Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): Halloween (1978)

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

Most folks, myself included, go to certain movies around the holidays. However, my favorite holiday of Halloween did not gain a film that genuinely celebrated it until 1978’s Halloween. John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick is rightfully considered one of the best horror movies ever made. It gave us an icon of modern horror in Michael Myers. More than that though, it created a franchise that spanned 11 movies, 4 continuities, and 40 years With the upcoming 11th entry, Blumhouse’s Halloween, set to be released on October 19th, I’ll take a look back at the Halloween franchise. In doing so, I’ll trace precisely how one of the most convoluted movie franchises in history got to the already divisive entry and why we need it. But before we get there, we have to go back to the movie that started it all: John Carpenter’s Halloween!

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to meet writer/director John Carpenter at a convention. During that same convention, I sat in on a Q&A in which Carpenter talked about his career. He said that despite spending the majority of his career making horror films and being considered “A master of horror,”; he never intended to do or be such a genre staple. Not that Carpenter was bitter, mind you, he just always wanted to make Westerns instead. I can only imagine how great a John Carpenter western would have been back in the director’s hay day of the 70s and 80s. No matter, though, as the genre of horror is very lucky to have a filmmaker like a Carpenter among its chambers. Of course, the horror movie that quickly cemented Carpenter’s career as a director is 1978’s Halloween.

As is the case with many movies that go on to become classics, Halloween began as nothing more than a work-for-hire gig. Having seen and been impressed with Carpenter’s previous effort, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad approached Carpenter and his producing partner, Debra Hill about doing a horror picture. This movie was originally entitled The Babysitter Murders, the premise of which was simple: A crazed murder stalks and kills babysitters in a neighborhood. The concept of which seemed simple enough to shoot in 20 days on a budget of $300,000. However, Carpenter soon realized that to get the bang for their budget, the idea needed to be simplified. Thus, he and Hill suggested that they set the story over the course of a single day and night. This suggestion was immediately accepted by the producers, with Yablans having a stroke of genius. He (Yablans) suggested, “Set the film on Halloween.”

Carpenter cottoned to the idea, convincing the producers that Halloween should also serve as the film’s title. While such an approach seems old-hat these days, it was a very novel idea at the time. Up to that point, no horror flick had been set on and taken its title from a holiday; though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) came close. The difference being that the Yuletide slasher flick is set over the course of a week. In any event, Halloween was the one that made cinematic history, having the twenty-four-hour holiday timeframe.

Having a concept and a themed setting, the screenplay for Halloween was written in 10 days. The first draft was written by Carpenter and Hill wrote the second draft. In the end, the script was an even split between two writers. While Carpenter handled the aspects of the writing that concerned the adult characters; Hill wrote the majority of the material regarding teenagers. Halloween tells the story of why the particular holiday can be so very scary.

On Halloween night 1963, a child named Michael Myers murders his older sister for no apparent reason. Following that, he is institutionalized and put under the psychiatric care of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence). Unfortunately, the good doctor can only do so much as he eventually finds Myers to be “Pure evil.” Fifteen years later on Halloween 1973, an adult Michael Myers (Nick Castle) escapes, making his way back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. There he finds potential new victims in teenage babysitter, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her freewheeling friends, Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles). Now, the trick for these girls will be surviving Halloween as they’re pursued by this silent killer.

Halloween could have no been a bang it out for a buck type movie. That is if it weren’t for the fact that all involved were invested in the project. Moreover, the right choices were made, both in front of and behind the camera. The most obvious of which is the casting. Cynics may say that the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis was merely done for the cache. While Curtis was a bit TV actress at the time, her mother Janet Leigh’s claim to fame was portraying Marion Crane in Psycho (1960).

 

I’m going to disagree with any of these cynics though. To me, Curtis is perfectly cast in the role of the straight-laced, virginal Laurie Strode. Frankly, I think Curtis disappears into her role. Furthermore the same goes for actresses Nancy Loomis and P.J. Soles in their roles. These characters sound like what they are supposed to be–teenage girls.

Such sincerity is vital in this film’s case. Because unlike other slasher franchises that it would inspire, Halloween and the sequels that proceed it focus on the victims as opposed to the killer. Of course, that’s not to say that Michael Myers did not go on to become one of the most recognized icons in modern horror, as did the character of Dr. Samuel Loomis. Pleasence beautifully plays the psychiatrist turned boogeyman hunter, adding a bit of paranoia into the mix for good measure. Of course, there’s the boogeyman himself, The Shape, played by Nick Castle. While his performance is a silent one, Castle seems to be able to embody evil literally. As such, his portrayal of “The Haddonfield Slasher” is the scariest of them all.

 

For all the memorable characters in front of the camera, what truly makes Halloween memorable is its style. The movie in review is easily one of the most artistic, if not the most artistic slasher film ever made. The primary example artistry here concerns the violence or lack thereof presented in Halloween. Sure, the movie is violent, however, none of it is the least bit graphic. Yet, our mind’s eye tells us that the opposite is the case. Except for a few other horror pictures, few other movies in this genre achieve such a feat. If mere filmic suggestion being the foundation for s vivid mental image isn’t the work of an artist, I don’t know what is.

The real shining elements of Halloween come in the form of cinematography and music. Cinematographer Dean Cundey, who shot many modern horror classics as well as Jurassic Park (1993), does a marvelous job here. Halloween possesses a very special visual pallet, one which was inspired by Orson Wells’ Touch of Evil (1958) and Chinatown (1974), respectfully. Halloween is a film full of blue hues, yet it also feels as if it’s full of traditional colors of Fall. A genuinely impressive illusion considering that the movie was shot in sunny and palm tree laden California. Then there’s the music which was also composed by Carpenter. I’m not the first to say this, but without this musical score, Halloween wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

All these elements combined make Halloween a movie that perfectly captures the look, but more importantly, the feeling of autumn and its titular holiday perfectly. Thus, it’s no wonder that this movie became just as much of a staple of the season as candy corn and Pumpkin Spice Lattes have. I’ve been watching Halloween every October since I was eleven, a tradition I’ll continue with until the day I die. In fact, I used to watch this movie every Halloween. Alas, it’s been replaced by Trick r’ Treat (2007), which is the only movie that captures the spirit of Samhain better than the film in review does.

Still, Halloween is responsible for much more than being a Fall perennial. While Peeping Tom (1960), Psycho (1960), and Black Christmas sharpened the knife for slashers; Halloween carved out the slasher subgenre and defined it. Moreover, this flick kicked off the slasher craze that would fuel the horror renaissance of the 1980s. For without Halloween there would be no other holiday-centric slashers. Among these, of course, would be Friday the 13th (1980) and its sequels, one of the reigning franchises of the 80s and beyond.

 

In the process, Halloween also spawned its own franchise. If it hadn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this column on it. Throughout this month and the month of October, I’ll be covering the remainder of this franchise. Bringing us the latest entry, Halloween (2018) and why it might be a much-needed revival. In the meantime watch the greatest slasher movie of all time; and most-definitely A Franchise Expansion, the original Halloween!

 

Halloween (1978) is Available on 4K UHD, Blu-Ray, Digital, & DVD

 

Join me for “More of the night HE came home” when I review Halloween II (1981)

Ben Martin

Ben Martin is a life-long movie & TV lover. In his teens, he decided he wanted to do more than just watch the things he enjoyed. So Ben decided to start writing his opinions on TV & movies a well. Mr. Martin also writes screenplays, short stories and opinion columns.

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