Movies That Everyone Should See: “Halloween”

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There are very few movies in history that you can look at and point to and say… There. That one started it. With the “it” being an entire genre (or sub genre) of film. A bona fide lineage of films that follow in its footsteps.

“Halloween” is one such movie.

There are 293 films on IMDb with the keyword “Slasher Flick”. Of those, only 12 were released prior to “Halloween”, of those only six were American movies. Of those six, the highest user rating is “The Gore Gore Girls” at 5.2.

You can be assured that none of those films launched the slasher movie craze that dominated horror through the 80s and most of the 90s.

No, that honor belongs to “Halloween”.

In “Halloween: A Cut Above” (a special feature documentary), Executive Producer Irwin Yablans tells that “Halloween” began with his decision to make a horror film. However, he had severe budgetary restrictions, so he had to think of how he could do a horror movie cheaply. The idea came to him to do a horror movie revolving around babysitters, because everyone had either had a babysitter, or had been a babysitter. Plus it was a great excuse to put children in jeopardy.

The idea was to have it take place in one night was a budgetary decision. If the story is told in one day you need less costumes, less locations. And what a better day/night for a horror movie to be set on than Halloween.

Surely though, that title had been taken. Some other movie had to have been named “Halloween” already. No, according to Yablans, their research at the time discovered that not only had that title not been used, that WORD had never been used in a title. This movie was the first movie to be called “Halloween” anything.

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With the concept of “The Babysitter Murders” (the stories original title) in hand, Yablans brought in a young director with two titles under his belt. John Carpenter. All the sources I’ve drawn from for this write up are quick to point out that the biggest line on Carpenter’s resume at the time was that “Assault on Precent 13″ was critically praised… in Europe.

Still, Yablans had his man, and he would fit into the budgetary restraints. Carpenter promised to bring the movie in for less than $300,000 if he had complete creative control and his name above the title.

Yablans readily agreed.

Carpenter was enthused, and set out to write “The Babysitter Murders” with his girlfriend, Debra Hill. Yablan’s suggestion to set the film on Halloween night, however, influenced the story…

“…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.” – Debra Hill (Wikipedia)

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Budgetary considerations permeated the production of the film. Per IMDb, a full half of the $320,000 budget was spent on the Panavison cameras so the film would have a 2:35:1 scope. $10,000 went to Carpenter up front (plus 10% of the profits), and $20,000 to Donald Pleasance (for five days of shooting).

By my math, leaves $130,000 for the rest of the cast, crew and production.

Not a lot of money for big name stars.

But they had a chance to get an actress they could promote as a star, Jamie Lee Curtis.

Though not the first choice for the role (Anne Lockhart turned Carpenter down) Jamie Lee Curtis was PERFECT for this role. Not merely because of the excellent performance she would turn in, but also because of her parentage. Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, both huge names in Hollywood. Plus, her mother starred in “Psycho”, a film which “Halloween” obviously draws upon and would inevitably be compared to. Jamie Lee was a contract player for Universal at the time, with a handful of television credits and no movies to her name. But by casting her in this movie the producers could promote her as the heir to the scream queen throne… It was her birthright.

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The script was completed in three weeks. The film was shot in 20 days. A number of the people who worked on the film were friends of Carpenter and Hill, and worked for free. The cast wore their own clothes. Carpenter scored the movie himself… Yes, that’s the director who wrote and played the infamous 5/4 time piano riff theme song. Incredible.

The infamous William Shatner Halloween mask that Michael Myers wears wasn’t some brilliant production design… they couldn’t talk the mask manufacturer that they approached into taking a cut of the profits to design an original mask! And they couldn’t afford to have a mask custom made if they had to pay up front! So they went to a costume store, bought the cheapest mask they could (Shatner’s, $1.98), removed the sideburns, spray painted it white, cut bigger eye holes in it and mussed up the hair. Voilà! A legend is born.

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But as it turns out, all of these restrictions were serendipitous.

The end result was a film that feels real. Authentic.

Everyone could relate to the characters… the kids, or the partying teenagers, or the babysitter.

But most of all, I think people could relate to the setting. If you lived in suburban America, this movie took place in your town. In your neighborhood. On your street.

And that’s a stroke of genius. Unlike previous well known horror movies revolving around killers… say for example, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Psycho”… the victims here had not gotten lost. They weren’t somewhere they shouldn’t be, they hadn’t wandered off and into some trap. They were home. And if you could relate to the setting, part of you felt as if you were being shown your home.

Home is supposed to be safe.

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Of course, home is not safe. Not when Michael Myers is on the loose.

Myers is a primal character. In many ways, the ideal horror villain. Stoic. Non verbal. Physically imposing. Unstoppable. Unrelenting. He lurks in the shadows, stalks his prey deliberately, kills with power and inhuman strength. He is given no motivation beyond “being evil”. His mask allows him to be a blank slate. The viewer can project their own fears onto it.

He began to kill as a child. Spying on his sister fooling around and then stabbing her to death viciously. That a child could be so evil, so perverse… that he would stab people to death… it’s confounding. Hard to rationalize. Children that young are supposed to be innocent, not evil. The only explanation you can come up with is he was “born evil”.

One of the children in the film refers to him as “The Boogeyman”.

And he is.

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The audience is told as much. Another incredible thing Myers has going for him is the greatest “Ahab” in horror history, Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Sam Loomis. The character served as a psychiatrist to the youthful Michael Myers, and now that Myers has escaped, he’s the only person who realizes the type of monster that is now on the loose.

I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, 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 what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.

Loomis scrambles to sound the alarm and warn the villagers, but in doing so, he raises OUR fears. It’s as if Myers has a publicist in the movie, loudly proclaiming what a horrifying evil he is. For us, the viewers, it serves to give Myers a mythological sense of proportion. He’s a force of nature, an abomination. Loomis serves less as a protector than as a prophet of doom, foretelling the coming slaughter with the zeal of a Pentecostal preacher.

And at the end, when his best shots fail to kill Myers, the “I knew we couldn’t stop him” look on his face might as well say, “He shall rise again”.

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Through a magical combination of the right talent, the right timing, and a tight budget that proved a blessing in disguise, a horror classic was born. Not being able to afford gore and special effects, the movie relied heavily on suspense. Carpenter was kept on his toes, forced to be innovative. Creative.

It all worked.

Audiences responded in a major way. In spite of the fact that no major distributor wanted it and it had to have a limited release, word of mouth spread, and the box office take grew exponentially over time as city after city got their much-anticipated opening of the film. The small film – shot on a $320,00 budget – became the most profitable independent film ever (at the time). It grossed $47 million dollars domestically, and another $13 million internationally.

The movie spawned a host of imitators. It became the template for the genre. The steadicam first person perspective shots representing the killer’s point of view. The promiscuous, substance abusing teenaged victims. The monstrous, silent, indefatigable killer with a hidden identity. It set an entire sub genre in motion. A sub genre that would dominate horror, and movie releases overall for a time. Movie after movie after movie followed it’s blueprint. No holiday was safe from being used as a title and setting for a slasher film. IMDb may have 293 titles with the “Slasher Flick” keyword, but Slasher film fan site “A Slash Above” lists 537 of them.

“Halloween” is still, today, one of the most referenced, esteemed, cherished horror movies of all time.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See.”

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57 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Halloween”

    • The first has a different tone than the rest. It was a serious, straight up, well directed, frightening film.

      I’ve watched three later, subsequent chapters this week (4, 5 and I think 7?) and they were just comical…

      But not many horror franchises maintain the quality of the original.

  1. I saw it and it scared the shit out of me! But by no means am I a fan of slasher flix. Years ago Siskel and Ebert complained that the hardest part of reviewing films was having to see “slasher” fare. By then slashers were much gorier and nothing short of a crime against women. They started an anti-slasher campaign that worked to a large degree. The number of films dropped and the focus changed a bit from innocent female victims. “Halloween” can’t be blamed but the blood-suckers who took advantage of its’ popularity can.
    Nice write up and research as always. Let the Skyfall countdown continue!

    • Oh yeah, nothing stopping the Skyfall countdown. Although we’ve got a couple of days of Horror movies in between here, cause of Halloween. :D

      I’ve seen that Siskel and Ebert segment. There’s a slasher film retrospective documentary making the rounds that I’ve seen a couple time (I forget the name) that uses it. :D

      I think the biggest thing that killed the slasher film craze was its own success. Too many movies created a glut. Which turned people away…

  2. This write up is scary good! Excellent job on the history of the film. Things I never knew and interesting background. I’m glad you took a stab at this film. It’s a great MTESS!

    • I wish there was a way to embed sound clips in comments, so I can give you the de-dum-dum-tssh! You so rightfully deserve, :D

      Thanks, glad you liked this one. True story, I’ve had it waiting as a draft now for a year… last year Winter Storm Bastard Alfred kept me from posting this so I just hung on to it. Lets hope that Sandy is kinder!!

  3. An excellent inclusion to your series Fogs. I’m a big fan if Carpenter’s stuff. My favourite would still be The Thing but I conpletely understand your reasons for choosing this.

    Nice piece of trivia of the Shatner mask. I’m tempted to steal that for my Trivia post tomorrow. (with your approval of course)

    • Absolutely. Rock on. :D

      “The Thing” will have its day here one day. There’s no particular order to any of these, you know? Well, except for the fact that Halloween is this week, and thus… this one ;)

      • It’s deserves it’s place and perfectly timed. Also glad to hear that The Thing will have it’s day :-)

        Thanks for the help on the trivia. I’ve got myself a little tied up recently and haven’t had the time to rummage.

  4. It’s crazy to see what Carpenter could accomplish with such a small amount of moolah. I did a review on this last year and I’ll say that it’s not one of those movies that scares you again and again every time you watch it, but it still has a great nostalgic factor to it, especially when you watch it around this time. I mean seriously, could you watch this around Christmas and have a good time? Maybe, but I think you’re more likely to appreciate it around October. Nice post brotha.

    • Thanks Dan-o.

      I would argue in Carpenter’s defense that there are precious few horror movies that CAN scare you after seeing it once. There just arent that many that hold up again and again and again.

      You are spot on about watching it at Christmas though. LOL. I… in all honesty I’m having trouble thinking if I’ve EVER watched it outside of October. LOL

  5. Very super Gangnam Style cool article Fogs. This is a movie I watch every year, and no matter how many times I see it it still freaks me out. I’m curious at what your thoughts are on Season Of The Witch aka Halloween III

    • Happy Halloween, Dan…
      :D

      It IS a classic, isnt it? If someone asks for a definition of the term “Horror Classic”, you’d be hard pressed to find a better answer than this one. :D

      I actually just scored “The Omen” movies on Blu. If Sandy leaves the lights on, I think those’ll be my Halloween movies this year! :D

  6. Hey, you finally managed to get this posted! :D

    Great write-up, Fogs, had to share it. You might remember I saw this for the first time as part of last year’s Halloween Haunters… easily the best horror movie I saw that year, and I have to say it’s beating pretty much everything this year as well (save perhaps Alien). Incredible what was done with so little on this film, and you’re absolutely right about it feeling so threatening because it feels so “homey”. I mean, I live in a rural neighborhood now, but the first 12 years of my life were in suburbia, and the streets of Haddonfield, IL don’t look terribly different from those of Springfield, OR.

    I’ll have some more words to say about Michael Myers myself in a day or two… couldn’t let the entire year go by without another entry in the series.

    • I havent revisited Part II in decades, in all honesty. But I’ve been catching other later chapters on AMC recently as part of fear fest and theyre awful. LOL. Without that love for the series (Like I have say for Friday the 13th), they can be a little rough.

      But this one is a classic. Glad you finally got to see it, and glad you saw the greatness in it. A lot of times the restrictive budgets, etc can work in a horror movie’s favor. Definitely the case here. Where, as you said, it feels “Homey”. Probably because they couldnt afford to do it otherwise!

      And yeah, just glad this one survived a full year in “Draft” format. Kudos, WordPress!

  7. Historically, it’s definitely a movie everyone should see, yes. But I think it’s better culturally than aesthetically. The acting from of the supporting characters and some of the dialogue is really bad.

  8. The Best Horror Film Ever!! Little trivia-Sam Loomis is named for the hero played by John Gavin in “Psycho”. Tommy Doyle was a charcter in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and Leigh Brackett was a character in “Red River”. Halloween wasn’t the first one to use POV of the killer. “Peeping Tom”, a British film did it first. So that would be the grandfather of slashers and “Psycho” would be the father. This film is definitely in my all time favorite films (#2) and my all time Favorite horror film (#1). In fact, one year I went into work dressed as Michael Myers (which was the name of a foreign film distibutor).

    • I knew a few of those. Definitely realized Loomis came from Psycho. Didnt pick up on the others though.

      I had hear where Michael Myers got his name.

      I’ve never seen “Peeping Tom”. I’ll definitely agree it was a precursor to all of these. I think that those movie geneology questions are difficult to answer at times. I recognize that Halloween wasn’t the first, technically, to use POV or to kill… helpless victims… but it definitely triggered an explosion. Before you knew it, there were dozens of films trying to mimick it. To replicate its success.

      Peeping Tom? Not so much.

      So… I guess unless I was to hear Carpenter talk about the influence of Peeping Tom on this film, I still credit Halloween. Psycho certainly is owed credit in the slasher lineage though. Much more willing to give credit there. especially in its influence on this movie.

      • I believe Peeping Tom did not have much of an influence because it was banned in England when it first came out. Can’t influence if it can’t be watched.

  9. This is one of my favorite pieces that you have written. It was extremely informative and of course timely. The research you did for it was great. Where did you view the documentary you mentioned? Is it available on YouTube or is it part of a DVD extra?

    • Thanks Max!! :D Thats nice to hear, glad you enjoyed.

      All my info on these is always culled from a combo of Wikipedia, IMDb trivia and DVD extras, especially in this case, the Blu ray has some really good “making of” stuff.

      This one had a bunch of material available, because of its classic stature. Not all of them are so easy, as I’m sure you can attest to in your experience as well.

  10. I think that Carpenter wrote the music for this and several other of his movies not to save money, but because he’s something of a frustrated musician at heart and because he WANTS to.

    As far as the movie as a whole, well it’s become a classic, no question, but I dont really think it’s a MTESS. I’m not particularly fond of the genre it spawned, nor of this film specifically. It looks cheap, the acting, aside from the leads, is sub-par. It’s a perfectly adequate example of a fairly standard 70s low-budget horror flick, and not really more than that, at least IMO. It had no where near the creativity of a Nightmare on Elm street, or even as interesting a main character as Friday the 13th.

    Oh, sure it’s something of a guilty pleasure, and I’ll admit to seeing it probably 7 or 8 times over the years, but I dont think a person NEEDS to have seen it to consider themselves a well rounded film buff.

    • Yeah, that’s true, they definitely start it off in the afternoon. That shot of him right before he ducks behind the hedges is freaking creepy. LOL.

      He lets it all rip once it gets dark though for sure….

  11. Excellent write up! Loved all the background info……I never knew any of it. Very interesting. This movie chills me to the bone even to this day. I rarely sit through it when my family watches it. It scares me that much. I guess it is the fact that it does come across as realistic and “relate-able”. My family knows it too. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law used to have fun in calling me when they knew I was alone and play the theme song into the phone…..NOT COOL! haha

    Excellent choice for MTESS!

    • I know, right? Just that themesong is scary!

      tinktinktinktink tinktinktinktink tinktink tinktinktinktink tinktink

      tinktinktinktink tinktinktinktink tinktink tinktinktinktink tinktink

      dum dum….
      :D

      One of the greatest horror movies ever. No shame in admitting it scares you silly, Deb!! :D

    • “The infamous William Shatner Halloween mask that Michael Myers wears wasn’t some brilliant production design… they couldn’t talk the mask manufacturer that they approached into taking a cut of the profits to design an original mask! And they couldn’t afford to have a mask custom made if they had to pay up front! So they went to a costume store, bought the cheapest mask they could (Shatner’s, $1.98), removed the sideburns, spray painted it white, cut bigger eye holes in it and mussed up the hair. Voilà! A legend is born.”

  12. This is critical homework for anyone interested in horror cinema, for sure, and a genuinely great, terrifying movie about the nature of evil. I think what draws critics and scholars to Michael Myers more than, say, Freddy or Jason is that Myers is the scariest kind of monster at all– the kind you can’t understand. We know why Freddy is Freddy, we know why Jason is Jason. But after the first film, and after the first handful of sequels (excluding Season of the Witch), we still don’t understand Michael. It’s not until talk of druids gets introduced into the series that he gets backstory. Until then, he’s just an inexplicable font of evil to come out of middle class America. There’s no rhyme or reason to him; he’s just a monster. That’s it. And that’s horrific.

    It’s why Rob Zombie’s interpretations of the character, for lack of a better word, suck. He doesn’t get it. And his lack of understanding really wrecks the character. As a white trash boy with a bad childhood, Myers isn’t all that scary. He’s kinda just a serial killer. As a person motivated to do evil for evil’s sake, he’s cuts an iconic figure of terror, and no film in the franchise does it better than the first.

  13. Fantastic stuff as always, man. This is an absolute classic for sure, one of Carpenter’s greatest accomplishments (and there are many). One thing I noticed this time around was that the kids in the movie were watching The Thing, which Carpenter would remake shortly after. Thought that was really interesting.

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