The Halloween franchise has featured no shortage of shocking thrills and kills over its 40 years dominating the slasher genre. From Michael drowning a woman in a hot tub filled with boiling water in Halloween II, to literally crushing a man’s skull with his bare hands in Halloween 4, the franchise wastes no time in delivering its intense kill sequences. However horrifying these moments are, the one that packs the biggest punch comes in 2018’s Halloween. Although it’s less than five minutes long, the sequence in question manages to be the most upsetting in the franchise.
At first glance, a gas station seems innocuous enough. But in Halloween, a symbol of Americana turns into a hunting ground when Michael Myers is once again let loose on society, following a routine prison transfer gone wrong. This time, his targets aren’t so random; rather, they’re a pair Michael met prior to his escape: true-crime podcasters Aaron and Dana.
The pair first met Michael while attempting to get the notoriously silent killer to spill the details surrounding his original 1978 killing spree. Naturally, Michael’s lips are sealed. So in a last-ditch effort, Aaron provokes Michael by brandishing his original mask, worn and torn from 40 years in storage. It stirs something inside Michael, as if an almost electric current links him to the mask. A calling. A warm embrace.
And he wants it back.
It’s not long before Michael catches up with Aaron and Dana, who become his new targets. What starts off with Dana making a routine trip to a remote gas station bathroom quickly turns deadly when a stranger enters and tries to open her stall door. She politely explains that the stall is occupied, but her uncertainty turns to cold fear when the figure starts rattling the door. Dana doesn’t know who it is, but from the bottoms of his navy-blue overalls and grimy hands dropping extracted human teeth in front of her, we do. Michael has found her. It’s an unsettling image but even more upsetting and anxiety-inducing is that Michael ignores the societal norms and politeness of Dana’s “excuse me,” setting Dana and her suspicions (and ours) on edge. She’s alone, vulnerable, and suffering mental duress and physical torture, largely because she’s an obstacle preventing Michael from getting what he wants. It’s also notable that her placement on the toilet is reminiscent of Marion Crane’s placement in Psycho’s shower sequence, driving home the horrors that come with invaded privacy and intense vulnerability.
What makes the scene even more terrifying and emotionally draining is that it’s a complete departure from Michael’s attitude and pursuits in the 1978 Halloween. Here, he’s not content to slowly stalk his victims or lurk behind bushes or in closets before going in for the kill. He displays an animalistic sense of violence and rage, jumping into the kills as if he’s been waiting decades to get back into the “game.” It’s completely visceral and the constant action and slowly increasing violence doesn’t give viewers a chance to catch their breath. When Michael bashes Aaron’s head on the stall of the bathroom door, not only is it a surprising jolt, but it’s a scene that’s bloody, intense, and downright mean. Aaron and Dana, while pursing information from both Michael and Laurie, aren’t malicious or blood-thirsty in their quest for podcast material. They’re innocents. Which makes Michael’s extreme violence towards them that much more grim and upsetting.
The music in the scene adds to the feelings of deep dread. John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies’ score here is full of drawn-out string instrumentals and a rapid repeated ticka, ticka, ticka, ticka cue that calls to mind a ticking clock and ratchets up the tension. The music then turns more somber as Michael approaches a cowering Dana on the bathroom floor as she continues to plead for her life. She knows there’s nothing left she can do to save herself and the slowed-down and subdued musical cues add a severe level of discomfort to the scene to make it both visceral and emotionally upsetting as Dana (and the audience) has time to consider the inevitability of her death in the moments before it actually happens. Rather than a quick kill, the moment is allowed to breathe and carefully build tension, and it’s all the more horrifying and nihilistic because of it.
Ultimately, Aaron and Dana’s deaths as some of the film’s first kills serve as a jarring jolt. They’re innocents, and their quick demise swiftly communicates that no one is safe in Michael’s new reign of terror. It’s a scene that brutally sets the stage for what follows while showing that Michael’s rage and once brooding nature has progressed to something much more visceral. And because of its focus on carefully crafted tension and mounting dread surrounding a pair of blameless victims, it’s not just a quick kill sequence, or one that’s merely hard to physically stomach. It’s one whose brutality and meanness lingers in the mind—making it both memorable and the most upsetting scene the franchise has to offer.