Oral Histories

An Oral History of Halloween With Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter

The full story of one of the scariest movies ever made, the bogeyman at its center, and its enduring power 40 years on.

by | October 10, 2018 | Comments

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. 


“Right away we were working – there was no gentle entry.”

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.

(Photo by © Compass International Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection)

“I wish I had you all alone…”

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.”

“The phone rang that night and Tina said, ‘Jamie, it’s John Carpenter.'”

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.’

(Photo by © Compass International Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection)

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.”

“Nick Castle came from a dancer family, so he had a grace – an odd grace about him.”

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.”

(Photo by © Compass International Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection)

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.”

“Now it’s time to stab the son of a bitch!”

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.”

Halloween was a word-of-mouth movie. That’s why it worked.”

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.”

(Photo by © Compass International Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection)

“He was everywhere in the darkness, he was just a killing machine.”

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.”

“We can put all of our fears and concerns and knowledge that evil exists in the world… behind that mask.”

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.

(Photo by © Compass International Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection)

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.” 


Tag Cloud

halloween TV Logo cancelled TV shows Nickelodeon Acorn TV asian-american Syfy Epix 4/20 Kids & Family thriller Paramount serial killer ghosts space Reality Toys The CW Comedy Central TCA CBS All Access Spectrum Originals Extras Marvel Television crime Infographic Warner Bros. LGBTQ Paramount Network TV Land New York Comic Con Musicals San Diego Comic-Con award winner Vudu Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt WGN El Rey American Society of Cinematographers Podcast Apple TV+ Adult Swim Writers Guild of America crime thriller child's play Awards Tour Lifetime Christmas movies Disney Plus diversity VOD Schedule President Crunchyroll movies animated The Arrangement elevated horror Fox News Awards justice league Certified Fresh 21st Century Fox scary movies binge universal monsters Animation Amazon Prime Video 2017 Walt Disney Pictures psychological thriller Apple TV Plus Netflix Christmas movies Star Trek game of thrones revenge chucky Pride Month mutant Star Wars 2018 Classic Film Family TLC Box Office BBC America Election HBO Go 2019 Ellie Kemper werewolf FX on Hulu joker breaking bad talk show social media Travel Channel Esquire MCU Ghostbusters Mary poppins USA composers television dark miniseries DGA Starz Marathons Discovery Channel Reality Competition TCA Winter 2020 Tubi Tomatazos Set visit NYCC romantic comedy streaming twilight Women's History Month screenings Pirates south america Cartoon Network Hear Us Out Lionsgate LGBT Video Games 2020 Bravo cartoon Drama First Look singing competition GLAAD Rom-Com Photos Food Network Fantasy Red Carpet critics Character Guide Superheroes Mudbound TCM Tarantino vampires OneApp green book Arrowverse all-time franchise spy thriller robots OWN Spike Black History Month Cosplay 20th Century Fox Comic Book Oscars blockbuster Holiday comedies Masterpiece DC streaming service Trivia spider-man FX Television Academy E3 comiccon latino docudrama films Shudder Stephen King richard e. Grant TIFF unscripted Freeform GoT zero dark thirty cancelled TV series Grammys Britbox A24 Watching Series IFC Films cancelled Christmas RT History CW Seed Amazon Prime mission: impossible Disney sitcom DC Comics witnail Polls and Games dragons directors canceled TV shows Teen ratings mockumentary Winners sequel video Heroines Best and Worst APB children's TV Pop kids video on demand Mystery zombies E! cars comic dramedy BBC Cannes canceled dogs supernatural YouTube parents SundanceTV Rock jamie lee curtis Academy Awards cops medical drama YouTube Red Dark Horse Comics Amazon Studios romance cooking Turner Film Festival DirecTV satire Baby Yoda discovery Biopics Song of Ice and Fire Emmy Nominations adaptation blaxploitation free movies renewed TV shows Nominations Summer Sony Pictures 45 NBC Valentine's Day hispanic Comedy versus Black Mirror Universal political drama YouTube Premium Holidays spinoff science fiction BET Awards aliens PBS MSNBC Trailer cancelled television stand-up comedy 007 independent Captain marvel Amazon technology disaster boxoffice The Walking Dead casting Elton John harry potter Comics on TV Netflix finale Chilling Adventures of Sabrina teaser Rocketman 24 frames A&E VH1 GIFs adventure cats Western WarnerMedia game show Anna Paquin Apple anthology ITV HBO Max concert RT21 quibi IFC Quiz Marvel Disney Channel Interview Brie Larson Film CMT based on movie First Reviews slashers Marvel Studios FOX TCA 2017 criterion sag awards Disney+ Disney Plus Funimation Calendar best BET tv talk 2016 dc documentary Shondaland foreign National Geographic rotten movies we love period drama Avengers Super Bowl Mary Tyler Moore Columbia Pictures PlayStation sports CNN See It Skip It Sci-Fi TV renewals Opinion Thanksgiving spanish language crime drama cinemax festivals Pixar Hallmark Christmas movies PaleyFest Binge Guide ABC Family SDCC Sundance TV Trophy Talk batman ABC theme song politics cults History facebook name the review Pet Sematary Spring TV DC Universe war Countdown stoner zombie Action AMC Disney streaming service nature true crime Mary Poppins Returns 2015 Lucasfilm die hard TNT USA Network SXSW TBS Turner Classic Movies transformers Sundance Now Rocky CBS strong female leads BAFTA Music 71st Emmy Awards Lifetime travel FXX Hulu spain X-Men indiana jones Mindy Kaling hist Tumblr TruTV indie Ovation Chernobyl Superheroe Crackle Martial Arts christmas movies a nightmare on elm street golden globes Premiere Dates reviews Hallmark book The Purge Horror Country Winter TV VICE biography documentaries Emmys series BBC One natural history Peacock Nat Geo Endgame Pop TV movie HBO Year in Review screen actors guild Fall TV police drama doctor who what to watch Showtime The Witch psycho Musical toy story reboot YA ESPN Creative Arts Emmys Sundance MTV crossover Sneak Peek dceu anime historical drama news comics