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Scene Dissections: Halloween: Stranger in the Yard

Michael Myers isn’t Michael Myers.

He’s The Shape.

This was John Carpenter’s vision for Halloween (1978), the film inspired numerous slashers after it. Halloween didn’t invent the genre; it wasn’t technically the first slasher. Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho came before are considered proto-slashers, existing in a time when slashers weren’t as common as chain stores in a strip mall. Halloween was a new beast in the same genus. Where Psycho was meditative and …Chainsaw… was aggressive, Halloween was brooding and sly. The film is shockingly non-violent compared to those that followed in the slasher genre and especially its own sequels. There is virtually little blood actually seen. Everything is hidden in shadows and angles. It’s all implied. Did you actually see the blood once the butcher knife was slid into the torso or was it all in your head? The camera tends to linger more on the faces and less on the wounds of the victims.

The face. That’s what makes The Shape a particularly frightening figure. That mask is quite featureless, expressionless. Paler than pale, just a blank white face with wide empty eyes. Vacant. Nothingness.

It’s amazing that all it took to make The Shape an icon of masked horror villains was a cheap rubber Captain Kirk mask and a can of white spray paint. A tale as old as time; William Shatner is the inspiration of nightmares.

I always found Michael Myers to be scary. I think he was my first true experience with horror and fright, which is why I’ve come to admire him so (strictly as the creation he is, not his capacity for sister-killing). He leaves an impression as deep as a knife wound and his form lingers in your memory.

When you look at the film as a whole, Michael is always on the periphery, rarely in anyone’s line of sight (aside from Laurie). He’s not a lumbering figure, as many villains tend to be in slashers. He’s swift, steady, methodical. Kind of like a cat. He stalks. He watches his prey. He is fascinated by them. He keeps a distant yet close watch on them. He imprints on Laurie because she was the one who came to his house that day when he made it back home. He studies her. And she notices. Three times.

Once while at school during class.

Once more on her way home.

And once again, once she is home.

Scene: Out By the Clothesline

Laurie Strode, an all-around “good girl,” played with subtle meekness by Jamie Lee Curtis, has been having this funny feeling as though she’s being followed most of the day. She thinks nothing more of it – she has no reason to believe she is in danger. It’s something out of the ordinary, but it is not enough to cause her to do anything differently. Her plans don’t change, nor do her suspicions. However, the sight of this figure, The Shape, a third time that day is still unsettling.

She’s in her house, in her bedroom, looking out the window and catches the empty face of the Shape staring up, right into her window, right into her. In shock and disgust, she slams her window closed and backs away. It’s quick but effective.

The Shape stands perfectly still, hidden by white sheets pinned to a clothesline. The sheets are waving frantically as they’re blown by the wind. Their movement aides the creepiness of the scene. They’re in motion while The Shape is not; as they flap about, they help to obscure most of his body as well as his face. He’s not clearly seen. Was he there at all? After Laurie shuts her window, we cut back to see he is gone. Blown away on the wind.

The scene confirms my point that he imprinted on Laurie from the get-go and that he has most likely been following her most of the day. He has an attraction towards her, but similar to one between a stalker and prey. That’s the crux of their relationship and should be nothing more (bullshit of the sequels notwithstanding at this point).

What else makes this scene work is the distance between Laurie and The Shape, from her perspective, she’s looking down on him. From the distance, she can’t clearly make out the shape (haha) of his face. Does she know it’s a mask? Can she tell? When you’re looking out your own window at the world outside, you’re not acting as a voyeur. You’re surveying. Something catches your attention, maybe a squirrel scurrying about, or some kids playing in a yard or across the street. Maybe there’s a stranger about, but normally they’re not also looking back at you. That’s what startles her. The Shape is clearly looking back at her. He’s there, in her yard, looking up directly at her, her window, her room. He knows where to look.

If you’ve ever been home alone and made eye contact with a stranger or even just happened to see a stranger about your home, you feel violated. You feel prone and it is terrifying. This isn’t supposed to happen. You’re supposed to be safe in your home. Nothing can touch you, no one can hurt you. All you want to do is lock your doors and hide. Anytime someone knocks at my door when I’m alone and I know I’m not expecting a delivery, I don’t move and keep away from the windows. 9 times out of 10, it is some solicitor and they move on after a second round of knocks. But sometimes, in the 10%, the knocking continues past the point of comfort. I no longer feel safe. I drop to the floor and crawl about, hoping they didn’t notice me.

The Shape invades Laurie’s comfort zone and disrupts her security. All it took were some sheets drying on a line and a convenient breeze.

Update: I had neglected to also cite Black Christmas as one of the forebearers of the slasher genre, as well as incorporating a holiday theme. I apologize for my  stupidity to the readers and to the estate of Bob Clark.