Halloween is so beautifully paced that the viewer always gets a little bit of time to settle between spooky incidents. There’s never enough time to be boring, but enough to maximize the effect of the low key scenes. Something as simple as Michael watching Laurie in broad daylight while she’s at school is kind of unsettling.
Of course, if you love Halloween, you don’t need me to tell you which scenes are scary. We all have our favorites although I’m sure some would show up on lists more frequently than others. Part of the joy of Halloween is that some scenes affect me differently later in life than they did when I was 12.
Watching the movie repeatedly on VHS, the first scene in Smith’s Grove was mainly interesting for the interactions between Michael, the nurse, and Dr. Loomis. In the chaos of the escape, it’s easy to forget about all those other inmates that are just wandering around outside.
This scene never resonated with me strongly as a kid. It was just a plot device to get Michael back home. It wasn’t until I had a ridiculously terrifying experience as a teenager that this scene took on a more personal meaning.
Life really opened up in central Massachusetts when my friends and I got driver’s licenses. This mostly meant going hunting for movies, but we also spent a good deal of time exploring the more rural areas (Massachusetts has a great rural/urban balance). We were looking for places that evoked feelings we got from horror movies. We visited supposedly haunted cemeteries, forests, and even found an abandoned mental hospital. If the places weren’t interesting enough on their own, we could always speculate about more sinister stories.
This was the case with some building we found that was labeled only as a health center. We knew nothing else about it other than that it had large metal gates that blocked a long paved path that wound around enough that we couldn’t see any buildings from the street. We stopped by frequently as the mystique of some of our other haunts wore off. The mystery of it all was too enticing. We even contemplated sneaking over the gate and exploring, but none of us had the nerve to actually follow through.
One winter we were trying to extend another night out by making our usual rounds when we found the gates left wide open. I was driving my white Subaru station wagon that night (yeah, I was one of those cool teenagers that drove a station wagon). We all decided that this was the only opportunity we were going to get, and ignoring any semblance of common sense, we drove in.
There was snow plowed high on either side of the path and it was dark. There were no lamps lit, so the only light was coming from my headlights. We wound down the path until we could see some lights coming from the main building up ahead. We slowed down and one of the guys in the car said, “Are there people in the snow?” I don’t know how we had missed it, but there were about five or six people walking in the snow about 30 or so feet from my car. They weren’t walking on the path; they were trudging through deep snow and they were wearing parkas. I immediately thought of that scene in Halloween and put my car in reverse.
With the snow piled so high, there would be no chance of turning around, but I wanted to get out out of there quickly. I was terrified that they could control he gate remotely and that we were going to get locked in. Would I have the nerve to barrel ass through the gate in reverse? I had no doubt that it would look awesome, but I wasn’t sure that I would actually do it.
When I started to reverse I realized that I sucked at driving backwards. I kept crashing into high snow banks and my friends kept yelling directions, “LEFT! RIGHT!” This didn’t do me any good; I just continued to run into every snow bank possible. The guy in the front seat then tells me that the parka people started running at us in the deep snow. Why weren’t they using the path anyway? If I thought it was nightmarish before, this sealed the deal. I like a good scare here and there, but this was piss your pants horrifying.
Well, we were able to navigate our way out of there, although there were a few times when I felt like we were lunatic fodder for sure. It’s strange to think of how much of my time I spend chasing a good scare. When I was confronted with the real deal that day, I wasn’t having any fun. I also think it’s funny how so many people love to watch horror movies to point out the idiotic behavior of the characters on screen. How many people would have watched me that night and said, “No one would be stupid enough to drive into an asylum teeming escaped psychopaths!”
Well, I’m here to tell you that not only am I stupid enough to do such a thing, but I am in fact stupid enough to go back. I collected a few stupid friends and made a return visit a few nights later. Someone else drove this time. Being slightly less stupid, she backed in. It was quiet on the path and we were able to back all the way to the building this time. We all stayed in the car and looked around for windows to peek in. When scanning the building, I turned and saw some guy standing about 5 or 6 feet from the car. It all happened quickly, but I am sure he wasn’t there only a few moments before. I let out the most genuinely terrified scream that has ever come out of my body. I’ve never had such an involuntary reaction. The guy sitting beside me had the wherewithal to hit the driver’s headrest and yell, “DRIVE!” She put her foot on the gas, but was of course still in reverse. It’s a miracle we didn’t go plowing into the building. Who knows how many lunatics we would have unleashed! She quickly recovered and we tore out of there.
It’s because of this experience that I developed such a love for the Smith’s Grove scene.I love that Carpenter doesn’t feel the need to explain how any of this came to be. For me, it’s much scarier to not know how or why they were all out there. I had no idea why the parka people were there and I’m sure the real story would have been much less interesting than what we were imagining The more I learned about the health center over the years, the less mysterious the place became. It’s those moments of sheer genuine terror that I want to bottle up and savor. The epilogue to this story is just an uninteresting footnote, but those nights were perfect. As scared as I was, I wouldn’t trade those nights for the world. I spent a few nights feeling like I was in a real horror movie and I came out unscathed.
I only hope that my kids are a little smarter than I was 20 years ago.