Talking horror and humor with the Halloween fan base

Halloween Kills, the latest installment in the film franchise that started in 1978, was released last weekend. Even in years when there’s no new Halloween movie, it seems like people start watching the flicks around Labor Day.

In recent years, they’ve been posting photos and videos of themselves and/or others engaging in frivolity with people dressed like Michael Myers, the masked murderer made famous by the movies.

These postings made me ask myself, “Self, when did Michael Myers become a wacky sidekick? Isn’t he supposed to be scary?”

Although I’ve seen the original Halloween, I’ll admit that I don’t know much about Michael. I’m not a fan of horror movies. Real life is horrific enough for me. Besides, I can’t suspend belief when it comes to horror films. For example, I wonder what Michael does the rest of the year. Where does he live? How does he support himself? Does he terrorize a different town on every major holiday? Or is he a good, law-abiding citizen who’s triggered by Oct. 31? Trust me, dude, I can relate.

Anyway, my ignorance led me to seek out a couple fans of the Halloween movies and/or of horror films in general. That number doubled. Simmer down. It could have been more. Fans of the Halloween movies are everywhere.

But that doesn’t mean they – or horror fans in general – agree on all things Halloween.

Take the original movie, which features Michael escaping from a mental institution, where he had been held since age 6 for stabbing his sister to death, and returning to Haddonfield to terrorize Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

“For its time, it was considered to be absolutely terrifying,” explained Halloween superfan Bradley Damron. “There is an actual argument to be made that it was more of a suspense film than straight up horror. It is not a film that hits you over the head with buckets of blood. In fact, it is a fairly bloodless film. When you think of slasher movies, this one popularized so many of the tropes that seem so stale to audiences today. In fact, they were pretty stale by the mid-‘80s, but they were fresh and new in 1978. Add in John Carpenter’s incredible score, and you could feel the suspense and tension all throughout the film. The impact of that score can’t be overstated. People know the Halloween theme. It’s a part of pop culture at this point.

“There are audio recordings of audience reactions in 1978, and I don’t hear many screams like that when I go see modern horror movies. Halloween was not the first slasher movie like many claim, but it was the most influential one by a mile. It spawned so many clones, including Friday the 13th, which was blatantly made to rip off the first Halloween. Without Michael Myers, there is no Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger or Ghostface. And it all goes back to how that audience reacted in 1978.”

Horror movie fan Jennifer VanHoose has a different take. “Having lived through that era, (I) saw the movie when it first came out. It was mildly scary.”

VanHoose, however, doesn’t describe herself as a slasher movie fan.

Halloween superfan Trina Wakeland and her brother grew up watching slasher movies. Whereas her brother gravitated toward Friday the 13th, she stuck with Halloween. Wakeland is such a fan of the franchise that she has a tattoo of Michael on her leg. Hence her status as a superfan.

“I’ve been a Halloween fan my whole life so I guess you could say it’s kind of sentimental to me. (The tattoo is) like a reminder of where horror actually started from.”

Halloween fan Trina Yeary has two Michael Myers dolls.

“I love the setting of the movies – the small town, the era. It’s classic,” Yeary said.

Her comment about the setting pleased me. I don’t remember much about the original movie, but I remember appreciating the atmosphere set by director John Carpenter and the way the movie felt and looked.

Yeary continued, “(Michael) is so creepy without trying. With Michael, slow and steady wins the race. Michael both creeps me out and evokes empathy, though I cannot for the life of me rationalize why.”

VanHoose explained that the Halloween movies written, directed, and produced by Rob Zombie introduced a backstory of Michael as a bullied, abused child. (She also said she felt there was no need for these remakes to have been made.) Perhaps that helps explain some viewers’ empathy for Michael? Or maybe the empathy was created by the creepy mask that nonetheless makes him appear sad?

Regardless, Wakeland and Damron are not here for any of these explanations.

“I feel as you shouldn’t be able to relate and have sympathy for his character,” Wakeland said. “The 2009 Rob Zombie (movie) gave you too much backstory and gave Michael Myers every scenario as a kid to grow up and become a psychopath – killing animals, broken families, and bullied at school. I just feel like the John Carpenter film gave you more chills because he has a blank face, doesn’t talk, and you have no clue why he is doing what he does.

“What’s so scary is this is a real guy. (He’s) not immortal and is impossible to kill.”

“Michael Myers was always meant to be a force of nature,” Damron said. “He’s evil because he’s evil. He kills because that’s what he does. In fact, the original film was going to be called The Babysitter Murders until producer Irwin Yablans suggested that it take place on Halloween night. This was about evil lurking on a night that many consider evil. Rob Zombie tried to stray away from that with his reboot. He tried to explain too much, and I feel that chipped away at what made Michael Myers special originally.”

I asked Damron about people who consider Michael to be funny. While he acknowledged that some people find slasher villains funny, he added, “Michael Myers is savage and cruel. He does not feel mercy or remorse. There is no hesitation when he has the chance to kill. There is no overall message with him. He is evil in its purest form.”

A factor that led me to write this post and to talk to fans of the movies was my interaction with folks who do find the movies and Michael Myers humorous. I also checked in with them for this piece and they again identified as Halloween fans who watch the movies for comedic effect.

They, as a whole, described the movies as over-the-top and wondered how viewers could take them seriously, what with Michael showing up out of thin air and being shot and stabbed and falling off buildings only to pop back up, they said.

VanHoose alluded to this as well, describing Michael as having become campy, and each installment as being “more and more ridiculous.” However, she also said she did not find the movies funny at all. And Damron said Michael is “never funny.”

Assuming the folks I know had never seen the first movie, which is considered a classic and has a more serious tone, I interrogated them about which movies they had seen. All of them but the newest one, they said. Surely, they don’t consider the first movie – the classic – to be a laugh fest? Yes, they do.

Of course, they have their favorites. They don’t care for anything related to Halloween that doesn’t feature the Michael Myers character. They are also not fans of the Rob Zombie flicks. (Does anyone like those movies?) They also made it clear – repeatedly — that even though they view the movies as comedies, they are fans who really like and really enjoy the flicks.

Oh, and even though they don’t find the Halloween movies scary, they do find other media scary.

Okay. Give me an example.

Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack, one offered.

Happy Halloween!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.