Surviving Michael Myers: The Psychology of ¡®Halloween Kills¡¯ Laurie Strode

Drea Letamendi
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With Halloween Kills here, we decided it was time to do a deep dive on what motivates one of the most iconic and beloved heroines in horror history, Laurie Strode, and turned to clinical psychologist Dr. Drea Letamendi for her insight.

The Halloween series is known for its numerous retcons and reboots, which have in turn led to multiple timelines and multiple paths for Laurie, so keep in mind that for this analysis, we¡¯re keeping things strictly to the continuity adhered to by the current films, in which only the original 1978 film Halloween and its 2018 follow-up of the same name are considered canon, as we head into the events of Halloween Kills.


During her formative years, Laurie Strode was a kind-hearted and trusting person, a responsible teenager, and an introverted scholar. She lived in Haddonfield, Illinois, the kind of neighborhood that was presumably safe and quiet, a humble community of conventional, unassuming residents and families. At seventeen, Laurie was perceptive and fairly sharp. She was less like her peers, Annie Brackett and?Lynda Van Der Klok, two outgoing teens who were more often concerned with their social lives than their studies. Laurie¡¯s perception of life, however, was completely shattered on Halloween night in 1978, a date that would forever be associated with the vicious acts of a serial killer.

Earlier that day, Laurie had caught glimpses of a strange, masked man in coveralls at various places in town¡ªacross the street from school, on the sidewalk when walking home, and in her neighbor¡¯s backyard. Each time she saw him, the man was always wearing a nondescript, eerie white mask and he stood, unmoving and facing her, at a distance. Naturally, she grew increasingly concerned about this stranger and his odd behavior, but when she told her friends about her sightings, they shrugged her off, pointing out Laurie¡¯s characteristic social flaws and her inability to relate to men; it was Laurie, not the strange man on the sidewalk, who was bizarre, off-putting, and peculiar.

However, unbeknownst to Laurie, the convicted murderer Michael Myers had broken out of a mental institution, Smith’s Grove, the night before and had returned to Haddonfield to seek victims. This man had, in fact, been watching her. As the night progressed, and while Laurie was babysitting a neighborhood child named Tommy Doyle, Michael was killing her friends one at a time; including, Annie, Lynda and Lynda’s boyfriend, Bob Simms. When Laurie went to the home where Annie was babysitting, she found the bodies of all her friends strategically placed in grotesque, disturbing positions in each room. To Laurie¡¯s horror, Michael Myers emerged out of the darkness and attacked her with a large knife, piercing her arm. He pursued her with a quiet, stoic wrath, attacking Laurie several times as she escaped him, again and again. Even after she plunged a knife into him, leaving his body for dead, Michael astoundingly rose and attacked Laurie again. The experience was relentless and brutal. It wasn¡¯t until Michael’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis, burst into the house and fired several bullets into Michael’s body, that he ceased his attack. The impact sent his bleeding body over the second story balcony, and he seemed lifeless on the ground. When Dr. Loomis looked over the balcony, however, the killer was gone.

Forty years later, two obtrusive podcasters,?Aaron Joseph-Korey and Dana Haines, visit Laurie¡¯s home, intent on interviewing her for a story they are covering about Michael Myers. Fascinated with Myers, the reporters explain that they¡¯re creating an investigatory profile about the ¡°deranged¡± killer, and are seeking Laurie¡¯s perspective as the central victim, someone who not only survived Michael¡¯s attacks but witnessed his evil pathology firsthand. The reporters note her overly protective lifestyle: Laurie¡¯s home is surrounded by surveillance cameras and safeguarded by multiple locks. She lives alone, isolated and clearly disconnected with the social world.

As the unwelcomed guests point out, Laurie¡¯s traumatic experience was the reason she is now estranged from her family. She had lost custody of her only daughter, Karen, to social services, due to the harsh environment Laurie created in her fear that Michael would one day return to kill her. Laurie¡¯s response to the journalists is harsh but reasonable. She now feels twice victimized; once, of course, by a murderous psychopath, and again, by journalists who perceive her as unstable and unfit. In truth, Laurie comes off as abrasive, cynical, and uncomfortably edgy. She is not the warm-hearted and endearing scholar with a sharp mind and realistic discernment. Her sense of humor has vanished. To others, Laurie is seen as paranoid, aggressive, trigger-happy, and a perpetratorto her family. She has absorbed his malice. Though Michael Myers was the original aggressor, Laurie has, as a result of the longstanding suffering, anger, and obsession, become the victimizer.

When Bad Things
Happen to Good People

Scary experiences are not uncommon¡ªpsychological trauma, the emotional response resulting from any event that is physically or emotionally threatening or harmful, happens to most of us at some point in our lives. What occurs next varies from person to person. A survivor¡¯s immediate reaction in the aftermath of trauma is complex and can range from exhaustion, confusion, sadness, agitation, numbness, and dissociation. Some individuals have difficulty expressing emotions following the initial shock. These are all very natural responses to severe trauma and aren¡¯t signs of long-term problems.

However, what occurs over long-term recovery varies greatly from person to person. In Laurie¡¯s case, even after a return to safety (her assailant is captured and imprisoned), she experienced what are considered delayed responses following the attack¡ªchronic sleep disturbances, vivid nightmares, upsetting flashbacks, and fears of recurrence, which is the constant and irrational worry that Michael would show up and finish what he started. Presumably, Laurie¡¯s hypervigilance, triggering memories, relentless anger, and alcohol abuse lasted for years and caused impairment to her and her family, indicating that her symptoms developed into a mental health disorder called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The social cognitive theory of PTSD suggests that some survivors, as a way to cope, try to incorporate the experience of their trauma into existing beliefs about oneself, others, and the world. This strategy, though, can result in unhelpful understandings of their trauma and perceptions of control of the self or the environment. For instance, if Laurie believed that ¡°bad things happen to bad people,¡± then being brutally attacked would confirm that she is ¡°bad,¡± not that she was unjustly violated. She would grow to believe that she wasn¡¯t attacked at random, but that she must have been targeted for being inadequate or immoral. Perhaps her willingness to isolate, arm herself with guns and weapons, and parent her daughter with strictness and coldness fits this theory of being an unlikable person and deserving punishment. She didn¡¯t mind being a ¡°bad¡± parent if it meant she could keep her daughter safe.

On the other hand, Laurie did not seem to develop beliefs that she was deserving of the assault. Another cognitive transformation is basically the opposite: rejecting the idea that one is ¡°bad¡± and instead adapting beliefs about the world and others to better make sense of the victimization. Laurie¡¯s exaggerated safeguarding, her over-controlling personality, and her commitment to kill Michael are signs that in order to retain a positive sense of self, she must see Michael as the one who is evil, unjust, and deserving of severe punishment. This is arguably the more realistic interpretation of her trauma, and the narrative that we are rooting for.

A foreshortened future

Trauma can affect one¡¯s beliefs about the future via loss of hope, limited expectations about life, fear that life will end abruptly or early, or anticipation that normal milestones won¡¯t occur as planned (e.g., graduating from high school, going to college, starting a career, the ability to have a significant and committed relationship, good opportunities for work, etc.). This belief in a foreshortened future can come directly from experiencing a near-death experience but also can stem from noticing dangers in the world more frequently and more intensely. Laurie developed this set of beliefs by accepting a premature death¡ªshe¡¯s dedicated her life to encountering Michael again; she¡¯s expecting to either be murdered by him or to face punishment once she kills Michael.

Although Laurie was distraught by being separated from her daughter, she eschewed the notion that she¡¯d be a ¡°normal¡± parent and raise a family under typical circumstances. This is evidenced by her interactions with her daughter, who is now an adult and feels incredibly hurt and angry at losing out on a safe and comforting childhood. As Laurie asserts, ¡°The way I raised [my daughter] means she hates me, but she¡¯s prepared for the horrors of this world. I can live with that.¡±

Feeling different

Because traumatic events are often unexpected and nuanced, survivors often believe that they are alone in their experience. For Laurie, this is absolutely true¡ªapart from the two youngsters she and Anne were babysitting, Tommy and Lindsey Wallace, Laurie was the sole survivor of Mike¡¯s murderous rampage. She truly is the only person who knew what it was like to face his cruelty, to escape his disturbing attacks. The experience itself may have felt surreal to her; and the remaining waves of confusion and horror bring periods of isolation and detachment. She may believe that others will not fully understand her experience and she may be reluctant to share her deeper thoughts and feelings with loved ones, whose reactions may fall short of her expectations. She also may be burdened by excessive guilt and responsibility. Because the others did not survive, it is up to Laurie to seek retribution and end Michael¡¯s life.

Idealization

Sometimes, survivors of interpersonal trauma demonstrate inaccurate rationalizations, or justifications of the perpetrator¡¯s behavior, in order to move forward with their life. In fact, the idea of mirror idealization refers to traumatic bonding between the victimizer and the survivor. This bond is an emotional attachment that develops because, as stated, there was a unique experience that they shared, so nuanced and emotionally intense, that they may both develop deep connections to the trauma and to one another. Somewhat similar to Stockholm Syndrome (which occurs over a long period of time and involves terrorizing and holding the victim hostage, and has more empathy between one another), the bonds that form through one-time interpersonal violence are steeped in extreme disgust, confusion, and a need to seek resolution through reunion. Seeing oneself as the predator while also being fearful of becoming prey keep them both alive. They share a similar purpose.

¡°He¡¯s waited for me¡­ I waited for him.¡±

Hypervigilance

Often, people think dissociation means going completely catatonic. It is true that dissociation may be evidenced by fixed or ¡°glazed¡± eyes, the sudden flattening of emotions, long periods of silence, monotonous voice, and excessive intellectualization. In addition, separating oneself from others is a way of dissociating. Laurie is demonstrating an excessive fixation on her assailant, which is also a form of dissociation. Her gated residence, multiple on-property surveillance cameras, and ¡°lockdown¡± fixtures are all signs that she¡¯s thought about her victimizer for the last four decades. These safeguards aren¡¯t designed to protect her against any evils; they are specifically instated with Michael Myers in mind.

Reenacting trauma

A hallmark symptom of trauma is reexperiencing the event in various ways, whether through nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts and imagery about the event. Additionally, trauma survivors repetitively relive and recreate the event in their present lives. Examples include engaging in reckless and self-injurious behavior, entering destructive relationships, and being in unsafe places. Intrusive thoughts¡ªexperiencing, without warning or desire, upsetting memories associated with the trauma¡ªcan trigger strong emotional reactions almost as if the horror was happening again, in the present. We know that Laurie continues to be haunted by Michael¡¯s presence in her memories. When the intrusions are intense and rapid, it is known as flooding. It is likely that Laurie experienced flooding on Halloween, the evening that Michael escaped while being transferred from the high security facility in which he¡¯d been detained for observation to another lockdown facility. When arriving at a dinner celebration for her granddaughter, Allyson, and the rest of the family, Laurie rushed to the table, immediately raised her voice, spoke rapidly and incoherently, and chugged a glass of wine. Her behavior was erratic and upsetting, and her family instantly noted that she was unwell.

Sometimes the reenactment of trauma is an attempt to master it. Laurie finds that when she imagines being confronted by Michael again, she can consider different ways to protect herself, to capture him, and to end his life, which, in her mind, would fully end the nightmare and leave her to peacefully live her life. This mental shifting can actually be very healing during the aftermath of interpersonal trauma. The question Laurie should be asking is not, ¡°why did this happen to me?¡± or ¡°what did I do to deserve this?¡± A more helpful question would be, ¡°Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?¡±

Laurie has gone steps further by transforming these revenge fantasies into reality; she creates a home equipped with an arsenal of assaultive arms and supplies, a makeshift bunker under the kitchen in which to trap Michael. She spends hours at shooting practice, imagining the bullets penetrating his body. Laurie knows about Michael¡¯s transfer between facilities, and prefers that he breaks out so that she can kill him and achieve closure. As Allyson puts it, Michael Myers ¡°is all she talks about. It defines her.¡± But Laurie¡¯s reenactments have become obsessional, cyclical, and in service only to keep her fixated on the original event itself.

Unhappy Anniversary

There is no one right way to heal. The most misunderstood and misquoted healing model is ¡°Stages of Grief.¡± ?People have come to believe that our process for dealing with death starts with feelings of denial (reacting to the event with disbelief and shock), followed by anger (blaming the circumstances and people surrounding the event), and bargaining (figuring out ways toward a different, more tolerant outcome), depression (processing the emotions of sadness, loneliness, and guilt), and acceptance (understanding the outcome as concrete and final). People mistakenly believed this is the specific order in which people grieve and that all people go through all stages.

The model itself is powerfully helpful, but the interpretation of the model is oversimplified; a linear, step-by-step concept of grief leaves out important parts of the process. Yet and still, others might only undergo two stages rather than all five, one stage, three stages, etc. Moreover, what can the model offer for those who experience critical losses and changes, not related to the death of a loved one, but to life-interrupting change? True, most of us have similar starting points at shock and denial, but our trauma recovery is much more complex and dynamic. The K¨¹bler-Ross ¡°Change Curve¡± is considered the updated, accepted model offered as a framework of healing following significant personal loss and upheaval. Added to the model are the concepts of experimentation (engaging openly with the new situation), decision-making (learning how to work with the new situation), integration (seeing oneself as a renewed individual), and rebuilding (forming positive and adaptive meaning about the situation). Laurie¡¯s pathway seems to waver between anger, depression, and experimentation. The ¡°lowest point¡± of the curve comes when the anger begins to wear off and the realization that the change is genuine hits. It is common for morale to be low, and for self-doubt and anxiety levels to peak. Feelings during this stage can be hard to express, and depression is possible as the impact of what has been lost is acknowledged. This period can be associated with apathy, isolation, and remoteness.

Anniversary dates¡ªin this case, October 31st¡ªcan reactivate strong emotions and vivid memories from the actual event. As a result, survivors may experience a number of reactions, ranging from anxiety to fear to depression. Psychologists explain that the anniversary may bring about cues that we associate with the original event. For instance, jack-o-lanterns, scary costumes, and Fall weather may trigger thoughts and feelings about the original murders. As each Halloween approaches and these seasonal elements begin to emerge, Laurie may begin to experience difficulty concentrating, disorganized thinking, irritability, sleep disturbances, and feelings of detachment from others. Thus, each year, Laurie is forced to revisit her trauma.

Some of us experienced similar feelings of dread and depression at the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. During April of 2021, psychologists warned of a second pandemic ¡ª one that would persist even after the physical threat of the virus has been addressed. The anniversary effect may explain some of the spike in suffering; our bodies and brains store painful memories that can be triggered by certain dates or seasons, such as the death date of a loved one, the annual reminder of a serious diagnosis, or, in this case, the date we went into lockdown.

The Survivor Centered Approach
as a Path Toward Healing

According to Dr. Ranbir Sartain, the psychiatrist who was treating Michael Myers at the time of his second escape in 2018, a trauma survivor faces multiple roads in the aftermath of a critical event. ¡°There are many ways tragedy and violence can impact a victim,¡± he explains. ¡°They can live in fear. They can grow weak; they can grow strong.¡± His assessment of recovery is accurate, because emotional responses can vary depending on the person and how they interpret the situation. Somewhat transfixed, he discloses his true interest in working with Michael Myers: ¡°The effect on the victimizer, this is what intrigued me.¡± Dr. Sartain is curious about what it takes for someone to engage in brutality, and goes on to reveal that he wishes to know what it ¡°feels¡± like to commit a murder.

It happens to be Dr. Sartain who insists on driving the recently escaped Myers to Laurie¡¯s home, where Laurie and her daughter are hiding out.? Fueled by his belief that Myers still has the desire to kill Laurie, and his twisted interest in bear witness to a climactic slaying, Dr. Sartain decides to reunite them. Laurie, too, believes that there is a deep connection between her and Myers. This anticipation is mirrored by our own growing anticipation of some kind of closure between the two uniquely untouchable figures. Laurie, Dr. Sartain, and the audience share an exaggerated and fabricated belief in a relationship or connection between Myers and Laurie, which likely stems from a common wish to make meaning of the accumulating losses and violence. Creating a narrative in which the two are ¡°destined¡± to face one another can be a coping strategy, as it helps us deal with the horrors of the original killings as more than being accidental or happenstance.

However, centering closure around the victimizer (or around the relationship between the victimizer and the survivor) does not often serve as a curative response in the aftermath of assaultive trauma. Rather, a victim-centered (or survivor centered) approach, where the focus is on the needs and concerns of someone like Laurie, ensures a more compassionate and sensitive road to recovery. For instance, shifting attention away from Myers and instead offering Laurie psychotherapeutic services and supportive advocacy partnerships would give her buffering needed to feel protected and safe; providing Laurie opportunities to participate in her perpetrator being brought to justice as part of a fair system would minimal retraumatization. Throughout the years, the central goal of her recovery could have included increasing bonds with family and folks she trusts, not separating her from her family. Most of all, helping Laurie redefine her sense of purpose or personal mission, completely unrelated to that horrific night of slayings, would have been paramount to her recovery.

Happy Halloween

Ultimately, Laurie is offered the chance for closure. After Myers murders Dr. Sartain, he arrives at Laurie¡¯s home, breaks in, and both have an intense confrontation. For both Laurie and Myers, it is a revisitation of their original encounter. A ¡°second chance.¡±? Karen and Allyson, meanwhile, are hiding in the basement, until Michael discovers the entrance to the underground sanctuary. Karen bravely grabs the gun from her childhood and points it upwards toward the basement hatch, motivated to attack the man in the same manner that she was trained to do as a child. The three generations of women succeed in overtaking Michael, shooting and stabbing him until he is trapped in the basement. It was then sealed with iron bars and the entire house set on fire by Laurie, with the intent of finally ending the nightmare.

Michael Myers has defied death in the past. Each time we think he is exterminated, he seems to find a way to come back to life, which, in a way, can represent the constancy and persistence of trauma. The person who is Myers may no longer haunt Laurie, but his symbology will continue to preoccupy her for the rest of her life. What happened to Laurie will always be there. To try to remove the memory or obliterate it from her mind would be extremely difficult and result in feelings of failure and frustration. Instead, Laurie must work toward containing and sanctifying the memory of the defining night, Halloween of 1978. By intentionally adopting a new prospective, she can make the memory work for her instead of against her.

At each traumatic anniversary, Laurie can recognize and acknowledge changes in her emotional states, noticing when she begins to feel agitated, impulsive, or on edge. As the holiday approaches, she can observe and identify the cues or signals that remind her of the event. The anniversary can be a time of remembrance, a season of honoring her friends from childhood who were lost too soon, and respecting and cherishing the family who have helped her overcome the massacre. By forming a restorative truth, one that is unique and special to Laurie, one in which Laurie assumes the agency and control she desperately seeks, she could no longer have reason to build a cage¡ªor a trap.


Drea Letamendi
Dr. Drea is a licensed clinical psychologist and mental health educator. She co-hosts "The Arkham Sessions," a podcast dedicated to the psychology of Batman.