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Halloween: A to Z


John Carpenter's classic gets an A-Z review...

An A to Z of John Carpenter's 'Halloween' (1978)

As October draws to a close and golden brown leaves pile up underneath skeletal trees like bodies in a zombie apocalypse, there’s one movie that is guaranteed to be on any self-respecting horror fan’s list of essential fright flicks - John Carpenter's classic Halloween (1978). To celebrate another anniversary of this horror classic, Shadowlocked presents the ultimate guide to all things Michael Myers with a comprehensive A to Z look at this iconic movie. No tricks, just treats.

A is for Akkad

Producer Moustapha Akkad didn’t originally have much interest in the original Halloween movie, seeing it as an investment vehicle rather than a creative endeavor, and was initially reluctant to put up the $320,000 budget. However, after John Carpenter described the movie almost shot-for-shot and declared that he didn’t want a director’s fee (though he did, wisely, retain rights to ten percent of the film’s profits), the financier agreed to stump up the money. After the success of Halloween, Akkad was subsequently involved in the financing of every sequel before he and his daughter were murdered in an Al Qaeda suicide bombing in Amman, Jordan in 2005.

B is for Brackett

After investigating a break-in at Nichol’s Hardware store, where a knife, a length of rope and a mask were stolen, Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers, who also featured in Carpenter flicks Assault On Precinct 13 (1976), Elvis The Movie (1979), The Fog (1980), and Escape From New York (1981), as well as reprising the character in the film’s sequel) meets psychiatrist Doctor Sam Loomis who informs him that a former patient, Michael Myers, has escaped and is most likely heading home to Haddonfield, Illinois. When the headstone belonging to Myers’ sister Judith, murdered by her younger brother on Halloween night fifteen years previously, subsequently goes missing Sheriff Brackett initially dismisses it as a prank. However, after his deputy Gary Hunt discovers the body of Brackett's daughter Annie (Nancy Loomis, who also appeared in the Myers-free Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982) as a different character) along with the missing headstone, the Sheriff realises, too late, that he should have taken Loomis more seriously.

C is for Carpenter

Arguably one of the most important and influential horror movie directors of all time, John Carpenter began his career with the cult classics Dark Star (1974) and Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) before delivering a quartet of classic movies that sealed his iconic status for eternity – namely Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Escape From New York (1981) and The Thing (1982). Though he has never bettered this incredible run of films, he remains a revered influence on many an aspiring director and will be forever linked with all things Halloween.

D is for Donald Pleasence

With over 200 screen credits to his name, Nottinghamshire-born Pleasence was well known for a variety of roles, including The Forger in The Great Escape (1963) and Bond baddie Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967); but to horror fans he will forever be psychiatrist Doctor Sam Loomis, the driven and determined man on a mission to stop his former patient Michael Myers. Initially taking the part because his daughter was a big fan of Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, Pleasence appeared in four sequels, the last of which, 1995’s Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers, proved to be his final cinematic performance, allowing him the grace to bow out in a role he clearly relished: when asked in an interview with producer Moustapha Akkad how many Halloween movies he was prepared to do he replied “I stop at twenty-two!”

E is for Ensor

James Ensor (1860-1914) was a Belgian painter who produced a number of works depicting his subjects wearing masks, which were often grotesque. A poster depicting one of his works is, one suspects not coincidentally, hanging in Laurie Strode’s bedroom.

F is for Fear Meter

Due to his desire to create a believable and consistent level of terror and suspense, but potentially hampered by the fact that he was shooting Halloween out of sequence, Carpenter devised a ‘fear meter’ for Jamie Lee Curtis so that she would know how scared she should be in any given shot. Consequently, before each take he would give her a number between one and ten on the fear scale for which she would have a corresponding facial expression and scream volume.

G is for Ghost and also for Glasses

Mindful that all work and no play makes Mike a dull boy, Haddonfield’s least-favourite son proves that he has a sense of humour, albeit a twisted one, by appearing to Lynda Van der Klok (P J Soles, who had impressed Carpenter sufficiently with her turn as Norma Watson in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) that he wrote the role of Lynda specifically for her) dressed in a ghost costume, fashioned from a white bed sheet with two eyeholes, and completed by her boyfriend Bob Simms’ glasses. Lynda is unaware that her beau, having uttered the fateful, and fatal, words “I’ll be right back” before nipping off to get a couple of post-coital beers, is now impaled on a kitchen cupboard and that it is in fact Michael Myers that she flashes her breasts to before he strangles her with a telephone wire.

H is for Hill

Halloween co-writer Debra Hill, who sadly passed away in 2005 after battling cancer, enjoyed a long and fruitful working relationship with one-time beau Carpenter, collaborating on classics like The Fog and Escape From New York, and became one of Hollywood’s most powerful and respected producers. While Carpenter worked on the iconic speeches for Doctor Sam Loomis, it was Hill’s dialogue for the female characters in Halloween that gave them an air of authenticity and made them believable, rather than just roadkill. Hill also has an uncredited cameo in the movie as the hands of the young Michael Myers in the opening sequence, as the actor they had hired to play the young killer, Will Sandin, wasn’t available until the final day of shooting.

I is for Illinois

Though the State Tourist Board would no doubt prefer to have Illinois remembered for places like Aurora (Wayne’s World (1992) and the following year’s sequel) and Chicago (The Blues Brothers (1980) among many others), as far as the horror community goes there’s only place that matters, and that’s Haddonfield. Named after Debra Hill’s hometown in New Jersey, the town of Haddonfield suffered no fewer than five separate nights of carnage at the hands of classic era Michael Myers before he was finally killed off after 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection.

J is for Judith Myers

Born on November 10, 1947 - ten years before her murderous sibling, Judith Myers was just like any other normal fifteen-year-old girl until the evening of October 31, 1963. Sitting half-naked at her dressing table, dreamily brushing her hair after getting jiggy with her boyfriend Danny Hodges while her parents were out, she noticed her brother Michael had crept into her room wearing a mask and holding a larger butcher’s knife. Crying out in surprise, Judith was brutally murdered by her little brother and secured her place in serial killing history as the first (known) victim of Michael Myers. Even in death she continued to be a huge influence on Michael, who stole her headstone from Mt. Sinclair Cemetery the night he came home for the first time.

K is for Kentucky

John Carpenter was brought up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, a small town that would be forever immortalised in Halloween mythology after the director credited the music, written and performed by himself (with a little help from composer and music professor Dan Wyman), to the Bowling Green Philharmonic Orchestra. The main Halloween theme, a simple but devastatingly effective piano melody, has since become synonymous with terror and suspense, and is one of the most recognisable pieces of movie music ever.

L is for Laurie Strode

The younger sister of Judith and Michael Myers, Laurie was put into care after the latter brutally murdered the former, and the records sealed by the Governor of Illinois to protect her. Despite this precaution, however, Michael was not only aware of the existence of his younger sibling (as revealed in the television version of the original movie), but waited patiently for fifteen years before returning to Haddonfield to hunt her down. Having survived the night her brother returned home, Laurie faked her own death and started a new life with her son John in Northern California under the name Keri Tate. Ever persistent, Michael eventually tracked her down twenty years later to finish what he’d started but, after underestimating the fight in her, was forced to retreat by making her think she'd beheaded him before finally killing her on 31 October 2001 on the roof of Grace Andersen Sanitarium - where she’d spent the last three years of her life waiting for him to come.

M is for Michael Myers

Despite being described by Doctor Sam Loomis as 'pure evil' and having 'the devil's eyes,' and some halfhearted exposition about Samhain, Carpenter's film gives very little away in terms of why Michael Myers was such a naughty little boy who grew up to be the relentless, unstoppable killer that we know and love. Rather than being annoying, however, this is one of the film's greatest strengths, and makes Michael all the more frightening because, though we find out in Halloween II (1982) and in the additional footage shot to create the television version of the original film that Laurie Strode is his sister, this fact is never mentioned in Halloween and so his murderous motivation for remains unknown.

N is for Nick Castle

Just the idea of Michael Myers, as created by John Carpenter in his original script, was a frightening and creepy prospect, but when actor Nick Castle, an old school friend of Carpenter's who had originally just been on set as an observer, brought the Shape to life on screen he became a truly terrifying proposition. Slow, lumbering, but always deliberate, Castle convincingly conveys the idea that you can run, you can hide, you can even seek refuge at the Mackenzie's, but Michael will find you, hunting you down with the cold, calculated efficiency of a shark. Ironically, the one scene that Castle doesn't appear in is the one in which Michael is briefly unmasked, this honour going to Tony Moran, but while Castle was understandably disappointed to have missed out on being the face of Michael, he understood his old friend's decision to go with Moran's more angelic face, and has since gone on to be a successful director himself.

O is for Opening Titles

Though Halloween's opening titles, the slow zoom in on the grinning jack o'lantern accompanied by the unmistakable 5/4 piano theme, have become legendary, Carpenter's original plan (as revealed on the 25th anniversary DVD release) was to have a long shot tracking along a sidewalk ending with a mask on the floor.

P is for Paperback

Sadly long out of print, a mass market paperback novelization was released by Bantam Books in 1979 which added much to the origins of the Samhain curse that was to influence the Thorn storyline of later sequels, and also provided insights into Michael's time at Smith's Grove Sanitarium. Written by Curtis Richards, the story opens in Ireland centuries before the events of the movie, and unlike Carpenter's film, offers an explanation as to why Michael killed his sister, beginning the long history of slaughter that we know and love today, before locking into the events of the movie once the carnage gets underway.

Q is for Queen

Or to be more precise, Scream Queen. Before Halloween there were many examples of what we now lovingly refer to as the scream queen – Caroline Munro and Ingrid Pitt spring immediately to mind – but it wasn't until Jamie Lee Curtis became the frightened but gutsy Laurie Strode that the term 'scream queens' entered popular culture, and thanks to her continuing to tackle such roles, in films such as Terror Train, Prom Night and The Fog (all 1980) and even coming full circle in the Halloween universe in the adequate but uninspired Resurrection, she has become every genre fan's queen of (torn out, bloody and still-beating) hearts.

R is for Reprise

While it goes without saying that, the entertaining and much maligned Halloween III: Season Of The Witch aside, every Halloween movie has featured the return of the Shape, there are a number of other characters from the original movie who have reprised their roles. Chief among them, of course, was Doctor Sam Loomis, who chased Haddonfield's premier psychopath through five films before meeting one of two somewhat ambiguous ends, depending on which version of The Curse Of Michael Myers you prefer. Laurie Strode managed four movies, but not even changing states and her name could stop her brother from finally doing her in at the start of Halloween: Resurrection. Less obvious were Sheriff Leigh Brackett, who continued the night he came home in Halloween II, and little Tommy Doyle who appeared all grown up in a brief cameo in Halloween IV: The Return Of Michael Myers in the guise of actor Danny Ray before body swapping into Paul Rudd for a proper return in Halloween VI: The Curse Of Michael Myers.

S is for Sam Loomis

When assigned as the psychiatrist for pint sized sister slaughtering Michael Myers following his anti-social antics on Halloween night 1963, little was Doctor Sam Loomis (named by Carpenter after John Gavin's character of the same name in Psycho (1960) - a film also starring Janet Leigh, mother of Jamie Lee Curtis - who then completed the circle with a cameo in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), playing her real-life daughter's on-screen mother) to know that this psychopathic six year old would become his lifelong nemesis. Instantly recognising that his young charge was pure evil, Loomis spent fifteen years fighting to keep him locked up until that fateful night in 1963 when Mikey decided it was time to go home and sort out his unfinished business. Despite shooting him, blowing him up, and dropping him down a very deep hole, Loomis never managed to get the better of his former patient, and in an ironic twist met his ultimate fate back at the place that it all started, Smith's Grove Sanitarium.

T is for Television Version

After the television rights for Halloween were sold to NBC in 1980, and following a debate with the network's standards and practices people about censoring certain scenes, Carpenter agreed to shoot an additional 12 minutes of footage during the filming of Halloween II to bring the film up to the required length for a two-hour slot. Chief among the new material were scenes between Loomis and a young Michael at Smith's Grove Sanitarium, and a crucial look inside Michael's cell after he has escaped which shows the word 'sister' scratched into a door, an important revelation that was never included in the original cut of the movie.

U is for Unearthed Footage

Celebrated horror movie magazine Fangoria carried a report in August 2006 that a company called Synapse Films had uncovered several boxes of negatives from the original Halloween movie, one of which was labeled '1981' suggesting that it may contain footage shot for the television version. Halloween fans understandably went into overdrive at the thought of long lost rare material, but their excitement was quelled when it turned out that the footage contained no sound and nothing new.

V is for Video Game

Back in 1983, long before it became commonplace for films to have the obligatory tie-in game, a company called Wizard Video produced a Halloween cartridge for the Atari 2600 console in which the player took on the role of a babysitter tasked with saving as many children as possible from a knife-wielding maniac. Though the game itself was simple and had little to do with Carpenter's classic aside from the main theme, it did ironically contain more gore, as when the babysitter was inevitably caught her head was neatly removed, replaced by a gushing fountain of blood. Rarer than a Silver Shamrock mask these days, the game was universally loathed by players at the time and is not highly sought after.

W is for William Shatner

Despite appearing in the low budget, but actually quite decent Kingdom Of The Spiders (1977), the classic 1963 Nightmare At 20,000 Feet Twilight Zone episode and the similarly-named but infinitely-inferior The Horror At 37,000 Feet (1973), William Shatner and horror have been infrequent bedfellows. It's a little ironic, then, that one of the most recognizable faces in horror movie history is based on a $1.98 Shatner mask that Carpenter collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace (who declined the opportunity to direct Halloween II but went on to direct Halloween III: Season Of The Witch) had modified by widening the eyes and spray painting it a bluish white.

X is for X-Rated

When released in England in 1980 Carpenter's film was given the highest rating available at the time, the X Certificate. Having originally replaced the H Certificate (which largely covered horror movies) in 1951, the X certificate initially carried an age restriction of 16 years, which was raised to 18 in July 1970 before being replaced with the current 18 certificate in November 1982.

Y is for Yablans

Though Halloween's premise of a masked maniac stalking teenage babysitters is synonymous with John Carpenter, it was actually producer Irwin Yablans who devised the concept and approached the Assault On Precinct 13 director with it. Suitably intrigued, Carpenter and his then girlfriend Debra Hill began writing a story called 'The Babysitter Murders' before Yablans suggested that it would be a great film to see on Halloween and should be renamed accordingly.

Z is for Zombie

Nearly three decades after Carpenter's original had changed the horror landscape forever, and five years after it seemed that Halloween: Resurrection (2002) had seemingly done what Doctor Sam Loomis never could by killing Michael Myers off for good, House Of 1000 Corpses (2003) writer and director (and rock star) Rob Zombie proved that evil never truly dies by bringing back the Shape. Having been advised by Carpenter to make the film his own, Zombie effectively fashioned a prequel and a remake, spending the first half of his 2007 movie exploring the origins of Michael Myers and the second half re-imagining the slaughter of Carpenter's original. Though a financial success, Zombie's movie was largely considered a disappointment by fans of Carpenter's classic.

See also:

All Good Things: a look back at Carpenter's masterpiece The Thing

The films of John Carpenter - in order of importance

24 hours of monsters for Halloween 2011

Top 10 contenders for a Halloween movie marathon

Top ten zombie survivors

9 ways to keep us watching The Walking Dead


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