Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the horror film that would end up launching 12 sequels/reboots that would collectively gross a total of more than $700 million worldwide started out as a low-budget affair. Made for only $300,000, Halloween, originally titled The Babysitter Murders, would go on to rake in $47 million at the box office despite the bad reviews and eventually become a horror movie classic.
With Halloween, director and co-writer John Carpenter was able to convey an innate sense of disorientation with his camerawork while also taking us behind the mask of Michael Myers to see the world from his point of view. The bloody journey to Laurie Strode and Myers’ final showdown was so suspenseful that I can distinctively recall how uncomfortable I was the first time I watched it. Uncomfortable in the sense that it made me nervous because Michael Myers was a killer who seemed capable of appearing anywhere and everywhere. Even if we know Laurie now as one of horror’s Final Girls, at the time, it was clear that no one was safe, not even the hero(ine). Not even the dog!
What Halloween Means to Us
I think the best example of Carpenter’s genius is not that this film works, it’s that he makes it look easy. All the producers wanted was “a film about a psychotic killer that stalked babysitters.” That was it. That was the bar. I don’t know how many low budget horror films you’ve seen but based on the knowledge I’ve acquired over my many years watching garbage, any other director would’ve taken the 300,000 dollars they got for the budget, spent 100,000 of that on blow and then hastily released The Babysitter Murders.
But Carpenter isn’t any director. He’s a goddamn legend. Firstly, he only spent $25,000 on coke and secondly, he wisely decided to rename the film Halloween. Jokes aside, this film has an astronomically low budget. When you think of the film Halloween, you think of one of the greatest films ever made. Its reputation has put it on a pedestal among the great achievements committed to celluloid. You don’t however, think of this film as being an “indie” or a low budget film. Most horror films look cheap. Especially slashers. Fans accept the fact that most horror films spend all of their budget on the make up effects and as so long as their good, they won’t complain.
Nobody has ever complained about Halloween looking cheap. Nobody has had to excuse the fact that the costumes were bought at a local J.C Penny’s and that the killers mask was made for 2 dollars. You don’t defend this films budget because the budget isn’t a limitation. Carpenter took less than a million dollars in today’s money and made a film that was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Not bad for a film that was almost called The Babysitter Murders.
I didn’t see Halloween until my late teens. By that time the template it created had been used so many times that I was bored to death watching it. I’d already seen innumerable slasher films with a deathless protagonist, a menaced string of promiscuous teenagers killed in gruesome ways and a pure ‘last girl’ who managed to stop the unstoppable. The pacing was glacial, the gore nonexistent, and the killer mostly stood around staring into windows like a Peeping Tom.
So I filed it away as a bad movie with a good reputation and didn’t see it again until sometime in the early 2000s.
And watching it again was a revelation. Astonishing. Like watching a completely different movie. Maybe it was because I had stopped watching slasher films years before or maybe it was just that I was able to enjoy the film as a whole instead of looking for moments that would have been featured in Fangoria. For whatever reason I found myself sucked in to the dark streets of Haddonfield on October 31st, 1978, rooting for Loomis and Laurie Strode to survive the night. Halloween has since become one of my favorite horror movies and it’s inspired me to re-examine many an older film that I had written off in my younger days. Tastes change, WE change, and sometimes it’s worth taking another look at something you’ve written off.
“I met him, 15 years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding in even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of 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 that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
The Final Girl
To many, Laurie Strode is one of the most iconic final girls. She’s not like her friends, who want to smoke and have sex with their boyfriends on Halloween night. No, Laurie is instead focused on her studies and her babysitting duties. She’s the good girl, embodying the virginal characteristics needed to survive. But first, Laurie must experience a hellish night of running, screaming, and discovering the bodies of her brutally murdered friends while also protecting the children left in her care. To avoid becoming a victim, Laurie herself has to resort to a desperate sort of violence in order to defeat the boogeyman. Or at least escape his clutches until help arrives, this time in the form of Dr. Loomis.
Jamie Lee Curtis was still a relatively unknown actress at the time of her casting. She may not have been Carpenter’s first choice to play Laurie, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role now. Halloween was the start of Curtis’s long and illustrious career and she’s gone on to play Laurie six more times (seven if you count the upcoming Halloween Ends). Halloween was also the first in several horror films Curtis would star in, earning her the “Scream Queen” nickname.
The first time I ever watched Halloween, I was fifteen and yes, it was Halloween night. The movie was one of my mom’s favorites and since it was just the two of us home that evening, we decided to watch it. Even back then I thought Laurie Strode was a badass, but it was Michael Myers that made the movie for me. Yes, I know that his mask was crafted from a cheap William Shatner mask that the filmmakers found, and while that knowledge should have maybe lessened the terror a little for me, it really only made it worse! Because the mask itself is so… expressionless. You already know by looking at Michael Myers that he’s dead inside, soulless. I’m not sure how many masks would have been able to convey that. Would the movie be as effective as it is if that mask looked any different? If they had chosen something “scarier” in a traditional sense? I honestly don’t think so.
The fear of Michael Myers comes from never knowing where he is, or when he’s going to show up. The calm in which he stalks his prey and his determination to catch and kill it. Looking down the street and seeing him staring at you from behind the bushes. Or watching you from the sheets hung outside to dry. No words, no explanation. Just a bloodlust that needs to be quenched. To me, not understanding the motivations behind the monster is so much scarier than knowing. And is Michael purely human? He seems to have this supernatural ability to resist what would be fatal injuries for anyone else. Is there something supernatural about him? I think the possibility is there, but again, I like that it’s never fully answered. He’s just a soulless killing machine and it’s utterly terrifying.
“I don’t know anything about why he endures. I’m just glad he does because he’s my buddy. Me and my shadow. Where would I be without Michael Myers – you know what I’m saying? I’m grateful to him, for all of his badness.” – Jamie Lee Curtis
While Halloween endured some rather scathing review when it premiered in October of 1978, it went on to gross $47 million at the box office and ended up becoming one of the most successful independent films of all time. It helped boost Jamie Lee Curtis’s career while also inventing quite a few horror genre tropes. If the box office of the most recent movie, Halloween Kills, is any indication, people still go gaga for Michael Myers and that’s not likely to stop anytime soon. Certainly, the sequels (and Rob Zombie’s reboot in 2007) have settled for more kills, more gore, and more cheap thrills, but the one thing that sets the original Halloween apart from its successors is Carpenter’s ability to scare so fully without needing to resort to shock value. All he needed was a vulnerable babysitter and the seemingly unstoppable embodiment of evil and I think that’s why this movie has endured and remains so loved even after forty years.
What are your fond memories of Halloween and its many sequels and timelines? Do you have a fun fact or piece of trivia on the film? Share it in the comments below!