Critics have dissected John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), but there’s one scene that rarely comes up. Running from around 19:05 – 19:58, the scene shows Dr. Loomis on a highway discovering that Myers has killed a truck driver and is heading back to Haddonfield. For the entirety of the short scene, a train approaches, and this inexorably oncoming train serves as an analogy for Michael Myers himself. It sets him up not as a human or even a supernatural force but as something mechanical. Indeed, Loomis pointedly refers to Myers as “it”: “Don’t underestimate it,” he says. And at the end of the film, when Laurie says of Myers, “It was the boogeyman,” Loomis replies, “As a matter of fact, it was.”
This linkage of the train to Myers brings to light, I think, the profound mechanicity—the “it”—within the human. What I mean by “mechanicity” is the part of us that acts without our conscious knowledge, without our volition. “It” makes us act without our actually knowing why we act. Edgar Allan Poe famously called this impulse the “perverse” and it’s been a part of horror ever since. Thinking of Myers as incarnation of human mechanicity offers a different way to interpret his character. To the extent that Halloween offers no explanation for Myers’ violence, one can understand him as a figure of evil. He could also, though, represent that indwelling part of the human that simply escapes conscious control and rational explanation. Myers may be an intransigent “stranger,” outside the norms of human community, but he also represents how we are all, as Timothy Wilson puts it, “strangers to ourselves.”
Although it’s nowhere near as good a film, The Bye Bye Man (Stacy Title, 2017) also uses a train, in repeated shots, to represent its killer—a perfect incarnation of the way humans are impelled to do things without knowing why—saying “his” name when you know you shouldn’t, and then killing people you love. Indeed, the narratives of horror films are often driven by the idea that humans contain mechanical processes, that we are possessed by an inherent nonhuman.
Really interesting pick up
Really interesting pick up here! Watching the scene having read your piece I find the "non-arrival" of the train really anxiety ridden. I was sure it wasn't going to actually appear, yet it does: both a relief and a disappointment. It's a most subtle jump scare.
Myers as mechanical threat is intriguing. I wonder if it's worth drawing other associations with the train such as a symbol of modernity, and even cinema. The encroachment of modern cinema? Now I'm reaching...
I appreciate this piece so much. The train scene and how it connects us to a conception of the mechanical nature of Michael is a fantastic insight!
I kept thinking of the scene in Super 8 when the kids are setting up the scene for their zombie film and the train (which is curiously the central motivation /cue for that story ) rolls into their shot. They rush to shoot for “production value”- haha- but that train ends up carrying something not human and is stopped only by their school teacher as he attempts to block the “alien” nonhuman content on the train from leaving the city limits.
It is a great paper, which shows the richness of Halloween's subtext and the number of interpretations we can make about the character of Michael. His mechanicity, I add, is also shown through his mechanical gait, which has been analyzed a lot, in Making and Remaking Horror in the 1970s and 2000s by David Roche, for instance. Michael's gait is borrowed, according to this book, to the gait of Norman Bates, in Psycho, when he dresses as his mother. It was subtle to find this mechanicity in the train motif, especially for a sequence as short as this one. Congrats!
Add new comment