It’s been 40 years since Halloween opened in American theaters, leaving its indelible mark on terrified audiences and inspiring four decades’ worth of imitators. This month, moviegoers are headed back to Haddonfield thanks to David Gordon Green‘s direct sequel to the original, also simply called Halloween. While Green’s movie ignores the events and lore of every Halloween sequel and reboot, it is still the eleventh film in the franchise that centers on “the shape” (well, mostly – shoutout to Season of the Witch). Why do we keep revisiting this film, and these characters, so many years on? Why do Michael Myers and Laurie Strode appeal, and endure? What was it about John Carpenter‘s low-budget slasher that cut so deep? Ahead of the release of Halloween, we sat down with Carpenter and Laurie herself, Jamie Lee Curtis, for an extended look at the making of 1978’s Halloween – from the casting of Curtis and Nick Castle to the first days on set – and the creation and legacy of Hollywood’s ultimate bogeyman, Michael Myers.
What follows is a history of Halloween (1978), and reflection upon it, drawn from sit-down interviews with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Jamie Lee Curtis: “Right away we were working. I remember that, there was no gentle entry. I think the first thing we did, if I remember correctly, was the girls’ walk-and-talk on the street: carrying the books, the car comes by, ‘speed kills’ – that whole sequence.
Then, the second half of the day was me and Tommy Doyle meeting, where I crossed the street, meet, walk down the street…’That’s the scary house, don’t go in there.’ Then I go up to the door and we have the little scene out on the street and then the great shot, later, of Michael inside the door. His POV. Then, Laurie walking down the street.
Curtis: “The last thing we shot that day was me walking down the street, away from Tommy Doyle, singing the little song. I remember saying to John, very clearly, I remember saying, ‘So, what do you want me to sing?’ He said, ‘Well, just make up a song.’ I said, ‘I don’t sing. Really don’t sing.’ He said, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s like an internal monologue – she’s not belting a country-and-western tune.’ I remember going, OK. Just really making it up on the spot. [singing] I wish I had you all alone...
When I think about it now, it’s incredibly poignant. I think that must’ve been [co-writer and producer] Debra Hill. That whole idea of a girl… I would hold you close to me, so close to me, just the two of us. It’s incredibly romantic and dreamy and innocent and beautiful and, of course, you’re counterpointing it with this POV of this killer.
It’s just beautiful and that was the first day. All of that was day one.”
Curtis: “I think it was [shot for] $300,000 in 17 days [Carpenter says it was 20]. It was fast, and all I remember was that first day and the beautiful story that goes with that. I like telling it because it tells you everything. And it’s never happened to me again.
I lived with a hairdresser named Tina Cassidy, we rented a house together in Studio City. I finished my first day of work and I came back to this house we lived in. The phone rang that night and Tina said, ‘Jamie, it’s John Carpenter.’
In my day, and I’m sure it happens now, people get fired after their first day of work. You know, the director thinks about it and goes, ‘Uh, I made a mistake.’ That’s why I remember this slow walk over to the phone and doing that thing of like, ‘Um, hello?’
He’s from Kentucky, I believe, and he was like, ‘Hey, darlin’, it’s John. I just wanna tell ya how happy I am and how fantastic you were today. I just know it’s gonna be amazing.’
That just doesn’t happen. And that was all John Carpenter. That’s how it began.”
Curtis: “Nick Castle, John Carpenter, and Tommy Wallace [who helped edit the film, and played the Shape in the closet scene] were all friends. They were in a band together called the Coupe De Villes. They were 30-year-old guys… 27-, 29-, 30-year-old guys, who all went to film school together and they were all wanting to be in the movie business. These were people who were young people. We would call them hipsters today. That’s who was making this movie.
Nick Castle was married. I think he had two kids at the time. You know, he was around with his kids and being the guy in the mask. I think [Nick] just did it as a favor to John. I’m sure John just said, ‘Eh, I need somebody to be in the mask, will you do it?’. Maybe he got paid a couple hundred bucks or whatever it was. I mean, nobody got paid, anything. I think I got paid $8,000 for the whole movie, which at the time, for the lead in the movie was $2,000 a week.”
John Carpenter: “Nick Castle is a friend of mine from film school. We had a rock & roll band together, we made student films together. I liked the way he moved. He came from a dancer family so he had a grace, an odd grace about him. Plus, he was free. He was cheap. So he put on the costume and I said, ‘Now, go from here to here.’ And that was it.”
Carpenter: “I was in the closet with Jamie and I believe I was holding a camera. I was directing her, and I tended in those days to direct verbally – out loud. I think I said something like, ‘Now it’s time to stab the son of a bitch.’ And she said, ‘Can you please not say that? I’m gonna laugh.’ So I shut up. I [actually] didn’t say, ‘son of a bitch’ – I said other things that I can’t say on camera.”
Carpenter: “‘My god, this is a disaster,’ is what I thought. No, none of us knew [the movie was going to be loved]. A lot of people criticized my ending. They thought it sucked. They thought it was bad. And then we finished the movie, and put the music on it, and put it out there, and then the reviews came in and they were bad. ‘John Carpenter does not have a talent with actors’ it said in some of the reviews. Oh lord. So, once again, I got bad reviews on something. But then the audience started to build. Halloween was a word of mouth movie. That’s why it worked.”
Carpenter: “The script was a departure from a lot of horror films that I had seen as a kid and as a film school student. The antagonist, Michael Myers, was neither human, nor supernatural, but a combination. So I had to ride a line there with him. He was everywhere in the darkness. He was just a killing machine and at the time we hadn’t seen that too much. That’s what I was trying to do – and [I was] trying to scare the audience. That was my job.”
Curtis: “The reason he continues to have the impact that Michael Myers has is the simplicity of the evil. The enigmatic, faceless, expressionless look of Michael, it projects into that mask every terrifying image we have.
You see, I think we can put all of our fears and concerns and knowledge that evil exists in the world, ’cause evil exists in the world. Put it behind that mask and it can be anywhere anytime, anybody. I think it’s the simplicity of that. That is terrifying.
If I had to analyze it, which of course, you know… Because the problem is, I can say all that and you guys will be like, ‘Wow, she’s really smart, that was really articulate and really thoughtful.’ But the truth is: It’s a fucking William Shatner mask. Do you know what I mean?
I’m talking out my butt because the truth is, I don’t know anything about why he endures. I’m just glad he does because he’s my buddy. Me and my shadow. Where would I be without Michael Myers – you know what I’m saying? I’m grateful to him, for all of his badness.”