Friday, May 7, 2010

Psycho-Babble: Halloween (1978)

Anyone who reads this blog knows the story of Halloween. Michael Myers is the boogeyman. He is a soulless child who kills his teenage sister, then goes to the nuthouse, then comes back years later to kill more teen girls. Add some nonsense psychology spewed in Shakespearian intonations by Donald Pleasance about Michael being pure “e-e-e-e-vil” and you’re done.

Simple, effective horror.

Halloween was arguably the first in a long line of “violent-sexual-repression-symbolized-as-psycho-with-knife” horror that emerged in the 70s/80s.

Our shy and sensible final girl Laurie Strode is a virgin with a crush on never-seen Ben Tramer, but lacks the extroverted, brazen lustiness of her pals Annie and Linda.

Whore. Slut. Survivor.

So Michael Myers comes back to town – the embodiment of Laurie Strode’s inner animus. Michael is, to put it crudely, the cockmeat Laurie wants and fears made manifest. He keeps coming after her again and again, breaking down doors, trying to break through her skin with his big, thrusting knife. In Michael’s nightlong attack on Laurie, we see her hormone-driven inner conflict played out in a suburban cat-and-mouse horror show.

"Is it supposed to hurt?"

What works about the original Halloween is that (without the Rob-Zombie-esque explanation of Michael’s inner world) we are free to project anything we want onto Michael. An effective boogeyman, like an effective prostitute, should be able to become whatever we need him to be.

But what is a boogeyman?

The boogeyman exists, first and foremost, in everyone’s personal subconscious. He is an archetype within our monkey brains, inherited from our knuckle-dragging forefathers and foremothers who had the good sense to fear, and therefore avoid, bad people bent on doing them grave bodily harm.
"You're welcome!"

In our modern world, we still need our boogeyman archetype, because there are still plenty of assholes and crazies who want to fuck with us and those we love. Our modern manifestation of the boogeyman includes, but is not limited to, the serial killer, the rapist, and the terrorist.

Even today, 1978’s Michael Myers remains a great target for our projections of the boogeyman because he is so vague – faceless, shadowy, nightmarish. Whatever is freaking us out at the moment -- whether it be a touchy substitute teacher, a person-shaped shadow in our closet, Osama Bin Laden, or one of the Olsen twins -- can be projected onto the Shatner-masked creepo with the big butcher knife.

I'm your boogeyman. That's what I am.

At 9-years-old, my boogeyman lived in my bedroom closet that (thanks to the rotted wood around the latch) would never quite close. Every night, I would stare at the dark sinister crack, shrink into my Scooby Doo blanket, and wait for the shadowy humanoid-shaped hanging coats and shirts to start talking, moving, and plotting my lengthy and painful demise.

So as I watched Michael’s violent rampage at the Drive-Ins from the front seat of my Dad’s Chevy Nova, I found a masked representation for the evil, scary boogeyman in my closet.

But Myers was more to me than just some vague imagined thing that hated me and lurked among the toughskin jeans and Braggin’ Dragon shirts in my closet. He was more than an echo of my half-monkey great-great-(to infinity)-grandmother’s “avoid-the-scary-man-with-the-sharp-thing” survival code.

Michael Myers was the projection of a demon I was battling inside of myself -- a malicious and ugly motherfucker called internalized homophobia.

I will haunt your dreams...

By nine, the first strains of homo-lust had already begun to permeate my psyche vis-à-vis Patrick Duffy, Tom Wopat, Grant Goodeve, and other dark-haired, light-eyed stud-muffins of the era. Unfortunately, I had also already begun to internalize the violent homophobia of the culture around me.

What is a nine-year-old gay growing up in a blue-collar section of Boston in 1978 to do with thoughts of getting lost in the tangles of Tom Wopat’s magnificent chest hair? These were strong, powerful thoughts that – according to God and television – were very, very bad and needed to be violently crushed.

The face of evil.

So I developed an inner mechanism -- a violent interloper that would come in to exterminate any intrusive thoughts of Patrick Duffy’s nipples or the bulge in zipper area of the Marlboro Man’s jeans. By developing an inner gay basher, perhaps I could crush these evil thoughts and avoid an actual gay bashing in real life.

So, as I watched the last scene of Halloween, with Laurie hidden in a closet as marauding Michael smashed his way through the thin membrane of the slatted closet door, it was at precisely the same time that my closet (as a personal symbol) was transforming. The dark closet that housed my childhood bedtime boogeyman was quickly becoming a secret place where I could hide my emerging homosexuality from the hostile world around me.

And Michael Myers, whether symbolizing my repressed homosexuality itself, or the violent homophobic reaction to said homosexuality, could tear right through that psychic slatted door of denial.

Who you think you're kidding, girl?

(Carol Clover in her brilliant essay “Her Body, Himself” posits that the final girl is actually a boy made female to allow the audience to accept his/her vulnerability. This explains why final girls are often tomboys, sometimes with unisex names. Accepting that thesis means that it isn’t a big leap to view the final girl as a gay boy, no?)

So do I think John Carpenter and Debra Hill intentionally sought to create Michael Myers as a symbol of violent internalized homophobia and Laurie as a closeted gay boy? Not at all. But they did create a film that was universal enough in its dread and symbolism that anyone could project their personal shadow drama onto it. Clearly many, many others who had different struggles, passions and fears were able to project those up onto the screen as well, which is why it made so much damn money and fostered so many sequels and remakes.

But, what did I learn from Halloween? I learned that the safety of the closet is an illusion. The door can be stripped away at any time, and you better be ready to stick a wire hanger into homophobia’s cursed eyehole or you just might find that prison to be your final resting place.

Come to the light!


  1. That is a righteous post!


    excellent discussion and explanation of yon past inner demons.

    Great stuff, bravo!!

  2. Yes. Thank you. And that bit about the Final Girl as stand in for the feminine aspect of the male personality is doubly interesting when one considers the rumor of Jamie Lee Curtis having been born intersexed. Gimme more. I'm just about to finish a horror screenplay that deals with issues similar to these and really could have used this blog about 2 years ago to help cement my ideas.

  3. This post--and your blog--is amazing! It might just be my new favorite, as a horror-loving young gay man. Thanks for the great article!!

  4. Blushing. Thanks, guys. Glad you enjoyed.

  5. New fan here and extremely impressed. Keep up the good work.
    Can't wait to read further dissections of the genre that pleases me most as a young homo! ;)

  6. Awesome! That was not only a fascinating read but touchingly candid to boot. You do, indeed, rule, my man!