Directed by: John Carpenter
They say that you should never meet your hero, but when we had the call that horror legend John Carpenter was willing to do an interview for HorrorCultFilms then how could we say no! I mean its John Carpenter, the man who has given us more nightmares than any other horror director could wish to give! A director whose films in the horror genre grace many of the best of lists! Halloween, The Fog, the totally underated In The Mouth Of Madness, are just some of his masterpieces that tip the top of the iceberg and offer a glimpse of genius talent of what the great man has given to us horror fans!
The queen Bee Bat, Dr Lenera, Matt Wavish and Number One Fan Ross Hughes all sat down to have a chat with the man simply called one of the best!
HorrorCultFilms. The Interview with John Carpenter
Can I just say WOW! This is the ultimate honour for me personally, I mean you are John Carpenter, the icon, the legend, we at HCF can not believe this is happening and for me well, I watched Halloween when I was 5 years of age and since then no other Horror matches those feelings that I had! It inspired me to be a film lover, a reason why I write for HCF with these crazy bunch and for that I thank you for making me what I am now. I know you must get this all the time, but you must be proud that such a little film originally called “The Babysitter murders” became such a classic of all genres?
I’m very proud of HALLOWEEN. As far as the movie business is concerned, this was the real beginning of my career.
I know I have just asked you about Halloween, but I have made a vow to save the best for last, so I want to ask you a question about a film that has slowly become a massive cult favourite. Maybe the most underated film in your CV, In The Mouth Of Madness, do you realise how popular it is among horror fans. A real gem that was recently voted the best 90?s horror film in a HCF Poll?
I don’t realize how IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is perceived by anybody. I’m happy to hear that some fans seem to appreciate it.
Do you know how frustrating it is for us fans in Great Britain that In The Mouth Of Madness has never had a Region 2 DVD release! I know that is something way out of your control, but does it add to the frustration that somehow that film seems like its considered a “flop” but in reailty its universally loved?
I’ve gotten over how some of my movies have been rejected when I didn’t think they deserved it. One has to take the world as it is, not as you wish it would be.
The mind-melting In The Mouth of Madness and the amazing remake of The Thing both have elements inspired or resembling those of HP Lovecraft’s universe. Would you ever be interested in filming a full on HP Lovecraft novella or maybe even resurrecting the doomed At The Mountains of Madness?
I’d love to film an H. P. Lovecraft story. But it’s tough. To do one well, you need bucks. Guillermo Del Toro just tried to get AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS made at Universal. Didn’t work out.
Another film that is loved among horror fans is THE FOG, which I read is not one of your favourite films! That stunned me, for The Fog shows you at your best! That opening with the Old Sailor telling Ghost Stories to the kids is one of the favourite moments in our generation horror but yet you said that the entire film was terrible. “I had a movie that didn’t work, and I knew it in my heart!” Can I just say that The Fog is one of the best horror films ever made and you may be a bit harsh with your own work?
I appreciate your kind words about THE FOG. My opinion remains the same!
Was the inspiration really from the British film The Trollenberg Horror?
In Starman, it seems to me that you really enjoyed doing a more romantic picture than normal. Have you ever wanted the opportunity to do more films outside the genre with which you are generally associated with, or are you happy staying with horror?
I’m happy either way.
I’ve always been curious about the Roddy Piper and Keith David fight scene in They Live, which goes on for around ten minutes. Was it intended to be such a lengthy scene in the script, or was it something that was developed on the set?
The fight was always intended to be long and involved right from the script stage.
To me one of your most sheerly entertaining films is Big Trouble In Little China. I know that it wasn’t a major success at the time, but if it had been, I reckon we could have seen Jack Burton in a sequel or two. Were there any follow ups planned?
No sequels. Of course, if the BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA had been a major hit, we might have had BIGGER TROUBLE.
Lets talk about your latest and The Ward is a chilling, old fashioned horror with great build up of suspense and sudden scares. Where did the idea come from?
The script for THE WARD was written by the Rasmussen brothers. It was their original idea. I was just a hired hand.
Amber Heard is becoming this generations ‘scream queen’ What made you chose her to play the role of Kristen and how did you prepare her for one of her most difficult roles?
Amber Heard has enormous talent and beauty. She’s smart and complex. I really enjoyed working with her.
Considering that, except for I believe The Thing, you have written your own music scores for your movies, so much so that a John Carpenter film to me has a certain ‘sound’, I’m interested as to why you had a different composer for The Ward?
I found somebody better than me. Mark Killian is a stone genius.
The Ward is a horror which takes the viewer by surprise. Considering the horrors of old where a simple plot and a killer would suffice, do you believe simplicity is not enough for todays horror fan, and that todays horror needs a little bit more to satisfy its audience?
The story dictates everything. If you have a good story, you have a shot at making a good movie. Modern horror films are basically the same as they always have been. Most are bad, some are fair, a few are good
I remember reading, many years ago, a quote from you saying that you would have happiest working in the old Hollywood studio system. Do you still feel that way?
I know that you’re a big fan of Westerns, from Howard Hawks to Sergio Leone, and several of your films have very strong Western elements. Have you ever considered making an actual ‘proper’ Western?
Do you actually like watching horror and science fiction films for pleasure, or do you prefer to relax with say, a comedy?
I still like watching movies, but my favorite pastime is NBA basketball.
You came from the golden age of horror where everything was new, exciting and shocking and you lead the way with movies like Halloween, The Fog, The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13. Looking at todays horror movies, are there any director’s you believe are re-inventing the genre and keeping it fresh and alive?
I didn’t come from the Golden age. The real Golden age was at Universal in the 1930’s and 40’s. James Whale is a legendary horror director.
Would you consider a horror tribute, within the same lines has the recent success of the Expendables, what are your thoughts on doing a horror in that style, mixing old icons with new? With your name attached to the project fans of old and new would foam at the mouth with the excitement?
Can I just say, seeing your name above the title of a film still excites me like no other director, you sold me with The Ward, right at the first ten minutes when your name appears! What give you the idea to do that all those years back?
The careers of old Hollywood directors I admire like Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford…
Can I finish this off by talking about Halloween, I mean what can not be said that has not been said! It really is a classic, a horror that I personally love with all my heart! You must have thought all your dreams come true when you realised the title”Halloween” had never been used in horror before! I mean its the perfect title for a perfect horror?
I was surprised that the title HALLOWEEN had never been used. This was the distributor’s idea.
Nick Castle is the ultimate Myers. What do you think he offers that is so different to all the others that played the psycho in the William Shatner mask?
Nick played Michael Myers simply. He didn’t act like a monster.
The greatest scene in horror for me is the “shape” rising behind Laurie, please explain to me how you come up with that outstanding sequence?
The scene came directly out of my brain.
Is there anything you would change about Halloween or is it just the most perfect horror film?
I would change things in every movie I’ve made if I could. But I can’t. So why worry?
You never wanted a sequel! Personally I agree. I love the end of Halloween, the scary notion that Myers is always there, in the shadows watching, how do you feel about the second now? Looking back is there aspects you would change to the sequel itself?
The decision to make HALLOWEEN sequels was a purely business. I wasn’t interested in working as a director. Don’t mind collecting money, however.
Do you know how much you upset all Halloween fans by not doing H20! That was the perfect time to come back to the franchise even though Steve Miner done a great job! Is it that you really think Halloween only had one story to tell and that was told in 78!
Do you still keep in contact with Danielle Harris, a woman who we at HCF are huge fans of?
No I don’t
And what about the remake, do you think Rob Zombie offered anything new to the old tale?
Your film Halloween is often voted the best horror of all time. Three decades on, do you still feel that classic influences movies today and are you a fan of the Halloween inspired Scream franchise?
I don’t really want to talk about other directors’ movies.
I could talk to you all day about Halloween and your films but I really do not want to take up more of your time so I finish off by asking Do you have a favourite amongst your own movies, and if so, which one is it?
No favorites among my own films.
Many regrets, but none that serious.
And what for the future?
I’m working on a few things these days. Relaxing, mostly.
Can I just say a huge thank you Mr Carpenter, this is a dream come true for me, I not only wish you all the best for the future but also for me making me have the love for horror that I have! Halloween, The Thing, The Fog and also In The Mouth Of Madness are films of classic status and its a honour to spend some time with an icon of horror!
Thank you and I really hope we can speak again!
Having been totally excited by having the legend himself talk to HorrorCultFilms, three of his biggest fans in the office have digged out some of his films and give their reasons why John Carpenter is universally adored
Darren Williams On The Fog, The Thing and Someone’s Watching Me.
Often classed as a remake of The Thing From Another World, this is actually another adaptation of the John W. Campbell short story, ‘Who Goes There?’. If anything, Carpenter’s film has much more in common with its source text than the original ever did. Both are fine films, but The Thing is the one that works best for me. Like so many of Carpenter’s early films, so much of it is a homage to Howard Hawks, which is especially fitting as Hawks is often stated to be the uncredited director of the 51 film. But the references to Hawks’ Rio Bravo, a film Carpenter had already turned to many times, are still strong in The Thing. Campbell was one of the Weird Tales writers, so it’s also easy to find a Lovecraftian aspect to this film, indeed Lovecraft seems to be a recurring influence on Carpenter.
The film focuses on a research group in the Antarctic. The team encounter a dog being chased by a helicopter. The pilot is shooting at the dog and hits one of the crew. The pilot is Norwegian and unable to explain his actions to the team, and he is dead before he’s even able to try. When the team decide to check out the Norwegian’s camp, they find it in ruins. They also find the burnt remains of a mutant and an ice block that once contained something sinister. Meanwhile, the dog settles into his new home. The dog is placed with the rest of the camp dogs where it transforms into a spider-like monster and attacks them. Soon the team realise that the dog was some sort of alien shape-shifter, and now it could be any one of them.
I think this is Carpenter’s most accomplished film. It lacks the ragged charm of his earlier work, but this is where it really all came together for this talented man. The pacing is often slow, but deliberate, and it adds to the tense and claustrophobic feel of the material. Many claim that the special effects overwhelm the drama. Rubbish. Carpenter looks at a group of people under pressure rather than focus on the effects. The characters are unpleasant and unsympathetic. But they’re real and they’re honest. And that makes it easy to identify with them. It’s a world where people are thrown together by work rather than by choice, and any form of mutual respect goes out of the window the moment suspicion falls upon them. While Kurt Russell rightly became a cult icon for his lead performance, the entire cast are incredibly effective, working together to make it work as an ensemble piece. The special effects are incredible, but the truth is you could still have made this a superb film without the effects. Who Goes There? made a wonderful radio drama, and I’ve often wondered how this material could work as a play. Strip down all of the outside effects and focus solely on the descent into paranoia.
Those who focus in on the effects miss seeing that this is is one of cinema’s best studies of paranoia, using its isolated Arctic setting to add to that feeling of unease, and the film is never more chilling than when that paranoia and isolation kicks in. Adding to the atmosphere is that remarkable score, it creeps under your skin and just pulls you even further into this frozen world.
The bottom line is that The Thing, as great a horror piece as it is, is also a creepy and nihilistic ensemble drama about how quickly people can turn against each other. Read the alien as a metaphor for communism, aids, anything you please. It’s the reaction of humanity that’s most important, and by the standards of this film, humanity is doomed.
Antonio Bay is celebrating its 100th anniversary. On what should be a joyous time for the small fishing town, the local priest discovers the dark history of murder that the town was founded on. Six of the founders of Antonio Bay deliberately sunk a ship all those years ago, and now the sailors want vengeance.
The Fog is often seen as the weak link in John Carpenter’s early career. Coming between Halloween and Escape From New York (with the exception of a couple of t.v. movies) it’s often overlooked in their favour. It’s important that the tradition the film stems from is understood. The opening scene sets the tone of the film, a ghost story told around a campfire to a group of children. The Fog is
Carpenter’s attempts to create a cinematic version of a literary ghost story. The storyteller (John Houseman in a cameo role) is named Machen, a nod to Arthur Machen, one of the greatest horror writers who ever lived, and a hugely influential figure in the field. The film also includes nods to H.P. Lovecraft and many critics have seen it as a very Lovecraftian tale. Personally I always felt as if it could have been adapted from a short story by William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson’s ghost stories often took place at sea, and The Fog feels like it could settles nicely alongside his work.
The fairly large ensemble cast work well together. Adrienne Barbeau is the particular stand-out as the town’s dj. Having her broadcast from the lighthouse was a nice touch. It ties her in directly with the town’s history while allowing her to almost act as a narrator figure.
The film’s slow pace has led to some criticism, but the pacing isn’t that far removed from Halloween. The power of The Fog doesn’t come from the sudden ghost attacks, the chill of The Fog lies in what we can’t see, not in what we can. Much like Halloween, the film is at its most effective when the characters are being stalked. The fog effects are superbly spooky while the atmospheric cinematography adds to the haunting feel of the film.
I think it’s about time The Fog is reclaimed as one of Carpenter’s masterpieces. Fans of the more action-packed Carpenter films may be disappointed. But those willing to lose themselves in its chilly atmosphere and those with a deep love for classic ghost stories will find many rewards here.
Before the credits roll we see a woman being tormented and driven out of her apartment by phone calls from a mysterious stalker. She’s just one victim of the man who will next torment our lead, Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton). Michaels is a television director who moves from New York to Los Angeles and takes an apartment in a new, ultra-modern high-rise complex. Leigh is every inch the 70s women, a thriving career, intelligent, quirky, able to confidently dismiss men who are interested in her, while taking the aggressive path with men she likes. She finds a new best friend in co-worker Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau) and isn’t flustered by Sophie’s lesbianism. She’s a strong, well-drawn lead, far removed from the simple screamer many thrillers present to the audience.
Leigh doesn’t get much chance to settle in to her new lifestyle. A co-worker begins pestering her for a date and she returns home to find her new apartment has been broken into (giving the audience a quick glimpse of someone fleeing the scene as she arrives). She begins to receive a series of tormenting phone-calls and mysterious packages. She reports the problem to the police, but they refuse to take her seriously, leading her and Sophie to team up to hunt down the stalker.
The long unavailability of the film saw it often referred to as Carpenter’s lost masterpiece. It’s not quite that good, but it’s a nifty little film. Carpenter once again pays homage to one of the masters, this time to Hitchcock. The influence of Rear Window is obvious, but like the Hawks tributes in some of his other films, Carpenter takes inspiration, but uses that inspiration to imprint his own identity on a film, rather than be a simple imitator. There’s some interesting ideas in the film about technology and modern advances being used to imprison us just as much as it can liberate us. The stalker seems to be set on destroying Leigh without ever laying a finger on her, using the telephone and surveillance devices to drive her to the edge.
The film is well-written and suspenseful with a very good performance from Hutton and a great one from Barbeau. Filmed before he went to shoot Halloween, Someone’s Watching Me! feels like Carpenter testing out a few ideas before putting them to use in that masterpiece. So maybe not one of Carpenter’s greatest works, but definitely an enthralling film with some fascinating ideas and suspenseful scenes.
Matt Wavish On In The Mouth Of Madness
One lingering question hangs over this film like one great big black cloud, why the hell is it not available on region 2??? I really, honestly don’t get it. My number two best horror of the nineties, and it has appeared on many horror lists as one of the best. This film was the reason i eventually got my dvd player chipped. Some dumb fuck somewhere has let this one sit on the shelf for 15 bloody years as a vhs only version in the UK. Come on distributors, sort it the fuck out!!!!
Rant over, now to the good stuff . Oh my oh my, what a film we have here! Most definitely Carpenter’s last classic, and easily his best since the Thing, in fact, it’s probably his second best film, behind the Thing. In the Mouth of Madness is a real brain teaser. I remember my first viewing of this film, and going down the local straight after watching it. I sat there, in a corner, i didn’t speak to anyone for some time, i just stared out into space, sipping my beer. My brain was a mess, my senses were all over the place, i couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think straight. Am i living in reality here, or is this some bizarre incident from a story, am i a puppet, is nothing i do or say my own choices, is reality really what i think it is, or have i got it all wrong. Bloody hell, when a horror fucks up your poor little brain and turns you into a blundering, almost vegetable, hell it deserves your full respect!!! I was a total mess down the pub, and it took me a few beers to get my head straight.
The film is lead by Sam Neil who plays an insurance guy by the name of John Trent, a realist, a guy who sees what’s in front of him and doesn’t believe in, shall we say, hocus pocus He has been hired by a publishing company to track down their most profitable writer, the mysterious Sutter Cane. Cane, apparently, out sell’s Stephen King by the bucket load and his work is known to have an effect on the reader, basically turning them into a bit of a psychotic, basically, a bit like me down the pub that night Trent decides to delve into this horror writers work after being told of how is books effect people. A truly mesmerising scene see’s Trent and his boss in a cafe talking about the case, whilst creeping up outside is a crazy looking man who looks like he should be homeless. He has a huge great axe, and uses it to smash through the cafe’s windows in order to ask Trent “do you read Sutter Cane” in a strange, higher than expected voice. He could’ve just used the door, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect! He is shot dead, and Trent is a little nervous, and after finding out the guy was actually Cane’s agent, Trent starts to believe that maybe the books do have some sort of hold over its readers.
Trent reads, and nightmare visions become all too frequent. A brilliant scene, reminiscent of the classic dream sequence from An American Werewolf in London, sees Trent wake up from a nightmare, only to turn head on into another. Its these moments that show Carpenter’s skill, and proof that he can make as many Ghosts of fuckin Mars as he wants, but he still has this film under his belt! Starting to go a little mad himself, Trent believes he has found a map to Hobb’s End, the town mentioned in all Cane’s books, and the place he expects to find him. He heads off, using his map and taking a female publisher, and has an almost childlike optimism that this whole thing is a set up, a way of getting him to help sell Cane’s new book. The build up before this gradually gets more and more intense, as Trent’s visions and mental state seem to be getting worse. And who better to play the part than the King of all things weird and crazy, Sam Neill. Anyone else, the film would not have been as good, it would still have been a classic, but Sam Neill’s commanding central performance pushes its level of greatness just that little bit further.
As we head towards Hobbs End, Carpenter is clearly relishing in his inventiveness at really messing with our heads. We have Cane’s agent who keeps making an appearance to Trent’s dreams, saying “he see’s you”, and an odd looking Cane fan in a book shop also telling Trent “I see you”. Everyone seems to be able to see him! So Carpenter brings us to Hobbs End in fantastic style. Trent, still full of excitement at this hoax, the woman sleeping, and we start to see a young lad on a bike ride past the car in the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night. Not once, but a few times. It’s creepy to say the least. The woman takes over driving, and in a scene very much like the arrival of the Cenobites in Hellraiser, she drives through a dark tunnel with strange lights coming through the gaps. Bright light all of a sudden, Hobb’s End, we have arrived. Fully expected to be the stuff of nightmares, it look like your average country town. Nothing strange or odd about it What the hell was all this fuss about. They check into a hotel from one of Cane’s novels, but hey, what that? The woman who apparently cut her husband into little pieces is nothing but a frail old bag who probably couldn’t harm a fly! But there is something sinister going on, the paintings seem to be moving….
Trent still believes it all to be a hoax, and even after witnessing the towns folk attempting to Lynch Cane at his Demon church in order to get their kids back, Trent does not believe. Nobody pulls his strings, this is NOT reality!! Carpenter lets loose some great set pieces, like Cane’s dogs coming out from the church, all in slow motion, and attacking the locals, the excellent use of paintings which are ever changing, the creepy old lady in the hotel, could she really murder her husband? The mood continues to darken and become more and more dreamlike. One of horrors truly great moments happens as Trent decides enough is enough and he tries to leave. After witnessing the woman he is with swallowing the car keys, and letting out a really heartfelt “Jesus!!!!”, he drives off. That young lad who they kept seeing at the side of the road, is there again, this time he is old and they knock him off his bike. After riding off, Trent is dealt another horrific blow, his lady friend has turned herself upside down, in a brilliant special effects and perfect sound effects moment, and she appears from behind the car. You almost want to laugh, but it’s just too damn unsettling to laugh at, you’re horrified! And then Carpenters big moment comes, one of horrors true greats, Trent on his way out of town, suddenly drives back into town “a few bad judgements, a few wrong turns” says Trent Ok, let’s try again, whoops, no, not gonna happen! He can’t get out! Its genius, a brilliant brilliant moment!
Even after all this, all this pure horror brilliance, playing everything perfectly, doing everything you always hoped a horror would deliver, Carpenter still has even more great moments up his sleeve. In the Mouth of Madness is literally full of all those horror moments that you cannot help but love. Not horror cliché’s, Carpenter is too full of ideas here for that, but horror moments, and some even nodding back to the 80?s heyday. Another nod to Hellraiser is when Trent is literally chased out of Hobbs End after being told his fate by Cane, and a bunch of wonderful, non-CGI moments chase him. You only get glimpses of the beasts, but it’s just enough, and they do look awesome. Cane himself is not quite how you expected him to be, he’s devilish and creepy but has a charm to him, a feeling you would’ve got from Julian Sands as the Warlock. He’s evil, but not made to look over the top evil. He doesn’t need to hide behind horrific monstrous looks; he’s more a confident evil bastard!
We finish off on a most excellent ending, full of more head fuck, jump out of your seat moments. We truly sympathise with Trent’s mental state, and a sudden moments when everything inside his coach turns blue, you find yourself literally screaming along with him. I won’t go into any detail about the end in case you haven’t seen it, but it’s a great twist, and very few horrors have pulled off a mind-trip quite like this. It’s a truly wonderful finish to a perfectly polished film, and the final scene will either have you applauding at its greatness, laughing at its irony, and screaming your damn head off. Either way, In The Mouth of Madness is one of the last truly great horrors with more ideas than it could justifiably squeeze in to 95mins, more terror, more brute power than most other horrors put together. It is a one off, one that doesn’t require a sequel, or a feckin remake, it just requires a damn fine special edition version on region 2!!!!
Ross Hughes on Halloween
We start with a perfect score. A haunting theme in which we are greeted to a lit pumpkin that stands proud in front of a black background! Its an eerie set-piece, a credit sequence that sums up the entire mood of the film. As the big yellow words appear on screen, the camera slowly strolls towards the pumpkin, until we get to the final moments and we reach the left eye and then the light goes out and its all dark! Its a sequence that perfectly sets up the mood of the film, a sense of dread and fear in which it goes from light to dark, something is coming, something evil, and no one is going to stop it.
The Success of Suspira and everything Giallo had Irwin Yablan desperate to make a horror movie that would be talked about for years. He came up with a concept that had babysitters being targeted by a killer and with Financer Moustapha Akkad in tow, they went to the Milan Film Festival to promote a certain film called Assault On Precinct 13, directed by an up coming director by the name of John Carpenter. There, Yablan met a man named Michael Myers whom on watching Assault, fell in love with the film and agreed to put the film into film festivals all over Europe! During this time, Yablan, had a crazy idea, one he could not shake, about babysitters being stalked and killed by this unknown force of evil. To be called The Babysitter Murder, it was an idea that did not stretch to much, and even though he suggested the notion to Carpenter, it seemed to lack a bite, something was missing and Carpenter went on to film a TV movie. It was the ending of that directing gig, when Carpenter had the call that would change his life! Yablan just could not forget about this horror and one night it just struck him, holding the phone and speaking to Carpenter, he suggested that they should set the film on the night of Halloween, and even call the film that! A rocket of explosions went off in the head of the young director, that lack of something had just been added, and the greatest horror franchise of all time had just been born!!!!
Made for a partly £300,000, in which Carpenter took a deal for ten percent of the film profits, in which he also wrote the film score, the idea from the off was not to make a film soaked in bloodbath. What they wanted was to create a film that would scare the audience, there was no need for the gore that the later many imitators would introduce, there was a need to soak the film full of tension and dread, there was this evil that this town tried to keep secret, but now that secret was out and was returning home. The town in question was Haddonfield, the name taken from an actual town in New Jersey. Carpenter and his then girlfriend Debra Hill who produced the film, were told by Yablan that “less was better” and that it was required that the audience did not see anything, it is as I quote “It should be what they thought they saw that frightens them!” Ann Lockhart was Carpenter’s original choice to play the film’s scream queen Laurie, but was persuaded to cast a then unknown Jamie Lee Curtis with the added bonus that she would bring a much needed boast of publicity because of her mother Janet Leigh the woman who forever be in horror folklore as the woman who checked into Bates Motel. Other casting came in the form of Donald Pleasence who became Dr Sam Loomis (the name a nod to a character on Psycho), after both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee rejected the role ( a move that Lee later regretted) while Nick Castle was signed on to play The Shape, a figure that would terror the horror circles thirty years later.
Halloween was shot in mere 21 days in the Spring of 1978, even though the film was supposed to be set in Autumn. The common mistake of Halloween is that when the film tracks down a long street, we see leaves scattered all over the floor (they were put there) while the trees themselves are full and green, its only a minor point, but now knowing that information you can not help but notice on each watch. When it was released, it started off slowly, Carpenter went off to direct Elvis, and no-one expected much, maybe a moderate hit, but nothing special or big. They were wrong, word of mouth began to develop and soon the film went big, raking over £60 Million from a budget of £300,000 and making it the most successful independent film of all time, only to be beaten twenty one years later by a certain witch in the woods that went by the name of Blair!
Right from the off we are treated to a POV shot of a mad man at work. Like a Peeping Tom we see a person watching a young couple make out on a sofa before running upstairs to make love, a scene by the way that is the only part that makes me cringe. I would love to meet John Carpenter and ask him just one question, “Was the Sex scene an in-joke!”. We see the young couple run upstairs but we stay with this person who slowly enters the house, reaches for a very sharp kitchen knife and then go to the bottom of the stairs where we then see the boyfriend (David Kyle) do up his shirt and leave through the backdoor. I counted about 55 seconds from when they ran upstairs and for this person to reach the staircase. It honestly must be the quickest sex ever put to film. Anyway, we keep with the POV shot and watch this person slowly walk up the stairs, it really seems like one long uncut sequence when it fact it is, there are two official cuts, and suggestions of a third in which Carpenter does not deny or confirm. We see a hand reach out for a clown mask on the floor in which the boyfriend was originally wearing, the words “Michael!” ring out from Judith (Samdy Johnson) as the knife begins to go to work in what seems like another homage to Psycho. But its not just a normal killing. If you look closer, while the knife is going in, the killer is looking around, we see the messy bed that suggests the quick bonk, and then a quick look at the knife itself, its like the person is shocked at what they are doing but also fascinated. With Judith dead, the killer flees, we see the front door opening and a young couple walk up to this person, we hear the name again “Michael” and the clown mask is taken off to reveal the shocking image of a young six year old boy holding the knife.
It seems on a cold Halloween Night in 1963, six year old Michael Audrey Myers murdered his sister Judith Margaret Myers and was later sentenced to the Smith’s Grove Warrem Country Sanatorium where be locked away for fifteen years!
October 30, 1978 Is the Night he came home.
Escaping when due to be transferred for a court date in the middle of the night, a now older Michael returns to Haddonfield, where he targets two babysitters, Laurie and Annie, while a third Lynda is nearby planning to have sex with her boyfriend. As the day goes to dark, unknown to them, they are being watched, in the shadows, from the outside, a thirst to kill again strong in this force of evil and their only hope is Dr Loomis, Michael’s childhood psychiatrist who is on his way back to the town, convinced that Michael has returned to the place he calls home, and for the residents of the town, life would never be the same again.
There is no argument that if it was not for Michael there would be no Jason or Freddy. Halloween set the template that others would follow and virtually gave birth to the slash genre that was a major selling point for horror throughout the eighties. Amazingly while this is credited for being the most influential horror film ever, its roots were displayed a couple of years before in the underrated Black Christmas which shares many of its themes and sequences. John Carpenter denies ever seeing that film before he started this movie, but the link is uncanny when you watch them back to back. No matter what though, Halloween is the better film. What Carpenter succeeds in doing is making a horror that is actually frightening. He showed that there was no need to get a high body count to achieve the needs of the horror circles and while this spawned many copies, nearly all including the Friday 13th series, ignored this notion.
In fact apart from the death scene in the beginning, there are no killings of note until the final half hour, more modern audience bought up on Saw will shake their head and demand the gore, but Halloween creates a never beaten sense of dread and fear. Watching this masked fiend, stalking these three, brings more terror than the usual dumb blonde killing, and raises the film up to a high quality level. Michael always appeared from behind, one scene that emphasizes the style is when Annie is on the phone to Laurie while we see Michael looking from the outside. the fear it generates is amazing and when Annie gets trapped in the Laundry room, we see him from behind, and his all purpose slow walk, will send all horror fans in a frenzy. Off course there are death scenes, but they are not cheap sequences that would later dilute the franchise. All are brutal examples of a mad man at work, the killing of Bob is the most memorable of them all, his stabbing feet high from the floor in which Michael just stands there, his held tilting hints again that this is a child with no emotion and special praise must go towards Nick Castle who somehow brings out a personality in this killer with no use of words. He was and always will be the perfect portrayal of The Shape, he makes Michael seem sort of Supernatural, and aided by a creepy score that was created by Carpenter himself, it is a combination of supreme scares that again makes Halloween so hard to beat, and its hard to imagine that Castle could direct something so family and gentle with The Boy Could Fly when he came across so evil here.
Everything that is classified as horror cliches was born here. We see sequences like forgotten keys, locked doors, all play a part in the suspense but even now they still have an uncanny way of working to full effect. By the time we get to the final battle between the virgin Laurie and her nemeses, the film is in full swing, a massive battle commences that brings knitting needles, and hiding in wardrobes together for a massive sense of adrenalin Seriously if you not hooked by now, then you clearly do not love your horror. But just when you think Carpenter can not offer any more. He created a setpiece that actually had people running out of the cinema in tears. The shape rising from Laurie has gone down in horror cinema as one of the greatest moments. It really is wonderfully directed by Carpenter who manages to give one last scare to the audience.
The cliff hanger final shot was not meant to offer a sequel or for a franchise to be born. It was meant for the audience to go home wondering if Michael could be there, in the shadows while they sleep. Of course, despite the protests of Carpenter the film made too much money for there not to be a sequel, and of course a storyline was created to fit the “why Laurie?” question.
But while its hard not to watch this film not knowing why he is after her, its nice to know that in 1978, horror fans had a film that had a killer in which no motive was offered. Just a killing machine on a fun game of mayhem, before family issues became a focal point of the series. But I come to that in my Halloween II review, for now though, I take time out to remember a film that is not just a horror film, but a masterpiece in all cinema genres…
Can we once again say thank you Mr John Carpenter from all of us at HorrorCultFilms for taking up your time in doing this interview and we wish you all the best for the future!
Write Up Ross Hughes Sub Editor