My Instagram algorithm showed me an ad for Halloween 4 sweatpants. Sweatpants emblazoned with the words Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers on one leg, and some images both from and inspired by the film on the other. The sweatpants did not appear to be officially licensed. And the algorithm suggested that I’d like to own a pair of Halloween 4 sweatpants based on my interests. Namely, leisure wear and countless Halloween sequels. And it was at this moment, staring at my phone, finger hovering over the BUY IT NOW button under the ad for Halloween 4 sweatpants that I asked myself, “What is my life, and what choices did I make to see this extremely specific ad?”
Normal people don’t see ads like this. Normal people see ads for sweatpants that they could wear to brunch, because they’re nice sweatpants. They don’t feature the logo of a movie where a serial killer who was shot in the eyes and lit on fire two movies prior is now back and not burned to a crisp and not blind. No normal person is waiting in line at the post office wearing sweatpants adorned with the image of a serial killer’s young niece dressed as a clown and holding a pair of blood-soaked scissors, who through reasons that are never fully explained, has developed a telepathic link with her uncle. They’re probably just gray. The sweatpants that the person waiting in line at the post office is wearing. Maybe they’ll get a coffee or a sweet treat from the bakery around the corner, and during the walk over, no one will look at their sweatpants and say “Jesus Christ.”
My Instagram algorithm is a mess. I must have looked at a recommended picture of Kurt Cobain at some point, and my phone noticed that my eyeballs lingered on the picture for five to ten seconds, so now I see pictures of Kurt Cobain every day. Some of the pictures are nice. There’s Kurt smoking a cigarette on the set of Unplugged. There’s Kurt smiling as Ru Paul holds Frances Bean backstage at the 1993 MTV Music Awards. But the more I scroll, the more disturbing the pictures become. There’s a picture of Kurt holding hands with a fan who superimposed a picture of herself over Courtney Love, and they’re standing in front of a SmashBurger somehow, and they’re in love. There’s a picture of Kurt looking adoringly at his fully grown daughter, which through reasons that are both painful and obvious, could not be real. “This is good, right?” the algorithm asks, as an endless stream of doctored photos of Kurt Cobain fill my feed. I keep looking at the photos, and there’s no option that says “This isn’t good, but show me a few more so I can convince myself how much I hate this.” As far as the algorithm knows, it’s doing its job. But I’m on the cusp of convincing myself I hate this.
The same could be said for the sweatpants. My objection comes down to specificity: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. On a pair of sweatpants. Not just a picture of Michael Myers, or the classic “jack-o-lantern that’s also a big ol’ knife” logo. No, when someone wears Halloween 4 sweatpants they are making the following statements:
- You think you like Halloween 4? Buddy, take a look at my legs and think again.
- Do you remember the scene in Halloween 4 where Michael Myers is gingerly piercing the edge of a pumpkin with a large knife? Just kind of standing there? Well he never did that in Halloween 4 even though that image is printed right there on my sweatpants. And I’m such a fan of Halloween 4 that I know this off the top of my head. The sweatpant company’s use of artistic license only increases my love of these sweatpants.
- Hey you know what? Fuck you, pal. Just generally. This isn’t even about my sweatpants anymore. I just want you to know that this whole system? This society? Not for me, friend. Not today. Not ever.
Halloween 4 was the first Halloween movie that I saw. Up to that point, I had a passing interest in horror movies because I grew up during the rise of 80’s slashers, and as their popularity waned, kids became the target audience. For example, in grade school my friends and I collected Freddy Krueger stickers, even though only a select few of us had actually seen A Nightmare on Elm Street movie – the kids with older siblings, or parents that didn’t love them. The Freddy Krueger stickers were sold in packs like baseball cards, and if you were lucky enough to own the Freddy Krueger sticker book, you could apply the stickers in the book like puzzle pieces, and reveal scenes from the movie. What 7-year-old wouldn’t want to see a still image of Johnny Depp’s liquified body spraying out of his bed in a geyser of blood so high that it stained the ceiling of his righteous 80’s bedroom? I was terrified of the Freddy Krueger sticker book.
I was also terrified of The Shining, but that’s because I watched The Shining when I was too young to be watching The Shining. PIX11 is a local channel in the New York/New Jersey area that at the time played Yankee games, reruns of The A-Team, and a strange collection of movies on weekend afternoons. One Sunday, my mother saw that The Shining was playing on PIX11, probably due to a rain delay. She said she loved it, and suggested we watch it together, which was odd because my mother never expressed an interest in anything before this point. Certainly not horror movies. Certainly not a horror movie where an alcoholic writer is possessed by a hotel and gets drunk with ghosts. When and why did my mother see this movie?
Anyway, we watched The Shining together, edited for TV, but still psychologically damaging enough for whatever age I was at the time. Not Freddy Krueger sticker book age, but still too young to process what was unfolding on the TV in our small, flowery living room. PIX11 didn’t show the dead woman in room 237, but I knew there was something going on in there, and my mind filled in the blanks to create a scene more terrifying than Stanley Kubrick was capable of adapting to the screen.
But Halloween is where it all clicked. A friend brought a VHS copy of Halloween 4 to my house when I was a teenager, and while I wasn’t quite sure what was going on besides a bunch of teens getting stabbed to death, I wanted to learn more. The plot of the movie can be summed up in a single sentence: Michael Myers is back! But where was he? Who are all of these people? Wasn’t Jamie Lee Curtis involved at some point? Afterwards, whatever money I had was spent renting Halloween tapes from the local video store, and at this point there were five chapters to pour over. I was obsessed.
In the long line of Halloween sequels, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is fine. After killing him off in part 2, then going completely off the rails without Michael in the (after years of hindsight) terrific part 3, the titular Return of the main character was inevitable in 1988, and it’s fine. You take the basic outline of the original, you amp it up a little. You throw a trench coat on Donald Pleasance, have him run around and yell about the concepts of good and evil, done. But, the opening credit sequence, the first minute of the movie, is surprisingly beautiful. Lingering shots of farmland at dusk, old tattered Halloween decorations (some of which are featured on the Halloween 4 sweatpants [there’s a lot happening on these sweatpants]). Close-ups of sharp, deadly-looking farming implements. It’s quiet, and subdued, and creepy, and could very well be the best part of the movie. The first Halloween is a masterpiece, and 2 is ok and 3 rules and 5 is dogshit, but Halloween 4 holds a special place in my heart, because it was my first.
When the Halloween 4 sweatpants showed up in my feed I wasn’t convinced they were real. Machine learning had deduced that I had a fondness for Halloween sequels, but to what extent, the machine wondered. Enough to own a pair of garish, haphazard sweatpants that, if you were really interested enough, I guess we could turn into an actual product for you to buy? And while we’re at it, what do you think of this image of Kurt Cobain standing next to Lil Nas X? We’re not making any money off of this concept, we’re just curious. It’s that constant algorithmic poking and prodding that cheapens the experience of fandom for me. These formative memories from my childhood are now just fodder for ads, and while I’m petty enough to avoid engaging with them out of spite, they still exist, and they make me feel like an easy mark. I can’t scroll through my suggested images without hearing my optometrist’s voice asking “Better like this or better like this?” I think I’m too much of a crotchety old internet citizen to ignore what the algorithm is trying to do and just let it wash over me. It knows me too well, and at the same time, not at all.
Instagram, if the Halloween 4 sweatpants are real, and not some kind of experiment where you forced an AI to watch Halloween 4 a hundred and fifty thousand times and then it threw up the idea of Halloween 4 on a pair of sweatpants, stop trying to sell me Halloween 4 sweatpants. There was a time when my memories of a movie weren’t constantly being sold to me. The algorithms are now so specific, so firmly implanted in my eye sockets, that if I accidentally glance at a production still from Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, an alarm sounds, a lever is pulled, and my feed demands that I buy a pair of sweatpants to pledge my loyalty to nostalgia. “REMEMBER THIS, FUCKO?” the algorithm asks as an ad for Saw 2 leggings slams a spiked bat into my brain. “PIGGIE LOVES HIS SLOP!” the algorithm screams as an ad for an Omen 3 lunchbox tears me limb from limb like a pack of hunting dogs.
Also, the Halloween 4 sweatpants are forty dollars. You can buy the blu-ray for eight bucks.