Today is the day, and this is the movie for it! The sire and still best of all the slasher films, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN broke the mold of the psycho-killer movie and remade it in its own image. Think of all the current tropes of the slasher film (Killer in a blank mask, butcher knife, teenagers in danger, etc.) and you will find their genesis in this movie. Intelligently directed, perfectly cast, and brilliantly constructed, John Carpenter’s micro-budgeted Horror opus was a standard-setter in 1978 and continues to influence Horror films of every type. From the opening strains of Carpenter’s “Halloween Theme” of the opening credits, to the eerie, muted breathing of Michael Myers over the montage at the end, HALLOWEEN was a thoroughly new, exciting, and harrowing experience.
The big ‘get’ in the casting of this small film was Donald Pleasence. Most famous at the time for his role as the great Bond villain Blofeld in “You Only Live Twice”, Pleasence plays Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychiatrist who treated Michael Myers in the mental institution. Pleasence’s portrayal of Loomis as he desperately tries to stop Michael gives the film an urgency and weight that a lesser actor could never have provided. Another great piece of casting was the feature debut of Jamie Lee Curtis as our heroine Laurie Strode. The offspring of Hollywood royalty (daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis), Jamie Lee Curtis was anxious to prove herself in the film business. Her turn as the innocent in danger not only launched her career, it set the template for damsels in distress in Horror for generations.
Every great Horror movie has to have its monster, and HALLOWEEN has a doozy. Michael Myers is more than just a maniac in a mask with a knife. Michael Myers is the embodiment of death itself. Ever present, relentless, and shrouded, he is the classic boogeyman - a force of nature that you can not reason with. Like death itself, you might see him coming but it’s useless to run away. Like death, he is lurking where you won’t expect him,- ready to strike. Because Michael Myers is more than he appears, HALLOWEEN is more than just a slasher film. In much the same way Laurie Strode looses her innocence on that fateful night, so too did the United States in the waning years of the ‘70s. The end of the Vietnam War, and the brutality and senselessness of that conflict had been brought home in a very real way. Michael Myers, like war, takes away the young without remorse, pity, or reason. We want Laurie to get away not just because we like her, but because she could be any one of our kids. It was a resonant subtext for our country at that time.
As usually the case, the vastly inferior knockoffs of HALLOWEEN missed the point of what made the originator great. Tossing all subtext and thoughtfulness, they focused only on the maniac with a mask and the nubile youngsters he stalks. In the end, though, that only makes HALLOWEEN stand out even more. John Carpenter once famously expressed that as they were making HALLOWEEN, his best-case scenario was that it would make its money back and become a cult classic. Little did he know that he had a cultural phenomenon on his hands. A cultural phenomenon and a masterpiece of Horror cinema.
HALLOWEEN fun facts - The part of Dr. Loomis was first offered to Christopher Lee. Later, when Christopher Lee finally met John Carpenter in person, he told him that turning down HALLOWEEN was the biggest mistake of his career.
The original title of HALLOWEEN was “The Babysitter Murders”. Since the story called for the events to unfold on Halloween night, they decided to change the title to the holiday‘s name. The main objection to “Halloween” was that they figured there must be dozens of films with that title. Upon research, the filmmakers were shocked to discover that there were no previous films titled “Halloween’, and went ahead with the change.
Dr. Loomis - “He’s gone from here! The evil is gone!”
Laurie Strode - “It was the boogeyman?”
Dr. Loomis - “As a matter of fact, it was.”
Dr. Loomis - “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.”