Halloween is just around the corner, so what better time to revisit the classic slasher franchise that centers around the holiday? We’ll be releasing an article per week through the last week of October that covers every film in the original franchise, including Resurrection because I like to torture myself. This week’s installment of our series will center around Halloween and it’s sequel, as they both take place on the same night; the night he came home.
John Carpenter’s Halloween is widely acknowledged as being one of the most frightening films ever made, and you’ll hear no argument from me on the subject. Co-written by Carpenter and his frequent collaborator Debra Hill, Halloween was directed and scored by John Carpenter himself. The film stars Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, Michael Myers’ psychiatrist who spends Halloween night tracking him down, and is the film debut of future scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis, who stars as Laurie Strode, a teenager that Michael is trying to murder.
On Halloween night in 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers dresses in a clown costume and murders his older sister while their parents are away. Fifteen years later, Michael escapes from the psychiatric hospital and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, where he stalks 17-year-old Laurie Strode and her friends. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis, Michael’s psychiatrist, tracks him back to Haddonfield and attempts to end the spree of murders.
Halloween, an independent film, was produced for $300,000 in 1978 and returned $70M in the worldwide box office, which is the equivalent to roughly $267M in 2016 – making Halloween one of the most successful indie films ever made. The film is often credited as the first film in a long line of slashers to draw inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho, as well as leading to many imitators of itself and originating many cliches found in low-budget horror films of the 80’s and 90’s. Unlike its imitators, however, Halloween contains very little graphic violence and gore – an element that adds to the horror of the film and the subtle way it grasps the viewers imagination.
Upon the release of his 1976 film, Assault on Precinct 13, John Carpenter was approached by indie film producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad to direct a film for them about a psychotic killer that stalks babysitters. Carpenter and Debra Hill began drafting a story, originally titled The Babysitter Murders, until Yablans suggested setting the film on Halloween night and naming it after the holiday instead. With the newly minted idea intact, production began on the film, but due to the low budget, wardrobe and props were often crafted from items on hand or that could be purchased inexpensively. Tommy Lee Wallace was brought onto the film by Carpenter as the production designer and art director (in addition to being the location scout and co-editor), and it was he who created the iconic Michael Myers mask… by purchasing a Captain Kirk mask for $1.98, widening the eye-holes, and spray painting the flesh a bluish white color. Way to stretch a dollar, Mr. Wallace.
The production design, however, was not the only thing affected by the low budget. In addition to the design, the filming location and time schedule were also dictated by the budget of the film. Halloween was filmed over a span of twenty days in the spring of ’78 in South Pasadena, California and the cemetery at Sierra Madre, California. The production crew had a difficult time finding pumpkins for the film given the season in which they were filming, and artificial, hand-painted leaves were reused for multiple scenes.
On a personal note, Halloween is the first horror film I remember watching as a young child, and it remained my favorite movie for many years. Michael Myers, to be frank, scared the hell out of me. In fact, when I was five or six, I was trick ‘r treating around my grandmother’s neighborhood and came across a man dressed as Michael Myers. My survival instincts (or pure, unadulterated fear) kicked in immediately, and I flung my candy to the ground and took off across the yards of strangers. I eventually tripped and scraped my knee pretty bad, then I cried all the way home. There are two things to be taken away from that story:
1.) I might have been a bit of a scaredy cat when I was a child.
2.) People really do trip when they’re running from a murderer.
If you watch no other films this Halloween season, be sure to watch John Carpenter’s Halloween. There is no better time to revisit the classic than on Halloween night. If you plan to view more than one film, however, might I make a suggestion?
Halloween II (1981)
Picking up immediately following the events of the first film, Halloween II was a conclusion three years in the making. John Carpenter and Debra Hill returned to write and produce the sequel, however this installment of the franchise was directed by Rick Rosenthal. The films sees Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence reprise their roles as Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis, respectively.
Stylistically, Halloween II reproduces certain key elements that made the original film successful, however, the film also helps to establish what slasher films would become throughout the 1980’s. In addition, Halloween II introduces the concept that Laurie is actually the sister of Michael Myers – a development that is prevalent throughout the rest of the series.
Immediately following the events of the first film, Michael Myers continues to pursue Laurie Strode to a nearby hospital. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis remains in pursuit of his escaped patient – though he isn’t fast enough to save the overnight hospital staff .
While Halloween II doesn’t come close to matching the genre defining greatness of the 1978 film, it is equally as frightening at times. There are moments of breathless tension as Michael stalks Laurie through the hospital. Though some of the film falls heavily into slasher cliches, the scarier moments of this sequel match John Carpenter’s Halloween in spirit – a relatively unprecedented feat for a horror sequel.
Following the success of the original film, Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad invested heavily in the sequel, allowing for a budget of $2.5 million opposed to the $300K budget of Halloween. However, even with the larger budget, John Carpenter refused to direct the film – recommending that Tommy Lee Wallace, the art director from the original Halloween, take the job. After Wallace declined the position, Carpenter chose relatively unknown director Rick Rosenthal for the job based on his work on the short film Toyer, which Carpenter cited as being full of suspense and tension.
The decision to include more gore and nudity than the original film, however, was not made by Rosenthal. According to Rosenthal and the film’s official website, John Carpenter himself made changes to the film in post-production. In an interview with Twilight Zone Magazine in 1982, Carpenter had this to say on the subject:
“That’s a long, long story. That was a project I got involved in as a result of several different kinds of pressure. I had no influence over the direction of the film. I had an influence in the post-production. I saw a rough cut of Halloween II, and it wasn’t scary. It was about as scary as Quincy. So we had to do some post-production work to bring it at least up to par with the competition.”
Rosenthal was not pleased with Carpenter’s changes, though many of the graphic scenes contained elements rarely seen in a film during that era of horror. While Rosenthal was displeased with the changes to his film, he later returned to the franchise to direct Halloween: Resurrection in 2002. This is merely speculation, but perhaps his anger with the franchise is what led him to make such a terrible, terrible movie. However, I’ll save that heated discussion for another article.
- The original concept of Halloween II was for it to be set several years after the events of the first film and to have Michael Myers track Laurie to her new home in a high-rise apartment building.
- The film was almost shot in 3-D, however the process was deemed to expensive for the project.
- Dick Warlock portrayed Michael Myers in the film and claims to have used the exact mask from the first film.
- The film was banned in West Germany and Iceland due to the graphic violence and nudity.
- An adaptation of the screenplay was printed as a mass market paperback by writer Dennis Etchison and became a bestseller.
- An alternate version of the film has aired on network television since the early 80’s. The alternate version has most of the graphic violence and gore edited out, as well as other scenes, but also has many minor additional scenes added. While the theatrical version of the film ends with the presumed deaths of Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers, the audience is left in a gray area regarding the survival of Jimmy (Lance Guest), whereas the alternate version shows Jimmy alive at the end of the film.
- Halloween II was played for the jury of a murder trial when the killer’s defense was that he suffered from hallucinations brought on by the film while under the influence of PCP, marijuana, and alcohol. The incident became known as the Halloween II Murders.
Halloween II was originally intended to be the last film to include Michael Myers, with the franchise moving in the direction of an anthology series with the next installment. While Halloween III: Season of the Witch received a lackluster response upon its release in 1982, perhaps the film deserves more credit than it’s given. We’ll dive into that notion in the next installment of our History of ‘Halloween’ series! Until next time, steer clear of the boogeyman.