Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween, the Army of Lanzas And Unintended Consequences of Suburbia

We moved the common man out of the congested cities of the early 20th century and put him in nice, clean and planned suburbs. Fresh air, green grass and a little piece of heaven for everyone. This is what the boys fought for in Asia and Europe. This was the American Dream sold to the last wave of immigrants. I did not quite work out that way. The streets were clean and grass was green, but humanity still retained its dark side. You can't escape it.

That is what makes John Carpenter's Halloween so thrilling but also so fresh with audiences thirty years after its release. The killer and killing could be in your development. The setting is a suburb in Illinois with well maintained lawns and cute kids and teens that can walk to school. It was filmed in California, and the leaves were kept in bags for use and re-use, but it's a town out of Americana. The schools are full of well dressed kids, the teenage girls have regular obsessions with boys, and the cops have small town worries like who broke into a store for a weird burglary or teenage pranks. A series of murders (a spree killer) occurs to terrify the city. It is never the same again.

There is nothing supernatural about the killer, Michael Myers. This is not a monster movie. This is different from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho stories that deal with rural, isolated killers. Those killers were evil and made more evil by their environment and families. Norman Bates and Leatherface were part of families with odd histories that prevented them from being properly socialized. Myers is not. He was in a bucolic suburb. He had a normal family in a nice two story house with a yard where trick or treaters roam freely. Myers commits a heinous murder as a child, and is spirited away. Myers never responds to therapy. Someone (Dr. Loomis) clearly knows he is evil, and despite protestations, the system flubs handling Myers. Myers slips away and commits more mayhem. There is no motivation, no answer, no response.

Halloween sticks with us because the headlines of the '80s with suburban killers like the multiple "Night Stalkers". Myers survives the pop culture aging process compared to Freddy Kruger and Jason because he is not a cartoon. He feels real. He can be real. What is Myers but a forerunner of the Army of Lanzas we see shooting up movie theaters, schools and stores. It is the same story. A boy grows up clearly "off". He might have problems that warrant the special care of a school psychiatrist. There might be one person yelling for the boy to be sent away, but somehow the system is always sure it can handle him. It does not happen. One of the Lanzas goes on a killing spree, and we're stuck wondering why only because we are scared to admit the truth.

It is a nation of 315 million people. We have a dysfunctional culture. We have media mandarins that elevate the sick, chastise the normal and value victimhood. Our atomized society has made it so that every family has a Lanza lurking, so what makes the few that shoot up crowds tick? These random young men who go off are unfortunate tragedies. Actuaries run simulations and programs, some even like a roulette wheel. There is always a low probability event that is out there on the fat tail of the curve. Sometimes the van of executives going on an extreme ski trip gets destroyed, and suddenly an insurance company has to make six $1 million payouts. If you keep the structure of our society as it is with the atomization, violence glorification, medication, free-for-all structure, and broken family enabling, you will eventually get a "00" roulette result. Taleb refers to the black swan. The Army of Lanzas are black swans in your community, your family. No matter what you do, no matter how clean the community or high the median home costs, you will not escape that they are present. Evil is around every corner.

This take on Halloween falls into line with some of the analysis that stresses the suburbia theme. Please read that link to see feminist critics read into the story all of these power struggles for women, men and sex, and then to see Carpenter swipe it all away. As he puts it, the most sexually frustrated woman has the energy, strength and anger to attack the villain. Fun to see that quick dismissal of the critics by the artist. My take bemoans the destruction of the city neighborhood community and the replacement of the small country town with suburbia. Suburbia was not natural like the country towns of old nor even that inorganic yet "procedural in creation" city structure. We created "bedroom communities" from scratch and now see the unintended social outcomes.

This is a separation between Halloween and other slasher films. It has aged well since creepy, loner spree killers have made headlines. This is a fictional movie with some unintentional and intentional comedy. It makes the cable rotation more than others, and is far more re-watchable than the '80s slasher flicks or gore-porn of the '00s. The soundtrack is great at setting the mood, seriously, watch scenes on mute, and they lose all tension. The production quality is not great, and the acting is okay. What keeps us watching is the nagging feeling that we have seen this story play out over and over again. Freddy? A dream. Jason? A campfire story you tell in the woods. Michael Myers is a bit different and bothers us a bit more. He is the faceless killer, the one that gives no warning and does not communicate with us yet is a part of our community. He is the scariest creep of them all.


Toddy Cat said...

Well, I wouldn't blame suburbia for the Lanzas; if you want senseless violence, large urban areas are still the way to go, and the suburbs still remain about the safest part of the country that has any appreciable number of people in it. But it is true that, contrary to the postwar dream, nice, new houses and safe neighborhoods did not abolish evil from the human heart. Michael Myers is a constant reminder of this, which of course is why he still, as you point out, has mythic resonance.

Son of Brock Landers said...

TC - I see the oddball shooter as different from Dindu Nuffin shootings. Those urban marauders are fucking pirates with no regard for life and poor impulse control. There are serial killers and rapists in our cities too, and that type of killing is so weird and inhuman yet with us since the dawn of man. Hell, Bluebeard is based on a real French nobleman who committed horrifying acts of evil on children