Halloween ★★★★

Okay, it’s story time: when I was seven or eight years old, I was convinced that something lived in our house.

At first, this sinister figure stalked the home of my neighbor, a kid five or so years older than I was. He told me stories of strange noises coming from upstairs he was alone in the house, about the time the lights in his room were left off but were somehow switched on in his absence, and described the creaking sounds that sometimes came from behind the walls and above the ceiling.

Of course, I ate it all up, and while I would be lying if I said the thought didn’t scare me, I still enjoyed the satisfying chill that came every time the mysterious stories crossed my mind. But then, the situation changed. One night, I was walking down my house’s upstairs hallway. The lights were off—or, at least, dim enough that I couldn’t see clearly—and as I moved past the open doorway of my little sister’s bedroom, a small wooden toy was tossed out from inside the pitch-black room. I vividly remember stopping and peering inside, thinking in the moment that one of my younger siblings was to blame. I called out but no one answered, and so I continued downstairs—where I found my entire family at the dinner table. I remember being pretty spooked, and even made my dad go upstairs to scope out the situation. He didn’t find anything.

It was a short time later—maybe a week, maybe a month, but soon enough that the first incident hadn’t come close to leaving my mind—and I was in our small office room playing with Legos. I had my back to the closet, leaning against it, and suddenly felt a slight resistance in the door. I vividly remember straightening up and looking back, right before three distinct knocks rapped against the door from inside the closet. I bolted up and raced outside, and didn’t go back in that room for a long time.

All of that is true—as I remember it, at least—and I still don’t know what exactly happened (I wouldn’t discount crediting the whole thing to my younger self’s wild imagination, but the fact remains that I remember it all so clearly. And hey, it makes for a great story). Looking back, the stories my friend fed me were almost certainly as genuine as a telephone scammer, but what I remember seeing and feeling for myself—well, that’s (literally) a different story. His tall tales scared me, sure, but it was a thrilling kind of terror. As long as the thing, whatever it was, stayed within the walls of his house, all was well, but once it infringed on more personal territory…

I bring it up now because I think the whole situation relates quite well to John Carpenter’s spooky season chiller Halloween, a film very much about outside threats that shatter the comforting illusion of safety. Halloween’s tagline is “The Night He Came Home!”, which is terrifyingly on the nose. Consider the film’s structure—what starts as the threat of an escaped mental patient turns into a stalker thriller, which in turn morphs into a home invasion horror story—the setup for most of my nightmares, when I get them—where you’re trapped in the safest place of all.

This makes sense coming in the late seventies, the period when national anxieties were shifting away from international troubles and turning inward to the places previously deemed impenetrably secure (it’s no accident that the percussive element of Carpenter’s throbbing score sounds identical to a lawn sprinkler). This new threat is more terrifying than ever before because it’s random, purposeless evil. We never learn what motivates Michael, only that there’s no way to predict his arrival. Perhaps the scariest moments of the film come not in outbursts of violence, but during the multiple instances at night where he stands outside peering through a window, for if you’ve ever tried to look outside a window at night, you know that you can see absolutely nothing but that anything standing outside looking in can see everything. The monster, it turns out, isn’t hiding far away in a mountaintop castle or lurking in a deep dark forest. It’s standing in your front yard.

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