The Evolution of the Loomis Character in Horror Movies
The three famous Loomis men in all their glory.
In 1959, author Robert Bloch wrote the horror novel Psycho, a murder mystery about a psychopath who unknowingly dresses up as his dead mother to carry out his grisly murders. One year later, Hollywood film director Alfred Hitchcock decided to adapt the story into a hit film which was later christened the first slasher movie by horror buffs. Psycho has since been referenced in numerous horror movies, parodies, and even children’s cartoons. Modern horror especially owes its inspiration of twist endings, knife-wielding murderers, and psychologically disturbed characters to this pioneering story.
One of the biggest homages is the use of the last name Loomis in subsequent horror movies, most notably John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Wes Craven’s Scream (1996). The time between the appearance of a character with the last name Loomis tends to be about 18 years, and each iteration is different. Because of this, the name is long overdue to show up again in film. If and when Loomis appears again, what form will they take?
Below, I explore the famous surname's history and evolution throughout the horror movie genre. Please note, there are SPOILERS ahead.
Watch Dr. Loomis battle Michael Myers in the original "Halloween."
Sam Loomis – Psycho (1960)
The birth of the Loomis character begins with Psycho’s Sam Loomis, who appears in both the novel and film. Sam is one of the heroes, or victims, of the story, depending on how you look at it. He shows up briefly at the beginning of Hitchcock’s film as the motive for his girlfriend, Marion, to steal $40,000 from her boss in order to be with him.
Sam and Marion’s predicament is presented as a forbidden relationship. They sneak around in hotel rooms during Marion’s lunch break, as if hiding from disapproving eyes. Sam is legally divorced, and Marion is single so it’s not a corrupt affair, but Sam is broke from keeping his hardware store in business while paying his ex-wife alimony each month. He doesn’t have the resources to give Marion a proper life, and the two are torn over whether or not to even continue their relationship. This predicament motivates Marion's decision to run away with the cash stolen from a client that her boss has instructed her to put in the bank. It's because of her desire to be with Sam that she ends up at the Bates Motel and meets her grim fate.
After she goes missing, Sam teams up with Marion's sister, Lila, to get to the bottom of her disappearance. Of course, he is initially pointed at as a potential suspect, but the audience knows this not to be true from his one introductory scene with Marion. Still, he’s not your typical hero. Sam has little screen time, he’s led by Lila rather than leads the investigation himself, and he’s a clumsy interrogator, having made up his mind about the events leading to Marion’s disappearance as he aggressively questions Norman, causing Norman to violently retaliate. Bates easily manhandles him, and Sam barely manages to get to him before he attacks Lila, having just discovered Mrs. Bates' corpse in the basement.
The last name Loomis is an English name which encompasses the words "pool," "nook," and "recess." These words allude to the swamp that Norman disposes his victims in (including Marion) after they are killed by “Mother.” However, this has nothing to do with Sam himself. But the last name is common in farmers, housekeepers, and carpenters. This is very appropriate considering Sam runs a hardware store. He’s a lowly man, who, while he does manage to save Lila from a fate similar to her sister’s, does not get the happy ending that the hero classically acquires at the end of a movie. He’s one of the most forgettable characters in the story, despite being the trigger for the events that take place. Even having the word “loom” in the name gives off an eerie feel, just right for a horror movie, if not for that particular character.
Sam and Lila check into the Bates Motel.
Dr. Sam Loomis – Halloween (1978)
When director John Carpenter decided to make his own slasher film 18 years later, it’s apparent that he had Psycho in mind while developing the movie. Not only did he cast Psycho star Janet Leigh’s daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, but he also named his hero after Psycho's male hero. Dr. Sam Loomis is a psychiatrist in Smith’s Grove, IL who oversees the patient Michael Myers, a 21-year-old man who has been locked away since the age of six for killing his 17-year-old sister. Dr. Loomis has lost all hope of rehabilitating Myers, believing him to be the embodiment of pure evil, not a typical mindset for a psychiatrist. So when Myers escapes one rainy night, Dr. Loomis realizes how imperative it is to recapture him as soon as possible and by any means necessary.
Dr. Loomis is a very different character from the original Sam Loomis, though there are parallels. Dr. Loomis is just as inexperienced in hunting down a violent criminal. He is careless with the revolver he carries around, he is dismissed by those around him who don’t share in his urgency to capture Michael Myers, yet he is ultimately the one who takes him down, however briefly, saving the female victim/hero from a murderous attack. Like Marion's Sam, he is also overshadowed by the female protagonist, Laurie Strode, just as Psycho's Sam plays second fiddle to Lila in their story's third act.
However, Halloween's Loomis is more revered character. Maybe it’s his education, his extensive knowledge of his patient, or the desperate tenacity that he exudes throughout the events of that fateful night. He provides exposition and back story to fill in the gap of the last 15 years between the opening scene featuring Michael’s first murder and the Halloween massacre that he carries out through the rest of the movie. He’s also an active participant in the pursuit of Myers through Michael's hometown of Haddonfield. Dr. Loomis gives weight to this last name and cements it as a name to look out for as a significant character in horror films from then on.
Dr. Loomis describes his evil patient to the Sheriff of Haddonfield.
Billy Loomis – Scream (1996)
In the same way that Halloween was a modern response to Psycho, Wes Craven’s Scream became a modern response to the cultural significance of Halloween. Scream turned the rules of horror upside down, out to prove that the 90’s was going to be unpredictable and have a new morality tale to tell in the vein of teenage horror stories. Scream’s characters are not only aware of classic horror films; they are fans. There are numerous references to horror movies throughout the movie including Psycho and Halloween. So of course, one of the main characters had to be named Loomis. Enter Billy Loomis, the new incarnation of the Loomis character.
Whether audiences understood the significance of the last name or not, Billy seems to mirror some of the basic Loomis characteristics. He is the boyfriend of main character, Sidney, and he chases away the killer early in the story, seeming to save Sidney from a Marion Crane-like fate. Sometimes he’s bumbling, says the wrong thing, and is even suspected to be a villain. Then, suddenly, he is attacked and seemingly slaughtered by the killer in front of Sidney, making the audience believe that the Loomis namesake has just met an undeserved end.
But because Scream is out to rewrite the rules of horror, Billy turns out to be the film’s villain. You can tell that something is off about him from his introductory scene where he sneaks into Sidney's bedroom and compares their relationship to the film, The Exorcist. But it just seems too obvious to make Billy the killer, and most of his scenes seesaw between guilt and doubt.
He spends most of the film appropriately "looming" in the background, keeping a low profile until the big reveal. He, along with his friend and cohort, Stu, do end up killed in the final frames and rightfully so. There is no Loomis to support or protect the heroine. She actually saves herself and the other survivors from the massacre of the Loomis character this time. In this way, Scream is successful in respecting its predecessors while becoming its own iconic staple in the horror movie genre.
Billy tries to convince Sidney that he's not a killer.
Who is the Next Loomis?
There is no rule that says what the Loomis character is supposed to be. Over a 36-year-span, Loomis went from a lowly MacGuffin to a desperate hero to a murderous psychopath. Each time this last name was used, the film became a tent pole horror film of its era. That’s not to say that Loomis carries each film into superstar status, but referencing a great film that came before it helps to build credibility and provides a fun homage for horror fans to identify, proof that the movie is doing things right.
Given the perfectly spaced 18 year gap between the appearance of a Loomis character in these three iconic horror movies, we are long overdue for another Loomis to appear. The name has popped up in lesser known roles, such as 2002’s Below and 2006’s Stay Alive, but neither film has had the cultural impact of the films that came before it. There is also Peggy Loomis in The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) and groundskeeper Willie Loomis on the horror soap, Dark Shadows. A real life Loomis reference can be found in the actress who played Annie Brackett in Halloween being credited as Nancy Loomis in this film. There is also the reveal of Billy's mom, Mrs. Loomis, as the villain of Scream 2 (1997), but she is more of an extension of Billy and a homage to the twist in Friday the 13th rather than Psycho or Halloween.
Aside from remakes and reboots, horror today seeks out to be its own unique film. Modern audiences require a much more complex story that dials up either the gore or the psychology of the situation. Classic horror seems to live in the past. Is this the reason why Loomis hasn’t appeared again? If and when Loomis resurfaces, will they come in the form of a man or woman, hero or villain, and will it be part of a film that’s worthy of the classic status of its predecessors? Only time will tell.