The entire movie builds up to the profile of a survivor, and begs the question: what now?
John Carpenter’s Halloween is arguably the filmmaker’s most profound work, digging into themes that are rarely explored within the vast collection of sequel-spawning slasher origin films. In 1978, Carpenter flooded this iconic movie’s final moments with a breath that left audiences breathless. The respiration follows a truly chilling order of events wherein newcomer actress Jamie Lee Curtis cemented herself in film history as Laurie Strode, whose bloodcurdling scream signified the crescendo of a nightmare realized. A masked killer, drenched in darkness, has already killed three of her friends and Laurie knows she’s next. She runs. She hides. She screams and cries. She fights back. The scene lasts far longer than the standard “final girl” sequence found in the slasher genre; it’s one which lingers on the details of the final girl in question, studying her face and profiling terror in its purest form.
The killer, Michael Myers (Tony Moran), is eventually shot by Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis and falls out a window to the ground below. Moments later, he’s gone, and we’re left with Laurie sobbing with her back against the wall while the slow, steady breathing of Michael Myers penetrates the empty streets of Haddonfield on Halloween night.
Is he still alive? Of course he is.
The simple yet significant sounds of menacing inhales and exhales make the final seconds of Halloween incredibly chilling and remarkably reflective. What this breathing represents most is the always-alive echoes of trauma that dwell within the hearts, minds and bodies of individuals long after the specific trauma occurs. And Carpenter’s slasher opus is unique not only in these concluding moments, but in the way it explores the ripples of suffering throughout its entire runtime.
How has the violent, shocking act of a young boy who murders his teenage sister impacted the town of Haddonfield throughout the decades? How will Laurie deal with the slayings of her friends and her near-death experience as the years begin to pile up? Will it disappear, or will it evolve into something new? It’s a question that’s explored with genuine intrigue in David Gordon Green’s latest entry in the franchise, which ignores every sequel and picks up 40 years after the events of the original, where our “final girl” has now become a “final woman.”
But Carpenter was laying the foundation from the get-go. Myers’ killings throughout the film are not sensationally executed, but grounded in realism. While the violent nature of these acts truly rattles the viewer, Carpenter never seems too concerned with overloading the murders in superfluous gore. In their macabre essence, each “slashing” is a stark contrast when compared to the subsequent vicious deeds of other iconic killers like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. And that’s all Carpenter.
He lets the murders play out slowly, allowing the screams and tears of the victims to permeate the frame and chill us to the bone. Playing the audience like a fiddle, Carpenter understands that evil and violence are a symphony of destruction that eventually leads to a traumatic crescendo.
And that’s the scariest thing about Carpenter’s masterpiece. Laurie’s left alive, and Michael’s still breathing, too. The entire movie builds up to the profile of a survivor, and begs the question: what now?