• Guy Jeffries

Halloween (1978)


Director: John Carpenter.

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes.

So, before I post my review of the final sequel to this film, I rewind to take a look at one of the most iconic horrors that started or revitalise a trend of slasher horror. Producer Irwin Yablans approached Director John Carpenter after being impressed with his second main feature, Assault on Precinct 13, requesting him to make his concept of a film, currently called the The Babysitter Murders. Uncredited financier, Moustapha Akkad wasn’t overly keen on Carpenter until he saw his enthusiasm for the picture and claimed he could make it for a mere $300,000; bear in mind, Akkad’s own picture was reportedly costing him that a day in production!

Carpenter was paid $10,000 which was half of the big star Donald Pleasence’s fee and $2,000 more than newbie star Jamie Lee Curtis. But he smartly wagered percentage on profits and secured complete creative control over the film, scrapping much of the original concept and rewriting the whole film with his then current girlfriend, Debra Hill. The story was original set over a number of days but with budget constraints the core of the story was cut, placing it’s focus on the titular night, and it wasn’t until Yablans surprisingly discovered that no other film had the title Halloween and so it seemed fitting to move the story to the scariest night of the year.

We’re introduced to Michael Myers, someone who at the age of 6 stabbed his own sister multiple times and has since been locked up in a high security insane asylum. 15 years later Myers escapes and returns to his fictitious home of Haddonfield, Illinois to continue his killing spree. The premise is made simpler by providing absolutely no reason or motive to Myer’s intent, leaving it up to the audience to imagine for themselves. He is a monster inspired from Carpenter’s experience of touring a psychiatric hospital and encountering what he described as evil.

It’s undeniable that Michael Myers is one of the most iconic horror figures in cinematic history with that distorted, defaced mask of William Shatner; painted mucky white and eyebrows shaven off. His looming presence was terrifying, even during daylight hours, his firm yet ruthless stature, like a man possessed, lethal and silent, apart from his heavy breathing from under the mask. The origin of his name is a weird way of a thank you to an European distributor of Assault on Precinct 13. Multiple people played the knife welding killer, all for different reasons; even Debra Hill playing the younger version of him. But the main credit goes to both Nick Castle and Tony Moran.

Laurie Strode, according to writer Debra Hill was named after Carpenter’s first girlfriend, was Jamie Lee Curtis’ big screen debut with only a few appearances on some TV shows and she ironically thought her performance in this was the end of her career until she got a call from Carpenter reassuring her. Initially, Carpenter wasn’t keen, but then he realised she is the daughter of the original scream queen screen legend, Janet Leigh, and he thought who else better to play the heroine, but the Psycho shower lady’s little girl and immortalise her in horror movie history along side her mother. Now her performance isn’t amazing and it’s easy to see where Curtis thought this would ruin her chances of making it into the big time, but it’s not an awful performance and it certainly put her on the way to stardom starring in Horrors like Prom Night, Terror Train and another Carpenter horror, The Fog.

Arguably, the star of the film was supposed to be Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers’ psychiatrist and enemy who tried to stop Myers by any means. He was certainly the most experienced on the set and whilst Carpenter has said it was daunting to be working with such an actor, Pleasence was actually very supportive and pleasant to work with. Carpenter has initially approached Hammer Horror stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to play the part by both declining due to the low fee; a decision Lee later regretted saying it was the largest mistake of his career. But he really wasn’t the star, and although reprising his role in the following sequels, he was nothing more than what Gary Oldman is today with lower budget action movies; a big name to bolster the film. The primary focus is well and truly on Myers and Strode as oppose to Dr. Loomis wandering around the neighbour trying to kill the killer.

Carpenter’s style and story wasn’t wholly unique, with the original story being an inspiration from Bob Clark’s slasher horror, Black Christmas and had be reported that this was going to be it’s sequel. But it’s clear that both draw influences from Horror maestro Alfred Hitchcock with Halloween even naming a few of it’s characters as nods to Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Psycho. But that golden first-person-perspective from the killers eyes is both daring and amazing switching the narrative between where he is and of where he’s going. Interestingly, there’s misconception of over sexualised themes that has be in constant debate over the years with feminists and horror historians offering conflicting opinions all whilst Carpenter rebuffs them all. It reflects a time and attitude of college kids back in the day and these issues are pretty much the same today with sexual pressure among young adults. It appears to set a template for similar successful horror’s that followed like Friday the 13th.

Originally, the film didn’t have a score and can you imagine what the film would be like without iconic piano riddled music? Well, test audiences gave negative reviews because of the lack of music so Carpenter gave the film a score which he composed in three days. It’s something I adore about Carpenter, composing his own scores and what’s equally impressive is that he can’t read or write music.

Sadly, the budget does reflect the quality of the production but their work-arounds were genius. The entire film was captured in four weeks with props and costumes sourced cheaply; in fact most of the actors wore their own clothes and having the bulk of the story set in one day meant a smaller wardrobe and the infamous mask was purchased for $1.98 after the failed clown’s mask concept.

It doesn’t stand the test of time and is really nothing more than a piece of cinema history that helped shape and influence it’s growing subgenre. However, younger viewers of today watching this for the first time have to try an appreciate what this film was like back then as it’s success is undeniable with a whopping $47million at the U.S. box office making this one of the most successful independent movies of all time. Older fans will remember why this was such a great horror but others watching this now for the first time, might wonder what all the fuss was about.

Running Time: 8

The Cast: 7

Performance: 6

Direction: 8

Story: 8

Script: 6

Creativity: 9

Soundtrack: 9

Job Description: 6

The Extra Bonus Point: 0

67% 7/10

#JohnCarpenter #JamieLeeCurtis #DonaldPleasence #PJSoles #NancyKyes #DebraHill #TonyMoran #NickCastle #MoustaphaAkkad #IrwinYablans