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Since the first the “Halloween” film debuted in 1978, its impact on the horror genre has been undeniable. John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick permanently ingrained Michael Myers’ mask and its pale, emotionless expression in our minds while simultaneously introducing America to a budding star in the form of Jamie Lee Curtis.
Now, almost exactly 40 years later, Curtis will reprise the role of the tenacious Laurie Strode in the latest chapter of the franchise — a direct sequel to the 1978 original.
While the original “Halloween” was undeniably influential, its central themes — for which the film is often credited with popularizing within the slasher genre — actually precede Carpenter’s film. The image of a nanny stalked by a vicious escaped mental patient has haunted the American imagination since the mid-20th century.
The urban legend of "the babysitter and the man upstairs" began spreading in the 1960's, according to a Snopes investigation. The story generally goes that a young girl hired to watch the children for a middle-class suburban family received repeated phone calls from an unknown source pleading her to check on the sleeping kids. Eventually, after the alerting the police, she is informed that the call is coming from inside the house, prompting her to run into the arms of law enforcement that at the last second save her from the vicious killer, who had snuck in through a window and killed her wards. In some versions of the tale, the butcher knife-wielding killer had recently escaped from an unspecified mental hospital or sanitorium.
This folkloric account is referred to almost directly in several horror films, including "When A Stranger Calls" (1979) and "Urban Legend" (1998). The 1974 film "Black Christmas" (often cited as one of the earliest examples of a slasher film) may also have served as inspiration for "Halloween," and similarly derives its story from the legend.
Aside from the tropes it inspired and absorbed, true crime stories also influenced the legend of Michael Myers. The “babysitter and the man upstairs" may have been fabricated out of longstanding cultural fears about vulnerable young women, motherhood and the dangers of telecommunication, but the myth resembles and has been connected to the case of Janett Christman.
In March of 1950, 13-year-old Christman was hired to babysit 3-year-old Gregory Romack at his home in Columbia, Missouri. At 10:35 p.m., police received a call from someone screaming, urging them to "Come quick!" but could not obtain any more information from the girl on the other end of the line before the connection dropped, nor could the call be traced, according to The Columbia Tribune, a Columbia, Missouri-based news organization.
When the Romack parents returned home, they found their doors unlocked and Christman dead in a pool of blood.
Investigation into the killing showed that Christman had resisted her assailant, who had raped her before strangling her to death.
The case of Christman was never solved. The primary suspect, Robert Mueller (no relation to the current head of the Special Counsel investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia), never faced any charges due to lack of evidence. Mueller's noted sexual advances towards Christman before her death had piqued the interests of police, but his testimony while being administered a polygraph test suggested he was not involved in the crime. He later sued the police department for holding him illegally, according to court documents.
The tale of Christman bears little resemblance to the fictional Laurie Strode, who famously survived her attack from a nightmarish masked assailant. Still, the lore spawned from the case seems to have influenced Carpenter, especially in a key scene in the original film in which Strode mistakes a muffled call from a friend as a potentially obscene or threatening gesture.
Another key aspect of Myers' mythology is his unrivaled ability to bust out of psychiatric facilities: In the upcoming 2018 installment, directed by David Gordon Green, Myers once again flees from confinement to hunt Strode.
Stories of murderous psychopaths slipping past sanitarium security also haunt the collective American psyche, but one particular instance stands out amongst the many.
The case of Andre Rand, discussed extensively in the 2009 documentary "Cropsey," also generated urban legends that bears resemblance to the Michael Myers mythos.
Rand, a convicted serial kidnapper also known by the alias Frank Rushan (and, possibly, Andre Rashan, according to some sources), committed his first known crimes in 1969 when he was caught right before sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl, according to a 1987 report by The New York Times.
In 1983, Rand kidnapped a busload of children and took them to a local White Castle without the consent of their parents, for which he was confined for ten months.
Five years later in 1988, Rand would be found guilty for the kidnapping (but not murder) of 12-year-old Jennifer Schweiger, a girl with Down's Syndrome whose body was discovered near the grounds of the Willowbrook State Mental Facility, a treatment center that had fallen into disgrace after an exposé by Geraldo Rivera revealed several human rights abuses. Rushan has since been linked to several other unsolved cases concerning missing children, and in 2004 was convicted for the kidnapping of Holly Ann Hughes, whose body was never found, 23 years earlier, according to The New York Daily News.
Eventually, Rushan’s alleged crimes morphed into the stuff of urban legend. "Cropsey" explores how through word-of-mouth, he transformed into a hook-wielding mass murderer who sacrificed kids to Satan within the imaginations of local Staten Island children.
And although Rushan never in fact escaped his confinement, his linkage of his crimes to local mental health facilities and his connection to various unsolved cases has turned him into a figure of mythic proportion in New York, with many still blaming the disappearances of children on (a distorted version of) him, despite the fact he’s currently incarcerated.
The Myers character was invented as Cropsey’s legend started to take form.
Like Cropsey, Myers also became imbued with supernatural qualities over the course of his 11-film journey, in which he is depicted as possessing demonic strength and is able to survive gunshot wounds and other lethal attacks.
In "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers" (1995), Michael's unearthly abilities are even explained as the result of an ancient Druidic curse connected to the holiday of Samhain, the pagan version of Halloween.
Meanwhile, several other real life stories of escaped dangerous mental patients may have fueled rumors about Rushan, and perhaps inspired the continuation of Myers' tale.
In 1983, for example, two dangerous patients escaped from a psychiatric facility on Wards Island in New York, according to The New York Times.
More recently, in 2017, a man described as a "violent psychopath" escaped from a psychiatric in Hawaii and was quickly re-apprehended, according to USA Today.
To say that any of the "Halloween" films are inspired by one or several true crimes, then, might be a bit of a stretch. But the genius of Carpenter's character is that Myers draws on several legends, which, themselves, are only tenuously linked to actual events.
As with Myers' infamously faceless white mask, the real terror of "Halloween" is not the killer himself, but the fears we project onto him. The extent to which those fears are based in any kind of reality is truly up to the viewers.
[Photo Credit: Michael Myers Cosplayer by Albert L. Ortega/Getty]
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