Halloween (1978)
Dir. John Carpenter

One could fairly assume that through parody, replication, and saturation Halloween’s individual merits have long been lost to its importance and so dulled by virtue of its own influence- its innovations the norm, since then antique. Certainly a so-what response is reasonable, but I’ve never had the ability to see through the eyes of an imagined past audience and Halloween strikes like an arrow. Carpenter equates the camera with the killer in the opening POV sequence and this threatens to read like an exploitation trick, but there’s something about it disturbingly inevitable, black eyed, bereft of desire. Dr Loomis confirms as much when he says his patient as a child was already a lost cause, pure evil, and in the right mood there’s pathos to this resignation, but Carpenter wants him to take on any Shape that we need. In one of its best scenes a group of patients lurch glowing white in the pitch black field and later Michael’s mask takes on the same quality- forgotten ghosts, bogeymen, or just people, they are whatever we need them to be. These Shapes and by extension cameras are a mirror, a black hole and a blinding light.

In a cinema of scares we all jump the same, but in an architecture of horror we’re left to deal with how it feels in our own guts. Carpenter is one of the great directors of space, and Halloween is as immersive as one would expect, but this is complicated by that opening scene. We undergo a split and then combined recognition- we imagine ourselves in the scene, and we see ourselves being watched through the eyes of a watcher. There is something surreally awful about seeing yourself in the eyes of another for two hours. Peeping Tom like Halloween combined the camera with the knife and added a mirror so victims could watch themselves die, but Halloween does not attempt such malicious intimacy. Had the cameras a desire to harm or punish or strip, the watcher/watched would divide itself but Halloween is emphatically reflective.

Anyone who has ever made anything knows you can hear, see, taste everything wrong with it the moment you see someone else hear, see, taste it, and Halloween from a distance shows you everything wrong with your life- it is the difference between looking at yourself in the mirror before leaving the house, and while you’re at the party having seen other people. Without an obvious judgement from within the camera’s gaze we become paranoid- it’s not watching us because we’re young (Friday the 13th), or attractive (Blow Out), or just people (Maniac), but whatever we see in its cold black eyes, whatever form its blank white face takes. If the camera is Laurie’s perception of herself, then she is alienated, meandering, alone. In the way of overt violence, she also sees herself as vulnerable, a potential victim. Laurie is afraid that she will be attacked in public spaces and this is sadly not uncommon, although its prevalence has been described as a Spatial Paradox: women tend to be more afraid of attacks in public over domestic spaces, however they are more likely to be attacked at home by somebody they know. There is no telling what Laurie sees in Michael’s blank glowing face and glistening black eyes, but it’s something and someone she recognises.

But then everyone sees it different- even Laurie sees something different every time we/she looks. The reflection shows us whatever we need it to show, whatever we currently need to deal with. Loomis calls it pure evil, and it is hard to deny that there is something purely evil in the camera’s impassivity, but even this can lead to entirely different takes depending on whether or not one believes in evil (America loves its serial killers). Is Loomis recognising his own failure as a doctor, or is it something else? In the hit film It Follows, Mitchell imitates Halloween’s cameras to mimic the eye of the grim reaper, the morphing Shape of the attacker, but the idea was already fully formed in this older work. All the attacks take place in houses, in the manufactured Safety of the suburban streets, or does it matter more that Laurie stands up to the Shape, fighting her way out of the closet? It could be mid-tier Carpenter (I always thought it was until recently) but that still means that it’s the densest and most generous of its time.

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