Consuming the Wolf: Reflections on HALLOWEEN (2018)

Slasher Sequel Might be a Fairy Tale in Disguise

By Nigel Parkin

Many things about David Gordon Green’s new ‘telling’ of HALLOWEEN made me want to cheer but perhaps the most powerful of these was the way it highlights and resolves the potent elements of fairy tale that have been breathing deeply in the shadows of this narrative from the very beginning.

No one can have missed the significance of Laurie’s new status as the Grandmother who lives in the woods. But it’s possible many people acknowledged this simply as a neat way of turning an ancient archetype onto her head and bringing her literally kicking and screaming into 2018. The truth is much deeper and darker than that. Let’s consider the version of the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ story as collected by the Brothers Grimm and introduced to readers in English two hundred years ago. In that version a hunter enters the Grandmother’s house to find the wolf sleeping heavily, its belly hugely distended with the hungrily consumed bodies of Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. The hunter cuts open the wolf’s belly and draws out both figures, symbolically performing a cesarean section and allowing them to be ‘reborn’, in the girl’s case into a world of adult awareness…and fury. The girl’s immediate action is to collect heavy stones which the three then work together to stuff into the wolf’s belly before sewing it back up so that when it wakes and tries to leap at them afresh in instinctive response to new hunger it will tear itself apart.

The genius of the new HALLOWEEN is to take that story and see it as a loop. This Grandmother has faced the wolf before. She has emerged from the trauma of that experience before, bloodied and full of rage. But she has been denied the cathartic satisfaction of destroying the wolf. And she has spent years waiting for the wolf to return so that she can have that satisfaction. In doing so she has passed through every stage of the three generations of female figure in the original story. She has been the innocent girl led inexorably to the bloody rite of passage, she has been the furiously over-protective mother…and now she is the older, wiser figure shut away in the woods waiting for the reckoning…and in the grip of what everyone else considers an illness. But this is no mild fever, treatable with cake and kind words. No, this Grandmother literally growls and howls. This Grandmother is wild with hunger…desperate to kill. In this loop, wolf and grandmother are now literally cut from the same flesh.

And of course no one will have missed the ways in which Laurie and Michael reflect each other…and now we can fully understand why. But the cleverness of this narrative loop extends far beyond that. By effectively imprisoning herself within the walls of her own rage and paranoia in her makeshift fortress Laurie has effectively climbed back into the belly of the wolf. This is her own belly but one in which she is wrapped up in him – in thoughts of him, in desire for him, in preparation for him. And in time all of that will inevitably bear fruit – like a kind of unholy conception he will take physical shape within these walls, within this belly, ready to be both born and consumed…in an ever shifting order and sequence. We may ultimately see him being ‘consumed’ by flames but as these are effectively the flames of the hatred felt by the three generations of Strode girls then isn’t this the satisfying of their hunger? In other words, surely we can see them here as symbolically eating him – from unholy conception to unholy communion, a rite in which they are re-incorporating him, bringing him back into themselves…where he belongs.

And so the loop goes on. And so it has always gone on. Given that the makers of this film are freeing us to consider alternative versions of Laurie’s life narrative let us consider a key story within the same mythical field in which Laurie’s ‘mother’ was herself a Little Red Riding Hood figure who strayed disastrously from a moral path and thought that a blurred VACANCY sign glimpsed in panic in the rain might offer some sort of comfort. She pulled off that lost highway and found herself in the most wonderfully complex version of this particular fairy tale, a version in which the wolf wears the clothes of a woman he has killed in order to kill again but in which he is also the son of that woman who imagines himself as a victim of her stifling tyranny. Thus the roles of child longing for freedom, wolf hungry for flesh and the female victim of all this longing and hunger all become merged in one character…and help us to realise that this is what happens in ANY telling of this story.

So there is a world in which Laurie had a mother who wanted to marry a man named Sam Loomis and her desire for him led her astray. She turned off a very straight but very long road that was leading her to nowhere and found doom in the shadowed, featureless, mask-like face of a figure wielding a very frightening and very big kitchen knife. And in that moment of confrontation she was too busy screaming and trying to fend off that slashing knife to consider the ways in which that figure, with his frustrated desires, his confused sense of morality and his blind rage at the world might in any way resemble her. Her sister, guided initially by that very same Sam Loomis, certainly DID ultimately come to reflect both Norman and his ‘mother’ in her pursuit of revenge.

In this world, it is possible that on some level Laurie had an instinctive, perhaps even spiritual awareness that when she was pressing herself into the corner of the bedroom closet watching hangers being pulled from a rail and trying to think of how she might defend herself she was re-enacting her mother’s moment in the shower, watching the rings fall from the rail as her curtain came down both literally and metaphorically. Laurie was determined not to see her curtain come down. That was when she began to find her fury; perhaps that was the unquiet spirit of her mother within her, finally calling for revenge. And then Sam Loomis turned up with his gun…

The time of Halloween is itself of course a loop. We chuckle with childish delight as we carve the pumpkin…and maybe there is a sense of cathartic release in driving the knife through the flesh, cutting out the eyes, tearing all those innards from the skull. We offer sweets while at the same time telling terrifying tales. We throw open our doors and our souls to the demons…knowing it is just for once a year.

And just for this night we really enjoy thinking of the wolf out there. But what about the wolf within? How comfortable are we thinking of that? That is the question Green asks us. He is not the first. Nor was Carpenter. Or Hitchcock. The great fairy tales have been asking us this question for thousands of years.

He is not just at your door. Or in your bed. He is inside the walls of your soul. And you may think you’ve got him trapped in a burning heat, like the three little pigs with their boiling pot or Green’s three women with their fire…but we all know this isn’t really the end.

The tales will be told again. The huffing and the puffing will start again, around the dark streets of Haddonfield and into the innards of our skulls.

He’ll blow our house down. And we’ll keep coming back for more.