REMEMBERING BEN TRAMER: 1961-1978

By Kevin Redding


On October 31, 1978, when he was only 17, Bennett “Ben” Tramer lumbered down the sidewalk just a block away from his house in Haddonfield, Illinois, his vision blurred from a night of too many beers and two small ovals for eyeholes on his Halloween mask.

It was around 10 p.m., and the trick-or-treating window was closing fast for neighborhood kids. The remaining packs of costumed pirates, ninjas, and princesses were likely scrounging for that last round of candy before the last of the lit-up houses went dark. To Ben, the trick-or-treaters were quick flashes of color and noise.

Tall and thin in a dark blue jumpsuit, he moved at a slow and dopey pace, concentrating hard on each wobbly step he took because without precaution, he’d end up face-down on the concrete. For the better part of the night, Ben had been driving around with his high school friend Mike Godfrey, bouncing between parties and getting boozed up. While Mike was busy making out with a new girl every half hour, Ben sat quietly and drank away his nerves. In his head, he had been rehearsing a conversation he so badly wanted to have with a girl from school named Laurie Strode.

Brainy and sweet, and so unlike a majority of the other girls who aggressively advertised their promiscuity, Laurie was someone Ben was transfixed by, and up until an hour or so prior, it was merely a one-sided attraction from a distance. He’d gotten a call from one of Laurie’s friends, Annie Brackett, insisting that Laurie was attracted to him and had expressed an interest in going to the Homecoming dance with him.

Immortalized in action figure form.
Immortalized in action figure form.

Thinking foggily of Laurie, Ben abandoned the parties and headed home, where he’d make the call and turn his daydream into reality. He clutched a small trick-or-treat bag full of candy he’d gathered for some late-night snacking and mumbled—slurred—possible phone greetings (“Hey Laurie, how’re you?”; “Hi, Laurie.”; “What’s happening, Laurie?”; “I love you. This is Ben Tramer” sounded best to him) inside a cheap William Shatner-looking mask he’d gotten from the drug store earlier in the afternoon. The overwhelming smell of rubber attacked his nostrils and between that and the beer, Ben was ready to puke. As he continued his slow prowl toward the end of the sidewalk, he took notice of something ahead of him. As he squinted and blinked hard to clear up his focus, he could make out a belligerent old man running in his direction. It was alarming at first, but what truly triggered Ben’s immediate flight response was when he saw that the crazed old man was wielding a gun, cocked and aimed right at him.

Feeling extra queasy now, Ben slowly maneuvered his entire body the other way. He had to get out of the crosshairs. He had a phone call to make and a girl to spend his future with. Ben made his way to the street and kept looking back at the old man, who seemed to still be clutching the gun. Ben kept his eyes locked on the old man, trying to make out what was happening, and by the time he turned back around and looked ahead of him, it was too late.

Haddonfield's real boogeyman
Haddonfield’s real boogeyman.

The last thing Ben could see was the flashing blue and red lights on top of a police car. With a deafening screech, the car hit Ben, plunging him forward. Folded over the hood, Ben thought of Laurie. The police car still didn’t stop. In fact it didn’t seem to slow down at all. Within seconds, it was all over for Ben. The police car crashed directly into a parked white van, pinning him between both vehicles, and immediately sparked a giant explosion, engulfing Ben in flames.

It’s a fact: The most brutal death in any of the nine Michael Myers Halloween films is not caused by Michael Myers. The death in question might also be the strangest, saddest, most pathetic, disturbing and downright hilarious scene in the entire series (and this is the series that includes renowned actor Busta Rhymes defeating the indestructible Shape with kung fu kicks and Bruce Lee-inspired “WOOOOOO-WAHHHHH!” sound effects).

Let’s pretend for a minute, though, that no other entries exist beyond Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981), arguably the definitive Michael Myers films. For the uninitiated, these two take place on one night—one stressful and exhausting night for poor Laurie Strode—with part two picking up right where the first one left off, with the boogeyman nowhere to be found and Laurie sent off to recuperate at Haddonfield Hospital.

It’s in Halloween II where gun-wielding madman Dr. Sam Loomis is realizing the horrible consequences of failing to keep Myers locked up forever in a padded cell, which had pretty much been his only job for the past 15 years. Whether it’s out of true desire to see Myers put to justice, or to compensate for just how badly he’s screwed up, Loomis is beyond hell-bent on killing Myers by any means necessary, and even if he has to sacrifice the life of some innocent poor bastard in the process, so be it. And with the help of a maniac uniformed police officer who should be stripped of his driver’s license forever and thrown in jail, this is precisely what happens…

So upsetting. So devastating. So unnecessary. Ben Tramer shouldn’t have died.

Of course, as we see, Ben Tramer is wearing a mask almost identical to that of Michael Myers, except his has more of a Beach Boys-style hair piece on top. He’s also wearing a blue one-piece jumpsuit almost identical to Michael Myers, which I can’t really defend, and with so many people killed at this point, Loomis understandably can’t take any chances, especially because there are children so close to the prowling Shatner-masked figure in this scene!

However, Loomis should’ve known this Dennis Wilson version of Michael Myers could never be the real embodiment of evil that has been terrorizing Haddonfield all night, frankly because of how dopey this guy is when he turns around and walks away.

Let's go surfing now, everybody's learning now, come on the safari with me
“Let’s go surfing now, everybody’s learning now, come on the safari with me…”

Go back and look at how he turns when he sees Loomis approaching him. We all know how famously ghost-like and inconspicuous Myers is, seemingly appearing and vanishing out of thin air depending on the situation and how close he may be to actually getting caught. Even though this is technically only Myers’ second outing as Haddonfield’s spookiest boogeyman, Loomis should have acknowledged this (especially after shooting him SIX TIMES at the end of Halloween and witnessing the lack of a body where a very dead body should have been). There is simply NO way that Michael Myers would walk and turn around the way poor Ben Tramer did. Myers doesn’t walk away from an aimed gun. He walks towards it, daring the shooter to pump bullets into him. Sure, he might fall down, but he’ll just get back right up a few moments later after everyone lets out a sigh of relief. He welcomes gunplay. He lurks; he doesn’t walk like he’s in a blindfolded egg-and-spoon race (No offense, Ben).

And while I certainly take some liberties at the opening of this essay, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this was exactly how Ben Tramer’s night had gone. Tramer’s name is thrown around quite a few times throughout the first one as someone Laurie clearly has a big crush on. When Annie suggests hilariously-named Dick Baxter as a possible date for Laurie to go to the dance with, Laurie dismisses him saying, “Well, you could ask Dick Baxter. I’d rather go out with Ben Tramer,” which leads to some teasing from Annie.

“Ben Tramer? I knew it. So you do think about things like that, huh, Laurie?”

At this, Laurie gets red in the face and shy; defensive.

“Shut up! He’s cute.”

With this brief exchange, we learn a lot about Ben. If Laurie, who’s seen in these films as the wholesome, virginal and overtly sweet one who outright rejects the kinds of guys her less-than-virginal Annie thinks about (guys whose names include DICK BAXTER), it can be assumed that Ben is on the same level as Laurie.

Even with the mask on, the guy's adorable!
Even with the mask on, the guy’s adorable!

Yes, Ben might in fact be the Laurie of his group of friends, because despite the fact that he was blistering drunk when he was unnecessarily killed, there’s still a very childlike innocence to him. He’s carrying a trick-or-treat bag, guys. Someone who’s good enough to be the object of Laurie’s affection must be a good guy. He must be academically focused, well-mannered, and the icing on the cake? She even says it herself: He’s cute. We later discover that Annie has gone off and told Ben about Laurie’s interest in him and guess what? Ben is very interested!

The fattest elephant in the room here is the police officer (who is actually Dick Warlock, who also plays The Shape in the film) who drives his car directly into Myers and not only kills him, but allows for the poor boy’s public cooking. WHAT IS THIS MAN THINKING?! I remember when I first watched this scene, I instinctively just figured that the police officer had noticed the scuffle between Loomis and Sheriff Brackett as well, saw the Michael Myers-looking guy crossing the street, put two and two together and threw caution to the wind, gripped the steering wheel, floored it, ready to be hailed as the hero who turned Michael Myers into roadkill. This would be understandable, except for one thing. After the uniformed buffoon kills Ben Tramer, and stumbles out of the police car, he explains to Brackett that “He came out of nowhere!”

Extremely well-lit street
Figure 1: Extremely well-lit street.

So does that mean that he wasn’t purposely trying to kill who he thought was Myers? He was just barreling down a residential street at night, on Halloween, where kids could be out and about–straight towards a parked van?! And for the record, Tramer clearly didn’t come out of nowhere. He walked quite slowly, even if he was trotting along and the street was lit remarkably well. In fact, where Ben was walking throughout the entirety of his short journey across the street was entirely illuminated. Very easy to see him. Maybe if the police officer wasn’t speeding like a maniac, he would’ve seen poor Ben Tramer.

And poor Ben Tramer is right. He’s horrifically roasted to death, pinned between two cars. That’s what this unassuming guy gets.

Brackett screams to Loomis, “IS IT HIM OR NOT?!?”

Of course it’s not him. Loomis knows it almost immediately. How does he very clearly realize it’s not Myers when he’s burning to a crisp and his flesh is melting underneath his mask, and not when he’s approaching him at a snail’s pace? After Loomis’s realization (and face-palm), another police car pulls up (at an urgent yet civilized speed), and Brackett gets word that his daughter, Annie, is probably killed. With that, Brackett and Loomis abandon Ben Tramer and the cop who killed him, who deserves life without parole.

Look out!
Look out!
Hold on, buddy! It's gonna be okay!
Hold on, buddy! It’s gonna be okay!

Tramer3

Sure, Brackett, your daughter’s dead, but what about Ben’s parents when they hear about how their son died? Not by a vicious murderer, which would probably be a much easier pill to swallow than what really occurred.

Wanna go to the dance with me, Laurie?
Wanna go to the dance with me, Laurie?

A bit later on in the film, the no-longer-a-person-and-now-full-on-charred-skeleton remains of Ben Tramer are brought in for dental autopsy to confirm the identity. This is how brutal the aftermath of the death is. The only things left to salvage and identify Ben by are his teeth. And the actor who plays the dentist is Jeffrey Kramer, whom you may recognize as Hendricks, Chief Brody’s simple and lovable right-hand officer in Jaws. So I guess in the ‘70s and ‘80s, if you needed someone to play a character who sees the horrific remains of a young person, Kramer’s your man!

Kramer Meets Tramer
Kramer meets Tramer.

It really is one of the most memorable moments in all of film for me. It’s just so wildly absurd and crazy and laugh-out-loud funny, but also crushingly sad. I think even Myers himself would turn his head in awe and disbelief that such a brutal death could occur to someone so innocent. And this is a guy who has killed dogs!

So as you partake in the inevitable and crucial Halloween marathons this week, I hope you watch this particular scene in a different light. Think about poor Ben Tramer, stripped of a long life ahead. Think about Laurie Strode, stripped of a possibly nurturing and happy relationship, which she certainly could’ve used by the end of the second one.

We love you, Ben Tramer. And we’ll never forget you.

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Categories: Film, HorrorTags: , , , , , , , ,

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