In some ways it seems strange to think that their was once a time before Halloween night was synonymous with Michael Myers and Haddonfield; a time before terms like slice-n'-dice tripped off the tongue. But, there was a time before HALLOWEEN and it's here I want to take a look at what influences provided the catalyst for Carpenter's seminal slasher movie and how it came into being...
Well, for a start, it was Irwin Yablans (the films executive producer) who, supposedly, came up with the idea of setting the film on Halloween night. Previous to that it had the working title of THE BABY-SITTER MURDERS, which had also been Yablans idea- he had approached Carpenter and Debra Hill after Mustapha Akkad had met them in London where ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 was screening. Carpenter had just finished shooting the TV thriller SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME! when he agreed to direct the movie. Hill, who went on to produce the film, said in an interview with Fangoria, "The idea was that you couldn't kill evil, and that was how we came about the story. We went back to the old idea of Samhain, that Halloween was the night where all the souls are let out to wreak havoc on the living, and then came up with the story about the most evil kid who ever lived. And when John came up with this fable of a town with a dark secret of someone who once lived there, and now that evil has come back, that's what made HALLOWEEN work. We didn't want it to be gory. We wanted it to be like a jack-in-the box."
Now, the rest is history. I won't go into how HALLOWEEN became,for many years, the highest grossing independent film of all time; or any of the other details which you can find in abundance out on the net. However, I would like to talk about a few things which you don't see mentioned very often. Before I start however, I'd just like to say that I stand by my view that HALLOWEEN remains my co-favourite film of all time- and I doubt anything will change that. I'd also like to say that how much of what follows is entirely true I don't know- after-all you should always be skeptical about what you read on the Internet (!). But a little open discussion never hurt …
I may sound a bit like a broken record but I've got to say it again- there were slasher movies around before HALLOWEEN. Plenty of them. … Whilst it's true that Carpenter's film was the catalyst for the avalanche of teen slashers that followed it was not unique, nor was it created in a vacuum. By that I mean there are plenty of influences on show throughout the film- and not just from the often acknowledged ones (by Carpenter and Hill) of Hitchcock's PSYCHO and TOUCH OF EVIL either. … If you've read enough of the reviews here at you'll know that Italian cinema had a greater influence on American cinema than is generally recognised. The works of many of Italy's greatest (or in some cases worst!) directors turned up with quite some regularity on American screens (especially on the drive in circuit), during the early to mid 1970s. It may seem strange now but back then it wasn't unusual to see posters for the latest (although usually re-titled and often re-edited) Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino, Mario Bava and Dario Argento horror extravaganzas. It is reported that Carpenter has acknowledged some of these Italian masters as a formative influence on his work- specifically on HALLOWEEN (although I must point out that I haven't seen any direct quotes to that effect). If he had it would make sense. The gialli typically had a murderous figure who was silent as well as deadly- dressed head to toe in black; and, in Mario Bava's'seminal BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964), sported a featureless white mask. Additionally, Dario Argento's early gialli are often described as shock machines. Simple and lean, in much the same way that HALLOWEEN is.
The other major influence on HALLOWEEN may well be Bob Clark's sorority slasher BLACK CHRISTMAS (aka SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT) which, being made in 1974, predates Carpenter's film by a whole four years. The following information is what I gleaned from 'The Black Christmas Gallery' (a fan site for the film which seems to have vanished now), and I've taken it from my review of the movie, "Bob Clark, after the modest success of BLACK CHRISTMAS- it had been a hit in Canada but, due to indifferent marketing, had only been a sleeper in the US, was approached with the idea of doing a sequel. In 1975 he drafted a sequel called.... HALLOWEEN (!), where the killer from BLACK CHRISTMAS is caught and put in an asylum, only to break out on (you guessed it)- Halloween. Whilst Clark was putting this together he was also working on a separate screen play (for an unrealised project), with none other than John Carpenter! Apparently Clark doesn't feel in the least bit aggrieved by Carpenters' film and its subsequent success- as he soon ditched any plans to make a sequel to his own film, not wishing to become pigeonholed as a horror director. He has also stated that he believes the two films are very different in tone- (if not exactly in content)."
*SPOILERS for BLACK CHRISTMAS in this paragraph!* Now, regardless of whether that is true or not (somehow I doubt I'm ever going to get the chance to interview Carpenter to find out; and besides, it goes against the notion that Irwin Yablans was the idea man for the Autumnal setting!), there are similarities that cannot be denied between the two films. The two most obvious ones are the similar opening shots (both have a killer's point-of-view prowling around the exterior of a house at night); and the scenes where the final girl (Olivia Hussey in BLACK CHRISTMAS and Jamie Lee Curtis in HALLOWEEN) both discover their friend's corpses grouped together in one room.
There are however some differences. The killers in both films are supremely scary- but for different reasons. In BLACK CHRISTMAS, although you never see the killer's face, you hear his ravings (including the freakish and disturbing phone calls)- the film presents a more conventional madman- in-so-much as he literally a raving lunatic. Whereas Carpenter's the Shape is unnaturally silent.
I also just mentioned point-of-view shots which curiously some people seem to think originated with Carpenter's film- they did not. The POV has been a staple of horror films and thrillers for many years before HALLOWEEN, but it was Carpenter's film and the many that followed that seemed to kick off the silly discussions about how the audience reacted to 'seeing through the eyes of the killer'.
It is not my intention to knock HALLOWEEN. It can not be underestimated the influence it has had on generations of film makers- and indeed, I would have to say that I think that, at the end of the day, HALLOWEEN is, over-all, when compared directly with the films I've discussed, actually the better movie. I just wanted to point out some of the things which can sometimes be forgotten when this film is discussed. And, like I said, nothing will diminish my enthusiasm for it.