MOTW: Five Facts about "Halloween"

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On Halloween night in 1963, a six-year-old Michael Myers murders his older sister. Fifteen years later, he escapes from a psychiatric hospital, and stalks teenager Laurie Strode and her friends. Michael's psychiatrist suspects Michael's intentions, and follows him to try and prevent him from killing.
Photo Credit: Compass International Pictures
October 29th, 2013

MOTW: Five Facts about "Halloween"

"Halloween" has become a horror classic, but at the time of its production, it was anything but a sure bet. Director John Carpenter had only $320,000 to make the film and immediately set out to make the most of that limited budget. Many of his money-saving decisions helped shape the movie into the iconic film fans know and love.

The Babysitter Murders

Originally, the title of the film was "The Babysitter Murders," and the story was supposed to take place over several days. Unfortunately, this schedule meant many wardrobe and scene changes to represent the passage of time, and the movie's budget couldn't accommodate all the extra work. Ultimately, the filmmakers decided to condense all the action into a single night to save money, and producer Irwin Yablans discovered that no film had yet used the title "Halloween." Setting the film on the spookiest night of the year was a no-brainer, and the filmmakers quickly modified the script to take advantage of this new setting.

Halloween in the Spring

Unfortunately, moving the action to Halloween brought up another problem. The film is set in Illinois, but Carpenter had to film it in southern California in April. In order to make the setting seem more autumnal, the crew bought an enormous number of paper leaves from a decorator and painted them in fall colors. For each outdoor scene, they had to scatter the leaves around to give the impression of fall, and then collect them after each shot to reuse later. Families in the California neighborhood pitched in by breaking out their kids' Halloween costumes early and putting up decorations. The filmmakers also scoured the region for any available pumpkins. Unfortunately, a few remnants of the California spring remain visible in the form of fully leaved green trees and even a few palms visible in the background.

A Familiar Face

One money-saving decision gave the film its most chilling and iconic image. The prop department went to a local costume store and picked out the cheapest mask they could find for their killer. As it turned out, that mask was the face of William Shatner—famous for playing Captain Kirk in the Star Trek franchise. The prop masters painted the face a ghastly white color, modified the hair, and remade the eyeholes to give them their distinctive empty, black appearance. The modifications were effective enough because even William Shatner didn't recognize the mask and only discovered that his likeness was used by the killer many years later.

The Man behind the Shape

Although the story is centered on Michael Myers, the fact that he didn't have lines and spent the majority of the film wearing a mask allowed Carpenter to save some money by casting a personal friend for the role. Nick Castle and John Carpenter grew up together, and Castle was on set just to watch the filming of his buddy's movie. With his lanky frame and distinctive walk, however, he was just what the filmmaker was looking for to embody his horror villain. Castle earned $25 a day for his work on the movie, a far cry from Donald Pleasence's $20,000 paycheck, and Carpenter intentionally kept the character's direction as minimalist as possible in order to emphasize his alien and eerie nature. At one point, Castle asked for his motivation for a particular scene, and Carpenter responded that his motivation was to walk from his starting mark to his ending mark.

The only scene in the movie that does not feature Castle as Myers is the reveal at the end when the mask falls away to reveal the face of Tony Moran. Carpenter felt Moran's finer features made a better contrast with the character's earlier brutality, and the reveal remains one of the film's most effective moments.

The Power of Suggestion

The final reveal also allowed the filmmakers to save some money via the power of suggestion. Some of the original concepts for Myers had the mask covering a deformed, grotesque face, but Carpenter realized early on that the budget didn't include enough money for a convincing effect. When Laurie pulls off the mask, all the audience sees is a normal-looking man with a single small knife wound. However, for years after the movie's initial run, Carpenter encountered people who had seen the movie and insisted they were horrified by the ghastly monster revealed beneath the mask in the movie's climax. Carpenter argues this is a perfect example of the power of suggestion. That moment in the film is so intense, and the character's monstrous nature had been built up so much that viewers' minds simply filled in the horrific details that didn't exist onscreen.