When it comes to slasher movies, you expect certain tropes, right? A large, expendable cast, a host of stupid decisions, and of course, more horrendous blood and gore than you can shake a severed arm at. So it’s remarkable that Halloween, one of the most influential slasher movies, has none of those things. It doesn’t even have that many jumpscares. And yet, it is one of the most enduring and beloved classics of horror! Let’s slip on our creepy, expressionless white masks and go trick-or-treating all the way back to 1978, shall we?
After his thriller Assault on Precinct 13, screened at the Milan Film Festival, John Carpenter was approached by indie movie financiers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad. They wanted to do something in the world of horror, they wanted it to be about a killer stalking babysitters, and they wanted Carpenter to make it. Along with producer Debra Hill, Carpenter quickly threw together an outline that impressed the older producers. But Yablans made one critical change to the story- it had to take place on Halloween, and Halloween would be the title.
This inspired Carpenter to borrow from Samhain, the Celtic holiday Halloween is descended from. It celebrated the one time of year when the vengeful dead could come back to the realm of the living and threaten them once more. That germ of an idea- that evil never truly died- inspired the unstoppable, silent, ghostlike nature of Michael Myers. It was also a fantastic novelty at the time, as no horror movies had really centered on the idea of Halloween before. The imagery of jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating, and kids in costumes had become so separated from its grim origins that it was a shock for movie-goers at the time to have all those things be associated with terror and violence.
Once the script was done, though, the challenge was just beginning. Carpenter had just $325,000 and four weeks to make the movie. Cast members had to wear their own clothes, the neighborhood where the movie was filmed had to volunteer their own kids for scenes of trick-or-treating, and it was shot in the middle of spring. Fall leaves and ripe pumpkins had to be sourced in from strange and lesser-tread places. Most infamously, Michael Myers’s mask, the face of evil, was made from a two-dollar Captain Kirk mask.
Despite the low budget, the movie was a tremendous box office success. John Carpenter went on to become a legendary figure in horror, directing The Fog, The Thing, and They Live. Jamie Lee Curtis would appear in a string of horror movies in the early 80s, but broke into stardom with Trading Places and became a household name in America. The film’s characters became equally as beloved. Michael Myers is an indisputable icon in the pantheon of great movie monsters. Dr. Loomis is a memorable, flawed, and fascinating horror hero. Of course, there is criticism that the movie is empty-headed carnage. But it isn’t dumb; It’s just simple.
It sets up who Michael Myers is, who Dr. Loomis is, and who Laurie Strode is. Once these few key characters are set up, the movie never stops moving toward the inevitable confrontation between the three of them. Halloween is a depiction of one long, eerie stalk, and we get to be both stalker and stalk-ee. We see through Michael’s eyes quite often, forced to hear his muffled, heavy breathing and watch him commit his violent acts. When we are in the perspective of the victim, we barely see him at first. Just tiny glimpses here and there, unsure of just how far away he is. Then he’s closer, but in shadow, slinking in and out of tiny puddles of light. When he’s close enough to touch us- or Laurie- it’s too late.
It gives you a strong, shivery impression of being watched, so when violence breaks out, it feels much more explicit than it actually is. Michael Myers kills only 5 characters in the movie, and 2 of them are bloodlessly strangled. But we’re shaken anyway, because we were right. The boogeyman really did get us, just like we knew he would.
“Through The Projector Lens” is a feature celebrating classic, unforgettable movies that have stood the test of time. If you would like to see a film featured, especially if it has a relevant event coming up, let us know in the comments! Don’t be scared to share your favorite memories of Halloween either!
All images credit to: Trancas International Films