Horror franchises are, for the most part, plagued by villains who just won’t stay dead–and Halloween’s Michael Myers is no exception. Formerly known–and credited–only as “The Shape,” Michael’s MO was stalking and murdering babysitters on Halloween, especially ones with so-called loose morals. Despite several less-than-thrilling sequels and a quick detour in the form of a Rob Zombie reboot, the franchise is alive and well, with the eleventh entry Halloween (2018) topping the box office forty years after the fact. What is it about the Halloween franchise that endures?
It’s easy to see how audiences would be terrified of Michael Myers, who we see became a killer at the age of six in the first few minutes of Halloween (1978) by killing his older sister.
Fifteen years later, he’s broken out of prison to stalk Laurie Strode (revealed to be Michael’s other sister in Halloween II), attacking her and killing her friends on Halloween night. As with many horror movies, especially those of this particular era, there are sexist overtones to the murders. Michael is set off by female sexuality, murdering his older sister after she has sex with her boyfriend in the beginning of the film and ending with the murders of Laurie’s friends Annie and Lynda. Women who dared to partake in sex were all on the chopping block. While their sexual partners also met untimely deaths, female deaths are the ones that get the screentime and are treated as punishment for their “promiscuous” activities and neglect. Only Laurie Strode, innocent teenager and admittedly the only babysitter actually concerned with babysitting, can escape Michael Myers’s terrifying clutches until his doctor shoots him.
After a slew of Halloween sequels, some of which didn’t even feature Michael Myers (I’m looking at you, Halloween III: Season of the Witch), came Jamie Lee Curtis’s return to the franchise in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. Halloween H20 doesn’t operate as a reboot; it is a direct sequel to Halloween and Halloween II, checking back in on Laurie Strode twenty years after her attack with Michael on the loose once more. The horror landscape was wildly different in 1998 than it was in 1978; in a meta move, Wes Craven’s Scream had directly addressed the sexist horror tropes of the ‘70s and ‘80s and turned them on their head, ushering a new, more self-aware era for the genre–one that put the moral majority in the backseat.
Twenty years after her own brother tried to murder her, Laurie Strode has a new life as Keri Tate, boarding school teacher, mother to John (Josh Hartnett in his first role), and girlfriend to guidance counselor Will Brennan. However, her quiet life isn’t exactly what it seems; besides lying about her past to everyone she knows, she’s a functioning alcoholic who won’t let John do anything for fear that Michael will find them–something that is damaging their relationship in a big way. Her problems only get bigger when Michael escapes his latest prison and starts hunting their family. Laurie has to face down her biggest fear to save John and his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams, fresh from the first season of Dawson’s Creek) and ultimately kill Michael herself.
What is it about these movies that stands up in our modern landscape, besides giving us one of the most famous slasher/final girl pairings in the pop culture lexicon? In part, it’s because of Michael’s specific brand of murder. While the original film might not be quite as scary as it once was, the idea that an unnamed man is stalking and killing women who dare express their sexuality is a fear that is still all too real today. Meanwhile, in Halloween H20, Michael is basically a plot device–a role previously given to the victims in this genre. The beauty of Halloween H20 is that, besides being a good slasher movie in its own right, the movie takes the time to explore and acknowledge the trauma brought on by one of these attacks. Besides family drama and an alcohol problem, Laurie’s dealing with pretty intense nightmares as a result of PTSD and can’t even trust her own eyes when she sees Michael again for the first time in twenty years. The movie also allows Laurie to be the hero of her own story rather than a helpless victim again; in a way, Laurie reclaims a modicum of control over her life by taking matters into her own hands to kill Michael at the end of the film.