October 27, 2015 This Week in Horror Movie History – Halloween (1978)
This week in Horror movie history, Halloween was released October 25, 1978 through Compass International Pictures. Directed by the legendary John Carpenter, this Independent film was a labor of love, shot in just twenty days on a budget of only three hundred thousand dollars. Shot in both Pasadena and West Hollywood, California, Halloween was an instant success, becoming the highest grossing Independent film at that time, earning a total of seventy million dollars worldwide in the thirty-seven years since its release date. Corners were certainly cut, cash-wise – the emotionless face of Michael Myers was actually just a Captain Kirk mask found at a local costume shop and bought for around a dollar. Although Jamie Lee Curtis received about a hundred dollars worth of new clothes from JC Penny for her role as Laurie Strode, the rest of the cast mostly wore their own wardrobe. Despite – or possibly because of – the small budget, the love and passion the cast and crew had for this film shone through and the film took on a life of its own.
The script was written by both Carpenter and Debra Hill (The Fog 1980, Escape from L.A. 1996), and between them, they added a few nods from their own personal lives, among them – Hill was from a town called Haddonfield, New Jersey, Carpenter’s first girlfriend was actually named Laurie Strode and the musical score – composed by Carpenter himself along with a few friends – was credited to the “Bowling Green Philharmonic,” a fictitious band named after the director’s hometown in Kentucky. There were also a few homages to Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Michael’s psychiatrist, played by The Great Escape’s (1963) Donald Pleasance, was named after Marion’s boyfriend, Sam Loomis, while the sanitarium nurse from the beginning of the movie is named Marion Chambers, a combination of the first name of Janet Leigh’s character and the last name of the film’s Sheriff. The ultimate nod, though, was Carpenter casting Janet Leigh’s daughter, the then unknown Jamie Lee Curtis, as the virginal Laurie Strode.
Considered by many to be the first real Slasher film, Halloween invented many of the genre’s clichés, including the Final Girl and the idea that if teens should have sex, drink, or do drugs, they will die, making their deaths almost satisfying to a rule-following audience. Oddly enough, both Carpenter and Hill insist that this was not their intention. Their idea was that doped up, horny teens were too distracted to notice a killer in their midst and had nothing to do with “good” kids living while “bad” kids died. The inability to end the life of this unstoppable boogeyman was also a new concept for moviegoers and one that still continues on today, not only making these supernatural villains even scarier but also opening many a Horror movie up for plenty of sequels.
The original, first person point of view shots gave audiences a terrifying look at the cold-blooded killer’s victims and witnessing their outright horror from an objective, unflinching viewpoint, putting them in the shoes of an emotionless killer that no one in their right mind would want to emulate in reality. From the initial scene being filmed in one long, continuous shot to the fact that the rest of the movie was filmed with a constantly moving camera, even the subtle camera work made audience members feel disoriented and insecure.
Author Curtis Richards eventually wrote a novel based on the film titled – what else? – Halloween: The Novel, published September 1, 1982. Rotten tomatoes gives Halloween a busty 94%, and surprisingly, the movie was enjoyed by film critic Roger Ebert, who called it “a visceral experience – we aren’t seeing the movie, we’re having it happen to us,” adding “You don’t want to be scared? Don’t see it.” The film was voted the fifth scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in 1979 but lost out to The Wicker Man (1973). The American Film Institute ranked Halloween #68 on their 100 Years… 100 Thrills list in 2001 and settled in at #14 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments in 2004. AFI also nominated Michael Myers on their 100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains list, but strangely enough, The Shape did not make the final list. In 2007, Halloween was named the greatest Horror movie ever made on AOL’s 31 Days of Halloween countdown. The movie was also listed as the third scariest film of all time by the Chicago Film Critics Association and in 2006, it was selected for preservation in the United State National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
While the remake by Rob Zombie is enjoyable in its own regard, nothing will ever touch the feelings of insecurity and desperation so subtly crafted by Carpenter in 1978. The first of its kind, Halloween reminds us that even the good guys are not safe, and that evilest of things can often be the most human.