How To Be Scary: Talking ‘Halloween’ at 35 with John Carpenter
Thirty-five years ago, a little micro-budget film shot in three weeks about a young man terrorizing his neighborhood's babysitters premiered to zero fanfare, before catching fire and becoming a box office-shattering phenomenon.
Three-and-a-half decades later, we are still feeling the impact of "Halloween." Not only did it launch the career of actress Jamie Leigh Curtis and set its director, John Carpenter, on the road to Master of Horror status, but it gave birth to the modern slasher genre which remains a big screen staple to this day.
To commemorate the film's anniversary – as it is being re-released in a newly remastered DVD featuring commentary from Carpenter and Curtis – we spoke to its director by phone about the crazy tale of making "Halloween," its legacy, and what scares us on the screen.
Why do you think, with all the scares that have come and gone from the screen since then, that this film still has such a visceral impact?
John Carpenter: Gee, that’s a tough question. It was terribly simple, and it didn’t try to overdo things. Let me put it to you simpler. The antagonist, Michael Myers, was a character that was between a human and supernatural, was not either. So, it brought a different vibe to the horror film.
This was the key film of a new golden age of horror in the 1970's. Did it feel like something special was in the air?
JC: No. As a matter of fact, at the time, there was nothing really happening in the genre. I grew up on science fiction and horror movies. I took everything that I had seen and learned, and applied it and tried to do something one step from what had been done. There had been some great 60's and 70's horror films before “Halloween.” Two of them I can think of, one was “Night of the Living Dead,” George Romero invented the zombie movie. And “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Tobe Hooper’s classic about this Texas family. So, there were some great things that were done. But I just took this stripped-down little horror movie, and added a bunch of tension and shock tricks that hadn’t been put together before.
How did “Halloween” come about for you?
JC: I was at the London Film Festival, and I met an investor who himself had directed a couple things, Moustapha Akkad, who was going to invest in little, low-budget horror movies. He and I met, and he was interested in American films and where I had come from. A little bit later, the head of this distribution company, low-budget distribution company, Irwin Yablans, approached me and said, “This guy’s going to put up some money. Let’s make 'The Babysitter Murders,' and the reason we were going to make 'The Babysitter Murders' is because every teenager in American can relate to babysitting." That was the premise of it all. Let’s do a movie about a killer who’s stalking babysitters, and it evolved from there. I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it, if I can have complete creative control, and my name above the title.” That’s what happened.