Spoilers for the Halloween films may lay ahead!
Oh, Michael Myers, you cheeky devil! Skipping across the stage, making jokes about looking like Kim Jong Un, telling us how your wife buys shoes in her sleep and… oh wait… that’s Michael McIntyre, isn’t it?
Right… Michael Myers is, as we are told throughout the Halloween films, ‘…purely and simply evil’. Our first sight of Michael is as a small boy, dressed as a clown for Halloween, staring blankly at the camera as the adults around him realise that he has just stabbed a girl to death. The next time we see him (many years later and after his escape from Warren County sanitorium) is described in the script, by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, like so;
Through the rear window we see a SHAPE spring up out of the darkness, streak through the rain and leap up on the rear of the station wagon
‘Shape’. That’s an interesting word used here.
Sure, it’s a description of a sudden motion and action happening. However, it is so much more than that. The term ‘The Shape’ was used for the rest of the script when describing any scenes with the killer and, if you look at the credits to the film (and first sequel), Young Michael Myers is listed but the older Michael? He is, again, simply referred to as The Shape. This is an important distinction. Why not just use his name? Well, the use of The Shape to describe him tells us that, essentially, Michael Myers is no more. The boy we saw earlier doesn’t exist any longer. Instead, The Shape is the manifestation of the evil that poor, tired Doctor Loomis saw in young Michael’s eyes many years before.
Back to the script;
Doctor Loomis: I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, 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 living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply, evil.
Interestingly, this was actually based on a young man director/writer John Carpenter saw when he himself was a young man and a student at the Western Kentucky University. Visiting a psychiatric institution one day with his psychology classmates, he came across a boy in a ‘schizophrenic state’ with dark, soulless eyes and that encounter stayed with him and eventually bled into the Halloween script.
Now, by this point we the viewer are aware of who Michael is and we’ve seen him kill already, as a child. We hear how terrible he is. We hear that a fellow escaped patient tells Doctor Loomis that “…it’s alright now, he’s gone. The evil has gone.” However, in horror, the scariest things are the unknown. Look at Jaws; Spielberg, through necessity and genius, keeps the shark mostly hidden for a majority of the movie and it’s terrifying.
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we first time that we see Leatherface is when he suddenly appears in a doorway, hammers someone to death, drags their body away and slams a door. The moment is less than ten seconds and the audience is left screaming ‘What the hell was that?!’ In a 2008 interview, John Carpenter states his ‘horror paradigm’, telling us that there are only two kinds of horror. The terror of something from outside, attacking us, and the terror from within. He says that ‘…we are all part evil, monsters and devils’ and that this is the harder story to tell because audiences will always respond to the outside threat but having to face themselves and their own humanity? That’s much more difficult to deal with and, as such, hits home that much harder. In Halloween, Carpenter and fellow screenwriter Debra Hill manage to combine both the outside threat coming to get you and the humanity behind that killer. We’ve seen him, we know he is human, but he’s more than that. He is, again, evil. The Shape. Whatever Michael used to be has long gone.
Harking back to the script again, we constantly see this figure referred to as simply ‘a shape’. Firstly, as we watch Laurie walking down her street after talking to some friends, a dark shape comes into the frame and appears to be observing her. A few moments later, in a scene at her school as Laurie sits in class, we see the shape again. We can’t make out any features but can clearly see a male shape standing behind a car looking directly at her and, thanks to the camera, us. A teacher distracts her and, when Laurie turns back a moment later, the car and figure are gone. Throughout the film, we get glimpses of the figure and the term The Shape is so very perfect. It’s not human. It’s death, stalking this town, unstoppable, determined, and single-minded.
There is a moment towards the end of the film where our heroine Laurie Strode (played brilliantly by a young Jamie Lee Curtis) pulls away his mask and for a fleeting moment his humanity is laid bare. It’s telling that instead of carrying on the attack he scrambles to put his mask back on, to cover himself, to revert back to the faceless entity that shows no remorse.
Oh, that mask.
Rather than a scary Halloween mask representing a demon or ghoul, it is simply a plain white mask of a male face. We now know it’s basically an inside-out mask of William Shatner that has had the eye holes widened but, and again we get back to it, the fact that is not a scary terror mask and rather than of a (distorted) human face brings us back to the twin horrors of the outsider and the insider. The humanity inside hidden by the blank stare of a faceless killer. It’s a brilliant idea and, although watered down over the years in sequels and parodies, still stands up strongly when you watch the original movie.
Thanks to the nature of The Shape, we have had myriad movies and other franchises over the years that have borrowed the seemingly supernatural masked killer trope and ran with it. Michael and his many sequels, Jason’s later appearances (Jason in space being a particular bonkers one), the scarred Freddy and his glove, Victor Crowley from Hatchet, WWE wrestler Kane in See No Evil… the list goes on. None of these take anything away from the original Halloween movie and, I expect, any further horrors in movies to come will still not be fit to shine Michael’s boots.
As far as we at TBG are concerned, it’s a fantastic horror movie with a fantastically menacing score that still scares today.
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