With the upcoming release of Blumhouse Pictures’ “Halloween” sequel/remake, Jerome Kelleher takes a look back on the franchise that propelled the horror genre into the mainstream and how the influence of John Carpenter’s original still resonates through the industry today.
The era of the ‘60s and ‘70s was a tumultuous period for the horror genre. Long gone were the glory days of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi donning gothic apparel for the monster movies of Universal Studios. Long gone was the cult status surrounding Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and the Hammer House of Horror pictures. Times were changing. The assassination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, along with the horrors of the Vietnam War left the American psyche cynical and damaged. Audiences were past the campiness which at this stage was synonymous with the genre, new blood was needed. Few and far between were movies like Psycho (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), leaving the genre with no discernible identity. That is until one night in 1978 when the genre crescendoed to that one perfect note.
“I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes… the *devil’s* eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… *evil*.” – Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance)
The year, 1963. The town, Haddonfield, Illinois. The night, Halloween. Six-year-old Michael Myers dressed in a clown costume, stalks and murders his older sister Judith Myers. Fifteen years later Michael escapes from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where he had been hospitalised and heads back to Haddonfield where he encounters Laurie Strode (Jamie-Lee Curtis) and wreaks havoc on the small town on Halloween night once again…The Night He Came Home. Made on a budget of only $300,000, considered low even by 1978 standards, Halloween was shot over a four-week period in various locations around California. Written, produced and directed by John Carpenter and distributed by Compass International Pictures, the movie grossed over $70 million. Distributed regionally, the movie grew in terms of popularity through word of mouth and although it garnered negative reviews at the start of its run, it eventually started getting the recognition it deserved once it reached a wider audience, and is now considered a masterpiece of the genre.
The success of Halloween gave rise to a new movement within the horror genre during the ‘80s. Many movies tried to copy the success of the Halloween formula, pinning a blade-wielding masked killer against a group of unsuspecting teenagers. Movies such as New Year’s Evil (1980), My Bloody Valentine (1981), Silent Night Deadly Night (1984), and April Fool’s Day (1986) all copied the holiday setting that Halloween established. The most successful of these being Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980) which along with Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) set the basis of what was to become the Slasher Genre. The genre became flooded during the ‘80s with an influx of studios trying to make a quick dollar on the popularity of the slasher. Churning out sequel after sequel, most of which could be made reasonably cheaply and still make a decent profit, as avid horror fans would flock to the cinema to see the newest releases. This oversaturation of the market left some fans of the genre with a bitter taste as quality was pushed to the side for the sake of a quick turnover, with only a noticeable few standing the test of time. Michael Myers (Halloween), Freddie Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) would remain icons of a horror movement that spanned decades, all stemming from that one fateful night in 1978.
Halloween itself spawned two remakes and nine sequels, the latest of which is a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original. Directed by David Gordon Green and written by Green and Danny McBride (yes that Danny McBride) the film picks up from the events of the first Halloween movie and follows Laurie Strode (Jamie-Lee Curtis reprising the role that made her famous) who is still dealing with the aftermath and trauma of forty years previous. At the same time Michael is locked up in an asylum where he is approached by two British journalists who reunite him with his mask. This has disastrous consequences as Michael escapes and returns home to Haddonfield to finish what he started back in 1978. Halloween is in theatres October 19th.