Ahab of Haddonfield: Dr. Loomis and the Allure of Madness
The mythology of Ahab, the god-like captain of The Pequod in Herman Melville's classic story of a man and his obsession with a White Whale, has echoed throughout history as a cautionary tale of the dangers of infatuation with forces beyond your control. There are numerous examples of Ahab-like characters in literature and film, perhaps the most literal and iconic being Robert Shaw's Quint in Stephen Spielberg's action/horror opus Jaws. Quint was an obsessive man before the shark began eating children off Amity Island, but once the Great White was introduced, his monomaniacal impulses threatened to doom the hunting voyage before he was eventually dragged to his own death inside the jaws of a giant fish. It's a bit on the nose, perhaps, but the Ahab-esque journey of Quint became a cinematic legend nonetheless. While I would certainly consider Jaws a horror movie (and would rebuke any willing to take the opposite view), the journey of Halloween's Dr. Samuel Loomis is perhaps the best example in horror of a man's descent into madness purely because of his maniacal dedication to a cause.
1978's Halloween is notable for many reasons, the least of which is its iconic villain that changed the face of the slasher genre. Michael Myers is a killer from the opening scene, slicing up his sister from behind a clown mask on the titular holiday. He is committed to an institution, which certainly seems like a good idea, and is placed under the care of Donald Pleasance's Dr. Loomis. While we wouldn't get a good look at Michael's time in the institution until much later in the series, one can imagine the type of treatment that awaited a young child in the mental institutions of the early 60's. Loomis, of course, is responsible for those treatments, which makes one wonder why Michael wasn't looking for his head instead of Laurie Strode's. Once Michael escapes, however, Dr. Loomis takes it as his mission to track down the killer and kill him: he is convinced that the treatments will not and cannot work, and he is determined to take Michael down before he can do any more harm.
You know that part of the story, of course. Halloween is the archetype for thousands of films that have been released since, and it's a film series that spans a whopping thirteen movies at present day (with more promised for the future). What is not discussed very often, however, is the character of Loomis himself, the doctor who becomes more and more deranged throughout the series as he focuses on his singular task of murdering the famous serial killer who was once his ward. In Halloween II, which takes place immediately following the events of the original film, Loomis eventually gives his own life to take Michael with him, completing one part of his Ahab story arc by going down with the ship. Of course, this would not be the last time we see the pair, as they skipped a movie and came back for director Dwight H. Little's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.
It is within this middle trilogy, what some fans call The Thorn Trilogy, where Loomis' descent into madness truly comes into focus. It is also where Loomis receives the true Ahab treatment, sporting a scarred face after his battle with Myers in the second film instead of Captain Ahab's trademark whalebone leg. This near-mortal wound would not depress his desire to take Michael out, of course; no, the facial scars would be a constant reminder that the man at the center of his quest to rid the world of evil was still out there, threatening to at any time resume his reign of terror over the town of Haddonfield. We can see Loomis looking at himself in the mirror, and while it's easy to dismiss this as a reminder to the audience that he survived the events of Halloween II, it could also be viewed as his daily reminder that he had been to the brink of destruction before and would seek to prevent anyone else from having to experience the pain that Michael can bring.
Of course, Halloween 4's Loomis spends most of his time trying to save the young Jamie Lloyd from Michael's clutches. He is the investigator of the series, generally the character who is most likely to reveal catastrophic information that changes the way that the audience views the plot of the film. He is also, however, unconditionally obsessed with his own Moby Dick. Michael Myers is the great White Whale in his story, the one mistake of the past that drives him through every scene and every interaction. His experience hitchhiking with the Reverend Jackson P. Sayer, played as a looney-tunes drunk that really shouldn't be driving by Carmen Filpi, shows him his own reflection, a man who comes across as crazy to those he encounters and one who believes fully in his commission regardless. Instead of forcing Loomis to take a step back and view his actions through a critical lens, it hardens his resolve, renewing his vigor in defeating the evil within his hometown by any means necessary.
The ending of Halloween 4 continues with the fate of The Pequod. As Michael continues his pursuit of Jamie Lloyd, the townspeople of Haddonfield begin to turn on each other, at one point actually shooting and killing one of their own that they have mistaken for the serial killer. As The Pequod was destroyed by the White Whale, so is Haddonfield destroyed by Michael Myers. In fact, Loomis ensures that it will be. In his efforts to defeat Michael, he sets up a slaughterhouse for the residents of the town and its police force, trapping high school kids and deputies alike within a house of horrors from which they cannot escape. Michael, predictably, tears through them like tissue paper, using every object at his disposal, including a shotgun, to slash his way to his niece. Loomis, having been dispatched by Michael after being shoved through a glass door, is absent for most of the film's finale. Michael has gotten ahold of Jamie and her caretaker Rachel, and as he makes one final attempt to kill his prey, he is gunned down by the entire Haddonfield police force. The evil that Loomis seeks to defeat, however, will not stay dead, as Jamie has slain her foster mother and has become the new face of the corruption that Loomis has dedicated his life to stomping out.
What kind of story would this be if that were the end of things? Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers picks up one year after the previous film left off, with Jamie in an institution because she is psychically linked with the evil within Michael. Loomis, in his continuing attempt to stop the evil, has become her new protector, and by the time Michael returns, he is fully invested in ensuring that Jamie conquers the evil once and for all. This is not, however, how things will progress as the story continues. Loomis has lost all touch with reality, eventually putting himself into a position where he uses Jamie herself as bait in order to lure Michael into a trap from which he can't escape. While Dr. Loomis has previously shown signs of his deterioration, his insistence on continually placing this young girl in harm's way is the clearest signal yet that his obsession has reached critical mass.
After convincing Jamie to serve as the bait in his serial killer trap, he returns the girl to the Myers house to which Michael is drawn like a moth to a flame. As the killer approaches, Jamie is left alone, Loomis retreating to the lower level of the house to continue his Machiavellian plan. Once Michael has achieved his goal and has Jamie in his grasp, Loomis' final trap is sprung. Michael is held in place by a large net, staring through the holes in his fisherman's web as Loomis attempts to finally issue the killing blow to his nemesis. It is here, in the closing scenes of Halloween 5, that Dr. Samuel Loomis' transformation into Captain Ahab is completed. As Michael stands, wounded, in his snare, Loomis shoots Michael with a tranquilizer gun and proceeds to try to beat him to death with a plank of wood. In his triumph, Loomis continues to strike his opponent until he collapses atop his enemy, having suffered an apparently fatal heart attack.
It is not, of course, Loomis' heart that has landed the final blow. His eternal struggle against evil, personified by Michael Myers, is his White Whale, the obsession to which he has dedicated the final chapters of his accomplished life. This man, a revered psychologist and a trustee of a mental institution housing some of the most violent offenders in the world, has become that which he sought to destroy. His ends, while honorable, were not justified by his means, as he fell further and further into the recesses of his own madness in an effort to conquer his own curse. Plagued by a real evil, as well as his own arrogance, Loomis stumbles and ultimately fails as the greatest protector of the town of Haddonfield, continually leading to the deaths of townspeople, police officers, and almost Michael's 8-year-old niece. With his collapse at the end of Halloween 5, Loomis has been swallowed by the beast itself, his maniacal compulsion giving full way to delusion and his own form of evil.
While Loomis would go on to appear in three more Halloween movies, including the follow-up film to this one, the Ahab story is abandoned in favor of more convoluted storytelling and a belated dive into America's own infatuation with cults. Loomis does, of course, eventually become the evil he seeks to destroy, as the Cult of Thorn transfers the presence that has controlled the body of Michael Myers into that of his dogged pursuer. With the death of Donald Pleasance, the Halloween franchise is never able to fully explore what this will mean to the town of Haddonfield and its surviving residents. This exploration is ultimately not necessary, as the closure of Halloween 5 delivers a completion to his story that is lacking as the series progresses. The character arc of Pleasance's Dr. Loomis is concluded as he finally realizes that the evil of Michael Myers is not contained in just one man, and that his pursuit of his own White Whale would eventually doom him to the same fate as Melville's famous sea captain Ahab.