Director John Carpenter always held a particular fondness for the horror/thriller genre from the time he began making films. But it was the 1978 film Halloween, a gruesome story of a murderous stalker, that truly catapulted his career – and the genre of slasher films that would follow. Featuring the film debut of a very young Jamie Lee Curtis and the internationally acclaimed actor Donald Pleasence, Halloween is an annual favorite, a must-watch every time October rolls around.
Michael Myers spent most of his youth locked up in a sanitarium – a result of murdering his older sister when he was a mere six-years old. He’s been carefully watched by child psychologist Dr. Sam Loomis (Pleasence) over the years, who determines that the boy is evil personified. Unfortunately, Michael escapes his confines at the age of 21, picking up right where he left off in his murderous ways. And his journey leads him back to the small Illinois town of Haddonfield, where he first got a taste for blood in his youth.
Also living in Haddonfield is the young Laurie Strode (Curtis), a typical teenager who regularly earns some part-time cash as a babysitter. On Halloween, Laurie has a particularly disturbing day, having noticed that a mysterious man in a white mask is following her every move. First he appears in the distance outside her high school classroom window, then while she is walking home, and later as she is looking out her bedroom window. While most might consider calling the authorities, Laurie continues with her regular routine, accepting a babysitting job on the holiday evening.
As luck would have it, Laurie’s friend Annie is also babysitting that evening, right across the street. And with her boyfriend set to arrive, she sends her responsibility across the street to stay with Laurie. That’s the last time anyone sees Annie alive. When little Tommy (the kid under Laurie’s care for the evening) sees a man carrying a body across the street, he tries to tell the skeptical babysitter, who simply sends him and the other kid back across the street to bed for the night.
Meanwhile, Michael Myers is continuing his own brand of holiday festivities, taking out teen after teen as savagely as possible. When Laurie receives a menacing phone call, she sets out on foot to make sure her friend across the street is okay, and finds a pile of bodies accompanied by a bloodthirsty psychopath who wouldn’t mind claiming Laurie as his next victim. She fights valiantly, stabbing the killer with numerous household objects, but nothing seems capable of killing Michael.
Halloween was produced on a shoestring budget, with Jamie Lee Curtis’s wardrobe costing a whopping $100 and some actors earning as little as $25 a day for their services. All in all, the film cost a mere $325,000 – then proceeded to pull in over $47 million at the box office. Much of its success is owed to Carpenter, whose masterful use of the camera gave Halloween its unmistakable tension and sinister quality, rather than relying on gore alone. And it didn’t hurt that Michael Myers was one of the most memorable psychopaths since Norman Bates. For anyone wondering about that eerie mask he wears in the film, you might be surprised to find that it was actually a Captain Kirk (Star Trek) mask that been altered and spray painted (And you thought singing was William Shatner’s scariest attribute).
The overwhelming popularity of Halloween was certain to spawn a number of sequels, and to date, seven have been released over the years. All told, the string of films has earned over $300 million, making it one of the most successful and prolific horror franchises in history. The original was even remade in 2007, starring Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis. But even though it kept up the tradition of high box-office receipts, few would argue that it surpasses the original – which still ranks as one of the most adored and influential horror films ever made. Just a few notes of the chilling theme song (composed, incidentally, by John Carpenter) are enough to get anyone looking over their shoulder, wondering if a masked Michael lurks nearby, just waiting for his moment to pounce on his prey.
If you count Halloween as one of your favorite scary films, we do hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories in our comments section.