John Carpenter’s slasher film classic Halloween was released 40 years ago last week. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut, the film tells the story of a serial killer named Michael Myers who escapes a sanitarium to murder teenage babysitters on Halloween night in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois. With the film’s success, a franchise was built containing multiple sequels and inspiring several generations of horror filmmakers. Since it’s release, the film has been considered one of the greatest horror films in the genre and has appeared on multiple “best of” lists by institutions such as Empire magazine and the American Film Institute.
Last week also saw the release of a direct sequel of the same name. Adjusting and upending the continuity of the franchise’s other films, the 2018 Halloween sees Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role and returning to Haddonfield to face Michael Myers again forty years after his killing spree in the first film. Already heralded as the best film in the franchise, the has also become the highest grossing in the franchise.
The original Halloween film is an absolute classic and a must see for anyone who appreciates horror or 1970s American cinema. It was one I enjoy returning to every few years and I’m still surprised by its ingenuity and nuance. It is truly a pioneering work of art that still stands on its own.
Interestingly, I have a couple of interesting connections to Carpenter and this film. Carpenter was raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and went to Western Kentucky University where I also attended. I had an opportunity to meet him during my freshman year when he spoke to a select group of students who were in the video production track. He didn’t many, probably about 30 or so, but it was really cool I got to see this filmmaking legend in person.
Before he spoke to the group, I got the chance to meet him. I told him that I rewatched The Thing a few days earlier when I found out he was visiting. He asked me if I watched it on DVD and I told him that I didn’t, and it was on an old VHS copy. He then told me “there is this new technology called DVD and you should probably invest in one.” It was 2006, so I knew what DVDs were, but he was just giving me shit.
On WKU’s campus at the bottom of the fame hill, there is a log cabin sandwiched between two of the freshman dorms. It was John Carpenter’s childhood home that, when I was a student there, was converted into an office for the folk studies department. Around Halloween of my freshman year, they held a screening of Halloween. I had never seen it before, but I thought it was really cool to have the chance to see the film in the director’s former home. I remember sitting on the floor and being really amazed by it. I don’t remember who I was with, but I do remember that someone staring through the cabin window wearing a Michael Myers mask. That was awesome.
The next year, during my sophomore year, that cabin would also become meaningful in a different way. While sitting on the door step of Carpenter’s childhood home, I smoked pot for the first time. It was late at night on a col fall evening in southern Kentucky and everything about the experience felt right. In fact, I thought it was pretty badass that I was doing that where John Carpenter lived since he was a true badass himself. I spent the rest of the evening asleep on a blanket a few feet from the cabin and woke up at dawn. There was no Michael Myers on WKU’s campus.
Perhaps one of the most famous qualities of the film is the score. In addition to directing Halloween, Carpenter also scored the film himself. The main theme is a piano melody played in a 10/8 or “complex 5/4” signature. Despite being fairly simple, the score for the entire film took only three days to create. However, despite its simplicity, it is one of the most memorable aspects of the film.
While the film was released in 1978, the soundtrack wouldn’t be released until August 1979 and that was in Japan. The United States didn’t get an official soundtrack release until October 1983 which is five years after the film’s release. Since then, the soundtrack has been released multiple time and with supplemental material. While other qualities of the film are amazing, it is Carpenter’s score that truly elevates the film to a higher plane.