The tagline for Halloween Kills (2021) may have been “evil dies tonight,” but when it comes to Michael Myers that is never quite the case. Since he first slow-walked on screen in Halloween (1978), Myers has persevered. Shoot him six times so he falls off a balcony? No sweat. Trap him in multiple major fires? Only a hiccup on the way to more bloodshed. Of course, Myers' endurance extends beyond plot. With Halloween Ends (2022), Myers will have officially appeared in 12 Halloween films (thirteen if you count a TV cameo). Myers has graced more of the films than his final girl foil Laurie Strode, and survived a tumult of directors, producers, and studios.
It's not as if he was the only ghoul to spawn a franchise out of the slasher's golden age. Freddy Kreuger has knife-fingered his way through 9 flicks, and Jason Voorhees currently holds the soon-to-be-matched crown with 12. Yet, Michael Myers is the only killer to feature in a film since 2010 when the A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot bowed to middling fan response. But, why does he persist? How come 44 years later we still turn out for Michael Myers? There are any number of arguments, but turning to his output reveals a hefty argument for his slasher superiority.
The Early Bird Gets the Kill
Speaking plainly, it never hurts to be first. Before you say anything, yes, Psycho (1960) and Peeping Tom (1960) laid the genre groundwork, and Black Christmas (1974) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) remain towering achievements that pre-date Halloween. Yet, the 1960s pair were not modern slashers. Neither of the 1974 classics were major enough hits, at the time, to pierce the broader public consciousness. Halloween on the other hand was a cultural flashpoint. Made for a budget of roughly $300,000, Halloween raked in upwards of $70 million worldwide in its initial release. That blockbuster status made it one of the most successful independent films of all time for many years. Halloween was, in short, a global sensation, making Michael Myers and Laurie Strode the faces of a revamped sub-genre.
John Carpenter and Debra Hill made Halloween as a way to get funding for their next projects, but its smash success changed everything. That twist of fate led Carpenter to become known as the Master of Horror, but it also ensured that Halloween II (1981) was fast-tracked, a move meant to capitalize on the phenomena. No matter your feelings on Halloween II (more on it in just a bit), its success calcified the upside of turning slashers into franchise fare alongside the Friday the 13th sequels in 1981 and 1982. Halloween led the charge into the 1980s and beyond, for better and worse, of slasher films pumping out sequels. When the non-continuity Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) failed, the world clambered for Michael Myers to return, further entrenching the power of the monster to embody the series. Laurie may have disappeared for a time, but Michael remained.
Monster Without a Cause
Sometimes, it's better not to know the why behind evil. As written by Carpenter and Hill in the first film, Michael Myers is a near-impenetrable force of pure malignancy. Comparatively, Jason and Freddy come packaged with built-in backstories and explanations. Even though Halloween opens with six-year-old Michael killing his sister, Carpenter and Hill attempt no textual dive into what drove him to that choice, or why his savagery persists. There is, oddly enough, something comforting in the knowledge that comes from understanding a killer's motives. Yes, they remain a deadly presence whether or not you know why they're flashing their machete. But, human nature is consoled by answered questions. In 1978, Michael Myers provided none. He was simply a monolith of darkness. As Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) says of meeting Myers, “behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply…evil.”
You don't get through 40 years of sequels without abandoning that obscurity. At studio insistence, Halloween II revealed Myers and Laurie were long-lost siblings. That familial line of thinking carries through the “Thorn Trilogy” of four, five, and six, leading Myers to hunt down an increasingly cobbled-together array of distant relations. Even with resets that created new timelines for H20 (1998) and Resurrection (2002), Rob Zombie wiped the slate clean and went for a more psychoanalytic angle with his pair of films in the aughts. David Gordon Green for his part connected his current trilogy right back to 1978, ignoring everything that came after. The reality is that Carpenter and Hill's masterstroke of dismissed motivation distinguished Myers from his contemporaries, and sparked a clambering for answers. Even if the results are mixed at best, that yearning reflects a fundamental draw: what makes evil tick?
Simple, But Deadly
As far as Halloween costumes in the real world go, mimicking Michael Myers is remarkably straightforward. Get a pair of dark coveralls, a bleached-out Captain Kirk mask, one nasty kitchen knife, and voila, Eau de Myers achieved. No matter the often convoluted storylines of later entries, and admittedly shoddy mask work on a few occasions, the Myers remains largely undiluted. Myers's costume approximates a human but does not quite get there. The result achieves an uncanny effect similar to the Annabelle's of the world. It also chillingly communicates the fact that the creature underneath lacks any qualities to make him a person. Add to that the way that Castle embodies Myers with all manner of slow walks and abnormally stiff motions, and the ethos of the Michael Myers image is humanity devoid of any empathy, personality, or mercy.
From a filmmaking perspective, the dark coveralls and white mask afford a stunning level of contrast for frame composition. This is on clearest display in the original two Halloween films which share Dean Cundey as cinematographer, as well as the most recent David Gordon Green-directed entries which Michael Simmonds shot. The effect is clearest in an iconic shot from the original film. During Myers' final rampage, Laurie hides from him, pushed against a wall next to the gaping darkness of an open doorway. As she cries in wait, Myers' white mask gradually appears in the doorway. It is the aesthetic opposite of a jump scare. A petrifying slowness that manifests the Myers playbook. He can lurk in every shadow, only to be seen when he's ready for the kill. In effective hands, the Michael Myers visage is gorgeous elemental horror image-making.
An Immortal Ghoul
As far as the current iteration of Halloween movies go, Halloween Ends is the close of the Blumhouse/Gordon Green era. Yet, as we have seen in multiple decades by now, Halloween and Myers always find a way back from the dead. Whether this is in fact an end for the decades-long franchise or not one thing is certain: Michael Myers's power and influence will outlive us all.