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Halloween Turns 35: An Appreciation
John Carpenter's horror-film classic was more than just a scary movie — it was a shakedown of the American Dream
October: It starts with bags of discount candy and ends with a rotten pumpkin. In between? Crunchy leaves, homemade ghosts and Michael Myers.
I wasn’t born in 1978, but I knew about John Carpenter’s Halloween long before I ever saw it. At countless sleepovers, older siblings of neighborhood friends would whisper about Michael Myers in passing, leaving us kids to freak out alone in dark dens and shadowy bedrooms. “His mask, dude,” one shaggy-haired brother warned me. “It’ll haunt you forever.”
He wasn’t wrong. And I wasn’t alone.
Today the film celebrates its 35th anniversary, and the soulless gaze of Michael Myers continues to send shivers down the spines of fans both new and old. Yet its terror resonates far beyond a retooled William Shatner mask, strangling, instead, the neck of something fundamentally greater.
The story begins on Halloween 1963, when a 6-year-old Michael Myers murders his older sister with a butcher knife upstairs in their own home. Fifteen years later, he escapes from a mental hospital, evades his knowledgeable psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) and returns to his (fictional) hometown of Haddonfield, Ill. It’s there he begins stalking a teenage babysitter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends.
Produced on a budget of $325,000, Halloween was a juggernaut at the box office in the fall of 1978, grossing $47 million Stateside and $70 million worldwide. (Ahem, today that would come out to $169 million and $251 million, respectively.) At the time, it was Hollywood’s most successful independent film — and its acclaim sparked a slaughter of slasher films, from Friday the 13th to A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Of course, later Carpenter-less sequels succumbed to the messy gore and eye-rolling stereotypes of the lucrative genre, but the original remains a separate entity. There’s a sophistication to its story, style and direction, recalling the implicit politics of George A. Romero’s brilliant 1968 masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead. It was a shakedown of the American Dream.
“Doctor, do you know what Haddonfield is? Families, children, all lined up in rows up and down these streets. You’re telling me they’re lined up for a slaughterhouse,” a smug Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) berates Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis halfway through the film. To the audience’s great frustration, he writes off the doctor’s warnings as “fancy talk,” refusing to believe that anyone could thwart his small-town American life.
But hasn’t that always been America’s thing? Even amid our post-9/11 society, in which school shootings, bombings and ghastly murders terrorize our headlines on a weekly basis, there’s still that balmy negligence that, well, nothing will really happen to us. We gasp. We move on. Rinse and repeat. Live the #AmericanDream.
What’s startling about Halloween is how it’s so relatable. Growing up in America, everyone’s encountered a babysitter, gone trick-or-treating, or moped around the same sprawling neighborhoods that Michael Myers stalks onscreen. Carpenter recognized this, recently telling Crave Online that “every teenage girl in America could relate to babysitting. So I was just thinking of the cast and writing the script of the movie based on that much. Out of that came Halloween.”
He continued, adding, “At its core it’s: the force of evil is man. This guy Michael Myers is human. He’s only part supernatural. And there’s really not much of an explanation as to why he’s doing what he’s doing. So it’s just black evil coming to a small town. A bunch of pain. That’s what it’s really about: horror.”
That’s why as the film progresses, the focus grows less on the babysitters and more on their surroundings, which Carpenter teases with blue specks of moonlight, the occasional grin of a nearby jack-o’-lantern and the monotonous breathing by an unseen Myers. Even the film’s dubious conclusion was designed to leave you thinking, Ohmygod, he’s standing right behind me.
It’s rare that a film of any genre triumphs over time, especially in horror. Yet three and a half decades later, Halloween continues to scare us into believing that true evil — or in this case, the boogeyman — is just outside our window, the shadow by the oak tree, or the sound in the other room. Like the holiday its name shares, the film’s become an American pastime, an institution to fear. And how can we not relate to that?
- I've seen this movie a million times and I still feel tense and uneasy watching it. It's a perfect, true horror film, minus blood and gore and other non-scary things.
- It is a great movie. It kicked off the slasher genre and it's still arguably the best slasher, and one of the few I like.
- No doubt Halloween was one of the best, but did it really introduce the slasher genre?
Psycho - 1960
Last House on the Left - 1972
I Spit on Your Grave - 1978
The Hills Have Eyes - 1977
Suspiria - 1977
Black Christmas - 1974
Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 1974
- One of my all time favorite movies
- Everything R2 said: ditto.
- read that Jamie Lee Curtis had her period during filming and that it added to the blood and gore on set!
- Was lucky enough to see on it at a theater when i was 13. Even more tense and unnerving on big screen. Could have been set on flag day the feeling of being stalked and watched must be horrible. That it took place on halloween made it that much creepier.
- [quote]No doubt Halloween was one of the best, but did it really introduce the slasher genre?
Introduce? Maybe not but it was the one that inspired copycats because of it's success. The other slashers weren't as successful, even Psycho.
- I recall my oldest brother went to see it upon its release - he came back home raving about it. I was pissed because I was too young for an R film. It's been anaylzed to death and copied over and over, but it's still one of the best.
- Psycho isn't a true slasher flick.
Norman doesn't personally stalk his victim. She comes to him.
I think I'll make this my ring tone.
- I was actually babysitting the first time I saw it. The kids (my cousins) were in bed. My uncle had HBO and we didn't have it at home, so I always watched it at his house when the kids were in bed. HBO was all first-run movies back then.
My uncle and his wife came home and I said, "This movie is really interesting...." hoping they'd let me finish watching it. But I guess they wanted to get into bed and have sex ASAP, because my uncle stood at the door. "Come on, I have to take you home."
When I walked in the front door of my house, I was shocked to see Halloween was on our TV set. It was a free HBO weekend. My father, who never watched anything other than sports, was actually watching it. "This is a good movie!" he said. That was even more shocking -- my father watching a modern (at the time) movie and really liking it. A horror movie about modern teenagers, no less.
- R7, I don't think JLC has ever had a period in her life.
- And of course, the deleted scenes from the movie
- That's because penis' dont bleed once a month.
- I would've never been able to handle seeing this on the big screen back when it was out. I was too much of wimp about horror films back then and I remember my friends saying how scary it was and that they were seeing Michael Myers everywhere and having nightmares.
- This movie really is to Halloween what "It's A Wonderful Life" is to Christmas. It's the ultimate slasher flick. No matter how many times I see it, I'm still creeped out by it.
- Weht PJ Soles?
- This is an excellent psychological thriller. It is very effective, and the audience doesn't need to see the blood and gore to be scared.
- [quote] Weht PJ Soles?
Ask her yourself
- "Halloween", "When A Stranger Calls", etc. are offshoots of the classic urban legend of the babysitter stalked by the psycho. We told these scary stories long before these films were made.
A neighbor girl told me the one where this woman was murdered on her wedding day, and if she appeared behind you in the mirror you had to cry out, "Mary White!" three times or she would kill you.
- The teacher's voice in that movie always cracked me up.
- The classroom scene was the creepiest. He's just staring at her and when she turns back he is gone. The same with the scene when he is standing in the backyard. These scenes still creep me out.
- R22, I know I'm in a distinct minority, but I find When a Stranger Calls--along with other films made around the same time, like Dressed to Kill--to be scarier and more effective than Halloween. I have never gotten the big deal about that movie, but I guess it has to do with how I'm not a John Carpenter fan at all. Pauline Kael's review of Halloween really reflects how I feel about the movie. Sure, the movie is "brilliant" in the way that it combines Hitchcock and Hawkes technique, but I felt it was done very mechanically. And Pauline was dead-on when she said that John Carpenter didn't have any skill with actors. Even his other movies have mediocre acting, at best.
- I tend to agree with you, R25. It's a solid film, but rather overrated. I watched The Thing last night, and kept falling asleep. I guess Carpenter isn't my cup of tea either.
Does anyone recall a 70s or early 80s film with a teen girl either babysitting or home alone, and a psychopath was in the basement and cut the power off? I thought it was When A Stranger Calls, but I watched that recently and there was no such scene. The movie I'm talking about scared me half to death as a child.
- I don't get why people say this movie had some lousy acting. I thought all three girls had great chemistry with one another. To me, nothing rings more false then when actors attempt to act like teenagers. It can come out very fake and obvious in its approach. I thought all three did a great job in not going overboard. Compare it with the three in the remake, and the attempts to be shocking or clever every other second.
It was supposed to be suburban and mundane. Haddonfield was a very laid back, quiet town to contrast with the rabid terror that was about to occur.
- Halloween and The Fog have a warm, soothing nostalgic feel to them. They take me back to my childhood where everything was easy and carefree.
- Same here R28.
- R24, that is a great scene and it's creepy even though it's in the daytime. Imagine just looking out the window casually and then seeing someone/something weird like that looking DIRECTLY at you. Yikes.
R23, me too.
- I saw it in its first theatrical release and it was incredible. From the beginning scene of Michael killing Judith and especially when the HALLOWEEN theme started you could feel the electricity in the theater. I laughed through THE EXORCIST and didn't see what the bfhd was about THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but HALLOWEEN left me unable to sleep at night for a week. I imagined Michael Myers in every shadow. All these years later it's still creepy.
- They filmed it in Pasadena, CA as a stand-in for Illinois- and blew fake Autumn leaves around.
- The theme song is pure genius. Such a simple melody, yet it has become synonymous with horror.
- Another terrifying scene is when Annie gets stuck in the window in the laundry room out back, and Michael is just standing there staring at her when the door slowly creaks open behind her.
- What did Annie spill on herself that was so bad that she had to undress and wash her clothes right then and there?
- The last scene was crazy scary. When he is in the house chasing them and she backs up and he is standing in the shadows behind her. And the scene right after that when she thinks she has killed him and from where he is lying he sits straight up right behind her.
And although the last scene was kind of impossible it was creepy when the Doc looked down waiting to see Michaels body after he shot him but he sees that he has left. I think the music made that scene especially creepy.
- I enjoyed it but didn't find it any scarier than any other horror movie of that era.
- R35, I think it was oil or butter for the popcorn.
- [quote]What did Annie spill on herself that was so bad that she had to undress and wash her clothes right then and there?
Melted butter for popcorn. There was barely a stain. It was obviously just a plot device to get her out to that laundry room, but they should have at least made her drenched in the stuff. Speaking of that scene, the way Michael is staring at her through the doors just off the kitchen is terrifying. It's like he's just fucking with her before going in for the kill.
- Audience reaction from the original run of Halloween.
- I've been thinking about the message of this movie, which I think is more obvious and compelling than it's copycats.
When Michael Myers killed his sister, the message was kind of that she deserved to die because he caught her fucking her boyfriend, or perhaps that catching his sister in the act was what drove him crazy.
When he escaped, his chosen victims where a bunch of horny teenagers, before or after they had had sex. The survivor/hero was the "still a virgin" Jamie Lee.
With Halloween, I think the underlying theme is about is the death of childhood, where sex represents "growing up" and growing older - the loss of childish innocence, and anger over that loss of innocence.
- That was awesome, R40!
- The babysitter houses are located in West Hollywood, right off of Sunset Blvd. I wonder if lots of people go to that street on Halloween to trick-or-treat?
- R28 Agreed! Films from my youth, that take me back to better times.
R13 you're dad sounds pretty cool, and your uncle sounds like a douchebag.
- Gimme a break - I was horny and trying to get a little!
- This was one of those movies that changed the horror genre.
I remember shortly after it came out a girl in the city I lived in was stabbed to death in her home while her parents and brother were out. She was in her late teens and the newspapers jumped on the movie 'Halloween' for a comparison to the real life grisly crime.
Don't think it was ever solved.
- Her name was Holly Branagan.
- Carpenter wrote the Faye Dunaway horror campfest The Eyes of Laura Mars, the same year Halloween came out
Barbra Streisand was originally attached to star in the film before dropping out.
- They should have left the Shatner mask unaltered. Then again, that might have been TOO scary.
- Carpenter wrote the music for the movie based on bongo beats.
- What a tragic video, R47.
- I saw it as a kid in the theater and it scared the crap out of me. I've never seen an audience react that way before. They were diving under the seats, screaming and about 4 people ran out before it ended.
Halloween is a classic of the genre and I still love watching it.
- I love the original and think the Rob Zombie reboot is pretty good too. Daeg Faerch, young Michael in the latter, was brilliant.
- Are the sequels worth watching? I remember hearing that Halloween 3 had nothing to do with Michael Myers.
- [quote]Are the sequels worth watching? I remember hearing that Halloween 3 had nothing to do with Michael Myers.
Part 2 gets a bad rap because they upped the gore ante, but it is VERY creepy and suspenseful. It picks up right where the original left off, and mostly takes place in a hospital. Part 3 (Season of the Witch), eschewed the Michael Myers storyline in favor of a 'mad Celtic witchdoctor out to destroy the world via kids' Halloween masks' plot, because Carpenter and Co. wanted to go a different route with the series. They wanted to do a different themed "Halloween" film every year, and likely would have had part 3 been successful. Alas, it flopped, so part 4 marked the return of Michael Myers (literally, as that's the subtitle for the film). It wasn't as effective as the first two, but did have some creepy moments as well. Parts 4 and 5 continued the plotline of the first two films, with Laurie Strode having died in a car accident, but not before giving birth to a daughter named Jamie. Jamie is living with a foster family when Michael comes looking for her. She develops a psychic ability in part 5 which helps her track Michael telepathically. These films were lensed in Salt Lake City, Utah as opposed to California, so they have a more 'gothic' look and feel to them (I preferred the look of parts 1 and 2 over parts 4 and 5, as the California locales had a more claustrophobic feel). Part 5 also introduced a silly subplot involving a 'man in black', who is seen in various shots throughtout the film walking around town. His storyline was continued in part 6, but again, it didn't really pique my interest.
The entries that followed I never really paid much attention to, save "Halloween: H20" which marked Jamie Lee Curtis's return to the series and nixed the plots from parts 4 & 5 (Laurie never had a daughter and was still very much alive). After "H20" came "H'ween: Resurrection", which marked the return of director Rick Rosenthal, who directed part 2, but was a terrible movie. It starred rapper Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks, and mostly took place in the original Myers House. Jamie Lee had a cameo in it as well, which was probably its only saving grace.
Five years after the last Halloween sequel came the Rob Zombie remake, which is good for what it was but pales in comparison to Carpenter's original.
- Thank you for the detailed reply, R55. "Creepy and suspenseful" are music to my ears...I think I'll be watching Halloween 2 tonight.
- [quote][R13] you're dad sounds pretty cool, and your uncle sounds like a douchebag.
How can you use your vs. you're correctly and incorrectly in the same sentence?
- R40, that audio was hilarious.
- His style is already evident in this TV thriller from 1978.
- I thought the Rob Zomie, sexed up, gored up remake was awful. I didn't want to know anything of Michael's origin. He was creepier in the original where he was just a black soul.
And where the hell did they dredge up Taylor Scoput Compton as Laurie? She sucked.
The original is so good. I love the color scheme of white, orange and blue.
- In the original, Laurie's house is so nice in the front with that awful addition in the back. And the camera makes it look about a block long.
The part of the movie that bugs me the most? The next door neighbor who turns off the light when Laurie is screaming for help.
- Anybody ever notice that the house where the killings take place wpuld not be able to have a living room to the right of the door when you walk in?
- The original was an amazingly good horror movie. I saw it in the theater and was scared to death.
I loved the creepy score. And I liked the plausibility of the story. It's been confirmed that that people who are severely mentally ill frequently exhibit unusual strength and resilience; it's hard to subdue them or disable them. And so it was with Michael Myers. You could BELIEVE it. Of course, any plausibility went out the window with the ridiculous sequels, but for the original it worked.
- Rod Zombie's remake was a piece of shit. Everything that guy does is shit, but it appeals to a certain segment of the population that likes garbage horror movies.
- Watched Halloween II (1981 version) last night. I was distracted by Jimmy, my goodness, Lance Guest was a cutie back then. But what actually happened to him, did he die in the car? The ending was a little confusing.
- It always amuses me how it takes Laurie and Annie forever to drive to the houses where they babysit, even going from day to night, yet Dr. Loomis easily walks from Michael Meyers' house(which is just down the street from Laurie's house) to the babysitter houses.
- [quote]Lance Guest was a cutie back then. But what actually happened to him, did he die in the car? The ending was a little confusing.
There were two cuts to H'WEEN II. In one of them, the last he's seen is in the car, and you assume he dies. In another, at the very end when Laurie is put into the ambulance, he pops us from under a sheet as a last "scare" tactic. He's alive, and he and Laurie are driven off in the ambulance, presumably to another hospital.
- Great find, R40.
- Ben Traymer was the guy in the Michael Myers mask who got hit by a car in Halloween 2. He was Laurie's crush. She lost her best friends and the one guy she liked.
- Because it was shot for so little money,the emptiness of the scenes(lack of background extras) adds to eerie atmosphere of the film. Didn't want to visit that suburban neighborhood.
- The pacing of Halloween is kind of slow, like a Hitchcock movie - the tension is really strong in it.
- The one thing I noticed that at Laurie's house the front door opens outward. What front door does not? And her dad was in real estate and that was the best he could do?
- Lance was seriously cute. He was built and walked like a guy I went to high school with who was supposed to be VERY well endowed. "Did I see a bus," was the phrase a group of guys who saw his dick would use. I, sadly, never got to see it. Wonder if Lance was similarly gifted?
- Halloween 2 is freaky with the hot tub that melts your face into French bread scene.
- I recognize that this is a great film, but I've never been able to enjoy it... because my name is actually Michael Myers. Imagine what I've had to put up with for the past 35 years.
- [quote]My uncle and his wife came home and I said, "This movie is really interesting...." hoping they'd let me finish watching it. But I guess they wanted to get into their bed and have sex ASAP, because my uncle stood at the door.
Sorry, I misread you...
- R73, Are you referring to the door on the side of the house which she exits in the beginning or her actual front door?
- I just realized that much of the movie occurs during the daytime.
- Why did the interior door to the kitchen have a lock on it?
- there's a great 2-hour documentary on BIO channel about the making of Halloween and it's super interesting. Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter are in it too. Originally it was going to be called "The Babysitter Murders," and it was a BOMB upon release. It didn't get good reviews either, until it landed in NYC (back then, the movies sort of traveled from city to city so it could take months before it had been available nationwide) and once the Village Voice (and Roger Ebert) gave it a very enthusiastic review, it took off. Up until that point, the cast and crew had moved on and the studio had basically written it off as a flop!
- Yeah, that awesome documentary has been mentioned upthread. I watch it everytime it comes on.
More HALLOWEEN trivia:
The version shown on TV includes a tacked-on scene in which Lynda comes over to Laurie's house to borrow the infamous "blouse". Laurie is in a pink robe with a towel around her head. That scene was actually filmed during the making of HALLOWEEN II. It was tacked on to add length to the original film for the 2-hour TV time slot (there was one other tacked on scene, too, which involved Dr. Loomis). The reason Jamie Lee had a towel around her head was because, of course, she'd had a haircut, and I'm guessing they were giving her a break from wearing that godawful wig.
Also, the inside of Laurie's house in that scene is actually the real interior of the infamous Nancy/Freddy house from "A Nightmare on Elm Street", which is located at 1428 North Genesee Avenue in West Hollywood.
- The extended "blouse" scene...
- Pauline Kael, who I always thought was an idiot, hated it. I never understood why that bitch was supposed to be an influential critic. Her movie critiques tended to be, well, kind of stupid. She didn't like American Graffiti, either. One of the reasons why is that she thought the movie demeaned the female characters by not showing their fates at the end of the movie, like it did with the males. WTF? She really was an incredible cunt.
- What was creepy was that Michael Myers wasn't just killing everyone in the same house. It wasn't the typical slasher movie set up .... he was going "door to door" to different houses in the neighborhood to stalk and kill.
- Michaels siater seemed kind of slutty. There was no birth control pill for girls in 1963. It didn't seem she had much of a relationship with the guy she fucked. It was very wham-bam-thank you, ma'am. The guy runs out of there as soon as he's done with her. She asks after him, "Will you call me tomorrow?" as he makes his escape, and he's all, "urrrg..."
- R86 ... of course Michael's sister was slutty. That is why she died.
Horror Movie Rule # 1. Duh.
- That "all sluts die" rule is something made up over the years by critics, fans and the like. Carpenter didn't intentionally set out to have the slutty characters die, that's just the way it worked out. Critics and fans took the ball and ran with it.
- She WAS a whore, darlin'.