Halloween came out October 25th of 1978. It was both directed and, unbeknownst to me, scored with original music by John Carpenter. It was produced and written by Debra Hill. The plot follows Michael Myers, a mental patient who has been committed to an asylum for the murder of his teenage sister on Halloween night. 15 years to the day, he escapes to return to his hometown where he stalks a babysitter and her friends.
The film grossed $70 million off of its $300,000 budget, deeming it one of the most profitable independent films ever made.
The movie's budget was so low that the crew handpainted leaves to make the real life Southern California spring setting, appear to be a crisp fall day. The leaves were cleaned up after each scene and reused in the next, but if you pay close attention, all of the trees are actually very green and you can even see palm trees in some shots. Half the budget was spent on the cameras alone. There was no budget for wardrobes so all the actors wore their own clothes. The dark lighting throughout the movie was not an artistic choice, they simply didn't have the budget for lights. The highest paid actor of the film was Donald Pleasance who plays Michael Myer's psychiatrist. He made $20,000 for his role while Jamie Lee Curtis, the final girl and babysitter in the film, was paid only $8,000 and Nick Castle, who played Michael Myer's was paid only $25 per day for his contribution.
Jamie Lee Curtis was not Carpenter's first pick for the role, he was actually hoping for Anne Lockhart. He eventually agreed to Jamie Lee Curtis as producer Hill stated "I knew casting Jamie was would be great publicity for the film because her mother was in Psycho." Jamie Lee Curtis ends up playing Laurie Strode, a reserved babysitter in the town of Haddonfield. Many would say that Halloween started the original horror movie rule of not having sex based on Laurie Strode's role in comparison to her counterparts. People have claimed that this was a theme Carpenter tried to portray, that purity is what keeps us alive; however, Carpenter claims this is untrue and that the other characters in the film are simply more preoccupied with getting laid than being aware of their murderer.
My favorite tidbit of info about your favorite Halloween movie is that it wasn't originally meant to be a Halloween movie. Originally the concept was titled "The Babysitter Murders" and was supposed to take place over several days. One of the producers of this original concept noticed there had been no movie ever titled "Halloween" and thought this would be the perfect setting. He convinced Carpenter to get on board. The filming then takes place in one night which actually worked out significantly better budget wise. Michael Myers also was originally titled "The Shape" which is absolutely awful and I'm glad that was changed. Another fun fact some may know if that there were options between a clown mask and the Captain Kirk mask that he wears in the films. The Kirk mask, with the eyebrows and sideburns ripped off and painted purely white had a much eerier vibe and was thus picked for the movie. Another fun fact is that the film was shot completely out of order, so Carpenter created a fear meter so Jamie Lee Curtis would know what amount of terror to show the audience.
The movie has been widely accepted and holds a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 96%. It was selected for preservation by the U.S. National Film Registry in 2006 for being "culturally significant". Many horror movies we've discussed on this podcast paid homage to this film in one way or another. Author of Going to Pieces, the Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film indicated it is "difficult to overestimate the importance of Halloween" and considers it the "blueprint for all slashers and the model against which all subsequent films are judged." The movie was iconic for so many reasons, the killer point of view, the virgin final girl, the unspoken slasher, etc etc.
It has served as inspiration for many other movies and has sparked an incredibly successful franchise. It is followed by Halloween II, which was also written by Carpenter and Hill, Halloween III: Season of the Witch aka one of the worst movies ever made, Halloween 4: the Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenege of Michael Myers, Halloween: the Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, and Halloween: Resurrection. These, with the exception of Halloween II, were awful movies but in a good way if you like a laugh. In October of 2018 however, another installment simply titled Halloween picks up from Halloween II, ignoring all the awful sequels and continuing the story of our beloved final girl Laurie Strode. This will be followed by Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends, two movies set for production based off the 2018 release. Lastly, Rob Zombie also remade the movies as Halloween and Halloween 2 released in 2007 and 2009 respectively. These are my favorite personally, but I would base that on my love for gore.
Carpenter and his girlfriend, Debra Hill, came up with the script together. They got a lot of inspiration from the Celtic traditions of Halloween like the festival of Samhain. The festival of Samhain is a Gaelic festival that signifies the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter which is also about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. These festivals were a liminal time which is when the boundary between this world and the "otherworld" can be more easily crossed. The otherworld is the supernatural world of deities and the dead which meant that spirits could enter this world more easily. For safety, these spirits needed to be appeased, so they left out food and drink for them, as well as hosting feasts where table places were set for the souls of dead kin. They also lit bonfires that were said to have protective and cleansing powers in order to keep everyone safe. Mumming and guising were also a part of this festival which is where people would wear costumes and go door-to-door, reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes were a way to disguise themselves from these spirits.
In an interview Hill said, "the idea was that you couldn't kill evil, and that was how we came about the story. We went back to the old idea of Samhain, that Halloween was the night where all the souls are let out to wreak havoc on the living, and then came up with the story about the most evil kid who ever lived. And when John came up with this fable of a town with a dark secret of someone who once lived there, and now that evil has come back, that’s what made Halloween work."
Carpenter's inspiration for Michael Myers came from a visit he made to a psychiatric institution in Kentucky while he was a student at Western Kentucky University. This ward was said to hold, "the most serious, mentally ill patients". He said he saw an adolescent boy who had a blank look that he described as a "schizophrenic stare." He described it as, "this blank, pale emotionless face. 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 what was living behind that boys' eyes was purely and simply evil." he continued by saying, "it was unsettling to me, it was like the creepiest thing I’d ever seen as a stranger, it was completely insane." This is what inspired the description that Loomis gave Sheriff Brackett when describing Michael.
Halloween was originally named The Babysitter Murders because to Yablan's knowledge, no one had ever made a horror movie about babysitters. He knew that most people had a babysitter growing up and combining fear with the innocence of youth would terrify people at such a basic and primal level. Debra Hill also gave a speech when introducing a big screen showing of Halloween for a writing conference. She said, "In 1977 John Carpenter and I took Assault on Precinct 13 to the London Film Festival where we met the real Michael Meyers (a film distributor). He took us to meet Moustapha Akkad (owner of Twickenham Studios) who loved several esoteric aspects of Assault, particularly the sound of the silencers. He asked John to write and direct a low budget film, The Babysitter Murders." Coming back to California, John asked me, 'a former baby-sitter' for some real-life stories. I regaled him with tales of watching late night horror films, while nervously clutching a butcher’s knife, as my charges slept safe from the boogieman. And stolen kisses from my teenage boyfriend in the darkened living room lit only by the blue light of The Beast With Five Fingers. When Irwin Yablans called that fateful night to suggest the name Halloween, magic was made, and john and I forged an alliance".
There is also a boy who people believe Michael Myers is based on due to his similarities to a scene from Halloween. This boy’s name was Stanley Stiers. He was born in 1912 in Iowa. When Stanley was born, a nurse decided to switch him with another baby boy in the hospital. The family who took Stanley home ended up getting into a car accident on their way home from the hospital and all three of them died. Shortly after this, the Stiers realized the baby was not their own and the nurse was sent to prison.
The Stiers were not able to get past this and started drinking heavily while also growing resentful towards the baby they took home. Their heavy drinking and resentment led to them abusing him throughout their childhood, punishing him for not being theirs. They then had another child who they named Susie. They treated her like a princess while still abusing Stanley. As Susie got older, she started treating Stanley poorly as well by hitting him, kicking him and yelling at him. When Stanley was 11, all he wanted to do was go trick or treating but his parents had never let him and refused to start. But they allowed Susie to go to a Halloween party anyways. This pushed Stanley over the edge, and he snapped. He used a butcher knife from the kitchen to repeatedly stab her. He then went up to his parent’s room and killed them in their bed. He finished this spree by killing the family dog as well. Since his parents were dead, he took himself trick or treating where he ran into his bullies. He used the same butchers knife to kill as many of them as he could. He even went to one of his bully’s homes and killed his entire family. He finished collecting candy and ended the night at the school playground where he sat, swinging on the swings and eating candy while police officers came to take him to a private psychiatric institution. His records were suppressed while he stayed for 13 years so he could be intensely watched and studied. They wanted to know what could make a child snap like this and how he had the strength to kill so many people. When he was 24 years old, a couple of attendants started to harass him. At this point he was 6'4" and 260 pounds and he quickly and easily snapped their necks, killing them. He then walked right out the front doors of the hospital and straight out into the parking lot, not fazed by the officers standing their armed. He was shot multiple times but was still able to kill a few of them. It was said that his strength was terrifying and that he felt no pain. Although there is no legitimate or legal record of Stanley Stiers, it is a theory that many people believe he was the inspiration for Michael Myers.