Halloween has become one of the most famous and beloved horror films of all time. But how did a small independent picture with hardly any budget grow into one of the most popular films in its genre?
Early in 1978 the young, little known director John Carpenter was hired to make a small independent movie about babysitters. Carpenter took the premise and created a film that has scared the world over. He created a script with Deborah Hill which they called Halloween and both produced the movie. They were given a $320,000 budget and Carpenter received almost free reign to create his movie; this in itself a rarity in Hollywood.
Carpenter hired many character actors most not well known, and knew he needed something special for his lead character Laurie Strode. He settled on newbie Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of movie stars Tony Curtis and more importantly Alfred Hitchcock’s scream queen in Psycho (1960) ; Janet Leigh. This was Curtis’ first movie and this fact brought an unmistakeable innocence to the role of Laurie. With most of his players cast, he needed one more thing, a well-known actor to take the part of Dr Sam Loomis who coincidently is named after a character from Psycho. This came in the form of Donald Pleasence who had been in such classics as The Great Escape (1963) and the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967 ) . Pleasence added realism and gravitas to a film that could have been considered comical, and it was this aspect that has given Halloween its staying power.
Halloween opens in 1963 with what is now considered a famous technical shot; the continuous tracking shot through the house to reveal the first of the movies many murders. Then with the first big twist of the film, we discover that the killer was 6-year-old Michael Myers. We then travel to present-day Haddonfield where the murder took place 15 years earlier and the house is now an empty derelict building which kids dare each other to approach. We are introduced to teenager Laurie Strode who we discover is an innocent virginal character trying to fit in with her friends who are meeting boys, smoking weed and drinking, while she looks on with a certain amount of envy.
Meanwhile we learn that the institutionalized Michael Myers has escaped and Dr Loomis suspects he will return to Haddonfield and commit further atrocities.
Myers does indeed return and begins a massacre on the teenage friends of Laurie all the while she is unaware across the street babysitting the neighbour’s children. Halloween has been famously featured in Scream as being the film that created the modern-day rules of the horror film; characters that engage in sex, smoking and drinking will surely be a victim of the killer. Innocent virginal and mostly naïve characters will find in themselves an inner strength and though tormented to the brink by the villain, they are able to overcome and fight back against the evil onslaught. During these struggles we discover another most important rule of the horror genre; the killer never goes away and is catlike with more lives than you can count.
What makes Halloween a fantastic movie is not just the story, the characters, the locations, you need all those things to create a successful film but there is one element that unlike other genres can make or break a horror film; the music. The score for Halloween was astonishingly created in very little time by John Carpenter himself and in making this he cemented his film in the list of scariest ever made. His short theme is so memorable it is instantly recognisable and still raises hairs on the back of necks. His music makes Michael become more than just a man in a mask, but an evil presence, always watching.
Halloween was released and through the pure magic of word of mouth made millions from its tiny budget. So Michael returned to haunt Haddonfield on seven more occasions. With Jamie Lee Curtis returning for three of these, and making them better films due to her appearance. The film and its sequel were also remade in 2007 and 2009 by Rob Zombie to mediocre success, but nothing beats an original. John Carpenter though he wrote the sequel moved on, he had achieved what he wanted with Halloween; creating a film that has lasted, he went on to make other successful films like Escape From New York (1981) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986) . He also maintained his image as a classic horror director with The Fog (1980) again with Curtis and the classic remake of The Thing (1982) thought by many as one of the best horrors of all time.
Carpenter has returned to the Halloween franchise along with Jamie Lee Curtis for the recent trilogy written by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride. Released in 2018 this film brought the franchise firmly into the 21 st century with modern themes including the complex relationship to trauma and PTSD. This film ignored all the sequels and takes place 40 years after the event. The second has been delayed due to Covid but it was announced that the characters of Lindsey and Tommy will appear.
Carpenter will always be remembered for Halloween and the film itself will continue to appear on lists of the best horror films, the scariest scenes and most chilling music. It had that magical experience when all the elements come together to make a masterpiece of cinema. Which is why I would recommend it not only to die hard horror fans, who let’s face it have probably already seen it anyway, but also to all those who appreciate the art of a well-made film, and naturally like a good scare.
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