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October 30, 2010

Locus Focus - Haddonfield, Illinois. October 31, 1978. HALLOWEEN.

When Enbrethliel from Shredded Cheddar - one of my very favorite bloggers, even if her wisdom often leaves me feeling like I've never read a book the right way - asked me to take part in the Scary Settings challenge that is being offered as part of her ongoing Locus Focus feature, I was more than happy to oblige.  The challenge, as it was put to me, was to post about one of my favorite scary settings in a film - and it left me searching all over for answers.  Part of me wanted to use one of my beloved Hammer films, with their Gothic haunts, or one of my favorite haunted house films, like John Hough's The Legend of Hell House.  Another part of me wanted to take the post somewhere crazy, like Perfection, Arizona; or the Monroeville Mall, or even the vast reaches of SPACE.  But when I slowed myself down and started to think about some of my favorite horror films, I quickly realized that the setting of my favorite horror film was one that I really loved.

The town of Haddonfield doesn't seem too imposing when one starts to look at John Carpenter's Halloween.  It's pretty simple, actually.  There are quiet streets, white houses with decks, an old school building with a chain link fence, and plenty of stop signs (not stop lights).  This is small-town America at its core, and it reminds me that most horror films - slasher films, specifically - don't have a great handle on what small-town life really is.  There's something about other slasher settings, like the dark woods of Camp Crystal Lake or the picturesque houses of Elm Street, that doesn't seem genuine to me.  And even though I know Haddonfield is not genuine itself (all filming occurred in an L.A. suburb), Carpenter seems to have created a honest-to-goodness small town in Halloween.
More than the images presented, Haddonfield is distinguished by what we come to think about the town.  Everyone seems to know everyone, and family names are tossed around instead of individual names.  Laurie's babysitting for the Doyles and Annie's babysitting for the Wallaces, Mr. Riddle might be watching from the back yard, and the Mackenzies' house is a last resort.  And then there's that Myers house - abandoned after a tragedy, that sits as a dark spot on the town's reputation.  I'm sure the hive mind of the community recognized this, because all we hear about the Myers house is that it's a ghost house.

Besides that abandoned house, what's so scary about this town?  Ask Laurie Strode, our heroine who is played by the young Jamie Lee Curtis.  Laurie is considered one of the ultimate "survivor girls" in horror, but watching one day of her life in Haddonfield makes me think that she wants to do more than survive - she wants to escape.  She's a bookworm with a poster of James Ensor on the wall across the room from her Globe, and she's definitely not interested in school dances or cheerleading. Laurie also doesn't show much interest in anyone aside from her token friends Lynda and Annie (she can't avoid everyone, I guess) and the children she babysits, and she emotes frustration with them often throughout the film.  (If you tried to keep track of how many times she dismisses an idea from one of her friends or one of the children during the film, you'd get lost easily.)  Mentally, she seems advanced beyond her years, and I get the feeling that she wants more from life than Haddonfield has to offer.
The film makes a point to bring up the topic of fate during Laurie's schooling, and it's stated that fate is viewed by some as "immovable, like a mountain.  It stands where man passes away.  Fate never changes."  In Haddonfield, Michael Myers - who has been called The Boogeyman at times - is the personification of Laurie's fate.  He is Haddonfield's own ghost in the closet, and he is part of the scenery for large parts of the film.  Laurie sees him outside of her classroom, spots him on her way home, and spies him watching from outside her bedroom window - all places where she generally might feel safe.  His appearance outside her window is particularly significant.  The bedroom seems to have been her "safe place", as she has finally calmed herself down after the worrisome walk home, yet there is her fate, staring at her from the backyard. 
Which brings us back to Michael Myers.  This isn't a vengeful brother, because that subplot wasn't invented until Carpenter was writing Halloween II. In Halloween's eyes, Michael Myers - again, like fate - is a force of nature.  With him in the picture, Haddonfield becomes a dangerous place to be for those who are open to suggestion. Laurie thought she outgrew superstition, but the events that have triggered a response from her only make Michael stronger.  Each moment in which she fights to believe there is no boogeyman only brings her more doubt, and as Michael finally approaches it becomes clear that Laurie has been tempting her fate all day long.

I wanted this piece to go in a different direction than it has.  I wanted to talk about the setting itself, about how Carpenter's small town reminds us that evil can lurk in the most normal of places.  But it's impossible to leave Michael Myers out of the discussion of our setting.  One of the most telling scenes in the film occurs when Donald Pleasence's Loomis visits the local cemetery and meets the local crypt keeper, who immediately relates that "every town has something like this" as he begins the tale of a fellow the next town over who killed his family at the dinner table.  Carpenter's vision of small-town America is designed to remind us that every town thinks they have a boogeyman - and this one just happens to be real.
I may be stretching when I consider Laurie's desire to leave Haddonfield - she may have simply been having a bad day - but the fact that Myers and Haddonfield go hand-in-hand is indisputable.  The film makes proving the connection between killer and setting its final act, rolling through a montage of the locations where fate has closed in on Laurie.  As we scroll through the sets, hearing Michael's heavy breathing mixing with Carpenter's iconic theme, there's no question that what we once thought was a man is part of this town's fabric.  And that makes Haddonfield one scary place to be.


Enbrethiliel said...


Whoa!!! =O

Best. Appreciation. Of. Haddonfield. Ever.

I totally agree with you that in Halloween we have near-perfect congruence between villain and setting. And that is why an analysis of Haddonfield is not complete without a study of both Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. I think a lot of what you've written here doesn't appear obvious to many of us who might have "known" that Michael is Laurie's brother before even starting the series (or perhaps I just speak for myself!), so I'm really glad you decided to write about it for this challenge.

Thanks, The Mike! =D

PS--My captcha is "redum"--one letter away from "redrum"!!! =P

Enbrethiliel said...


PS--Nice work with the "girly badge"! ;-)

William Malmborg said...

Great post. I have always loved Haddonfield, both because Halloween (1978) is one of my all time favorite movies, and, in the world of the movie, I would live so close to it (I think giving mid-IL loccation I always picture it being in).

Your statement about it feeling like a real 'small town' is so true as well. It just seems right.