While John Carpenter’s original Halloween (1978) certainly isn’t the best horror film I’ve ever seen it’s definitely has had the highest impact on the industry and the genre of any single movie. We’ve talked on the podcast about The Birds and Rear Window and the thriller genre obviously owes a lot to Alfred Hitchcock but the slasher movie wouldn’t exist as we know it today without John Carpenter and this one movie.
While the franchise as it stands is a huge cash cow, the most recent 2018 Halloween cost $10mil to make, the original is a low budget indie film, made for around $300,000. It grossed over $70mil worldwide, making it one of the most profitable horror movies ever. It spawned 40 years of sequels of varying quality and has kept both John Carpenter’s and Jamie Lee Curtis’s bank accounts ticking over.
The low budget and the lack of experience of Carpenter is obvious in this film. It was only the fourth directorial attempt for Carpenter and there’s a clear difference between this and his later works like The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China. There are a few minor continuity errors like the fact that Laurie’s hairstyle changes from one scene to the next or that they drive from a totally dry street into a street that’s recently copped some rain, but on a limited budget and with only a four week timeline, doing reshoots for minor issues was always going to be tough.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Halloween is a bad movie. If you judge it by modern standards, then it’s got major flaws. But at Two Drink Cinema we’re big proponents of judging a film by the standards of the time. And by 1978, low budget standards Halloween is a good slow-build thriller with a strong antagonist and an excellent debut from Curtis.
Knowing that there were a number of creative inputs on the film was also a big factor in the finish influences the viewing and analysis. Carpenter had a film idea about a killer targeting sorority girls, producer Irwin Yablas had an idea of a killer targeting babysitters. They ultimately went down the babysitter route, but clearly kept the horniness of the sorority girl. The decision was made to set this new story on Halloween night, which hadn’t really been done in horror flicks before, but this might be the only town in cinema history where hardly anyone goes trick or treating and the kids don’t have a big Halloween party to go to. Halloween pays tribute to what some call the original ‘lone girl’ slasher Psycho with the psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasance) named after Janet Leigh’s boyfriend Sam Loomis in the film. Casting Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh’s daughter, as Laurie Strode must have had some element of tribute in it as well. Not that she isn’t well cast or that she doesn’t completely nail the role, but you can’t help but make that connection.
But what Halloween gives us is a new take on the thriller. It takes all of the elements of the classic Hitchcock thrillers: the lone girl, the ‘real’ town, the slow build and the creepy presence but dials it up. We get jump scares, we get more obvious appearances and stalking, we get sex (to be fair the Hayes Code limited Hitch there) and we get every moment that’s now accepted as a cliche or a trope in modern horror movies.
We checked out this list from Creepy Catalog and other than the more modern cliches everything is there. For a little indie movie, its impact is still being felt 40-plus years later, not just in its sequels but you can see it in the new thrillers coming. Even the cliche of interminable, sometimes nonsensical sequels has been continued. We’ve seen sequels and remakes of every thriller franchise, some more necessary than others. Why we needed Freddy vs Jason I’ll never know. But we’ve got a new Scream movie coming that has the original cast but may or may not follow on from the original story arcs. In the Halloween franchise there are 11 movies, but the Halloween (2018) version is a reset sequel which essentially cancels out the 10 in between it and the original. It’s very hard to know what to watch when really. They all have their place, despite their varying quality or connection to the original.
As well as an impact on the genre the movie’s cultural impact is clear now when you notice Carpenter’s other tribute to the horror genre. During the film, the kids and their babysitters are watching The Thing From Another World and Forbidden Planet. Looking back now it presents as a ‘changing of the guard’ moment. These 50s B-grade sci-fi horror flicks were the go-to mass-appeal movies to watch on Halloween night but within a decade they were replaced by the likes of Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street as the essential viewing for the holiday.
It was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Horror Film but ultimately lost to Wicker Man. Interestingly, Christopher Lee, the lead in that film, was approached to play Loomis in Halloween but turned it down due to the payment. While the movie ranks in some pretty reputable ‘…of all time’ lists, including the AFI’s 100 Years 100 Thrills at #68, it’s highly likely that there’s a ‘rose-tinted glasses’ element to this view as well as a recognition of its impact on the horror genre overall and its key role in establishing ‘slasher’ as it’s own sub-genre. There’s no doubt that Michael Myers is an excellent creepy, psychotic villain and Jamie Lee Curtis makes a triumphant proclamation of her star power but Halloween is still a B-grade, indie horror flick.