Halloween has nearly been rebooted more times than Britney Spear’s articles have appeared on the BBC home page. From that, you get a sense of the horror theme which coarse through both franchises. Despite the numerous attempts to replicate or revive the original Halloween (1978), not to mention the classic Nightmare on Elm Street (1984); these originals have never been surpassed in terms of their impact on the genre. I revisited Halloween (1978) recently with my kids for the first time in two decades. It didn’t disappoint, on the contrary, I was surprised how well it stood up after all these years. And my kids are terminally traumatised as a result.
I think apart from John William’s piano theme for Spielberg’s Jaws, the score for Halloween composed and performed by its director John Carpenter is one of the most eerily effective and unforgettable piano tunes in cinema. The movie has that B-grade 70’s grindhouse production but not to its detriment because its style fits the substance. Halloween as an independent release is one of the most profitable of all time grossing 70 million. It then spawned a film franchise of 11 films and even a video game was made of it as well as a comic book series. The original stars Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut who plays a female babysitter stalked by Michael Myers the mental patient on the run from the institute. She earned just $8000 for this, but by golly did she deserve it! The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Carpenter was very patient and careful with Halloween. It’s a slow, but tense build-up, aligning with Michael Myer’s voyeuristic scanning of his childhood neighbourhood for victims. It may have been easier for most directors to just go helter skelter to please a shallow audience craving a splatter, but Carpenter picks his moments and knows when to strike.
Irwin Yablans, the film producer wanted a movie that could produce the same impact as The Exorcist… ‘Under pressure’ as David Bowie might put it! The adventurous Carpenter came up with a story – The Babysitter Murderers, however Yablans convinced him to change it to a story on Halloween and call it by that name which Carpenter agreed.
Much of the inspiration behind the story which was written in just 3 weeks came from Celtic traditions of Halloween such as the festival of Samhain. Although Samhain is not mentioned in the plot … ‘the idea was that you couldn’t kill evil, and that was how we came about the story‘ according to Deborah Hill former girlfriend and co-writer with Carpenter. She wrote most of the female characters’ dialogue. According to wikipedia: Many script details were drawn from Carpenter’s and Hill’s own backgrounds and early careers: The fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois was derived from Haddonfield, New Jersey, where Hill was raised, while several of the street names were taken from Carpenter’s hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky.
In devising the backstory, Carpenter reflected on the haunted house down everyone’s street. A house perhaps where someone was killed in or at least abandoned. It reminds me of the Boo Radley house in To Kill a Mockingbird and how children coddled stories about what went-on inside. The anomalous endings of both these movies left audiences gobsmacked and challenged their pre-conceived notions and misconceptions.
Below is a short audio of the exemplary Halloween soundtrack: