GUEST BLOG: John Carpenter’s Halloween, Between the Sheets

by Levi Olson
(aka The Unknown Murderer)

WARNING:
The following post contains major spoilers for John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978).

SheetsJohn Carpenter’s Halloween is not a moralistic judgment or punishment of the sexual activity of its characters; it’s about something entirely different.

I wondered what was going on in this movie because John Carpenter has denied the film is a moralistic punishment of premarital sex, and he hasn’t explained what he was going for, either.

A scene with Annie and Laurie turned out to be the crucial piece of the puzzle that I needed, and I’d like to give some examples of what I found:


When Laurie is talking with Annie while they were driving in Annie’s car, she seems to be overreacting to the idea of going out with Ben Tramer. This underlines her fear of moving forward in her relation to men. This is after she sings to herself, “I wish I had you all alone,” and Michael steps out from behind a hedge(?) to watch her walk away.

Also, it’s inarguable that Michael’s first murder is sexual in nature. When he’s watching the knife come down as he stabs his sister, the act of killing, to him, is obviously an imitation of the sex act. And his sister is making some pretty funny noises…

Listen to Laurie’s conversations regarding boys and relationships throughout the movie. Then, note that when she finally meets Michael, he represents her worst fears in two things:

1. His face is a blank, because she doesn’t know what her future lover will look like.

And I’m not trying to be dirty or crude here, but:

2. Note the thing in his hand that he wants to penetrate her with. When he does so, he will draw blood and she will “die.”

Now, notice that Laurie’s friends are not afraid of sexual intercourse. This is why when Annie and Linda die, they die by strangling. Their deaths are sexually charged: Annie in a car, steaming up the windows, and Linda by telephone cord, which is mistaken by Laurie for a phone-sex prank. Both of the girls make obviously sexual noises when they die. They’ve already been where Laurie is afraid to go, so penetration means nothing to them. This is not a punishment of their behavior; it simply reinforces that Michael is Laurie’s boogeyman and manifestation of her worst fear, not theirs.

When Michael kills Bob, he does so with a knife, which is weird … but Bob’s never been penetrated before (that we know of). And when Michael cocks his head, I’d like to think he’s wondering what Bob’s got that he doesn’t.

Laurie is most comfortable being with children. She’s still a child herself, but her friends are not, because their childhood selves “died.” In fact, she is hiding behind the kids during most of the film in an attempt to avoid dating, which she fears could lead to the death of her childhood self. She takes Annie’s responsibility upon herself, freeing up her friends to go and mess around with their boyfriends. This seems to be a selfless thing at first, but she is simply afraid. Of course, when she faces her boogeyman in the end, she does the right thing and protects the children by putting herself between them and Michael.

When Michael is trying to kill Laurie near the end of the film, they move from the couch to the upstairs bedroom, just like his sister did in the beginning. But Laurie retreats into a closet, as far as she can go, and fights back multiple times with a penetrating weapon which holds male symbolism, I think.

Loomis is a true father figure because he shows up at the end of the film to put some bullets into Laurie’s boogeyman, just like any good dad should if someone is trying to “kill” a daughter. Then, he agrees with Laurie that Michael is the boogeyman.

I love this movie. It’s a masterpiece, and if John Carpenter knows what he was doing — and I suspect he knows full well — he created a simply perfect horror film. It took me many, many watches before the last piece of the puzzle clicked, and I saw what was going on (that’s on me, not the movie!) and it made me realize that any horror film worth its salt will feature a villain that represents the worst fears of the main character(s) in a subtextual way.

P.S. You know that scene near beginning of the film where Laurie just got out of school and heads upstairs to her bedroom, only to look out her window and see Michael staring at her near the laundry?

He’s “between the sheets.”

John Carpenter knew full well what he was doing.

3 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: John Carpenter’s Halloween, Between the Sheets

  1. That was a really nice commentary on the meaning of Halloween! I never thought about it that way, really. Gives me much more to think about the next time I see it…and yes, I agree, it’s a masterpiece!

  2. Great insights, Levi. I’ve long thought about half of your comments in the same way, but you are right that clicking in that “last piece of the puzzle” really alters the perception of the whole in a very interesting way. Brilliant insights.

    I also particularly liked your last comment that “any horror film worth its salt will feature a villain that represents the worst fears of the main character(s) in a subtextual way.” That is very well put and food for thought.

  3. I like this reading, and especially the observation about Michael being “between the sheets.” I like that a lot actually! I’m glad they posted it. My response is a few years after the fact, so I don’t know if anyone will actually see it. But here goes.

    I guess I don’t understand how your (or Carpenter’s) reading conflicts with the notion of Michael as punisher of sexual transgression. It merely adds another layer to it–and even makes Laurie complicit with it. In your reading, the sexual element of Michael’s murders is still there. And I guess you are taking Carpenter’s idea that Laurie survives because she a) isn’t distracted by sex and b) she’s sexually frustrated and so takes that out on Michael by “penetrating” him with his own weapons.

    If Michael is the manifestation of Laurie’s fears, that only confirms the idea that she is afraid of sex because she will be punished for it. Perhaps it is not so much sex itself she fears so much as the consequences of it, and this is what Michael represents.

    Keep in mind also that the film is not set in Laurie’s mind. We’re not seeing the whole film through her point of view. It starts before she is even born, and although Josh points out that Michael gets the knife without seeing actual sex, he goes for it after having seen his sister and her boyfriend fooling around, and then agreeing to “go upstairs,” which Michael seems to understand will lead to something else (if not quite what that will be). Also, the boyfriend asks Judith about Michael, and she responds that he’s “around somewhere” in an unconcerned manner. This seems to reinforce the negative view of sex, because it leads to neglect. Sex takes priority over love. This theme is established from the get-go.

    Now, I think where Carpenter is right to give us pause is with Loomis’s insistence on Michael as evil incarnate, which seems not quite in line with the conservative psychosexual reading. Sometimes the media, and even psychiatrists, describe psychopaths as “evil,” but not usually in such an exaggerated way as Loomis does. I like how the podcast touched on this. Perhaps this relates to the “between the sheets” idea that Michael represents Laurie’s fears. But I don’t think it’s just her fear–it’s the fear we probably all have that pursuing our most instinctual pleasures will lead to the most primal, punishing violence by the bogeyman figure. Even if we’re not caught by our parents or the police, the bogeyman (like Santa Claus) is always watching. So it’s not so much that sex deserves punishment, as that we’re afraid of it resulting in punishment. And in an often puritanical society such as ours, that is often, unfortunately, true.

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