After producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad saw how effective writer-director John Carpenter put together his low-budget thriller, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), they hired him to make a film about a killer who preys upon babysitters. Carpenter and his then-girlfriend, Debra Hill, wrote a script called “The Babysitter Murders” in two weeks. Yablans suggested that the film’s story should happen on the night of October 31st and the horror classic, Halloween, was born.
The film, also made on a modest budget, made the careers of everyone involved, especially Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis (whose mother appeared in Psycho, a film that inspired the Carpenter film), who was later dubbed the “scream queen” for her role in Halloween along with other horror films that she starred in that followed.
Halloween became one of the highest-grossing independent films ever at that time. It was not only followed by seven sequels (as well as a remake and a sequel to that), but was also responsible for the glut of slasher films that hit during the 1980s including When A Stranger Calls (1979), My Friday the 13th (1980), Terror Train (1980), and Prom Night (1980) (each starring Curtis), as well as Bloody Valentine (1981), The Burning (1981), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Child’s Play (1988), among others. (Some of those films lacked the finesse and craftsmanship of their inspiration.) Although slasher classics like Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) pre-date Halloween by four years, it was the blockbuster success of John Carpenter’s 1978 film that set the standard for others to follow.
Halloween will celebrate its 40th anniversary on October 25, 2018 with a return of Jamie Lee Curtis starring in a direct sequel (ignoring the stories set by the other Halloween sequels), and John Carpenter will return as executive producer and to score the film with his memorable and haunting themes.
Written by: John Carpenter & Debra Hill
Directed by: John Carpenter
MITH Type: Serial Monster
MITH Cousins: Friday the 13th, Black Christmas, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, April Fool’s Day, Happy Birthday To Me, Slumber Party Massacre, Peeping Tom, Silent Night Deadly Night, Psycho, Scream, Terror Train, The Prowler, The House on Sorority Row, The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, My Bloody Valentine, Alice Sweet Alice, Maniac, Madman, Wolf Creek, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Peeping Tom, The Final Girls, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Prom Night, Hell Night, Urban Legend, Hatchet, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Silent Scream, When a Stranger Calls, Halloween II
Opening Image: After an atmospheric main title sequence with the haunting musical theme written by John Carpenter, the film’s co-writer and director, we open on Haddonfield, Illinois. Halloween Night, 1963. An anonymous POV observes as an attractive teen couple clown around on the couch with some foreplay and then run upstairs for some Samhain-night sex.
The unknown observer then enters the house and grabs a butcher knife. The boy, putting back on his shirt, leaves the house. The stalker tiptoes upstairs and grabs a clown mask off the floor, masking his vision. The knife-wielding POV then enters the room of a nude girl brushing her hair in a vanity mirror. The girl cries out, “Michael,” before the assailant brings down the knife repeatedly, killing his sister, Judith.
The killer escapes outside as a car pulls up—the homeowners. Mr. and Mrs. Myers call the killer by name and it’s revealed to be a young Michael Myers, age 6, in a clown suit and clutching a blood-stained butcher’s knife in a kind of post-murder catatonia.
Set-Up: The title “Smith’s Grove, Illinois” appears. The date is now October 30, 1978, 15 years later. A car’s headlights slice through the night during a torrential downpour of rain and booming thunder. Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) rides in the car with Nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), who’s driving. Loomis and Chambers are talking about Michael Myers, who—now 21— they are planning to prepare for the transfer to the Hardin County courthouse to stand trial for murdering his sister, Judith. Loomis reveals that Myers hasn’t spoken in 15 years and believes him to be beyond psychopathic: the epitome of evil. Loomis never wants Myers to be released from the institution for that reason. Chambers lights a cigarette with a pack of red-booked matches with “The Rabbit in Red” on the cover. Loomis notices.
Catalyst: Pulling up to the gate, Loomis and Chambers find patients of the asylum wandering around outside in the storm. Loomis climbs out of the station wagon and heads up to the main gate. As he does, Michael Myers jumps up on the roof of the car, breaks a window, and accosts Chambers. The nurse manages to escape the mental patient’s clutches. Myers then jumps into the driver’s seat and steals the station wagon, vanishing like a ghost in the stormy night.
Theme Stated: At the 11 minute mark, Dr. Loomis watches the taillights disappear and shouts, “He’s gone. He’s gone. The evil is gone from here.” The hospital and staff of Smith’s Grove underestimating Myers was their sin, which, of course, literally unleashed the monster.
Debate: Haddonfield, Illinois. Halloween Day. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) runs an errand for her realtor father on her way to high school, dropping a key off at the Myers house.
Along the way, she runs into Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews). Tommy knows what’s up in this forsaken neighborhood in a more run-down part of town. Tommy is terrified. The Myers place has become Haddonfield’s haunted house (every town has one). Laurie, ignoring Tommy’s warnings, climbs onto the porch and leaves the key under the mat. A watcher expelling and inhaling sinister breathes observes the unsuspecting teen from inside the crumbling house (he’s referred to as The Shape in the post credits). The Shape then follows Laurie outside, observing her and Tommy as they head towards their respective schools. What is the watcher’s interest in Laurie?
While Laurie is in class, she half-listens to her English teacher drone on about the theme of “fate” from a literary work and how it catches up to people. Distracted, Laurie happens to gaze outside. Through the Venetian blinds, she sees the stolen station wagon that Loomis and Chambers rode in (though she’s unaware of its history). A white-faced figure, The Shape, like a specter, stands behind it, peering in her direction. The Shape’s pale face seems to hover in the air. Laurie is called upon by the teacher. After Laurie, who’s a smart cookie, answers the question perfectly, she looks out the window again. The specter in the station wagon has vanished. Was The Shape really there?
As Tommy Doyle is leaving elementary school, a fat pumpkin in his arms, he’s taunted by some older bullies who tell him, rather prophetically, that the boogeyman is coming for him. One of the hoods trips Tommy and he falls on his pumpkin, crushing it. The boys run off. One of them meets the boogeyman too soon—The Shape, wearing gray mechanic’s overalls and a mask, intercepts the boy. The startled bully runs off. The Shape then follows the forlorn Tommy in the station wagon. What is The Shape’s sinister purpose?
Dr. Loomis is looking for Myers. He knows how dangerous the mental patient is in the world. He pulls his BMW alongside a pay phone on a country road and calls Sheriff Bracket in Haddonfield. The doctor is sure the “evil” will return to his hometown. Not far from where the doctor made his call, he finds some hospital garments and an empty pick-up truck with PHELPS GARAGE on the open door. The doctor knows he’s on the right track when he sees the pack of red-booked matches with “The Rabbit in Red” on the cover that belonged to Nurse Chambers. What Loomis doesn’t see is the murdered, naked mechanic in the dry grass, minus his clothing.
Break into Two: Laurie and her friends Annie Bracket (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles) head home from school. We learn that Laurie is babysitting Tommy Doyle and, across the street, Annie will be babysitting Lindsay Wallace. Lynda has a hot date with her boyfriend, Bob.
Minutes later, Laurie sees The Shape peering from behind a hedge at her. Laurie starts getting freaked out, seeing the pale-faced specter constantly.
Now Laurie’s on edge, running into Annie’s father, Sherriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers). Children run around in ghost, devil, and witch costumes. Halloween Night has begun. Laurie sees the specter again outside her window, standing in the clothes line of billowing sheets like a ghost. Her world is upside down, as it is for every protagonist in the antithesis world of Act Two.
Later, Annie picks up Laurie. They smoke a quick joint while “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult rocks on an AM radio channel. The song gives a subtle warning about the evil and fate that will likely befall them tonight on All Hallows’ Eve, but they don’t listen.
Dr. Loomis meets with the groundskeeper of Haddonfield Cemetery and learns that Judith Myers’ headstone is missing. What’s the connection? Is it pranksters as the groundskeeper claims or is it all part of the nefarious plan The Shape seems to be executing?
Hiding the joint, with Laurie coughing (she’s not an accomplished weed smoker), Annie pulls up and talks to her law-enforcement dad. Someone broke into the hardware store. The thief stole some rope, knives, and a Halloween mask. So far, we have a stolen station wagon back in Haddonfield with a missing headstone and swiped sundries from the local mercantile. There seems to be random pieces to a puzzle that we don’t know how will fit together, but later we’ll see the sinister picture when assembled. Annie and Laurie drive off toward their babysitting jobs with The Shape following behind them in the station wagon.
B Story: Loomis meets with Sherriff Brackett to talk about Myers’ escape and possible visit to Haddonfield. (Loomis doesn’t see Myers go right past him in the station wagon.) Loomis is the “helper” story and also drives the theme of trying to stop the evil.
Fun and Games: Annie and Laurie are at their respective babysitting jobs across the street from each other. Here, in the Fun and Games portion of the movie, we get the promise of the premise, and what we signed up for—a menacing killer stalking babysitters (the original title of Halloween was “The Babysitter Murders,” after all). Here the plot relaxes a little bit and we settle into a creepy Halloween night where a masked force of nature watches from the cold light outside at the unsuspecting girls within.
Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Brackett drive up to the Myers house and go inside, either looking for Michael Myers or traces that he’s been there. With Judith Myers’ headstone missing, Loomis is certain that his evil psychiatric subject is reliving the past. Brackett sees the remains of a warm, half-eaten dog. Loomis remarks that Myers got hungry. The sheriff says no man would do that. The good doctor reminds him (and us) that this is not a man, further backing up the theme of unstoppable evil. Upstairs, Loomis adds that Myers, in his 15 years at Smith’s Grove, was inhumanly patient, waiting for this night, suggesting again that Myers isn’t a mere man but the embodiment of evil.
Laurie entertains little Tommy Doyle with comic books. When Annie calls Laurie from across the street to tell her about Ben Tramer, a boy Laurie’s interested in taking to the homecoming dance, Tommy looks out the window. He spots the shadowy figure of The Shape peering back at him. He reports this to Laurie, who dismisses it at rubbish.
Lester, the Wallace’s family German Shepherd, growls. Annie has Lindsay put the police-dog-looking canine outside, where he discovers the source of his agitation: The Shape peering into the windows watching Annie. Lester attacks but The Shape crushes the poor animal to death in a bear-hug vice. The first casualty of the night. The Shape’s defensive action suggests that the boogeyman is not only creepy and shadowy, but also possesses superhuman strength. With the furry, early-warning system, as well as a potential threat, out of the way, Myers is free to go about his nightly stalking.
Making popcorn for Lindsay, Annie spills butter down the front of her clothes. She strips in the kitchen down to her socks and underwear (with The Shape leering from outside, of course). Annie throws on one of Mr. Wallace’s starched business shirts and takes her soiled clothes outside. The laundry room is in a shed in the back yard. Annie locks herself in and tries to climb out a window, getting stuck. Now is The Shape’s chance. However, when Annie’s boyfriend Paul calls, Lindsay unwittingly rescues her. Paul, who was grounded, can now go out as his parents have left.
Annie takes Lindsay across the street to the Doyle house so she can pick up Paul. Now “girl scout” Laurie, who comes through for all her friends, has two kids to be responsible for while her friends have fun.
Midpoint: Annie heads to the car to pick up Paul. It’s locked; she forgot her keys. She sings an off-key song about her longing for Paul, whistling in the chill of night, unaware of the danger that awaits her. After fixing her hair and grabbing the keys, Annie heads back to the car. This time, the door is unlocked but she seems to ignore this fact. What she does notice, however, is the condensation that’s built up inside the car against the October chill outside—condensation from some heavy breathing in the back seat. By the time Annie realizes what’s going on, The Shape strikes, grabbing her with one arm, and slicing her with his butcher’s knife with the other. Annie’s corpse falls on the horn, blasting through the neighborhood, but the sounds fall on deaf ears. This murder raises the stakes as The Shape has gone from stalker to killer, and it also starts the clock ticking. It’s only a matter of time before Laurie and the rest of the people she cares about are next.
Back at the shadowy Myers house, Dr. Loomis crouches in the bushes waiting for his escaped mental patient to show up. The bullies who taunted Tommy earlier show up at the town’s “haunted house” and one brave boy, Lonnie, tiptoes upon the crumbling porch. The doctor scares the boys away to protect them (and it gives him a thrill). Sheriff Brackett, who appears behind Loomis, frightens the on-edge doctor. Loomis talks about Myers being “inhumanly patient” and the evil, crossing A and B stories at the Midpoint. Brackett’s angry at Loomis “letting Myers go” as there’s likely to be a bloodbath in his town, which also raises the stakes and gets the clock ticking for them as well.
Back at the Doyle house, Tommy attempts to scare Lindsay by hiding behind the curtains in the living room. He scares himself, though, as he sees “the boogeyman” carrying the dead body of Annie into the Wallace house. Tommy freaks out and Laurie reprimands him, again not believing his claim of what he saw.
Bad Guys Close In: Lynda and Bob pull up in his ‘70s dude van. Beer cans tumble onto the street as they climb out. They’re drunk and amorous. However, they’re surprised when nobody is home. Lynda calls Laurie and learns that they have the house to themselves as Annie “probably stopped off somewhere” after she picked up Paul. Lynda and Paul make tracks for the master bedroom. In their throes of passion, the Shape stalks past them. After their sexual appetites are fulfilled, Bob wanders down to the kitchen, at Lynda’s coaxing, to score some post-coital beers.
Retrieving the beers, Bob hears a noise and thinks it’s Annie and Paul trying to scare him (it is Halloween after all). However, it’s The Shape. And the shadowy figure throttles Bob with one arm, raising him off the floor by the neck against a pantry door. Bob thrashes but is no match for the superhuman strength of his aggressor. The Shape then pins Bob to the door with the butcher’s knife like he was a butterfly in some madman’s collection. Bob relaxes, then dies.
A shrouded figure, wearing a white bed sheet and Bob’s glasses, appears in the bedroom doorway. Lynda believes it’s Bob trying to scare her (it is Halloween after all). When the figure imitating her dead boyfriend says nothing, Lynda grows bored and calls Laurie, wondering if she’s heard from Annie. As Lynda makes her call, she foolishly turns her back on “Bob” and she’s strangled to death with the phone cord. The Shape continues his killing spree in quiet earnest.
On the other end of the line, Laurie hears Lynda’s dying breaths, which sound more like obscene squealing (this pays off an earlier call where from Annie, who was chewing and not speaking, freaking Laurie out). The sounds are cut short and The Shape picks up the phone. As if feeling the chill of evil from the other end of the line, Laurie quickly reacts as if the phone bit her. At minute 68, we see the iconic mask which launched a million sequels for the first time. It’s a chilling revelation and a masterful touch by John Carpenter to wait so long.
Concerned, Laurie checks on the sleeping Tommy and Lindsay and decides to go over to the Wallace house to see what’s going on. She grabs the keys and makes her atmospheric walk across the street in the breezy, blue-shadowed night. Arriving at the house, Laurie finds it dark and quiet—too quiet. She thinks maybe her friends are trying to play a trick on her (it is Halloween after all). Then Laurie hears some sounds upstairs like things being moved around—heavy things.
All Is Lost: Laurie climbs the stairs and learns the horrifying truth about her friends. Annie is spread out on the bed, the Judith Meyers headstone above her.
As Laurie backs away, Bob swings down, tied by his feet to the rafters with strangled Lynda stuffed in a closet. The revelations chill Laurie and paralyze her in fear so she doesn’t see The Shape behind her emerging from the shadows. The killer slashers her arm and she topples over the banister and down the stairs. This is the worst moment for Laurie—she’s worse off now than at the beginning of the film. She’s lost all her friends, she’s wounded, and she’s clinging to life with a masked, knife-wielding murderer chasing her for no reason. Something must die here: the old Laurie, symbolically killed off. Will the new, more informed Laurie survive?
Laurie picks herself up from the stairs and heads to the front door. It’s locked and apparently jammed closed. She heads to the kitchen. It’s also a dead end, but she manages to break the glass of the French doors and escape with The Shape at her heels.
Dark Night of the Soul: Laurie limps to the neighbors’ house next door to the Wallaces and pounds and screams on their door. Either thinking it’s a Halloween prank or lacking in some serious empathy, they ignore her. Laurie is on her own. She stumbles back to the Doyle house as The Shape, like death, slowly makes his way toward her—taking his time, knowing Laurie’s fate is in his hands. Myers has waited “inhumanly patient” 15 years for this day, why rush it now?
In true DNOTS form, everyone is either dead or has forsaken Laurie. She’s on her own, which makes her drop her previous persona, the happy-go-lucky wanderer through life, as she now turns into the warrior she must become to survive—the “girl scout” who must become an Amazon warrior in the reality of the situation. (Curtis’ Laurie Strode became cinema’s first “scream queen” and model for the girl-turned-warrior Final Girl trope.)
Laurie, who can’t find her keys, wakes Tommy. She barely gets inside before The Shape is upon her.
Break into Three: At the same time Laurie is fighting for her life, Dr. Loomis spots the stolen station wagon from Smith’s Grove. He desperately heads down the street, looking for his murderous mental patient as A and B stories cross.
1. Gathering of the Team – At this point, Laurie is “defending the castle,” which means she must save herself and the two kids who are with her in the house. She grabs the only defense she has: a knitting needle. (This is perfect synthesis as the old Laurie simply used the tool for knitting and now the warrior Laurie uses it as a weapon.)
2. Executing the Plan – The Shape has made his way into the locked house through an open window, the curtain billowing in the night breeze. He attacks Laurie. She sticks the knitting needle into his neck and he drops behind the couch, apparently dead. Laurie picks up the butcher’s knife and then later drops it and runs upstairs to check on the kids.
3. High Tower Surprise – Laurie assures Tommy and Lindsay that the boogeyman is no more—she killed him. Tommy disputes her, telling his babysitter that she can’t kill the boogeyman. And he’s right—surprise—The Shape is back with knife in hand, reaching the upstairs landing.
4. Dig, Deep Down – Laurie locks the kids in Tommy’s room and then runs into an adjacent bedroom. She opens the French doors leading out onto the balcony as, perhaps, a ruse to fool her attacker into thinking she escaped outside. She then locks herself in a closet. It doesn’t take long for the shadowy Shape to find her. He easily destroys the closet door and discovers Laurie hiding among the hanging clothes.
Laurie fashions a kind of harpoon out of a wire coat hanger and skewers The Shape in the eye, causing her attacker to drop his knife. Laurie grabs it and thrusts it upward, impaling the monster with his own phallic weapon. Laurie drops the knife a second time (she really shouldn’t do that), thinking Myers is dead, and returns to Tommy’s room.
5. Executing New Plan – Laurie, who should win the Babysitter of the Year Award, tells Tommy and Lindsay to go to the neighbor’s house and have them call the police (hopefully the kids will have an easier time winning the neighbors empathy than Laurie did). The kids run screaming out of the house. Loomis spots them—Laurie’s plan worked. Loomis heads inside the house. Is he too late?
The Shape rises, seemingly impossible to kill, and attacks Laurie again, this time attempting to strangle the life from her. Loomis shows up with his revolver and empties six rounds into the mental patient, who falls out of the French doors and off the balcony into the lawn below.
Final Image: Now that the threat is over, and Laurie has had time to catch her breath, we see that she has changed. She now believes, as did Tommy, that there is a boogeyman, who she has faced and barely beat. “It was the boogeyman,” she summarizes. Laurie finally believes; she has transformed. Loomis concurs: “As a matter of fact, it was.” The doctor has also faced the evil and has come away unscathed.
In a final twist, Dr. Loomis peeks over the balcony to check on Michael Myers. The Shape has vanished into the night. In a montage, we see images that retrace the places The Shape has been—and may return to again. The last image is Michael, returning back to the crumbling and shadowy Myers house—his home—with his sinister breathing steaming up the soundtrack. Evil, it seems, never dies.
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