Forums Horror Movie Talk
Why John Carpenter's 1978 HALLOWEEN Almost Didn't Happen

How the movie that changed horror ALMOST didnt happen

In honor of HorrorBid's countdown to Halloween we revit one of our most requested articles. Gotta love us some original 1978 Halloween. When we think about horror in a general sense the film Halloween almost always comes to mind and not just because it shares its title with our favorite holiday. But what led to the movie’s success? What if they never used the converted the Don Post Captain Kirk Mask? Would it still have been a hit and would it still have had the impact it made?

Remember Halloween in 1978, the little indy film shot by kids bacally? It was pretty much the Paranormal Activity of its day as far as box office numbers are concerned (content and lasting impact are another matter). It’s an incredible feat that most low budget movies only dream of accomplishing. Still, one has to wonder how they pulled it off. Why the success? What did they do to make Halloween the movie it is today? As we asked ourselves these questions a string of chance circumstances began to surface. So many crucial matters concerning Halloween’s impact on horror and it almost didn’t happen. It’s not just about one or two key reasons for success; we’re talking about many major choices and decions from costumes and equipment to actors and titles. A differ in any one of these components and the film synonymous with horror might not have been remembered so fondly. In fact we’re almost willing to bet Halloween wouldn’t be what it is without these important elements. The stars were in perfect alignment and one could say that Halloween 1978 was lightening caught in a bottle.

John Carpenter wouldnt know it for years but he captured lighting in a bottle.

From the beginning, Halloween’s Executive Producer Moustapha Akkad was skeptical about fronting the $325,000 budget. Only after the film’s success did he rest at ease with his investment. Still, acquiring funding is something all indie flicks have to deal with. A more brave move was dedicating half the movie’s budget to Panavion cameras so the film could be shot in 2:35:1 scope (which in our opinion was the ngle smartest thing they ever did for that movie). Honestly, can you image Halloween shot in any other way? In that day if a film wasn’t shot ung profesonal Panavion cameras, or equipment milar, it would have had an extremely difficult time making it to the cinema (unlike today where handy cam flicks like P.A. and The Blair Witch Project are distributed commonly). However, let’s say that Halloween made it to theaters despite not being filmed in Panavion. Would it have performed as well in the cinema? We are of the opinion that it would not have been nearly the success without the better picture quality. Again, we have no proof other than film history concerning milar tuations. Plus, due to a lack of time machines unfortunately no one will ever really know for sure. Still, we think the bold investment of half the budget was one decion of many that was extremely vital.

Keeping in-line with the technology aspect of filmmaking, Halloween 1978 was also one of the first films to make use of the (at the time) recently developed steadicam (which is used in practically every film today). The open long take from young Michael Myers’ point of view is one of the most memorable scenes from Halloween. This cinematic achievement wouldn’t have been posble without the use of this newly developed equipment. Even though the “one take” was actually three edited together the smooth camera movements allowed audiences for the first time to see through the eyes of the psychopath. Years ago while attending film classes at IU this scene in particular was shown in one of my lectures. I was honestly shocked to see one of my favorite horror flicks being used as an example of cinematography in a more yuppie film course. The professor even credited Halloween for giving birth to the steadicam. A film’s opening can set the tone for the rest of the movie and we here at HorrorBid feel this scene is of extreme importance to Halloween’s iconic status with all thanks due to the use of the steadicam.

Pictured above: We can all thank John Carpenter for inventing the stedicam.

Another major decion was casting. Many movies even today can measure their financial success based on star power. Halloween is a great example of this as well. Even though many of the Halloween actors and actresses were friends of John Carpenter another chunk of the budget went to the two leads, more heavily in the direction of the Dr. Loomis department. Originally offered to Peter Cushing and then to Christopher Lee (of Dracula fame) the role was finally accepted by Carpenter’s third choice Mr. Donald Pleasence. Funny that Christopher Lee turned down the “low paying job” of $20,000 to later mention that he regretted not taking on the role. Pleasence, made popular by playing James Bond’s nemes in You Only Live Twice, shot all his scenes for Halloween in just 5 days with roughly a mere 18 minutes screen time total in the final cut of the film. Hmmm, 20 thou for 5 days work and you get top billing in a movie? Not to shabby Mr. Pleasence. Donald would later reveal one of the reasons he took the role was because of a family member’s fondness for Assault on Precinct 13 (Carpenter’s previous flick). However, Pleasence’s monotone, “I told you so” take on the Sam Loomis character has become almost if not equally iconic with the Shape Michael Myers himself. We quote Loomis lines almost weekly around the office. “The blackest eyes, the devil’s eyes.” As cool of a voice that Christopher Lee has can you honestly hear him delivering those lines any better? NO FRICK’N WAY MAN! Before we move on I wanted to make a de note in mentioning the casting of Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie. Even though Halloween was her first film, her mother’s rep with Hitchcock’s Psycho helped garner some buzz for Halloween. Oh, and Jamie Lee wasn’t Carpenter’s first choice for Laurie Strode either. Back on point, we’re going to once again go out on a limb and state that without the casting of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis (and adding Jamie Lee did nothing but help) Halloween wouldn’t be the beloved film it is today.

Pictured above: Christopher Lee as Dr. Samuel Loomis.

The Babytter Murders just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Of course you know that was the original title of the film while the script allowed for the story to take place over a matter of days. However, the decion to change the plot’s setting to our favorite holiday and reducing the time period to a ngle 24 hours led to the name change of Halloween. This one’s a no brainer and we believe that most of you will agree this had a gnificant impact on how the movie was received. Everyone knew the holiday adding that Halloween was already linked to fear and scary things that go bump in the night. Did the film have to take place on Halloween night? Well, no not really. They could have just as ealy had a guy stalking jail bait any other time of the year, but then they would have lost that emotional connection audiences already had with that day and the implied fear that comes attached. This was another stroke of genius. If someone had never heard about the movie before and we said, “Hey, wanna go check out that new flick Halloween?” It’s a safe bet that person would immediately know the movie is not about princesses or things that glitter. Smart marketing if you ask me. However, even ung a title synonymous with evil there is one more thing that that Halloween couldn’t do without.

Pictured above: The original title for Halloween.

Now we’re getting to it . . . The mask. Obviously Halloween’s most notable feature is the white mask worn by adult Michael Myers while he stalks the young ladies of Haddonfield. Funny how a mask alone can take partial credit of a film’s overall success. The look of Halloween’s antagonist would heavily sway audience reactions. That blank, pale, emotionless face offers viewers no gn of humanity, no comfort of emotion, nothing but pure evil. The fact that the film does a fairly good job of staying centered in reality makes the mask that much scarier. Again, this could happen to you! When you take your kids trick or treating on Halloween tell me they aren’t more terrified by a Myers mask than any other joker in a costume? There’s just something about that mask. But as many of you know, there was another choice bedes the one we know and love. The Shape could have just as ealy been wearing an Emmet Kelley clown mask.

Pictured above: Images of Michael Myers wearing the 1967 Don Post Emmett Kelly mask.

Thanks to a little photoshop above I think you get the picture. I’ll be the first to admit, that clown looks pretty insane. Still, as scary as the mask is can you posbly picture the Halloween series carrying on without the white mask? It has spawned so many different incarnations while not nearly as much flexibility is offered with the clown. However, the origins of the white mask are almost as interesting as its look. Originally a 1975 Don Post Studios William Shatner Star Trek Mask, the Halloween crew made some obvious alterations transforming Captain Kirk into a slasher legend. But did you know that Bill Shatner was almost not the Captain of the Enterprise? After execs shot down the pilot episode of Star Trek (that didn’t star Shatner), it didn't get picked up until after it was reworked, including cast and character changes.

Pictured above: The official mask used in the film before alterations.

In a later episode we see a Captain Pike (the pilot episode’s captain) terribly disfigured and incapacitated. One of the reasons the pilot was not picked up, was because the second in command, the Captain's number one, was a woman. Not just any women either. It was Majel Barrett, Roddenberry's then girlfriend, and later his wife. In 1968 the few sexist cavemen left on the planet decided an alien as a second officer would be more believable than a woman. So Captain Pike disappeared as did his number one (who was reduced in ranks to the voice of the computer). Mr. Spock (Nimoy being the only original cast member from the pilot) was promoted to first officer and new actors were found to play new characters. Enter William Shatner as Captain Kirk. So I’m sure many of you can’t believe I went into that detailed of an explanation concerning Star Trek’s origins, but without all that nerdy mess we wouldn’t have Halloween’s iconic white mask - which in our opinion is just one more factor that the film could not have done without. The white mask of Michael Myers IS Halloween (I’m going to give a preemptive SHUT UP if any of you even mention Season of the Witch LOL).

Pictured above: Halloween fans owe a lot to Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

In our humble opinion the original Halloween could have ealy failed and been swept under the carpet along with the thousands of other forgotten films but the stars were just in the right alignment . . . lightening in a bottle so to speak. Having Pleasence, ung Panavion cameras, ung a new style of shooting, calling the film Halloween instead of the Babytter Murders (so that it appealed to a larger audience who can identify with that title), and the random chance of converting a Shatner mask to the icon white mask (instead of ung the Kelly clown) are all random things that standing alone would do nothing for the film but together they made cinematic history. Also, we believe strongly that if it weren't for Star Trek the Myers mask community wouldn't even exist so you collectors need to give a big thanks to Gene Roddenberry on that note for recasting that guy who played Pike (the original captain) and replacing him with Shatner. Halloween, the movie that changed horror . . . the movie that almost didn’t.
Horror Domain - Cursed Evil Overlord Friday 10/07/2011 at 11:00 PM | 83990
Great Article.... If Halloween had never been made, then I don't know what I'd be doing in life. If no Halloween, then no Friday the 13th, The Burning, The Prowler, NOES, ect.... and there would probably be no Horrorbid. It's sad to even think about it.

Anyway, I glad they went with the Shatner mask, and not the Emmit Kelly. It would have not worked at all. It would have been intresting to see Christopher Lee as Dr. Loomis, but I'm glad we got Donald instead. In a parallel world out there, there is a crazy ass veron of Halloween.
skykey0506 Friday 10/07/2011 at 11:41 PM | 83993
Really Great Read Justin!!! I Always Enjoy Reading Articles Like This!!! EXCELLENT!!
Anonymous Saturday 10/08/2011 at 01:11 AM | 83996
Really Great Read Justin!!! I Always Enjoy Reading Articles Like This!!! EXCELLENT

You're welcome LOL
DaShape Saturday 10/08/2011 at 03:40 AM | 84002
You can't forget the help from Black Christmas Director Bob Clark who actually gave carpenter the idea to make a movie about a masked killer who stalks and kills babytters. I find it weird that Black Christmas isn't even close to the popularity of Halloween, yet it's almost or just as good as Halloween imo.
Sephit Saturday 10/08/2011 at 08:40 AM | 84017
Great article my brother. It's amazing how much it could have changed with all the different factors that went into the movie And of course especially the clasc kirk mask. I don't think the movie or franchise would be where it is today without that piece of latex that was spray painted white.
TheShape1188 Saturday 10/08/2011 at 12:05 PM | 84022
Very good read. Well written. Amazing how things happen in the movies because of certain circumstances...and they usually work out for the better.
aceofspades70 Sunday 10/09/2011 at 02:50 PM | 84079