The indelible Halloween franchise celebrates its 40th anniversary with a new film
Try telling filmmaker John Carpenter that his dark masterpiece Halloween, which first terrified audiences 40 years ago this month, is culturally important, and he’ll laugh in your face. “Will you stop?” he implores. “It’s just a little scary movie. People come to the theater, they jump and scream, grab onto their dates—that’s it. There’s nothing more to it!”
Granted, Halloween’s premise is pretty simple: a deranged psychopath —Michael Myers, identified in the original script as “The Shape”—breaks out of an insane asylum and tries to murder his sister. But the “little scary movie” that launched a thousand nutcase-with-a-knife imitators manages to terrify more with what it doesn’t show than what it does. While most slasher films try to top each other with blood and carnage, Halloween makes deadly weapons out of shadows and anticipation.
You couldn’t have asked for a better horror movie for 1978, a post-Nixon and post-Vietnam era where many Americans weren’t feeling especially hopeful. Our institutions had been rocked, the Cold War was in full swing, and the economy was in the toilet. Halloween captured the national feeling of foreboding dread—a general sense of “Oh god, what now?”
The franchise has been nothing if not profitable, but its nine sequels and remakes never connected with audiences quite like the original did. A new take on Halloween is coming to theaters October 19—Michael Myers’ 61st birthday— and this one feels different. For one, John Carpenter is back, both as a producer and composer, his first involvement with a Halloween film since 1982. The script for this one comes from an unlikely source: Danny McBride and David Gordon Green, a team known for comedies like Vice Principals and Pineapple Express. And then there’s the sense that we need a movie like Halloween in 2018 like we needed one in 1978.
Tommy Lee Wallace, the editor and production designer for the first Halloween (he was responsible for the look of the iconic mask) sees direct parallels between the two movies. “The time is right for a new Halloween,” he says. “Our country is a horror show. Trump is in the White House, kids don’t feel safe in school, the world feels like it’s gone insane. A man running around killing people at random doesn’t require a suspension of disbelief anymore. Halloween speaks to our collective fears about the future.”
Carpenter isn’t convinced, but he does admit that there’s a catharsis to Halloween that modern audiences might need now more than ever. “If there’s any overarching theme to Halloween, it’s probably… you can survive the night,” Carpenter says. “Maybe that’s something people want to be reminded of.”
Halloween By the Numbers
Original budget: $300,000
Cost of original Myers mask, bought at a magic shop in Hollywood: $1.98
Global gross: $47 million
Gross adjusted for inflation: $183 million
Actor salary for original Michael Myers: $25 a day
Number of actors who’ve played Michael Myers: 20
Number of actors who played Myers in original: 6
Number of women who’ve played Michael Myers: 1
Total number of victims (so far): 151
Ratio of men to women murdered (in entire series): 16 to 9
Number of dogs murdered: 5
Number of boxes filled with kittens spared: 1
Number of real-life murders allegedly inspired by Halloween or its sequels: 2
Number of rappers to appear in sequels: 2, Busta Rhymes (Halloween: Resurrection) and LL Cool J (Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later)
Number of actors to appear in both a Halloween sequel and a movie with the “other” Michael Myers, the comedy actor: 1 (Dana Carvey)
Age of Myers at the time of his first murder: 6
Age of Myers at his most recent killing spree: 61
Age in which Myers will qualify for Medicare: 65
Number of teenage characters in series played by actors who were actual teenagers at the time of filming: 1 (Jamie Lee Curtis)
Amount spent to save original Halloween house from bulldozers: one silver dollar
What’s So Scary?
The cast and crew of Halloween and its many spin-offs recall the scene or moment from the original that still chills their blood.
“I still think about that kitchen scene, where Myers plunges his knife into a kid’s stomach and then nails him to the wall. It’s not the violence that gets me, but the way he kind of cocks his head, like he’s admiring his work. It’s brutal. And we hang on the shot for too long, with just the silence and the kid dangling there, and you realize you’re looking at pure evil.”
Tommy Lee Wallace, editor, and production designer, Halloween
“The Shape is simply scary. His enigmatic presence and lack of affect, the head tilt, his simple, yet terrifying presence is what is scary for me.”
Jamie Lee Curtis, played Laurie Strode in five Halloween movies
“The music! John Carpenter’s soundtrack is beyond chilling. Like any of the greatest hits of any decade, the first three or four notes are instantly recognizable and send us right back to those opening credits, tingling with anticipation.”
PJ Soles, played Lynda the babysitter and one of Myers first victims
“The scariest moment for me was when Laurie thinks she’s got the best of Michael and she turns her back on him, and he just suddenly sits up. He doesn’t struggle or anything, just robotically pivots into a 90-degree angle. That moment had me shaking since I was 11 years old.”
David Gordon Green, director of 2018’s Halloween
“The moment that Michael Meyers face slowly appears in the closet next to Jamie Lee, as she thinks she is safely hiding. John’s suggestion was to make the audience feel as if their eyes were getting used to the dark. I used a dimmer on a very small light to slowly bring the exposure on Michael’s face from nothing to just barely perceptible by the camera.”
Dean Cundey, cinematographer, Halloween I, II and III
“Laurie looks out her bedroom window and sees Michael standing between laundry hanging on the line. A moment later he’s gone. Simple and brilliant.”
Rob Zombie, writer-director of two reboots
“I was a little girl and had no idea of how scary Halloween was going to be. I was on the set having fun and everyone was so nice, especially Jamie Lee. She was so sweet to me. The day I wrapped she carried me all the way to my dressing room. When the movie came out, my mom said I could invite my best friend to the premiere. After seeing the film, neither of us were able to sleep alone again. I slept with my mom until I was 15.”
Kyle Richards, played one of the young girls terrorized by Michael Myers in the original Halloween
“That moment where Michael stands partially hidden behind the clothesline drying sheets.”
Daeg Faerch, a young Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s Halloween
“Nothing in that movie freaks me out. Except the lack of funds we had to make it.”
John Carpenter, director and co-writer, Halloween
“I was 40 years old when I first saw Halloween. I appreciate everything about the film, but scare or haunt me? Oh, I think not.”
Dick Warlock, played Michael Myers in Halloween II
Killing Me Not So Softly
The many weapons of Michael Myers, rated from most effective to most ridiculous.
Myers uses a knife like Jackson Pollock used a paintbrush.
Surprisingly powerful, especially his thumbs, which can impale a victim’s face with surgical precision.
Not just hot water, high-end spa water. It has a certain boil-the-rich bourgeois charm.
If I had a hammer… I’d use the claw part to gouge out your eyes.
The “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” of psychopath problem-solving.
Who knew your grandpa’s favorite gardening tool had such a dark side?
Yes, it’s a blade, but it’s also something we tell children not to run with. Just doesn’t have the right sinister vibe.
It’s hard to be scared of anything that evokes memories of Play-Doh being pushed through a Fun Factory squeeze machine.
A bit too on the nose with the Grim Reaper imagery.
Only scary if you’re old enough to remember rotary phones.
Behind the Mask
The mask was painted fish-belly white; the hair, originally blonde, was tousled and dyed black. “I wanted to give it that slept-in look,” says production designer Tommy Lee Wallace.
The mask, bought from a Hollywood magic shop, was supposed to resemble William Shatner from Star Trek. “It looked nothing like him,” says Carpenter. “I took one look at it and said, ‘That’s perfect!’”
The sideburns were removed to give the face “a punk look,” says Wallace. “I think 90% of his creepiness is because of the missing sideburns.”
“The aftershave that Nick (Castle, who played Myers in the original Halloween) wore was ever-present when I put on the mask,” says Dick Warlock, who played Myers in Halloween 2. “It caused me great stress.”
Sequel masks tend to be more form-fitting. “They built the mask to fit my face perfectly,” says Brad Loree, who played Myers in Halloween: Resurrection. “It was really comfortable.”
Newer masks are seldom as ominous as the original. Wallace believes the thicker latex is to blame. “That first mask was super cheap and really thin,” he says. It had an ill-fitting authenticity that no professionally-molded mask could touch.
In the original, Laurie stabs Michael in the eye and neck (with a coat hanger and sewing needle, respectively). Director David Gordon Green made sure to include the residual damage in the new Halloween. “I wanted the mask to look like it could’ve been the same one from that first movie,” he says. “Like it was decaying in a storage facility at the Attorney General’s office for 40 years.”
“It isn’t easy to breathe in that mask,” says Wallace, who appears as Myers in several scenes in the original. “You’re all sweaty and your carbon dioxide is filling the mask and you’re perspiring and you feel like you might die in there.”
Ask Michael Myers
We polled five Michael Myers (or rather, the actors behind the mask) about the important issues of the day.
Nature or nurture?
Favorite cutting utensil
Chef’s knife: 60%
Whatever is nearest: 20%
Best pre-murder jam
“Murder by Numbers” by The Police: 40%
“You Can’t Kill Rock & Roll” Ozzy Osbourne: 20%
“Murder Was the Case” by Snoop Dogg: 20%
“Psycho Killer” by The Talking Heads: 20%
“Never run when you can walk”: 80%
“Boys will be boys”: 20%