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Wednesday, 19 March 2014

How Laurie Strode Makes HALLOWEEN (1978) a Perfect Film

This Final Girl is a tough act to follow

5 Stars


There are a number of reasons to praise Halloween, not the least of which is the eerie idea that a young suburban boy could kill his sister, or that creepy musical score. However, what I will discuss here is how the film creates much of the tension by juxtaposing Laurie Strode and Michael Myers.

Obsessed with the concept of the gaze, this film is constructed entirely around a dialectic of the dangerous male gaze, which belongs to Michael, and the investigative gaze which belongs to the Final Girl, Laurie. 

Significantly, the victims (three girls, and one boy) are caught completely off guard by Michael. It is their inability to anticipate danger that costs them their lives, and the inability to anticipate it has everything to do with lacking the ability to see, or more appropriately to look. Both seeing and not seeing are portrayed as important narrative elements through the use of the facial close-up, used to emphasize these moments of “gazing”.

But there is something special about Laurie’s gaze.

As the babysitter, Laurie well represents the maternal-feminine and the strength that can be associated with that role. It is what most sets her apart from not only from her female peers within the narrative, but other slasher movie survivors. While Laurie does represent Carol Clover’s concept of the victim-hero to some extent, she is markedly different from the typical Final Girl as defined by Clover. Not only is she not-masculine (considered a hallmark of the role), but it is actually by accessing a power specific to traditional ideals of femininity that Laurie learns to fight. 

I have heard people cite Laurie’s use of domestic weapons (sewing needle & hanger) with derision, but I think it’s great. Both her maternal instincts and her mastery of the domestic sphere enhance her ability to see, rationalize, and react to the danger at hand. Her power is therefore bound up in something of a ‘Maternal Gaze’, intrinsically linked to her perspective as a protector and caretaker. It is through the power of this particular gaze that she becomes a heroine.

Although she is unable to defeat Michael, or even save herself (Dr. Sam Loomis will eventually scare him away), it is worth noting that she does save the children, who are above all her first and foremost priority. This concern for the children which is her heroic nature, is far removed from the self-motivated nature of the teens that Michael actually murders.

As Kendall R. Phillips aptly points out, “beyond her overall goodness, Laurie is, perhaps more importantly, the ‘good mother’ in the film”, going on to note what he describes as her “inherent maternal quality”.

Ultimately, it is not only a promise to protect Tommy from the boogeyman, but an instinct to protect her friends as well that finds Laurie in a fighting position. It seems to me that this is where Rob Zombie’s Laurie fell short (although I did enjoy the remake’s new angle).