‘Halloween’ celebrates 40 years

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At age 29, director John Carpenter had no idea his film would become a phenomenal success

By Donald Liebenson,
ReMIND Magazine

On October 25, 1978, Halloween unleashed babysitter stalker Michael Myers on unsuspecting moviegoers. Forty years later, Myers lives again in Halloween, an eagerly anticipated series relaunch that serves as a direct sequel to the 1978 classic.

Director John Carpenter, Myers’ “father,” so to speak, couldn’t be more proud of the character he created with producer Debra Hill — not of Myers’ penchant for stabbing and slashing and silly sequels, but of their creation’s enduring status as a horror icon.

Who knew? Certainly not Carpenter. “No way,” he laughed during a phone interview with ReMIND. “No one knew” that the film would become a phenomenal success that would spawn seven sequels, a 2007 reboot and yet another sequel. How could they? Carpenter filmed the original Halloween in a mere 20 days on a budget of $300,000. Except for revered actor Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape, You Only Live Twice), the cast was comprised of unknowns. Overall the reviews were not kind. But Halloween went the 1978 equivalent of viral through word of mouth. It earned $70 million worldwide to become the most profitable independent film of its time.

Halloween was conceived by producer Irwin Yablans, whom Carpenter affectionately called “one of the most famous hustlers of Hollywood” when it came to raising money. His idea for a movie that would appeal to teens — especially teenage girls — was originally called The Babysitter Murders.

For the uninitiated, Halloween is set in the bucolic small town of Haddonfield, Illinois, where escaped mental patient Myers returns after killing his sister 15 years earlier. His psychiatrist (Pleasence) races against time to stop him before he inevitably kills again. Jamie Lee Curtis stars as babysitter Laurie Strode, who, along with two friends (P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis), will be terrorized by the masked Myers before the night is through.

The horror movie gods were smiling when Curtis, then 19-years-old, auditioned to portray the resourceful and levelheaded Strode. She is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and is forever linked to one of the most shocking moments in movie history, the classic shower murder. Psycho loomed large for Carpenter, who took his cue from the “Master of Suspense” in keeping his audience on the edge of their seats. Halloween has its shocks, but it is not overly graphic. “The audience knows what a knife does,” Carpenter explained. “I don’t have to show it; it’s more effective when the audience use their imaginations.”

It has been almost 10 years since Myers haunted the screen. Carpenter had not been involved with the franchise since the Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Producer Jason Blum, whose credits include Get Out and the Paranormal Activity franchise, issued Carpenter a challenge. “He said, ‘You’re sitting on the sidelines. Instead of taking potshots at the franchise, why don’t you do something constructive and help?’” As executive producer, Carpenter describes his role on the new film as a “shepherd.”

But Halloween and the new $10 million sequel share one basic tenet. They were each made with care and craft, yes, but at their heart, Carpenter proclaimed, “It’s a little low-budget horror movie; that’s all it is. It is meant to entertain audiences and make them scream. It’s a movie you want to take a date to so they will hold you close. That’s why young people go to these movies.”

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