Some holiday traditions are inescapable. Independence Day isn’t Independence Day without fireworks-related mishaps. Christmas will forever be marred by godawful fruit cake. And Halloween will always have Halloween.
In preparation for Beechwood's Sunday, Oct. 30 screening of John Carpenter's Halloween (likely not your first), put the slasher flick into new perspective by pairing it with David Lynch’s noir-ish Blue Velvet.
Halloween is often cited as the granddaddy of the slasher genre. While high school students in Haddonfield, IL go about their daily grind of dating, babysitting and homecoming dances, Michael Myers—recently escaped from a mental hospital—stalks them one by one. It’s up to to Myers’ psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasance), and plucky high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) to end his night-long reign of terror.
Currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, Blue Velvet is treasured as a satirical takedown of Reagan-era conformity. College student Jeffrey Beaumont visits his hometown of Lumberton, NC after his father has a stroke and is quickly drawn into a kidnapping plot involving nitrous-addled gangster Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper.)
The monster is often the best way to investigate and understand a horror film's themes. Horror nerds with advanced degrees often view the manifestation of evil as related to Freud’s notion of the repressed. Both Myers and Booth embody elements of suburban society—the lecherous and sometimes deadly male gaze in the case of Myers and violence, drugs and abusive sex in the case of Frank—that might be overlooked beneath their peaceful sheen. However, no matter how much Loomis insists Myers is unique in being “purely and simply evil,” or Jeffrey laments, “Why are there people like Frank?," these vices continue to be a rooted part of sanitized suburbia.
(Spoilers for movies that are 30+ years old to follow.)
It’s fitting to note that both films climax with the protagonist trapped in a closet, although these situations distinctly lack the mindworm melodies and head-scratching slant rhyming of a certain R. Kelly joint. From her hallway hiding spot, Laurie stabs Myers with a coathanger and flees, with Loomis providing the bullets that remove the killer from their lives right before his corpse disappears. At the end of Blue Velvet, Jeffrey leads Frank into a situation where he ambushes the criminal with a revolver, shooting him in the head.
While these situations end with heroes choosing violence to combat evil, their immediate aftermaths tell diverging stories. Jeffrey’s decision to kill stems from his desire to forget that Frank exists and return to the glimmering sheen of suburban comfort. In fact, the final scene shows him admiring a robin with his girlfriend Sandy (Laura Dern) despite the fact that the bird quite obviously appears to be artificial. Jeffrey fought and even killed to return to this life, and he refuses to let even the slightest indication of inauthenticity interfere with his enjoyment.
Halloween, on the other hand, suggests a different tactic for dealing with the return of the repressed. After Myers spent the film displaying his invincibility by surviving several stab wounds and gunshots with little effort, it becomes clear that Myers cannot simply be destroyed and forgotten like Blue Velvet’s antagonist. Carpenter reinforces this by ending the film on shots of previous locations with Myers’ heavy breathing prominent in the soundtrack; this once-repressed figure has tainted everyone and everything throughout Haddonfield. The ending firmly establishes that the evils under the surface in suburbia cannot be wiped away or disregarded.
Watching Blue Velvet before enjoying Halloween highlights the practical message of the slasher film. Instead of ignoring evil after it makes itself known like in Blue Velvet’s epilogue, Carpenter’s film acknowledges that even the safest-looking suburb will always have its dangers, which require constant vigilance in combatting. Perhaps this instructive outlook is what has caused Halloween to endure as a holiday staple for almost 40 years.
Halloween screens at Beechwood Stadium Cinemas 11 Sunday, Oct. 30 at 2 and 7 p.m. Visit Vision Video on the Eastside for movie rentals.