Film History: An Ode to Halloween (1978)
That’s right. This is just all about how much I love the movie Halloween. And to be clear, I am strictly talking about the original from 1978. I am not talking about the rest of the films in the series which all hold their own unique places in my heart. Last year we covered the entire franchise on Lunatics Radio Hour, in a two part series. You can listen to Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
In 1978 John Carpenter’s Halloween was released on October 25th. It was groundbreaking in several ways. The first is its famously modest budget. Low budget horror films can notoriously be campy, but low budget filmmaking can aslo push the crew to be clever, to create something really special. For example, The Blair Witch Project from 1999 was made for a mere $60,000. While Halloween was made for $325,000, it’s still considered a shoestring budget for a major motion picture. For example, Jaws and The Exorcist both from the same decade each had a budget of $12 million.
The famous mask that Myers wears in the film only cost the production $2 and Jamie Lee Curtis’ wardrobe came from JCPenney, all for less than $100. The script was written over only a few weeks and the entire film was shot in 20 days.
One of my favorite elements of this film though is its soundtrack. Carpenter wrote the infamous theme music himself to save money. It’s now one of the most iconic horror soundtracks of all time.
Carpenter only made $10,000 plus 10% of revenue from the film and Curtis was paid $8,000. Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers, was paid a staggering $1,000. And with all of that...Halloween went on to gross $47 million in the US box office. Financially speaking, Halloween is one of the most successful and profitable indie films of all time.
But there is more to its success than the money it generated. The cast is brilliant for one. There is a really important connection here that most people may not know. Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother Janet Leigh played Marion Crane in Psycho. Carpenter certainly saw this connection and honored his love of Hitchcock by casting Curtis as Laurie in Halloween. And though Curtis’ character is the most mature of the bunch of teens featured in the movie, Curtis was the only actor who was still in high school at the time of filming.
Carpenter also set out to create a character in Michael Myers that no one would ever be able to relate to. Which, hopefully, he did. Myers is depicted as someone who was born evil and is without hope. Totally devoid of any empathy, sympathy or humanity.
Of course Halloween is also full of jump scares, classic slasher tropes and intense fear. It’s the perfect movie to watch on Halloween night - and really any time you feel called to. I hope you join me in honoring this classic this year, and every year to come.