Odds and Dead Ends: Scene Analysis – Michael’s escape in ‘Halloween’ (1978)

Most of us have probably seen 1978’s Halloween a million times. When we think of the film’s beginning, we think either of the opening credits, with the long track into the pumpkin’s eye, or the famous long-take opening scene. However, the murder of Judith Myers is just back-story for the film as a whole. The story really begins with Michael Myers, now twenty-one, escaping from Smith’s Grove Hospital. This is the scene I want to examine, taking it step by step, shot by shot, and looking at how Carpenter constructs this famous, if often overlooked, scene.

First to notice is the weather. This isn’t necessary for the scene from a storytelling standpoint, but it adds to the atmosphere, if in a slightly clichéd fashion. It’s an additional air of menace. It’s not up to King Lear levels of pathetic fallacy, but it’s still there, ever present throughout the scene. It also adds some visual interest, in much the same way that Ridley Scott would do four years later, with the shimmering water on the walls of the Tyrell building in Blade Runner. Of final note for the weather, compare the slashing of the windscreen wipers in the rain as a visual foreshadowing for Michael’s slashing knife, with a similar shot in Psycho of Marion Crane driving through the rain, with her windscreen wipers foreshadowing Norman Bates’ knife slashing through the shower. Remember that Psycho is a movie which obviously had a profound influence on Halloween and the budding slasher subgenre.

In the car, we are introduced to Loomis, Michael’s doctor. Pleasance plays him as a brooding and serious, if superstitious, man, bordering on obsession. Alongside we have Marion, who is not only dismissive of the patients she looks after but woefully underprepared, having done “only minimum security” before. This conversation between them not only brings us up to speed as to Michael’s condition, “he hasn’t spoken a word for fifteen years,” but also sets up a motif that will play throughout the movie. Those that don’t take Loomis and Myers seriously, end up attacked and often dead. Loomis says for Marion to “try to understand what we’re dealing with here. Do not underestimate it.”

The line “Do not underestimate it” is one of the most important lines in the scene, and perhaps the entire film, and the following remarks of “Don’t you think we could refer to ‘it’ as ‘him’?” “If you say so,” is crucial to our understanding of Myers. He is not so much a man as a manifestation of evil inhabiting the body. Before we even see the old Myers, he has been taken to a realm beyond the human, back into the land of something much older and more terrifying. Loomis wants Myers trapped forever, but the law, thinking that he is still ‘him’, wants him moved. In later scenes, Loomis shouts that he warned everyone about Myers but nobody listened. Only Loomis, who truly understands what Myers is, knows to keep him locked up. The dialogue between Loomis and Marion is expertly written to give exposition, build character, and raise tension, all in small, economical snippets, and all at the same time. This exchange should be studied further by any screenwriting student to see just how brilliant it is.

Then the headlights illuminate the patients in the white robes walking around in the rain, an eerie sight in itself. The music kicks in, the famous piano and synth combo, which warns of impending danger. We’ve had the build-up, our fears raised, and now the film begins to play on them. When Loomis gets out of the car to open the main gate, a figure clambers onto the roof. Myers strikes when Loomis is out of the way. This begins the cat-and-mouse that the two will play throughout the film. That the rear lights paint Myers in a blood-red glow as he climbs onto the car is symbolic of his intent. He means murder.

What is interesting about this scene is that we begin to see Myers’ method of killing. He isn’t just a hulking mass, but he is quiet, methodical, and will only use brute force if he needs to. When Marion first rolls the window down to see who is on the roof, he brings his hand down to attack her. Only after she drives the car into the ditch, closes the window, and scurries to the other side, does he take to smashing the window. He is like a cobra, striking when he needs to but holding back otherwise.

When Myers does smash the window, it’s interesting to see how Carpenter constructs the scare. He uses Hitchcock’s theory of suspense (affectionately known as his ‘bomb theory’), in that he alerts us to the looming threat of Myers smashing the window before Marion is alerted to him. His hand appears in shot, giving the audience a moment of ‘he’s behind you!’ before it disappears for a few seconds. The tension is raised as we wonder exactly when the attack will be, and then a second or two later, the payoff. This simple, few-seconds scare, is a full construction, methodically thought out in all its beats, has rises and falls in its narrative, and is light-years apart from the false scares of many horror movies.

In horror movies today, one might expect Michael to kill the nurse before escaping. However, this original Michael doesn’t need to kill Marion, because his goal is the car. He attacked Marion when she was inside the vehicle, but now that she’s fled, he doesn’t need to pursue her. She isn’t a threat. This is something that the new movie, Halloween 2018, also subtly picks up on, in that Myers doesn’t just kill indiscriminately; he specifically targets. Evil has its own agenda, and it is perhaps something which makes Michael scarier. If he was just a killing machine, you could deal with it. But there is thought behind his eyes, calculated thought, and death is just one part of it.

In the final moments of the scene, we have Loomis’ line, “the evil has gone”. Described as ‘evil’ for the first time, we have Loomis’ superstitions on full display, and our understanding of the scene catches up. That was Myers, as we feared, and not just a random patient, and the sinking feeling in our stomachs ramps up as it drops another notch. All the precautions Loomis asked for, all the connotations of a silent, deadly mass of inhumanity, that we were given in the car,  has all come to fruition. So awful is this realisation that Loomis doesn’t stay around for much more than “are you alright?” to Marion, before rushing off. Once he knows she’s not in danger, she is disregarded. The evil must be stopped at all costs.

This is a perfect example of a well-constructed scene, with its personal rises and falls, and specific story construction. Attention is paid in all areas to ensuring that the filmmaking and storytelling come together in a beautiful composition with every subtlety pulling its weight. Carpenter has created a wonderful scene that sets loose upon the film a carnage that will terrify us long after the credits have stopped rolling.

-Article by Kieran Judge -Follow him on Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Blade Runner. 1982. [Film] Directed by Ridley Scott. United States of America: The Ladd Company.

Halloween. 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Falcon International Productions.

Halloween. 2018. [Film] Directed by David Gordon Green. USA: Blumhouse.

Psycho. 1960. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. United States of America: Shamley Productions.

Shakespeare, W., 2000. King Lear. Second ed. UK: Heinemann.

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My Darling Dead: Episode 4 -The Princess

The princess Alasin poked her head out of the canopied carrier and screamed, “GUARDS!”

Immediately the litter ground to a halt. The guards stood rigid, not daring to look at the princess as they strained to maintain their hold on the rain-soaked handles to the carrier. Her litter consisted of a small canopied tent on a platform and required four servants to support the four corners by long poles protruding. Her blonde hair swung in her face as she stood, leaning out of the tent and directing her glare at the guard responsible for the front left of the carrier, who was looking both guilty and apprehensive as the rain battered the ground around them.

“Yes, Your Highness?” The guard had to twist his body in order to meet her eyes.

“Why are we still blundering around out here and not on our way back to the castle with our errand accomplished?” Alasin spat, her fingers gripping the canopy with white knuckles.

“Your order was to find the wizard in the forest, O fair one,” said the guard, unable to keep a hint of petulance out of his voice. “He is proving elusive.”

“And you are at the moment disobeying orders, guardsman,” sneered Alasin. “So if you want to keep your head, I suggest you accomplish your mission and FIND HIM!”

“Look, princess, he’s a flippin’ wizard and if he don’t want to be found we ain’t gonna find him,” the guard whined, giving voice to his chilled bones and soaked feet. “Now why don’t you let us all go back in and look for him tomorrow?”  

Alasin stared at the guard, whose indignation wilted. The blood of the more experienced litter bearers ran cold as her voice turned silky.

“What did you say?”

The guard gulped. “I said–” he began, then stopped. A quizzical expression spread across his face as he looked down at the pearl-handled dagger that was now growing from his chest. He looked back up at the Princess as the litter handle slipped from his grasp, his knees giving out from under him as he crumpled to the muddy earth. The other front bearer shifted to the right, catching the other handle and taking up the extra strain without a word.

“’Ain’t’ is such a filthy word,” sighed Alasin. She snapped her fingers in the direction of the dead guard. “Return my blade to me and let us go on.”

The front guard pulled the poisoned dagger from the chest of his dead compatriot and handed it back to the princess, his one arm quivering as it strove to support the front of the litter on its own. She took it from him and resumed her seat as she gestured. “Onward!”

The litter resumed its rocking motion as it moved forward through the path between the trees, albeit slower now that it was being born by three rather than four. Inside the canopy, the princess settled herself against the fabric throne, grumbling under her breath as she pulled the glass bottle from inside her robes, lifting it by its long silver chain. Normally filled with white powder, the bottle now held only a sprinkle of white at the very bottom. Grinding her teeth, Alasin unscrewed the cap and upended the bottle on the back of her hand. Jamming the hand to her face, she sniffed, inhaling the remainder of the powder in one go. One eye twitched, but that was all. The drugs the wizard had given her, in the beginning, had become so much a part of her life that she physically ached to be without them. She dreaded how she would begin to feel in just a few hours time unless the wizard was found. A pang of fear shot through her at the thought of suffering discomfort and she stuck her head out the canopy.

“Faster, fools!” she shrilled, clenching the curtains with shaking hands. “Unless you all want to end up like your friend back there!”

The pace increased.

The wizard in question was up in a tree seeking mistletoe when he heard the voice of the princess drawing nearer as she berated her litter bearers. He sighed, cutting one last bunch of mistletoe and stowing it in his harvest bag. Climbing down from the tree, he stood beside the trunk under the branches and watched the litter round the corner of the muddy path. The guards all wore identical expressions of weary resignation until the first guard’s face brightened upon seeing the wizard.

“Lady, the wizard Sapius appears!”

The princess ripped open the curtains of the litter and clawed her way down, scarcely waiting for the litter to come to a complete stop and nearly tripping and landing in the mud. The guards made no move to help her, and the wizard was sure he could detect a smile on the face of one of them.

“Wizard!” Alasin snarled, regaining her balance. “What do you do out here in this rain for hours? I have been waiting for your return!”

“I gather herbs and other ingredients, for my potions, Your Highness,” the wizard said with a little bow. “My apologies if I have kept you waiting overlong.”

Alasin scrubbed at her arms. “You have, but no matter. I come for your potions. My, er-” she glanced over her shoulder at the guards who were making quite a business of ignoring what she was saying. She finished in a hoarse whisper. “My medicine!”

A ghost of a smile flitted about the wizard’s own face. “But of course, my lady.” He turned his back to the guards and reached inside his robes, bringing out a duplicate bottle to the one she wore about her neck. “If you would?”

She pulled the slim chain over her head and handed the wizard the empty bottle, taking the full one from him in return. Her eyes lit up as she turned to go, but was stopped by the wizard’s hand on her arm.

“Be warned, lady. This making of your medicine is more powerful than the last bottle you had. You should only take a little for the same effect.”

“Yes, yes, I’ll be careful,” Alasin said, wrenching her arm away and making her way back through the mud to the litter. Climbing aboard, she barked “Back to the castle. Now!”

MARCH IRISH HORROR STORIES MONTH

March Irish Horror Stories Month

by Kate Nox

Sure an’ it’s almost time for the annual ‘Wearin’ o’ the Green” (or orange, depending on your affiliation).

My childhood was greatly influenced by my father. Being of Irish decent, Dad made sure I was rocked to sleep with a bit of, “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra”, lilting through my head. He was a great story teller, and many of the fairy tales I learned hail from the old country.

Dad loved to tell us of days gone by and the sparkle in his eyes as he related some faraway scene, created an excitement in my heart to hear more tales of the Emerald Isle. Most of my Dad’s stories started out with “Pat and Mike were walking through the woods one day…” and ended with a hail of his contagious laughter. Once I grew up and started to explore stories on my own, I encountered the much darker, fatalistic side of Irish lore. Ireland, with its rolling hills, and rock cairns standing in the heavy mist just sort of begs for stories of banshees wailing in the night, strange figures in the castle window, and wolfhounds baying out a warning of danger.

The stories are as numerous as those who tell them and every village and town has their own creature of darkness. We hope you will join us in the celebrating Irish Horror Literature Month here during March. It promises to be interesting and possibly fatal!

If you have tails of horror from the Emerald Isle…tell us below or write us at Horroraddicts@gmail.com. We’re dying to hear from you!

Happy Thanksgiving from HorrorAddicts.net!

For those of you living in Thanksgiving land, we hope you have a great one! We present for your viewing pleasure a very memorable Horror Addict celebration… You gotta love Wednesday.

Kbatz: We like to watch a Godfather Marathon.

Emz: We tend to watch all Harry Potter movies in succession. It wasn’t long when it first started… now I’ve lost count! 7 movies now? 8?

So many of us spend this day overeating, fighting with family, and napping. What do you do?

Happy Thanksgiving from HorrorAddicts.net!

For those of you living in Thanksgiving land, we hope you have a great one! We present for your viewing pleasure a very memorable Horror Addict celebration… You gotta love Wednesday.

Kbatz: We like to watch a Godfather Marathon.

Emz: We tend to watch all Harry Potter movies in succession. It wasn’t long when it first started… now I’ve lost count! 7 movies now? 8?

So many of us spend this day overeating, fighting with family, and napping. What do you do?

Horror Addicts Guide to Life

 Tis’ the season to be horror-y
Need last minute costume tips?
Or a bevy of pumpkin recipes?
Check out…

Horror Addicts Guide to Life

HAGuide2LifeFrontCoverCover art by: Masloski Carmen

Editor: David Watson

Do you love the horror genre? Do you look at horror as a lifestyle? Do the “norms” not understand your love of the macabre?

Despair no longer, my friend, for within your grasp is a book written by those who look at horror as a way of life, just like you. This is your guide to living a horrifying existence. Featuring interviews with Midnight Syndicate, Valentine Wolfe, and The Gothic Tea Society.

Authors: Kristin Battestella, Mimielle, Emerian Rich, Dan Shaurette, Steven Rose Jr., Garth von Buchholz, H.E. Roulo, Sparky Lee Anderson, Mary Abshire, Chantal Boudreau, Jeff Carlson, Catt Dahman, Dean Farnell, Sandra Harris, Willo Hausman, Laurel Anne Hill, Sapphire Neal, James Newman, Loren Rhoads, Chris Ringler, Jessica Robinson, Eden Royce, Sumiko Saulson, Patricia Santos Marcantonio, J. Malcolm Stewart, Stoneslide Corrective, Mimi A.Williams, and Ron Vitale. With art by Carmen Masloski and Lnoir.

It Came From the Vault: Real Life Horror – Garth Von Buchholz

vault

The Lady with the Owl Eyes
By Garth Von Buchholz

When I was in college, I had a summer job at a personal care home for the elderly. I was that young kid wheel chairing the snowy-haired old doll into the courtyard, or saying carefully chosen words to the Alzheimer’s patient who wanted to know when her father was arriving, or helping a wizened gentleman in a musty suit and tie mount the stairs to the tour bus. They had their own tour bus that was used for taking residents on outings, provided their state of health was such that they wouldn’t collapse in the middle of a coffee shop in some other town.

The old folks seemed to like me. Occasionally they’d get a little cranky, but that was part of the deal. You get old, your body is sore, and you have a right to bitch at young people like me who could still get out of bed and look forward to the day instead of feeling like they were a wounded infantryman about to climb out of the trenches and onto the battlefield one more time. I liked most of them, too, but my favorite resident was Mrs. V., a Russian immigrant who settled in Canada after the Second World War. She was a cultured woman with round, glassy eyes like an owl, a haughty stance with her chin raised to a 20 degree angle, thick white hair that was styled like a movie star, and an impeccably outdated wardrobe that must have been fashionable once, though I wasn’t sure when. She looked like a living, black-and-white Kodak photo from a half a century ago.

Mrs. V and I would spend time talking after our weekly excursions on the bus. She admitted that she had no interest in most of the destinations that we visited, but simply went along with the group so she could escape her small suite. She was fairly independent, and was allowed to keep a small electric coffee percolator in her room so she could brew her own harsh, metallic java that I had to share with her. She asked me whether I had girlfriends.

“I started dating someone,” I replied.

“Are you having sex with her?” she asked me bluntly. I drank some coffee to collect myself.

“No, it’s not…we’re not at that point right now.”

She shook her head and twisted her mouth as if she had swallowed an insect.

“If I liked a man, I would give him sex,” she said in her percussive Russian syllables. “Get another girl. Don’t waste your time. You grow old fast enough, yes?”

“Yes,” was my meek reply, not certain what we had just agreed upon.

By the end of the summer, Mrs V. was ill with heart problems. She stopped joining the bus tours and started spending more time in bed. I still had my responsibilities with the tours, but I always stopped in to see Mrs. V. afterward, just to keep our little tradition alive.

The last time I saw her before she passed, she was startled as I entered her unlocked room. She had been asleep, and her curtains were drawn. When I spoke to her, she rose up on one arm and stared at me for several moments as if I were a stranger who was slowly transforming into someone she vaguely remembered.

I gave her a moment to primp her hair and sit up in bed with some dignity. I noticed she was holding a small, ornate box in her hand—not quite a jewelry box but more like a fancy pillbox that a child might use to store a baby tooth that had fallen out. She saw me looking at it, and her moonish eyes opened wider.

“It’s a lock of hair from a baby,” she explained. “My daughter.”

I was afraid to ask. “Is she still….”

“No, she died as an infant. An infant!” she emphasized.

I shook my head to show my sympathy.

“Do you know what you must suffer for your children? No, you don’t. You will have a child someday, you are young. Her name was Ekaterina. She was born in 1941, the year the Germans marched into Russia. In July, Stalin was ordering the Russian people to fight back against the Germans. Better to burn your own barns rather than leave them to the invaders, he said. My husband was fighting with the Red Army. I was alone with our child.”

Mrs. V opened the box and beckoned me to touch the hair inside. It was blonde. I didn’t want to touch it.

“One morning, the neighbors came to my door. They were fleeing. ‘The Germans are only a few kilometers away!’ they cried. My best friend, Sofia, told me the Germans were raping women and bayoneting babies to the walls of their homes. She was shaking so badly it made her baby’s little head nod up and down as if it were agreeing with her.”

“Terrible,” I said, for lack of anything else to say.

“I wanted to run with them, but I had valuables, things my husband entrusted to me. If I left without taking them along, he would never forgive me. It was all we had, something to help us start anew after the war. “

Mrs V. stopped and stared at a point just above my head. I could see the memories returning to her, at first like a slideshow and then as the frames started appearing more quickly, a movie.

“What was I thinking?” she asked herself, alarmed by some impending crisis that had, in fact, happened decades ago. “The time flew. As my mother always said, ‘Pray to God, but keep a sharp mind!’ I was tying a satchel and dressing the baby when I heard it.” She stopped and went still.

“Mrs. V?” I prodded. Was she having a stroke?

She looked at me gently, her eyes more glazed than ever.

“I heard my neighbors screaming,” she said. “I heard cars, tanks. The invaders had arrived. They were almost at my doorstep.”

My mouth was open, but I could not speak.

“The women were screaming. And children. ‘Mama, mama!’ I had no where to hide. I could not outrun their vehicles. That was when I knew that I would be raped in a few minutes. Raped. And my baby….” She trailed off.

I glanced at the open box again, and the little lock of golden hair seemed ghoulish, as if I were standing beside an open grave. I was stiffened by the horror of what had become of Ekaterina. It was too much for me to hear. I wasn’t certain I wanted to know what happened next. I tried to fast-forward her story.

“How did you finally get away? How did you survive?”

She laughed. “Oh, yes, it was survival of a sort. We were interned by the Germans, then the Red Army pushed back the German front and freed us into poverty a few months later. Here…” she said suddenly, pressing the little pillbox into my hand. “Keep it. You can throw away the contents, but not until after you leave this building, please. Maybe you give your girl a little ring inside it someday?”

I was aghast at her offer. I did not want the box. I did not want to touch the baby’s hair, ever.

“Please,” she begged. “I have no one left. The people here will put it on the table to be sold at one of those silly craft sales they have here. I want you to have it because you know the story now. Part of the story.”

I nodded weakly. I would accept it, just to honor her wishes. Then I would throw it away the first chance I got. She placed it in the palm of my right hand, and closed my fingers around it.

“The Germans did not kill my baby,” she said. There was a long pause. I counted her breaths: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6….

“Do you understand?” she asked.

I did not.

She whispered. “I would not wait for them to stick my baby on the walls with the tip of their bayonet. My mother taught me how to bleed a goat or a lamb. When I walked into my front yard carrying my child and my razor, Ekaterina’s sweet blood was soaking the front of my dress. It made me go mad. I was smiling because I knew she was in heaven and would never be harmed by those devils.”

I stopped breathing.

“When the Germans saw the crazy woman with the dead baby, the soldiers and their motorcade veered around me. They never even came near me.”

Garth Von Buchholz is an author of dark fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction. His new book of dark poetry, Mad Shadows, was published in June. Garth is the founder of the Dark Fiction Guild (http://DarkFictionGuild.com) and Poe International (http://PoeInternational.com). He is also the Editor and Publisher of Dark Eye Glances, the eJournal of dark poetry.  Garth lives on Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast.  Visit his website: http://VonBuchholz.com