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.