The best Halloween movie of all time is aptly named Halloween.
Granted, there are far scarier films than the world’s introduction to John Carpenter’s Michael Myers but those movies fall outside of the All Hallows’ Evening. Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining, Dawn of the Dead and Alien pack more fear on celluloid than Halloween, but they are staged at other times of the year. They bring the fear just not the trick-or-treat thrill of the last night of October.
Halloween was released in 1978 and I was 4-years old. It wasn’t until some bootleg betamax tape ended up in my hands in high school that I finally saw the monster known as Michael Myers. I was familiar with the thematic song, the brutal butcher knife and Jamie Lee Curtis’ scream, but I didn’t know how it would all come together. Watching it in the privacy of my bedroom alone, I squirmed throughout the movie and didn’t get much sleep that night.
Mike Myers is terrifying, relentless and merciless. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is innocent, beautiful and surprising strong. Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is the flipside to Mike Myers, acting like a zealot under the guise of medicine. There are jumps, scares, boobs, puffed joints and a terrifying ending. It’s a perfect three-act play where there are no winners, only survivors.
I think it is the only holiday-named movie that properly represents the occasion. Independence Day was atrocious, Valentine’s Day was offensive, Father’s Day was terrible, April Fool’s Day was unwatchable and I couldn’t bring myself to see Columbus Day. The only saving grace to the calendar of movies named after holidays is Groundhog Day. Bill Murray can do any wrong.
The appeal of Halloween wasn’t teaching me what would I do if I were being hunted down by some Captain Kirk-masked maniac with a Ginsu the length of a baby’s arm, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a town like Haddonfield? Growing up in Las Vegas, there were way too many very real monsters that would kill you without hesitation. Haddonfield had lovely tree-lined streets and big brick houses on wide roads. The cops knew everyone’s name, every home was a neighbor and the school didn’t look like a cinderblock prison. The girls seemed easy, beer was easily obtainable and parents were cool enough to get out of town during party weekends.
Haddonfield was the kind of town in which a chubby Ben Raskin could have done some damage. The Woolworth’s would have been my stomping grounds, the high school would have been my arena and the complete lack of parental supervision would have been my invitation into a world of smoking cigarettes and necking. Vegas is a toggle switch when it comes to the weather — it is either winter or summer. Haddonfield had all four seasons (including a season of the witch), providing an opportunity for me to get to my best look: the sweater vest.
Alas, I was stuck in the desert and far away from some mythical Illinois town. On the upside, I didn’t have to deal with Michael Myers pursuing me with without remorse. In fact, the only holiday scare I ever had was when I snuck out my house the night before Halloween to go a Kinko’s. I had waited until the last minute to finish a school project and I needed to provide a dozen copies of my report to the teacher. Instead of waiting till the morning, I snuck out under the cover of darkness to the local Kinko’s a mile from the house. The night air was brisk, the glow of The Strip was visible in the distance and I walked along the graveled roads to the strip mall. After getting whatever I needed photocopied during the late evening when my parents and siblings were asleep, I started the trudge back to the house. Because I had exerted myself, the only sensible thing to do was hit the local 7-11 before sneaking back into the house. A Slurpee and whatever candy I could afford was the reward for finishing a semester-long project at the 25th hour.
With a backpack full of papers, I walked up to the convenience store already anticipating my treat when I saw something twice as scary as Mike Myers. Two greasy, long-haired men wearing dirty denim walked out of the 7-11 as I was coming up to the door. They were screaming, growling at the cashier while they brandished two shotguns. I made eye contact with one of the men and sprinted as fast as I could to the neighboring used car lot. They yelled at me to come back but I had slid underneath a truck and was crawling on my belly to the back of the lot.
Panic gripped every fiber in my 15-year old body. I was fighting to keep my breath under control on the off chance they would pursue me. In the cold air, sweat poured off my forehead, stinging my eyes and making everything blurry. My hands and knees were bloodied from sliding under the cars and my elbows dug into the asphalt as I was trying to get away. When I finally got to the back wall of the lot, I jumped into the bed of a used pickup and lay down.
Staring into the night sky, I was frightened, scared, alone. Nobody knew where I was and I didn’t know what to do. The only guns I had seen were in movies and I had never been the target from the business end of a weapon. Literally scared stiff, I thought about what my next move would be. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the cashier or other people in the convenience store and whether or not they were alive.
Not having a watch, I didn’t know how long I was in the truck’s bed before I decided that I needed to get out of there. I gingerly looked up and saw that the parking lot was empty. The dusty blue Chevette that had been in the parking lot while I walked up to get my treats was now gone and there was the sound of sirens in the distance. I carefully lowered myself to the ground and walked to the sidewalk, making my way back to the store. Through the bright windows, I saw a woman screaming, but no sign of the robbers. I made my way to the door and said that I saw everything.
That part wasn’t necessarily true.
All I saw were the two people walking out of the 7-11 with shotguns yelling. I didn’t see the robbery but I definitely saw the faces of the two shotgun-brandishing people. The cashier was chain-smoking and yelling into a telephone, presumably to her boss or family. As I stood in front of her, I didn’t see anything out of place: there were no bodies on the floor or blood or any signs of mayhem. I told the woman again that I saw what happened and she told me to shut up.
I don’t blame her. I would have done the same.
I took a seat at one of the video poker machines and waited for the police, who came in — guns drawn — in the next moments. They restored whatever order could be made in the situation and got us to the task of writing our police reports. During the time it took to write my eyewitness account, I was told that they found the guys who robbed the store and arrested them. Just like that.
I walked home tired, bloodied and without said Slurpee. The Halloween decorations along Oakey Boulevard were visible under the streetlights. Carved pumpkins guarded front doors as I made my way back to our cul-de-sac and through the ajar window I had escaped from almost two hours earlier. I didn’t sleep. I just laid in bed trying to forget what happened and trying to slow time before I had to head to school. As I lay there with my eyes closed, it occurred to me it was Halloween.
The next day was a blur and I didn’t tell my parents what had happened. They only learned about it when I was subpoenaed to testify at the two robbers’ trial. If you thought staring down a madman with a shotgun was difficult, imagine what my mother looked like when she saw that court documentation. She made Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, Chucky and Genghis Khan look like a Care Bear.
I spent that Halloween not trick-or-treating but staying in my room, eating candy and watching horror movies. In full disclosure, I did this most evenings. I’d like to think that I dusted off that pirated Betamax tape and watched Halloween, shrieking along with Jamie Lee Curtis and cringing when she puts a coat hanger through Michael’s eyeball. It’s possible, but I was glad that evening to be home, safe and away from the craziness that is found outside in the streets of Las Vegas.
That was the scariest Halloween I’ve ever had. Was there a Mike Myers? No, just a couple of crackheads robbing a 7-11, but given a choice between the two, I would always take the man in the white mask. At least you can run faster than buckshot.