It's Halloween night, 1963 in Haddonfield, Illinois, and trick-or-treating has already begun. We first see the house from 6-year-old Michael Myers's perspective, as he walks from across the street up to the front door, only to find his older sister Judith and her boyfriend making out inside. Without drawing their attention, he walks around the outside of the house, watching as they move to the couch. When they go upstairs and turn off the bedroom light, Michael comes inside through the open back door. He takes a knife from the kitchen drawer, but doesn't go upstairs until the boyfriend has left through the front. Upstairs, he dons a clown mask, to match his clown costume, and enters Judith's bedroom, where he finds her naked, brushing her hair in front of her dressing table. She has only time to say, more exasperated than afraid, "Michael!" before he stabs her nine times. He walks down the stairs and out the front door, where his parents are arriving in their car. Michael stares straight ahead, insensible, the bloody chef's knife held up, as his parents pull off his mask.
That's all we see of Michael's origins in 1978's Halloween. We next see him when he escapes from Smith's Grove Sanitarium on October 30, 1978. The opening's first-person perspective, when we're literally behind his eyes, may seem intimate, but is instead distancing, making it impossible to evaluate his face and determine what he's thinking. Halloween withholds his mental state from us.
There's a simple explanation for what motivates Michael Myers that closely follows slasher movie logic, in which the killer is often motivated by a combination of neglect and sexual jealousy. Just like Jason Voorhees, introduced in Friday the 13th three years after Halloween, Michael was supposed to be under supervision, not from camp counselors, but from his babysitting sister. Could his sister neglecting him in favor of a boyfriend be the reason why he would stalk teen babysitters like Laurie Strode?
But part of the power of Halloween is that (at least in the first movie) it's not reducible to the simple, vicious motivations of most 80s slashers. Michael has a strong compulsion to return to Haddonfield, even killing a truck driver en route, but he doesn't immediately look for victims. Instead, Michael returns home. This is where he first encounters Laurie, who drops a key through the mail slot for her father, a local realtor trying to sell Michael's abandoned childhood home. In the first Halloween, chillingly, Laurie is chosen completely at random.
This all changes, beginning with the first sequel, Halloween II, which reveals that Laurie is Michael's younger sister. In the sequel, Michael isn't just motivated by a family connection either. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and the police find a single word painted in blood at one of the murder scenes: "Samhain."
"It's a Celtic word. Samhain. It means the Lord of the Dead, the end of Summer, the festival of Samhain. October 31st," Loomis explains.
These two motivations combine to form Michael's primary drive through eight sequels, as Michael repeatedly returns to kill family members—Laurie, her daughter in Halloween 4 and 5, then her granddaughter in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers—as part of some sort of pagan Halloween ritual. Why Michael, who first murdered at the age of six, would feel this kind of compulsion is never satisfactorily explained.
The Curse of Michael Myers introduced the Cult of Thorn, who attempt to bind and steer Michael with druidic magic. Rather than having any internal reason to kill, Michael becomes a pawn of the stars, his murders literally coinciding with a recurring constellation. But none of these explanations ever really enriches our understanding of him as a character. Even original Halloween director John Carpenter came to regret his decision to make Laurie and Michael siblings in Halloween II.
Michael does seem to obey some internal compass. We know, for example, that he connects his adult murders with the murder of his sister, because he steals her tombstone and places it in the upstairs bedroom of one of his latest victims. But whatever ritual Michael enacts is a private one. Michael's motivations are not meant to be reducible to the psychological, which is why Dr. Loomis abandoned psychology in treating him.
"Don't underestimate it," Loomis says, refusing to describe Michael as human. "I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding, in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes; the devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because i realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply evil."
Which is why the 2018 Halloween is a direct sequel to the 1978 original, ditching all of the mythology built up around Michael in the sequels. Michael and Laurie are no longer siblings. There is no Cult of Thorn. Instead, there's Michael, returning 40 years later to complete what he had started.
"There is nothing more terrifying in the world than a random act of violence," Curtis said at San Diego Comic-Con. "Laurie Strode had something happen to her that no one should ever have happen and she just reacted in her intelligent way to save her life, period. End of story, the movie ends."
The new Halloween (our review), unlike the sequels, understands that Michael Myers is meant to be empty of motive. He is a force of nature: The Shape, The Boogeyman. This is, in part, because the focus is meant to be on Laurie and how a normal human reacts to extraordinary violence and terror.
"This new movie picks up 40 years later, and what happened is, there was no trauma therapy, no one went in and gave her mental health services. She was raised by Midwestern, simple people, who said, 'Baby, you're okay.' And she went back to school two days later with a little scar on her arm. And that's it. And you see, that kind of PTSD, that kind of trauma, just compounds," Curtis said.
But it's also because Michael's emptiness, his lack of human motive, is what makes him so terrifying. After Loomis shoots Michael in the original film, Michael falls off the balcony, seemingly dead.
"It was the Boogeyman," Laurie says, sobbing.
"As a matter of fact, it was," Dr. Loomis replies.
Michael's body disappears, but not because he got up and limped away. Instead of running out to search the yard, the last shot of Loomis in Halloween is of his eyes searching around the empty air just in front of him, as if for a ghost. Michael has become incorporeal, his evil unbound from his human shape. The last shots are of dark, empty houses, haunted by his heavy breathing.
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