The Balcony

Michael Myers, the Living Dead, Evil Incarnate, “the Shape,” the soulless, faceless one (unless you knew that he was actually wearing a modified William Shatner mask), pawed at the slatted closet door.

Inside, his terrified, traumatized older sister Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) did her desperate best to disappear into the corner, having tied the sliding doors shut with a flimsy scarf or belt (yet Michael couldn’t just yank that door open…hmmm…maybe Evil Incarnate isn’t as smart or strong as we think.)

Finally, Michael gives up trying to open the door, smashes through the slats, turns on the lightbulb, reaches for Laurie. She somehow turns the light off while fashioning a poker out of a wire clothes hanger.

She stabs Michael in the eye. He drops his 12-inch butcher knife, in pain, maybe confused that someone, anyone, much less his sister, had somehow disabled him, even if for only a second. She picks it up and stabs Michael again in the chest or throat.

He backs away from the door.

Not hearing anything, Laurie exits the closet, sees her brother lying on the floor, and thinks he is dead. (Silly girl, have you never seen a horror movie?)

She turns away, the bedroom still dark. Michael stands. Laurie doesn’t hear him and starts to leave the bedroom, only for Michael to grab her from behind!

Suddenly, from the bottom of the stairs, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) shoots Michael.

(Side Note: Dr. Loomis is perhaps the unluckiest psychiatrist ever, inheriting Michael as a patient just after the pre-teen had gone on a Satanic killing spree dressed as a clown on Halloween. Side-Side Note: really, have none of these people ever watched a flipping movie?!)

The undying hulk releases Laurie and stumbles back into the bedroom. Loomis chases Michael back into the room, firing five more shots into his one-time patient.

The doctor’s gun finally empty, Michael falls through a door onto the balcony, and tumbles over the balcony railing. He crashes to the ground, lying there in a twisted, lifeless, unmoving heap.

He is dead. He must be, right? I mean, how could anyone survive a stabbing, six gunshots, and a two-story fall to the hard ground below? Not to mention a nasty poke in the eyeball.

“Was it the Boogieman?” Laurie asks the doctor.

“As a matter of fact, it was,” he says, in a pathetic attempt to assure her that the living evil that was once her little brother, is now dead and cannot hurt her anymore (and a great bit of ironic foreshadowing of what would become a cinema franchise with a dozen entries as I write this.)

Then, he looks over the balcony railing at the ground below and sees…

Nothing.

Michael is gone.

I do not remember now, 43 years later, if my brother and/or I actually screamed, but it seems that we may have. And if we didn’t, it wasn’t for lack of cause.

We had just watched what would become one of the classic cornerstones of horror cinema, the original “Halloween.” I was 12, my brother 11.

Our dad had brought us with him to his part-time job as a projectionist at what was then the Mode Theater, hidden in the shadows of a dark, dilapidated corner of downtown Joliet. The downtown was a ghost town in the late 1970s, close to death itself thanks to the life-sucking draw of the vampiric new malls on the other side of town.

The theater had reached the point in its dwindling existence at which it usually showed R-rated, soft-core sex-type stuff. Stuff our mother wouldn’t let us see, like “Saturday Night Fever.” She was a bit of a prude. Ironically, now she just loves, loves, loves, John Travolta, for his dancing.

The Mode was dank, moldy, dirty, sticky, and empty most of the time. We could eat all the popcorn and soda we wanted, and we had free run of the theater so long as there weren’t too many people around.

Our dad wasn’t much of a movie buff. He liked Westerns – especially John Wayne to the point of adulation – and war movies. Loved silly comedies with the likes of Abbott and Costello and the Bowery Boys. And revered all the various James Bonds, especially Sean Connery.

But he really loved horror films of every kind.

We spent many a Saturday night curled up next to him in our parents’ bed watching the old “Creature Features” program.

In the dark, often peeking out from the sheets or hiding behind his arm, we learned to love all the Universal monsters. Vincent Price. The “modernized” Hammer Films versions of classics like Dracula. Even the weird, nuclear-era stuff from the 1950s and 1960s about giant lizards and killer bugs.

So, when this new movie called “Halloween” came out on Halloween weekend, there was no question, much less paternal debate, about him taking us to see it.

And see it, we did.

We sat in the balcony – the kind found in old movie houses and theaters like the Mode. It connected to the projection room where Dad waited for the fuzzy little dots to appear in the corner of the movie screen telling the projectionist when to manually change out the reels.

We watched this cheaply made film featuring unknown or barely known actors that would redefine and reinvigorate the horror genre.

It set a new cinematic standard by combining innovative, gory shock with the most essential, basic, time-worn element of all: suspense.

As with Hitchcock’s classics and modern masterpieces like “Jaws” and “Alien,” etc., “Halloween” reminded us that the scariest scares always come from the unknown. The biggest screams came not when Michael Myers killed someone in yet-another weird way. Frankly, that gets tiresome after the shock value wears off.

Rather, they came when the audience didn’t know where he was. Did someone just duck behind that hedge at the end of the sidewalk? Who is that stranger standing right behind Laurie?

So, we sat, cinematically stuck to our seats (and probably literally, too, considering all the pop and gum and candy and who knows what else had been spilled there.) Entranced. Enthralled. Too scared to look, too amazed to look away.

Then, Loomis emptied his pistol into Michael.

And we breathed again for the first time in what seemed a horror-filled eternity.

Then Loomis looked over the balcony railing, only to see Michael gone from the spot where he’d lain only minutes before.

We turned to each other. Eyes wide. Mouths gasping with the terror-infused, joyous squealing that surviving such an experience yields. In my blurred memory, one or both of us said, “Holy shit!” (whispering, of course, so Dad wouldn’t hear.)

Then, we inched up to the front of the theater balcony.

We carefully, cautiously peeked over the railing at the chairs and floor below, and saw…

Nothing.

The credits rolled.

The “Halloween” theme tinkle-tinkle-tinkled through the empty theater.

We waved to Dad in the booth, and smiled.

Let It Go!

You know the old saying:

“Don’t let the _____ get you down!” (insert your euphemism of choice based on your level of vexation.)

Whatever you call them, I’ve been surrounded lately by (euphemism of your choice.) And I’ve been letting them get me down.

 I’d love to say you can’t really blame me. After all, either by nature or nurture, design or default, these (euphemisms of your choice) say and do things purposely and strategically designed to flatten my psyche, injure my ego, and sap my spirit.

Some are misguided, some are confused. Many have been snowed under by an avalanche of anger triggered by a fat, orange Sasquatch. Still, whatever their motivation, they chew on my confidence like a rodent gnawing on a power line.

Yet, honestly, it’s not their fault.

How can that be, you ask with an abundance of (much appreciated) concern for my well-being (or well-earned uncertainty about the point of this entry into Tom’s Journal of Middle-Age Miasma.)

Well, upon some serious therapeutic self-examination, I realize that, as is usually the case, I am to blame.

The key word in the saying, “Don’t let the ____ get you down,” is, “Let.”

Are the (euphemisms of my choice) really doing all those things that lead to me feeling badly about myself? Absolutely! Although I am in my middle 50s, my approaching and imminent dementia isn’t so bad that I am imagining things yet – voices in my head be damned!

However, “letting” something happen is often our own choice.

I have long been a strong and vocal proponent of “personal accountability.”

For example, as a thinking – and, hopefully, thoughtful – human being, I am well aware of the evils we have, and continue to, commit against each other.

I am ashamed of and regret the resulting waves of repression, oppression, poverty, resentment, division, and societal decay that have rolled onto our historical beach. I try to understand and, whenever possible, speak out against the many things wrong with our world and help fix them in my own miniscule ways.

(Without getting too much into the weeds, these tiny actions of candor and conviction on my part are exactly what some of those (euphemisms of my choice) have criticized me for.)

Yet I also stand firmly on the conviction that, all things being equal, one must also be brave enough to take responsibility for the things one can control. Blaming others for problems of your own making only exacerbates the problem.

I cannot single-handedly control or change the world (although I will keep trying.)

But I can most certainly can control and change my world – which is to say, Me.

This nugget of wisdom came back to me recently from my two of my most trusted resources: my wife, and a children’s cartoon.

Sure, this behavior from others is often hurtful, and my frustration is real and significant. Yet, ironically, I give it weight, I assign its value, I make it real by how I respond.

Fight against it? Sure.

But let it darken my mental and emotional doorstep? No more.

Instead, I will re-commit myself (because I am often a slow learner with a spotty memory) to do what my wife and Elsa, from the Disney movie “Frozen,” recently reminded.

I will just “Let it go.”

Easier said than done? Yep.

Worth the effort? Most truly good things are.

All those (euphemisms of my choice) can keep right on stirring pots overflowing with a bitter soup of their own recipe. That is their right. But don’t expect me to taste it.

Not even a sip.