20 Things You Never Knew About 'Halloween'

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter's horror classic.

Universal

Growing up in the '80s, us little kids wouldn't dare watch Halloween. Freddy Krueger and Jason were scary enough, but Michael Myers was something else... something more real. Slasher movies ruled the decade and, for anyone growing up in suburbia, where the night brings deathly quiet and the forests have too many eyes, our imaginations haunted us with visions of boogeymen.

Halloween still intimidates. Michael Myers remains a vaunted horror villain. (The eleventh film in the franchise, also titled Halloween, debuts this Friday in theaters.) It's rare that films have such staying power. Horror aficionados will never let us forget, but Halloween doesn't need help. Director John Carpenter had a vision, and that nightmare became the nightmare of millions for generations. It's been 40 years since Halloween debuted in late October 1978. To celebrate, these are 20 things you never knew about the film:

1. Carpenter wrote Halloween with his then-girlfriend Debra Hill. The two met while working on his previous film, Assault on Precinct 13.
Halloween would make both their careers. Carpenter is now a genre legend and Hill became one of the most successful producers in Hollywood.

2. The character of Michael Myers is based on an experience Carpenter had while touring a psychiatric hospital when he was a college student. He met a child who stared at him with "a look of evil, and it terrified me."

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Halloween'
Compass International Pictures

3. Carpenter and Hill's original script was titled The Babysitter Murders and was much different than the finished product. Halloween, the holiday, had nothing to do with the story and was a detail added later thanks to producer Irwin Yablans. Yablans discovered there had never been a horror movie set on Halloween up until that time.

4. The name "Michael Myers" isn't exactly the most frightening moniker in horror and it wasn't intended to be. The villain was named by Carpenter after a European distributor of Assault on Precinct 13 as a thank you for that film's overseas success.

5. Carpenter considered hiring Jamie Lee Curtis (the daughter of Psycho star Janet Leigh), as a tribute to one of his heroes, director Alfred Hitchcock.

6. Halloween was Curtis's first feature film. She was reportedly paid $8,000 and was the only actual teenager on set amongst a cast of "teens." She also thought she'd be fired after her first day of shooting. But a call from John Carpenter at the end of the day restored her confidence. Her portrayal of Laurie Strode, the first "final girl," was hugely influential in the horror genre. 

7. Carpenter helped Jamie Lee, since Halloween was shot out of sequence, by creating a "fear meter" to indicate how intense each particular scene was and thus how terrified she should be.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Halloween'
Compass International Pictures

8. The silent, masked role of "The Shape" was filled by Carpenter's friend and fellow director Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter). He was just hanging out on set and Carpenter thought he should do it. Castle was paid $25 a day. However, many people played Michael Myers during production. Debra Hill even dons the mask in the scene when Tommy sees him for the first time.

9. Famously, the Michael Myers mask is a repurposed James T. Kirk Halloween costume. So, yes, William Shatner kind of appears in Halloween. Carpenter and his crew ripped Kirk's eyebrows and sideburns off, painted the hair brown and the face white, and were impressed by the emotionless persona. It was chosen for the movie over a Don Post-style Emmett Kelly clown mask, which actually fit the story since Michael commits sororicide as a toddler at the film's outset dressed as a clown.

Nick Castle on set. (Compass International Pictures | Universal)
Nick Castle on set. (Compass International Pictures | Universal)

10. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were Carpenter's picks for the role of Dr. Sam Loomis, but both turned him down because the money wasn't enough. Donald Pleasance would get the role and, although Carpenter was intimidated by the veteran actor at first, became a favorite of the director, starring in three more Halloween movies over the years.

11. The name "Sam Loomis" is also a tribute to Hitchcock and Psycho. It's the name of Marion's lover in the film. Years later, Wes Craven would also use the name "Loomis" in his own horror blockbuster Scream.

12. Carpenter composed the film's iconic score himself in four days. He was spurned to do it after a critic roasted an early cut of the movie (without music), saying it wasn't scary. 

13. The role of Lynda van der Klok was especially written for P.J. Soles. Carpenter liked her performance in Brian De Palma's Carrie.

14. A print by James Ensor, a Belgian expressionist painter who portrayed human figures wearing grotesque masks, hangs in Laurie Strode's bedroom.

15. Halloween is set mostly in the fictitious town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Haddonfield, New Jersey is the hometown of screenwriter Debra Hill.

16. The movie was shot in southern California and palm trees can be seen in some scenes. To convey the Autumn season and Heartland setting, the art department bought paper leaves and painted them to scatter on the ground. They also had a hard time finding pumpkins.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Halloween'
MGM | Universal

17. Jamie Lee Curtis went to J.C. Penney for Laurie's wardrobe. The film had no costume department and many actors wore their own clothes.

18. The stabbing sound effect is actually a knife stabbing a watermelon.

19. Halloween was shot over 20 days in the spring of 1978. Made on a $300,000 budget, it became the highest-grossing independent movie ever made at the time of its release later that year.

20. During a 1996 interview, critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel talked about the scariest movies they'd ever seen. Roger recalled Gene was so scared after seeing Halloween, he took a cab home even though his house was only two blocks away. Siskel nodded and added he also pulled his shower curtain back when he got home to make sure he was safe.

20 Things You Never Knew About 'Halloween'
Compass International Pictures

h/t to IMDb, AMC, Wikipedia, Halloween, Halloween: H2O DVD special features

Senior Editor at Zimbio. I'll take Johnny Clay, the Rev. Harry Powell, and Annie Savoy. You can have the rest.
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