This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.
For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by examining a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th-century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.
Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t stab us numerous times with cutlery.
Part 32 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Slaying of a Kin Unrecognized” with John Carpenter’s Halloween.
On Halloween night in a small, Midwestern town in the 1960s, six-year-old Michael Myers stabs his older sister to death. Fifteen years later, he escapes from a psychiatric hospital and wreaks havoc on Halloween night in his hometown, killing promiscuous teenagers one-by-one with an apparent special interest in pursuing the chaste Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). As Myers is pursued by his psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), he evades capture and defeat at every turn with what seems like superhuman abilities.
“Slaying of a Kin Unrecognized” is a rather complex situation that has far fewer concrete examples in film than most of the other situations explored in this feature. Honestly, it took me a while to think of a film in which this situation fit properly, and I had to consult the team at Reject HQ to get some help. I owe this particular entry to Mr. Adam Charles, esq.
This situation involves the “Slayer” and the “Unrecognized Victim.” As shown in the supposed original example of this situation – the Oedipus story – the slayer implicitly doesn’t recognize that the victim him or herself is kin until the act of slaying is complete. This situation is tweaked in a particularly interesting way in Halloween’s third act, where the roles of “slayer” and “victim” become reversed.
While it technically isn’t revealed until Halloween II that Laurie is Michael’s sister, Michael’s deliberate pursuit of her in the original film is evidence of how and why his pursuit can’t be interpreted in any other way, especially since his murderous streak is set up with the slaying of a female sibling in the film’s famous opening scene (also, the tombstone placed on the bed next to Lynda’s naked corpse for Laurie to see really says it all). So in Michael’s blood-spattered pursuit of Laurie, it’s clear that Laurie is not the “unrecognized victim” as Michael is implied to be acting in full awareness that Laurie is his kin, which operates as the central motivation for his murderous intent.
However, in the incredible closing minutes of Halloween, as Michael follows Laurie throughout the house, these respective roles are completely turned around. Laurie becomes the Slayer of Michael, and in fact “slays” him in one way or another multiple times: first with a sewing needle, then a wire hanger to the eye, and finally with Michael’s own kitchen knife (the icon of Michael’s first slaying of a kin “recognized”), all the while operating in complete oblivion to the fact that this murderous psychopath is her own brother.
Sure, Laurie doesn’t kill Michael, but Michael also doesn’t kill Laurie, and there is no doubt – whether or not the job is finished against an antagonist that is so literally impossible to defeat – that Laurie’s three major actions that temporarily stop Michael would be characterized as “slaying” if inflicted upon any ordinary mortal. It’s odd, of course, to refer to one of cinema’s most notorious villains of modern horror as a “victim” in any sense, and he certainly isn’t one in the moral context implied in contemporary use of the term, but being “slain” multiple times does make him the victim of certain actions intended to defeat him, whether or not those original situations were started by his murderous stalking in the first place.
It goes without saying that Halloween is one of the most important horror movies ever made, and it continues to hold up amazingly well (the very end, in particular, gets me every time that music starts back up again), but within this game-changing horror film is a complex twist on an ancient dramatic situation that dates all the way back to Oedipus.
Bonus Examples: Oedipus Rex, that episode of Lost in Season 5 where (spoiler alert!) Daniel Faraday is killed by his mother before he is even born, NOT The Empire Strikes Back.
Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.
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