“I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
Dr. Sam Loomis
The October 25, 1978 release of director John Carpenter’s (Escape from New York) ground breaking, independent, horror film, “Halloween,” began the dawn of a new direction for the genre. While simplistic in plot, the highly effective movie was co-written by Carpenter and, his then girlfriend, Debra Hill (Halloween II). The 91 minute film, which was made for a budget of $325,000, went on to gross approximately forty-seven million dollars. Not only is the movie, and its central antagonist, Michael Myers, referred to also as ‘the Shape,’ iconic within the horror genre, but the musical score, which Carpenter composed himself, is one of the most recognizable pieces of music in all of cinema.
John Carpenter was a thirty year old, USC film school, graduate, when he set out to work on the movie, after being approached by producer, Irwin Yablans, (Tourist Trap). Carpenter only had two stipulations before accepting the job. Condition one was that he have final cut of the film. Condition two was that he wanted his name above the title of the movie, which was something his idol, Howard Hawkes (Rio Bravo), and other directors he admired, like Alfred Hitchcock, (Psycho) and Billy Wilder, (The Apartment) did on their films. Yablans agreed, having been impressed with Carpenter’s work on the 1976 film “Assault on Precinct 13.” In fact, it was Yablans who, while on a flight from London to Los Angeles, came up with the original idea of a murdering mad man who kills babysitters. The original title of the film was going to be “The Babysitter Murders,” but while Carpenter and Hill were busy working on the script, Yablans had the idea of changing the name of the film to “Halloween,” and having the events of the movie center around that day of the year. Carpenter loved the idea, and after looking into seeing if anyone had ever used the title before for a movie and finding out to his surprise that up until that point, no one had, the name of the movie was changed.
The opening scene of the film takes place on Halloween evening, 1963, and is shown from the point-of-view of a six year old, Michael Myers (Will Sandin). Towards the end of the opening shot, he stabs his teenage sister, Judith, to death before leaving the house. The end result of his actions will land Michael in an institution, where he will remain for fifteen years, until he escapes on the stormy evening of October 30, 1978. His destination is his home, Haddonfield, Illinois. At least that is where his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis, a role completely embodied by terrific, character actor Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape), thinks he will go. Michael, who according to Loomis hasn’t said a word in fifteen years, thinks of his patient not as a man, but as something that is purely evil. He spends the entirety of the movie, with the help of Haddonfield’s Sheriff Brackett, (Charles Cyphers) trying to capture Michael.
Yablans was the one who came up with the idea to cast someone the audience would recognize in the role of Dr. Loomis. Carpenter first approached Christopher Lee, (Horror of Dracula) and Peter Cushing, (Star Wars: Episode IV: – A New Hope) regarding taking the role. Yablans was glad to hear that both actors turned the part down, feeling that if either one of them had accepted, “Halloween” would have become just another Lee or Cushing film. Yablans had seen Pleasence in the 1968 western film “Will Penny” and asked Carpenter if he liked the idea of casting him. Carpenter loved the thought, and even though Yablans didn’t think Pleasence would take the role, Carpenter reached out to him, and the rest is film history. Pleasence would be paid $25,000 for five days work, and would go on to appear in four more films in the franchise.
Perfectly cast in the film as the character of the heroine, Laurie Strode, was newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis (Trading Places) in her film debut. (As an aside, Curtis later went on to become a BAFTA and Golden Globe winner.) She has a job babysitting for Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) and Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews), on Halloween evening. Curtis, who was a teenager at the time, had just the right look to make audiences identify her as the girl next store. The role required not only a certain look, but also an actress who could project vulnerability, which she certainly could and did. When push comes to shove, however, Laurie is a resourceful character, who does what she needs to in order to protect Lindsey and Tommy. Additional members of the cast include: P.J. Soles as Laurie’s cheerleading, friend Lynda, who is more interested in getting herself together for the dance and spending time with her boyfriend Bob (John Michael Graham), than, seemingly, in anything else. Carpenter had seen Soles in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” two years earlier and thought she was great in the film. She also landed the role because, according to Soles, she was able to pronounce the word ‘totally’ the way Carpenter heard it in his head while writing the script; Nancy Kyes, who Carpenter had worked with on “Assault on Precinct 13,” portrayed Laurie’s other good friend, Annie Brackett, the daughter of the sheriff. She is billed as Nancy Loomis in the credits. (As an aside, the name Sam Loomis was the name of John Gavin’s character in “Psycho.” He acted in the role of Janet Leigh’s boyfriend in the film. Leigh is Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother.)
Prior to Carpenter’s film, those who loved horror movies were used to certain characters in films from Hammer and Universal reappearing time and again in sequels after being vanquished at the end of the preceding film. Michael (Nick Castle / Tony Moran) was the first time viewers saw a being that was an unstoppable killing machine that, no matter what was done to him, seemingly could not be killed. He walks with deliberate purpose, while breathing heavily, and keeps his mind focused on his task. In this film that task is killing Laurie. Michael is shown a number of times before he does anything, which only helps to increase the suspense, which, thanks to Carpenter’s pacing, is palpable.
While not having much of a budget, Carpenter and his crew made every dollar count. Those who were working on the film were, for the most part, fairly new to the business and wanted to do what they could to help the film be its best. In that regard, the entire cast and crew pitched in on a number of different tasks besides the jobs they were hired for, including transforming the Myers house, for the opening shot. Carpenter, who shot the film out of sequence, saved the opening tracking shot for the final two days of filming. The cast and crew had to come into the house and, among other things, place furniture that would be seen in the shots, set up curtains, and paint, in order to turn the run-down house shown throughout the majority of the movie, into a normal looking home for the start of the film.
Carpenter made the movie using the best lenses that were available from Panavision, processed the film at MGM Labs and had the post production sound work done at Goldwyn Sound; by insisting on using the best, he made his film look more expensive than it actually cost to produce. For the squeamish, the movie contains no gore and virtually no blood; anything horrific has an implied sense to it, rather than actually being shown on the screen. Carpenter and company might not have realized what they had while making the film. The reviews, when the movie was released, were less than spectacular, but eventually, thanks to praise heavy write ups from Tom Allen of the New York newspaper “The Village Voice,” and prominent film critic Roger Ebert, who gave the film four stars, the movie caught on with the film viewing public. This is an absolute must see for fans of the horror genre, and certainly one of the most impressive films the genre has ever produced.