“Halloween”: How Does the Horror Flick Look from a Legal Standpoint?

Halloween. It’s a famous horror movie that made Jamie Lee Curtis a star, and William Shatner masks even creepier.  It’s about a psycho who stalks and murders babysitters. The question is, if Michael Myers were actually arrested, what would the charges be? The following is a legal analysis of John Carpenter’s legendary film.

In 1963, creepy little Michael murdered his older sister in Haddonfield, Illinois, on Halloween night, wearing the creepiest of all Halloween costumes, a clown.  Little Michael is locked away in a mental institution, and 15 years later breaks free and flees to his hometown, where he wreaks havoc on the unsuspecting babysitting population.

Here is the rundown:

1. As a child Michael stabs his sister.  If the court didn’t find him legally insane, he would be tried as a minor.  Michael watched his own mother murdered by his father, so that may have gone into the court’s determination to declare him insane.

  • Illinois law insanity defense: Illinois uses a modified version of the Model Penal Code rule (lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law). The burden of proof is on the defendant.
  • Illinois law for trying a minor as an adult: a juvenile is anyone under the age of 17.  Anyone 13 years old and above can be tried as an adult if he or she has a record of previously breaking the law or commits a serious crime.  Minors who are 15 or 16 years old are automatically tried as adults for certain offenses, including murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and armed robbery with a firearm. Michael is under age 13, and has not committed any previous crimes.

2. Michael then escapes from the mental institution in 1978.  If this was all he did, they would probably just send him right back.

3. After escaping, Michael attacks a nurse and steals her car. This is assault and battery, grand theft auto.

4. Michael next kills an auto mechanic and steals his clothes.

5. Michael then goes back to Haddonfield, where he proceeds to creepily follow nerdy and virginal Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is a babysitter, her curly-haired babysitter friend Annie (each more than twice), and the boy Laurie babysits once.  Laurie is the only one who seems to notice.

  • Illinois law: For stalking to be a crime, the stalkee must fear for his/her safety, or have reasonable apprehension of a crime, or suffer other emotional distress. It isn’t stalking if you don’t know about it. And the person must follow you on more than two separate occasions.

6. Michael steals the headstone of the sister he murdered.

7. Michael then breaks into a hardware store and steals some rope, knives, and masks, which are later used to commit his murders.

  • Illinois law: A person commits burglary when they knowingly enter or remain without authority in a building, etc. without permission with the intent to commit theft.

8. On Halloween, Laurie’s friend Annie is babysitting at the Wallace house. Michael’s therapist, who has followed Michael to Haddonfield to try and catch him, visits the old Myers house and finds a dog that Michael has partially eaten.

  • Illinois law: Assuming that dog was someone’s pet, it is illegal to intentionally commit an act that causes a companion animal to suffer serious injury or death.

9. Annie, who is still at the Wallace’s house, talks to her boyfriend on the phone about having sex (so now she is marked for death). When she goes into her car in the Wallace’s garage to visit the boyfriend, Michael pops up from the back seat and slashes her throat.

  • Illinois law: Residential burglary is 1) knowingly and without authority enters or knowingly and without authority remains within the 2) dwelling place of another, or any part thereof, 3) with the intent to commit therein a felony or theft.

10. Annie’s friend Lynda brings her boyfriend Bob to the Wallace’s house to hang out with Annie where they have sex (again, marked for death) once they see she is gone (or more accurately, murdered). Michael promptly kills them both.

11. Laurie, who is babysitting for the Doyles, goes to the Wallaces’ house to visit Annie. She finds Annie dead on the bed, with Michael’s sister’s headstone next to the body, Bob stuck in the ceiling, and Lynda in the dumbwaiter.  Michael chases Laurie around the house and neighborhood, then into the Doyles’ house trying to stab her, and she manages to stab him in the neck with a knitting needle. Of course, he doesn’t die and comes after her again, and she then stabs him in the stomach with a kitchen knife. The psychiatrist, who has been trying to find Michael, finds Laurie after this, but Michael’s body has mysteriously disappeared.

Michael seems to have executed his escape and the murders very well.  He steals the nurse’s car and can drive it normally, despite never being taught how to drive.  This shows detailed planning. He acts calm in his interactions with people while stalking Laurie and the others, not drawing too much attention to himself until the actual murders, and waits until the most opportune moment to strike.  He robs a store to obtain his murdering tools (rope, Captain Kirk mask, knives) ahead of time, and steals the headstone to use as a prop in his murders. All this shows premeditation and “malice aforethought.” If the prosecutor can convince the jury that Michael isn’t criminally insane, he or she can get Michael for murder in the first degree, among other things (grand theft auto, assault and battery, etc.).

Grand total (after the escape): 1 assault and battery (nurse) 1 grand theft auto (nurse), 1 stalking (Laurie), 1 theft (headstone), 1 burglary (hardware store), 2 residential burglary (Wallace house, Doyle house), 1 cruelty to animals (dog in Myers house), 4 murder (auto mechanic, Annie, Bob, Lynda), 1 attempted murder (Laurie).

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