I was born in Chicago (and would eventually spend over 15 years in the city, total) but I was raised mainly in Southern Illinois. And while I’m sure it would have been great growing up in a metropolitan city – full of action, culture, and possibility – I was happily oblivious spending the free time of my formative years by taking full advantage of the quiet town and nature that surrounded me: bike rides through the empty streets, pushing my way deep into cornfields, and exploring the damp, spooky woods that sat just behind our house. I really can’t imagine my youth any other way.
Growing up, I found that a lot of the media I was ingesting – especially of the horror ilk – reflected the sort of timeless Americana that I was living on a daily basis. This made the TV shows and movies I watched and the books and magazines I was reading all the more vivid and personable to a young, impressionable me. Those rural, ominous woods in the opening credits of Tales from the Darkside? Those were the woods behind my house. Or the innumerable stories set on barren farms, desolate stretches of road, and in deserted burgs from books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Goosebumps – I knew those areas personally. And of course all the big franchises of my youth, like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, took place in idyllic, sun-dappled Anywhere, U.S.A.-type towns.
The other big franchise of my youth, Halloween, is probably the one I have the closest connection to because it took place in my home state. Sure, it was a fictional place – Haddonfield, Illinois – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t modeled after my own little town. (The irony here is that not a single film in the entire Halloween franchise was filmed in Illinois, nor within 1000 miles of it.) Still, when I watch those early entries, it’s easy to place myself right there; walking the picturesque streets of Haddonfield, encountering the kindly midwest folks, envisioning the pastoral fields that lay on the outskirts of town. In fact, I’m there in my head right now as I type this.
No better entry in the series represented that midwestern vibe than Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Perhaps the most talked about part of Halloween 4 are the opening credits, and for good reason – despite being filmed in Utah(!), the opening credits of the film perfectly capture the dreary, lonesome autumnal feel that anyone who has lived in the midwest will recognize instantly. The handmade decorations, the weather-beaten fences in need of a new paint job, endless sepia-toned flat land as far as the eye can see – it all screams “midwestern Halloween!”.
But those opening shots are more than just accurate, they’re incredibly spooky, and they set the perfect tone for the rest of the movie. Like the aforementioned tree-lined opening of Tales from the Darkside, there’s something inherently unsettling about nature, especially the quiet, sparse wilderness you only find thirty miles outside of the big city. In the original Halloween, when Dr. Loomis ominously warns Sheriff Leigh Brackett, “Death has come to your little town, Sheriff”, this is the little town he’s talking about, and death hangs all over it in a visible fog.
The spot-on representations of small town life aren’t restricted to just the opening credits. The whole movie is peppered with true to life ruralism.
There’s Vincent Drug, the local drug store (also featured in The Sandlot, another Americana film), which sits, in all its ’50s-era architecture glory, among other similarly near-extinct businesses on the perpetually empty main street through Haddonfield. It seems to employ every teenager in town, all of whom know each other. This is the place where people go to buy their Halloween costumes. Remember: it’s a drugstore.
Then there’s talk of going to get ice cream after buying the Halloween costume, which is just about as aw-shucks as you can get.
And don’t forget the police force is so small (and therefore overwhelmed by Myers’ presence), that the merry, drunken band of local rednecks decide to abandon their post at the local watering hole (“The Oasis”, replete with Spuds Mackenzie statue) and help out by doling out a little trigger-happy justice themselves. (They end up killing an innocent kid.)
Then there’s Sheriff Meeker’s house, which looks more like a log cabin from the inside, with it’s crackling fireplace and walls adorned with mounted buck heads.
But I don’t need to mention any of that, because my long-winded but vividly-detailed description of Halloween 4 has inspired you to watch it immediately, right? You’re jumping up right now to throw it on the TV? Look, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more seasonally (not to mention regionally) accurate Halloween movie. Watch it, and you’ll feel the bite of an October night on your cheeks, you’ll smell damp leaves, you’ll taste warm pumpkin pie. I swear it.
The opening credits will make a believer out of you.