Tuesday, October 7, 2014

got angry and started beating her

Ten or so minutes into Halloween II is a scene I saw filmed. I was just a wee little, impressionable child, quite excited at a) seeing a movie filmed, and b) seeing a Halloween movie filmed. And, I mean sequel to the original, not related to the holiday. I never celebrated Halloween as a kid. Church I grew up in didn’t go for pagan holidays like that.

Unfortunately for little kid me I didn’t get to see the stunt with the guy in the mask mistaken for Michael—you know, the explosion scene. The scene at the end of the alley, in which Dr. Loomis tells Sheriff Brackett that he shot Michael 6 times—that’s the one I saw. Was standing in the front yard of the house to the right of the alley. My sister’s futures in-laws lived there.

But, anyway. there are two notable things about Halloween II in terms of commentary on the slasher subgenre.. First, there’s some evidence that supports Clover’s (1987, 1992) notions about the killer undergoing a pyschosexual fury. Second, just like the first two Friday the 13th films exemplify an increasing level of graphicness to the violence, Halloween II demonstrates a specific increase over its predecessor.

Regarding the first, let us look at a lengthy passage from Clover (1992):

In the slasher film, sexual transgressors of both sexes are scheduled for early destruction. The genre is studded with couples trying to find a place beyond purview of parents and employers where they can have sex, and immediately afterward (or during the act) being killed. The theme enters the tradition with the Lynda-Bob subplot of Halloween. Finding themselves alone in a neighborhood house, Lynda and Bob make hasty use of the master bedroom. Afterward, Bob goes downstairs for a beer. In the kitchen he is silently dispatched—

I must interrupt a) for a sidenote—cat scares are cheap, but oh, do they work on an audience. There was one last night in Friday the 13th Part 2, now one in this movie—and b) because Michael is actually not silent. Bob hears him in the pantry. That’s why he tells him to come out and opens the door. Now, back to Clover.

—by the killer, Michael, who then covers himself with a sheet (it is Halloween), dons Bob’s glasses, and goes upstairs. Supposing the bespectacled ghost in the doorway to be Bob, Lynda jokes, bares her breasts provocatively, and finally, in irritation at “Bob”‘s stony silence, dials Laurie on the phone. Now the killer advances, strangling her with the telephone cord, so that what Laurie hears on the other end are squeals she takes to be orgasmic—

That’s debatable.

Halloween II takes the scene a step further. Here the victims are a nurse and orderly who have sneaked off for sex in the hospital therapy pool. The watching killer, Michael again, turns up the thermostat and, when the orderly goes to check it, kills him. Michael then approaches the nurse from behind (she thinks it is the orderly) and strokes her next. Only when he moves his hand toward her bare breast and she turns around and sees him does he killer her. (p. 33)

I question the suggestion that Michael moves his hand toward her breast. She may move his hand, but he responds to her kissing his thumb by taking his hand away. The sexual interaction is not for him. But, it is important that he plays at being Bob, plays at being that orderly. Clover’s entire argument hinges on the idea that the gender of the killer in a slasher film is in question, that his sexuality is specifically challenged and/or not present. The fact that Michael can pretend to be Bob, then, depending on how one interprets the scene, kill Lynda when she turns away from him—rejects him—that’s an interesting way to think about the scene. Similarly, Michael kills the orderly and the nurse for no particular reason given that it is in Halloween II that we learn he is specifically targeting Laurie. He had no real reason to kill Lynda or Bob or Annie either, but we must forgive those deaths a bit since the original Halloween does not tell us about Laurie being Michael’s sister. Michael may have reason to kill the hospital security guy, or whoever else comes between him and Laurie, but he has no reason to drain the blood of Mrs. Potts or to kill the doctor. The nurse he kills in the hallway where Laurie can see—that death works as a simple act of terror aimed at Laurie. But, then we must wonder just what Michael’s purpose is. In the very same film that is telling us he is doing all of this on a path to killing his remaining sister, Michael is going out of his way to do so much more, slashing the tires in the parking lot, killing the orderly and nurse, killing the doctor, cutting the power. Michael could have simply found Laurie and killed her, but he goes above and beyond.

As for the increasing brutality and graphicness of the violence, note Mr. Garrett’s death. We see the hammer go into his head. With, say, Annie’s death in the original, we can’t really see the knife penetrate her flesh because the window is fogged. We also don’t really see Judith Myers’ wounds happen. That sequence, filmed through the eyeslots of a clown mask, plays more like the shower scene from Psycho, making us think we see the knife cutting into flesh maybe, but never actually showing us as much. The nurse in the aforementioned therapy pool scene is burned rather graphically by the scalding water.

Notably, the camera lingers on her body, yet we only see the orderly killed in the background, out of focus. It’s commonplace in the slasher film for this to happen. Men are killed, sure, but it’s quick. Clover argues that, with male characters, “even if the victim grasps what is happening to him, he has no time to react or register terror. He is dispatched and the camera moves on” (p. 35). Just now, as I’m typing this—

(Note, this paragraph was actually written before a couple of those above. Tackling two topics—sexuality and brutality, in simplified terms—I had to write some of this out of order to describe scenes as they happened.)

—a nurse finds the only doctor on duty in his office. He has been killed offscreen, though we do get a quick close up to see that he has died by a needled to his eye. But, then we see her get a needle into the side of her eye socket. We see her killed. Clover continues: “The death of a male is moreover more likely than the death of a female to be viewed from a distance, or viewed only dimly” (ibid). Like that orderly’s death in the therapy pool room. “The murders of women, on the other hand, are filmed at closer range, in more graphic detail, and at greater length. The pair of murders at the therapy pool in Halloween II illustrates the standard iconography” (ibid). See. And, like the scene with Lynda, it suggests the sexual element to Michael’s killing. Many a slasher film killer, if we go by Clover’s logic, kills because, well, he cannot fuck. Clover makes much of the phallic nature of the weapons these killers use. Of course, in both of the deaths we’re dealing with here—Lynda’s and the nurse in the therapy pool—Michael doesn’t stab. In these instances, the death is not one of penetration. Michael, faced with Lynda baring her breasts, goes ahead to strangle her. Faced with that nurse kissing his hand, he drowns/burns her—I’m not sure which one would kill her first.

The excitement we feel watching these scenes is at least in part sexual, and arguably it is for Michael as well. He is a boy trapped in the body of an adult male. He will never have sex (well, not until much later, but we’ll get to that a few sequels from now). And, though he was only six when he murdered his sister after she has had sex, though he is far from pubescent, in Freudian terms, perhaps the reason he has killed his sister (and should have killed her boyfriend) is because he simply could not handle what has happened. It would make more sense if Michael went upstairs while Judith and her boyfriend were still having sex, but Michael’s Cloverian psychosexual fury, arguably, first occurs simply because he cannot fathom the idea of sexual intercourse when faced with it.

Finally, when Dr. Loomis can no longer shoot Michael—i.e. he is, in the sexually dysfunctional vernacular, shooting blanks—that is when Michael in turn stabs Dr. Loomis. Michael’s masculinity overcomes Dr. Loomis’ masculinity. What “kills” Michael here is not phallic violence but the more clever (and debatably feminine) use of flammable gas and a lighter.

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