As a young boy in 1979 who had mistakenly seen the third act of John Carpenter’s classic Halloween in a movie theater (you can read about that, HERE), I returned home from it positively terrified. Plagued by nightmares for some weeks following the screening, the terror eventually (and thankfully) subsided, although a month or so later, it would return with a vengeance upon my parent’s off-hand statement of, “We’re going to dinner this Friday night, and we’ve got you a babysitter.”
“Oh,” was all I could muster.
Nine years old at the time, it had been easy of course to relate to the young character of “Tommy Doyle” in Halloween, and like Tommy, I was also fixated on the film’s dreaded “Boogeyman.” And if the Boogeyman stalked babysitters, childhood logic held that the arrival of my babysitter (during my parent’s epicurean absence) would also result in the appearance of that white-faced killer in my own quiet suburban neighborhood. Thusly, I spent that evening, while my parents were enjoying their night out on the town, much like Halloween’s Tommy, peering out of our home’s windows, praying that the arrival of Michael Myers wouldn’t itself manifest.
Of course, it never did, and while my sitter was probably entertained by my concerns as she watched network television (thank God it wasn’t Halloween itself) over a microwaved Swanson meatloaf dinner (I’d hoped she’d save me the brownie – she didn’t), it got me to thinking the other day, “What if she too had seen Halloween, and subsequently also had experienced some trepidation at the thought of babysitting because of it?”
With that, I reached out to some prominent women in the field of horror, filmmakers and writers alike, who akin the character of Laurie Strode may have babysat as teenagers themselves, in order to pose the question: “Did you yourself babysit as a teen, and if so, how much anxiety did Halloween potentially create for you while doing it?”
Their answers are below.
So, full disclosure: I was never much of a babysitter. I find it difficult to relate to small creatures who don’t understand sarcasm. Thusly, my introduction to Halloween occurred when I was the sitted.
That said, I believe my first viewing of 1978’s Halloween was probably remarkably similar to the way many young girls around the age of seven saw the film: through the fingers of my hand as I hid under a table.
I didn’t have to sneak to see it, nor did I have a friend rent it for me under the guise of watching something child-friendly. My father was more than happy to sit down with me and to watch it. This is probably because my first viewing of the John Carpenter classic was on Sunday afternoon syndication in the early ‘80s.
The editing team at the local network best known for The Three Stooges reruns were a little too enthusiastic with their family-friendly edit, changing ever cuss word or perceived cuss word into an exclamation of, “Hot dog!” and “Gosh!,” a seemingly mild reaction to a knife-wielding maniac. Also, Michal Myers never really got to work his magic on the bevy of teen girls of Haddonfield in this PG version. He mostly just lurked and lunged while the music implied that bad things were going to happen.
Needs to say, the real butchers here were the editors who were asked to turn a slasher movie into a Sunday afternoon outing for folks who skipped church.
Dad thought it was a hoot. I remember him howling at the awful edits that cut off the iconic score, the over-dubbed curse words, and the sloppy slices that surrounded the kills.
But despite all this, Halloween still scared the crap out of me. I hid under the coffee table as dad chuckled, slipping me Hydrox cookies on occasion for being a good sport.
It should be noted that despite my young age, this was not my first scary movie. Dad had a deep-seated love for all aspects of horror, from slashers to B-movies, an appreciation he shared with his young daughters in hopes of escaping repeated viewings of The Last Unicorn. At five years of age, I was well-versed in the works of Roger Corman, and by six, I could reenact Attack of the Killer Tomatoes with gusto. With each new movie, I grew a little bolder, unafraid of the next viewing experience.
But Halloween was something new. This is a single-minded, motivated killer who went after young girls. He showed no mercy or human emotion as he went about his business. There was something terrifying in that one-mindedness, to know that if he was to show up at my bedroom window (as psycho killers are wont to do with small children), he would refuse to listen to my pleas of mercy or accept my sister as a substitute.
My parents couldn’t save me, authorities couldn’t save me, there was no place I could hide where he wouldn’t find me, and according to the movie, it was clear no one in authority would believe me or help me if I told them. My only defense would be to run, and honestly, I was a shit runner.
The mask, the methodical pace, and the violence haunted me for years. But then something miraculous occurred: I watched it again, but eight years later.
When I was fifteen, I watched Halloween again with friends in its full bloody, terrifying, naked teenager glory. And I loved it. I fell for the violence and the fun of the feature. I eased into the horror and felt the full impact of the film like a roller coaster ride. My teen experiences allowed me to understand the plot and the plight without just focusing on maniac Myers. I wasn’t worried about me, but about the characters, which was much easier to handle.
In the end, it was my experience as a teen that allowed me to stop worrying and fall in love with the slasher. My experiences as a young adult and my ability to see past the mask and the childhood fears it represented allowed me to have fun with the holiday classic. Since then, it has become a staple of the Halloween holiday season, much like Die Hard on Christmas. The anxiety I once felt as a kid was gone, replaced with fond, goofy memories of a dad sharing a favorite movie with his child. An experience that helped shaped my taste in future flicks, and who I was a person.
I also got really, really good at running. You know, just in case.
The first time I saw John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, Halloween, was when I was a senior in high school. I watched it with my parents, who are big fans of the “classic” horror films. Actually, one of the first things I noticed about it, aside from that it was a John Carpenter film (I had already seen and loved Starman) was Dean Cundey’s name in the credits. I’m a huge Back to The Future fan, so I knew I was in for a cinematic treat.
I’m an only child from a very rural part of the Midwest, and my parents rarely went anywhere without me, so I didn’t really ever have a babysitter (I did when I was really young, but that was before I was allowed to see horror films!). And, because of our general isolation, I was never a babysitter for someone else – I lived too far away! So, the general “babysitter in peril trope” never really resonated with me. What did scare me was that this could happen anywhere and to anyone. The suburban aspect is what I found to be really unsettling. Some of these murders were happening in the daylight, and the killer was almost always several steps ahead of the authorities. That terrified me, and it still does to this day.
Staci Layne Wilson
To be honest, I did not babysit as a teen. I made my pocket change giving riding lessons on my pony, Smokey, to the neighborhood kids. However, I would sometimes keep my friends company when they had babysitting gigs, and at the time, I lived in Idyllwild, CA, which is a tiny, mountaintop town where pretty much everyone lives in a “cabin in the woods.” What could be better nightmare fuel for a teen in the early 80s?
My friends and I couldn’t get enough of Friday the 13th, When a Stranger Calls, The Shining, Slumber Party Massacre, Motel Hell, and of course, Halloween. We were mini masochists, terrified of the killer who was doubtlessly lurking out there somewhere in the dark amongst the pine trees, while glued to the TV as it poured gore courtesy of Michael Myers. My friends and I loved the horror of it all, but we were also in awe of Laurie and Lynda. We wanted to look like them, talk like them, and dress like them. They were the coolest of the cool – totally!
Even though we knew what was going to happen, we could not get enough of Halloween. After the movie was over, pulses pounding, we’d always double-check the windows and door locks, and would then proceed to dare each other to look in the closets (that was always the scariest, especially if they had slats like the one in the movie). And while my friend usually got a ride home from one of the parents at the end of the evening, I’d have to clear out beforehand (I wasn’t supposed to be there). Back then, it was no big deal to let your kids walk home alone at night; but it was a big deal for us kids, and I can vividly remember running home in record time more than once, absolutely convinced I was being chased by that white-faced, knife-wielding maniac!
Staci Layne Wilson can be followed on Instagram @StaciLayneWilson.
Stephanie Anne Jöens
Raised in a conservative, religious home, I was a late bloomer to the horror scene, but being a “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!” kind of kid, I naturally watched many movies behind my parents’ backs. When I was sixteen years old, I worked at a local video store, from which I could take home any of the rentals I wanted. (Thank you for the memories, Sweet Water Video!)
There, Halloween was the first John Carpenter movie which I laid my eyes on. I loved the subtle tone of terror the pale-faced Boogeyman at its center commanded from my three-hundred-pound TV set with a built-in VHS player, but since I was a teenager, Halloween didn’t give me nightmares, just ideas, particularly when it came to the five “terror babies” (as I called them), the children of a member of my father’s bible study group, which I often babysat. One night, they were dropped off at my house while a meeting commenced at another member’s home, and in order to keep five kids under the age of eleven occupied, I told them to play hide-and-seek, because the twenty minute-long silence while I searched for them seemed golden.
As the kids settled into their hiding spots, however, and as I stalked the halls of the house as if I were the Boogeyman himself, a muffled scream came from the laundry room. Rushing to it, I found one of my wards climbing out from an unused cupboard, which was filled with old blueprints of the house, as well as something within unlike anything I’d seen before in my life.
Rolled up in the technical drawings was what appeared to be a real human jawbone, at which the child pointed, trembling. I played it cool, and told him to leave it alone, while also shouting for the other kids to come out of hiding. Soon joined by the rest of them in the laundry, they asked me with trepidation of the remains, “Whooose issss that?”
I responded with the first thing that came to mind.
“It belongs to the last kid who didn’t listen to me. The Boogeyman must have gotten him.”
Squeals, tickles and laughter ensued.
Afterward I of course called my parents, who then called the police, who upon arrival questioned of the adults, “Why had you never looked in the cupboard before?”
Truth be told, we never really had a reason to.
Later, detectives identified the jawbone as having belonged to an unidentified woman, and not matching any cases on their books, it was placed into a cold file. To this day, I wonder what poor, pot-smoking, sex-crazed babysitter that jawbone belonged to… and if the Boogeyman had anything to do with it.
You can follow Stephanie Anne Jöens on her Instagram @stephanieannej.
A young girl in a ripped blue blouse limps across the street. She reaches into her pocket, her face widening in horror. “The keys!” she cries, “Oh, the keys!” Realizing her mistake, she pounds on the door and shouts for help. “Tommy, it’s me! Tommy, please open up!” A sleepy, blonde-haired boy rubs his eyes at the upstairs window. A shadow appears in the background behind our heroine. Her cries grow more desperate. Tommy slowly makes his descent to the front door, the shape in the street lurching forward, morphing into a man. He wears a mask on his face and carries a knife in his hand. The babysitter wails for Tommy to hurry. The shape quickens his pace. Suddenly, Tommy’s at the door, and she’s inside.
“What is it, Laurie?”
“Tommy get upstairs. Get Lindsey and lock the bedroom door.”
“It’s the boogeyman, isn’t it?”
Laurie locks the door behind her, puts on her sharpest voice and shouts with authority, “Do as I say!”
Tommy runs upstairs and Laurie grabs a knitting needle. She prepares for war.
I’ll admit, I was a little late to the game with John Carpenter’s Halloween. Loving horror movies was more of a hindsight situation, wherein it occurred to me as a shy college student that I had a habit of turning to scary movies as a coping mechanism in hard times. And as a spark of joy in celebratory times. And during Saint Patrick’s Day. And Valentine’s Day. Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning.
As a kid I found fear in the everyday, so the idea of a suburban nightmare resonates. My father was always very ill; from the time I was born until the time he passed when I was eleven. Transplants. Amputations. Sewing up torn stitches again. And again. It made him say things he didn’t mean. It created invisible blockades. Manifested itself as incessant unease in quiet corners. I carried that grief with me everywhere I went, long after he left. It was summer, but I didn’t feel it. The house felt hollow. Haunted.
Watching Halloween for the first time was a revelation for me. I had seen clips, snippets, knock-offs, remakes and the like over the years, but acknowledging the love for the genre that had long been building beneath my breast required a catch up of the classics. Watching John Carpenter’s masterpiece for the first time, I fell in love, fell hard for Laurie Strode and for all she stood for.
The notion of a young woman going through a traumatic experience and surviving inadvertently became the anthem for my own personal life. Seeing Laurie, a regular small-town girl go up against Michael Myers and come out the other side – perhaps not unscathed, but still come out alive – is a message of inevitable triumph against seemingly immeasurable odds. Here’s a six-foot-tall maniac boasting a butcher knife and yet, she’s the one to fear.
When Laurie orders Tommy to go upstairs and hide while she faces down the monster, she is shaking and trembling and crying, but when that one line comes out – “Do as I say!” – she reclaims the power that the fearful thing in the dark had once stolen from her. Knitting needles. Closet hangers. The dark underbelly of suburban serenity rears its ugly head and she takes everyday household items and turns them into weapons. She becomes the thing that monsters have nightmares about. She is the one with the power.
You can follow Kalyn Corrigan on her Instagram @kalyncorrigan.