had written an even longer one my freshman year for my Intro to Film class. But that one was only longer because I had to write a plot summary that included any talking points I would touch on in the analysis, so needless to say I had to almost summarize the whole movie.

      I'm sad to say I've never seen The Howling, also meant to. But I'm right there with you on Evil Dead. I prefer the original to Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. I'm actually excited for the remake that's coming out because it looks hard-core, idk about you.

      Love John Carpenter. The Thing is actually my second favorite horror movie of all-time, so maybe I'll write an analysis of that someday.

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    2. Thanks Andrew for the heads up about the remake.

      I see that Sam Raimi is the producer and writer for the movie and not the director. Lets hope the movie is not another one in the recent series of remakes that exist for the sole purpose of minting money...

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  3. e it was a term paper, it's broken up into segments that my professor made mandatory, so that explains the way it's structured. our site

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  5. The shape is certainly a good name for it. I certainly wouldn't put any other name to that character. it lacks the essential qualities that we attribute to humanity. When people pay for movie tickets, they sometimes expect to see how they can overcome the darkness in their own souls. Good analysis of this movie.

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