It's the perfect slasher movie. Often imitated, never duplicated, John Carpenter's Halloween is a masterpiece of suspense and terror, giving the horror movie world one of its best-known masked villains: The Shape, aka, Michael Myers. Reboots, remakes, endless sequels, love 'em or hate 'em, there's no beating the 1978 original. Here we'll take a look at 10 killer facts about John Carpenter's Halloween.
The Babysitter Murders
John Carpenter nearly called this movie The Babysitter Murders. The director and his longtime producing partner, the late Debra Hill, co-wrote the script in just ten days. The production itself was remarkably short, too. Preproduction, principal photography, and postproduction took place over a combined 12 weeks. Carpenter composed the almost instantly iconic Halloween score in just three days.
Location, location, location
Haddonfield and Smith's Grove aren't real towns in Illinois, but they do exist elsewhere. Haddonfield, New Jersey was Debra Hill's hometown. Smith's Grove is actually in Kentucky, not far from Carpenter's hometown, Bowling Green. The town that stands in for Haddonfield in the movie isn't in Illinois, either; it's in California.
Michael, Michael, Michael
Carpenter's old USC classmate Nick Castle, who played the Beach Ball Alien and worked as a camera assistant on Dark Star, visited the Halloween set to watch his friend direct. Carpenter suggested he put on the mask and play the killer. 'Though it's actor Tony Moran's face when Michael is unmasked, it's Castle's movements and overall presence that became one of the most recognizable parts of the movie. Castle collaborated with Carpenter several more times behind the scenes and went on to direct The Last Starfighter and The Boy Who Could Fly, among other movies. Halloween editor and production designer Tommy Lee Wallace, who himself went on to direct Halloween III, actually played The Shape during the classic closet scene.
What's in a name?
Several of the characters in Halloween are named after people Carpenter knew in real life, or in tribute to his influences. "Laurie" was an ex-girlfriend. "Michael Myers" was a film distributor who helped get Assault on Precinct 13 out in the UK. Sheriff Leigh Brackett is named after the author and screenwriter responsible for The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, The Long Goodbye, and (together with Lawrence Kasdan) The Empire Strikes Back. (Sadly, Brackett passed away the same year Halloween was released.) Laurie's off-screen crush, Ben Tramer, was named after Carpenter pal Bennett Tramer, who went on to be a writer/producer on TV's Saved by the Bell. Tommy Doyle is named after the detective from Rear Window. Dr. Sam Loomis was named after a character from another Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho, which earned an Academy Award nomination for Jamie Lee Curtis' famous mother, Janet Leigh.
Carpenter's first choice to play Laurie Strode was Anne Lockhart, later best known for her role as Lieutenant Sheba on the original Battlestar Galactica, but she turned him down. Jamie Lee Curtis, who had yet to appear in a feature film, loved Assault on Precinct 13 and was determined to work with Carpenter. Debra Hill loved the idea of giving Janet Leigh's daughter a starring role in what had the potential to become another genre classic. Carpenter directed both women in his next movie, The Fog, and the mother/daughter duo worked together again in 1998's Halloween: H2O.
Carpenter offered the role of Dr. Loomis to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, two veterans of the Hammer horror films. Unfortunately, the film's meager budget couldn't afford either of them. Donald Pleasence went on to play Dr. Loomis in five films: Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. He also played the President in Carpenter's 1981 sci-fi action classic Escape from New York.
Jamie Lee Curtis was the only actual teenager among Carpenter's young cast. Of course, this is hardly unique for the genre. The actors playing Tina, Rod, and Glen in A Nightmare on Elm Street were all 20 or older by the time of the film's release. Matthew Lillard and Skeet Ulrich were in their mid-20s when they made Scream. History repeated itself with Rob Zombie's remake; his Laurie was the only real teen.
The now iconic mask was described in the script as little more than "the pale, neutral features of a man." Production designer Tommy Lee Wallace grabbed a couple of cheap masks from a local store, for just two bucks each. The Captain Kirk mask, stretched out and painted white, caught Carpenter's eye. Of course now we call it the "Michael Myers mask."
John Carpenter has a voice cameo in Halloween as Annie's boyfriend on the other end of the phone. Debra Hill is in the movie, too; young Michael's hands actually belong to her in the opening scenes, as the child actor couldn't be on set for more than one day, and certainly couldn't be around for all of that nudity. Hill is also one of the handful of people who portrayed the grownup Michael in the film. Jamie Lee has a Carpenter-esque voice cameo of her own in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
New scenes were shot fro TV
NBC wanted to air Halloween in October 1981 to coincide with the release of the sequel (which Carpenter co-wrote and produced but did not direct). But once the nudity and some of the violence were cut for broadcast, the original's runtime was too short for its timeslot. So Carpenter oversaw the completion of new footage during Halloween II's production, including some scenes that hinted at the eventual revelation in Halloween II that Michael and Laurie were actually brother and sister.
A number of classics fed into the look, feel, sound and vibe of Halloween, which of course became a highly influential classic in its own right. To reverse engineer some of the elements Carpenter drew upon, we recommend watching (or re-watching), Touch of Evil, Rear Window, Eyes Without a Face, and Susperia, to name a few.