‘Halloween’ at 40: Their ‘Horrible Idea’ Became a Horror Classic

John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis are joined by four co-stars — even the one in the mask — to discuss the making of the first film.

Comments: 45

  1. I'm not a fan of this kind of film (terror, shock and surprise, more than dread and true horror). Sort of like if you like Stephen King versus Algernon Blackwood..? But I am grateful for it nonetheless, for giving Carpenter his real start. I am a huge fan of many of his other films (Starman, Dark Star, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Prince of Darkness, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness). The scene with the mirror in "Prince of Darkness" is scarier than the entire set of Halloween movies, IMHO.

    If you're reading this, thanks, John!

  2. It just played in select theaters yesterday and today.

  3. @Mad Max
    You know, I didn't realize he did all of those. I guess I'm a bigger fan of Mr. Carpenter than I thought. I agree with you regarding that mirror scene in 'Prince of Darkness'. I think his horror movies are the only ones I've ever really watched, usually just once. I loved the socio-political commentary of 'They Live' (RIP Rowdy Roddy Piper). I wish he'd do one for the current era. It is ripe for that type of a send up.

  4. @Mad Max, Prince of Darkness! I still think it is the scariest scary movie I’ve seen. The feeling of isolation in that movie was what really freaked me out. Yep, Carpenter is a genius.

  5. Great, now I'm going to have that piano riff in my head all day.

  6. The first one is scariest film I've ever seen. Indeed, one of the scariest couple of hours of my childhood. Me and my other 5th grade friends sat in the theater and screamed. Not so much the special effects as the story. The idea that he just disappeared...

  7. John Carpenter has provided me with more than enough frights and thrills. I think of the transformation from James Arness to Carpenter's husky devouring Thing. He gathered a great company of actors, writers and musicians to make us all tremble and remember the beat. Pom, pom, pom, pom.... puppapom.

  8. I saw the original Halloween movie with Jamie Lee Curtis in 1978, when I was 14 yrs old and was scared spitless. After that movie, I never went to see another horror movie.

  9. @Sasha Love

    It scared me to death and I was a 23 year old law student.

  10. I remember seeing this in 1978 and, at one point early on, jumping out of my seat. A friend next to me laughed at that. A minute later, he jumped out of his seat.

  11. I'm so happy to see a gray-haired grandma in an exciting role. Women still have interesting lives after 50 but movies don't reflect that. I really liked the book, The House With a Clock in the Walls, because the cool witch next door is clearly an elderly lady. But the movie cast Cate Blanchette, clearly not elderly. I like Cate Blanchette, but really, old ladies rock and movies won't show it. Happy to see Jamie Lee Curtis in a hero's role.

  12. One of my favorites. I even have a motion-sensing Halloween decoration that plays the creepy theme music to scare trick-or-treaters!

  13. I'm 47 years old and am still too scared to see the original film (I've tried, but ended up hiding behind my hands and missing pretty much the whole thing). I'm thrilled that Ms. Curtis is back in her star-making role -- she's still gorgeous, but now she has the wisdom and intelligence that only comes with age. And with that silver mane of hair, I might have to actually see this one.

  14. Great movie - I've never seen a better depiction of the suburbs. Saw this in a movie theater on Halloween! Great music, acting, writing, directing. ("Dark Star" - Carpenter's college-thesis movie with Dan O'Bannon, is also great.) Halloween (the holiday) was ruined by rumors in the early 1960s of razor-blades found in apples. It was something that never happened! [Feel free to look it up.] And that urban legend spoiled Halloween for neighborhood children forever after. From then on, parents accompanied their children, only going to houses they knew. Too bad - it was great back in the day. It was magic - and harmless.

  15. That was a fun article. William Shatner being among the interviewed was as hysterical as it was surprising, since the only connection he seems to have had with the movie was Michael's creepy Halloween mask...

    The one scene I remember in the movie that I recall being particularly scary was when Jamie Lee Curtis is walking down the sidewalk of a deserted suburban housing tract in the middle of the afternoon, and Michael steps out from behind the hedges a few houses ahead...

  16. Absolutely— as soon as you started I knew where you were going!

  17. John Carpenter did the almost impossible: he took a personal passion project and produced it to huge success. Today’s crowd-sourcing entrepreneurs should be deferential. He is a role model in terms of bringing a vision to fruition despite limited resources and huge initial resistance from The Establishment.

    I personally love that it scared the heck out me and still does. No Halloween is complete without a home viewing. Many scenes resonate, but especially the children running from the house screaming, and Laurie’s pleading with the suburban neighbors to help her, and they turned out the lights.

  18. The worst part of ‘Halloween’ is that it’s six days after Mithra’s birthday.

  19. I loved the first Halloween movie. Year after year I can watch it every Halloween season and always always always enjoy it. It is a total Halloween classic and will always be Number One.
    I look forward to seeing this latest Halloween movie. No doubt it will be excellent. Jamie Lee Curtis has an intensity about her as Laurie Strode that give me the chills. She is so good!!! My only hope is she wastes Michael and puts an END to him once and for all so she can finally know peace.

  20. I hear the iconic opening music, see that jack-o-lantern and I'm all comfy and cozy and settled in, getting ready for the best horror movie ride ever.....even after a million viewings.
    My calendar is cleared for the new one. I'm waiting to be scared out of my wits.

  21. Wait, where does feminism come from? It's Halloween. It's a movie from 1980. Not every topic on the planet is worthy of feminist critique. It's like asking at every single restaurant whether the eggs are cage free. At some point, you're just being annoying.

  22. @Meg
    Sorry but in reality all things can be seen through the lens of feminism. Just like it can be viewed through race, sexual identity, class and physical/mental ability. You can choose not to engage in it but all human endeavors can be subject to examination. That being said, this article pts. out that those involved address it and I think they answer it pretty succinctly, not excusing it but saying it was the norm at the time. Which it was... also I would say 'Halloween' did it better than many others.

  23. @Meg Oh Meg, did someone make an observation you don't agree with? Maybe next time you should skip reading.

  24. I remember the first time I saw Halloween in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A guy in the back of the theater was shrieking 'Oh my God! don't....' At first he was annoying, but the small audience just got used to him. He was after all saying what we were all thinking. The film was relentless, and obviously unforgettable. John Carpenter seems really good at getting his audience trapped in really intense, moment by moment experience. A lot of horror films, and novels, are just violent and creepy, or tedious and boo. John Carpenter is always a thrill. And his low budget scores are smart and do everything they need to do. I've seen okay but repetitious scores in big budget movies turn $150 million dollars into a bad TV commercial on an endless loop.

  25. I saw Halloween when I was 17, I was a babysitter, and I was on the first real date of my life. The one and only with that kid, he never did ask me to the prom. That being said, Halloween l was the only horror movie I liked and I am a life long Jamie Lee Curtis fan.

  26. The genius of "Halloween" is that the movie takes the time to develop the three female leads, so by the time Michael Myers shows up, the audience is invested in them and cares about their plight. Debra Hill deserves a lot of credit for her work developing the female characters, making them human beings rather than just walking mannequins waiting to be slaughtered.

    It was a lesson most of the copy-cats didn't learn, sadly. If you've seen any of the sequels to the "Friday the 13th" series, you know there's no characterization at all. You barely hear their names before they're bumped off. It's poor film making, and it's boring.

    "Halloween" was Carpenter's best film, although "Escape from New York" is also a classic and Carpenter's moody, atmospheric "The Fog" doesn't get the credit it deserves.

  27. @J, prounced jay
    Agreed. The Fog was really creepy

  28. I was 12 when I saw it when it first came out. The two-way switch to the second floor of our house was broken. I was afraid to walk upstairs in the dark by myself for at least the next two months; one of my parents had to go up with me. I'm pretty sure my dad got that switch repaired sooner than he would have because of me.

    I now have three teenagers and I've told them if they ever see the movie (and they can if they want to), they'll end up sleeping on the floor of our bedroom for at least a month. And they've never heard me talk that way about another movie. No one has seen it, at least they haven't admitted to it.

  29. my father hated this movie, which was odd because my father loved all movies. My Father was what use to be called a film buff, there is no such word anymore, its as defunct a word as rotary telephone. In the 70s when I was a young boy my father would take me to art houses, films where artistic movies were shown, movies from Europe, but also great American movies. Then a great thing happened, American movies became so great that we didn't have to go into Manhatten to see great movies, they were showing at the neighborhood movie house Movies like Mean Street, The Godfather, Mash, Annie Hall..and I could go on and on, movies that dealt with the human condition, movies that inspired you to want to be a writer or director, because the words and images were so marvelous. And then in the midst of all this bounty came the first movie that ruined everything. The movie was "Jaws" a movie about a Shark that was eating people, its success came not from what was up on the screen ( though it was good) the success came from an ingenious marketing campaign, suddenly marketing movies was as big a thing as creating them. The final nail in the coffin was "Halloween" the success of a low budget film with low skilled actors, absolutely wrecked serious film making for 4 generations. "It's a stupid movie and it says nothing about anything important." my father told me as we walked out of the theatre. that summed it up perfectly.

  30. @artfuldodger ??? So you've come to this oral history of a movie that's been beloved for 30 years to tell us the movie is stupid? Classy.

  31. Any time there’s an article about some form of popular entertainment you can count on there being at least one comment from someone who thinks they’re far too cool for the room. Personal, heartfelt movies are still being made, of course, and there’s still nothing wrong with a film that exists solely to provide a thrill.

    “Film buffs” still exist: most of them aren’t snobs.

  32. I think there is a mistake... or William Shatner was at the interview? It is in the part when Carpenter says how he painted the mask.

  33. @Paola I don't think it's a mistake, I think he was there. A fun, unexpected twist in the plot if you will. It seems very Shatner-like for him to make a cameo in the interview, and it could be that Carpenter feels he owes him a "credit" due to the use of his image for Michael (something I did not realize until reading this article).

  34. Funny that she and her mother were in two of the scariest movies ever made and both were and are very down to earth, funny and approachable.

    I met her mother at Sun Valley in the 70's and she was just terrific. Still a thrill for me. I shook the hand that pulled down the shower curtain!

    Hope the new movie does well and Shatner has at least a cameo.

  35. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley; until 2009 I lived in South Pasadena, blocks away from many filming locations. My grandmother passed in October 2013 and in some of the long shots I imagined her out in that 1978 world (the year before I was born), just down the road. At rush hour today I saw dozens of people standing outside the "Myers" house (just across the train tracks). I'm as proud and swelled up as a tick to see the movie (movies) live. What makes me prouder is the grace and insight of the people who made them. A few fell prey to sequel-itis and were turkeys, but the franchise has been self-aware and excellent enough to grow with the times. Fun and modesty animates it. Can't wait for H40.

  36. John Carpenter has been the most underrated director of his or any other generation.
    Every one of his films are completely original and have defined the 'horror' genre for over forty years.
    "Halloween", though not my favourite, established that in the modern era with a super script, along with a dedicated cast and crew, you could make a startlingly original film.
    Mr Carpenter has managed to accomplish this consistently through a long career. Often without the means granted to his contemporaries.
    When I see "The Thing", despite knowing the picture back to front, I am still scared witless.
    Hopefully, he will make another (more) films to keep us awake at night.

  37. It has become a beloved favorite. I remember seeing Halloween when it was first released with a group of friends. There was a scene that was so scary, so intense, we literally stood up out of our seats and screamed... and then laughed. What could be more fun than that. Thank you to Carpenter, Hill, and Curtis.

  38. I'm almost 70 years old and I'm not a big horror movie fan, so I did't rush to see this one when it came out. In fact, it wasn't until last night that I saw "Halloween" for the first time. Man, that is one great movie. I had bad dreams all night long.

  39. Spielberg
    Paul Thomas Anderson
    Ridley Scott
    To name a few...they are great why? They tap into our emotions, and make us FEEL. Oh yeah, they are also pioneers. My list is far from complete...so if I missed one that makes your list?

  40. Brilliant idea using a William Shatner mask for the film. I did not realize it until this article but it explains the creepy feeling of familiarity of Michael Myers. It explains the nightmare, haunting undertones of "I know this monster" viewers feel.

  41. The ice skating rink was closed so I stumbled into the theater with my French boyfriend, mistakenly thinking this would introduce him to the culture of Halloween. We screamed ourselves hoarse and I slept with the light on in my dorm room for weeks afterwards. Still.the.best.horror.flick.ever ...

  42. I'm quite taken aback that Carpenter described Jamie Lee Curtis as "having a spark of intelligence about her" when she was cast. What a condescending way to describe an obviously bright and talented actress.

  43. With groundbreaking techniques, Cinematographer Dean Cundey played a large part in shaping this classic of the genre. Wish you had included him in this interview.

  44. I loved it the first time I saw it -- when it first came out--I was teaching a high school dil appreciation class and I said to my class--you have got to see this film! But then it was gone--I remember it took a while to resurface. But every time I've watched it since it still scares the pants off me. The music, the acting, the anticipation, the build, whew. I can't wait to see it again.

  45. I have no recollection when I saw the first "Halloween" ... but I even as a woman in her 40s, two scenes still terrify me- when Laurie looks out her bedroom window at the laundry flapping in the breeze, and out her classroom window. Terrifying without blood or gore. Impending danger. Creepy music. Masterful!