Today I am welcoming Tom Deady, whose novel Haven won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel this past April. I gave the novel a star in Booklist when it first came out and it made the Top 10 Horror of the Year in the annual Booklist Spotlight issue this past August.
Tom’s second book was published by Bloodshot Books earlier this year and so, here he is today talking about his love of, maybe obsession with [?], Halloween, the movie.
I ask authors and contributors to tell me “Why I Love Horror” because it gives you, the library worker, a glimpse into the very different reasons of why people like horror. You can see all of these features using the Why I Love Horror tag later, but right now, you can read Tom's entry into the conversation.
Halloween, 1978 by Tom Deady
Halloween means something different to everyone. For some, it’s watching the kids dress up in their favorite superhero or princess or monster costumes to parade through the crisp autumn streets. For others, it’s symbolic of fall itself; changing leaves, the first fires in the wood stove, and pumpkin-spiced everything. For me, at least since my trick-or-treating days ended, it’s been about Haddonfield, Illinois, and the night he came home.
I was fourteen years old when I went to Malden’s Granada Theater and took my place near the back, a brown paper bag full of penny candy in my hand. When the red curtains parted and that music began, and the flickering jack-o-lantern filled the black screen, slowly growing larger until I was staring into its somehow dangerous orange eye, I belonged to Michael Myers.
I can’t say that I’ve watched the movie every year since, but I’ve watched it a lot. To me, Halloween is the perfect horror movie. It predates CGI (computer-generated imagery) and doesn’t rely on any glamorous special effects. The mood is created by the brilliant score, the acting, and the story itself. Halloween is also credited with being a pioneer, inventing what are now staples in the horror genre. Such common tropes as the faceless killer, the final girl, the killer who won’t die, and theme music for the villain (although you could argue this was done a few years earlier in Jaws) can all be traced back to the film.
While Hitchcock’s Psycho may be the first true slasher film, Halloween spawned a wave of knock-offs in the late 70s and early 80s that defined the genre. Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play all became successful franchises, but there were scores of others that came and went in those years. Prom Night and Terror Train both starred Halloween’s Jamie Lee Curtis. The list goes on with such campy titles as The Slumber Party Massacre and The Dorm that Dripped Blood. My Bloody Valentine and Silent Night, Deadly Night played on the theme of holiday horror, with the latter sometimes credited as the end of the “Golden Age” of slasher films due to its box office failure and poor public reception.
John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece is often compared to its predecessor, Psycho, and the two movies share a few connections. First and foremost, Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Janet Leigh, the famous shower scene victim in Psycho. The young Michael Myers displays a voyeuristic tendency at the start of Halloween, as does Norman Bates in Psycho. Much of the shifting POV camera work in Halloween can be tied back to Psycho. Finally, Donald Pleasance’s character is named Dr. Sam Loomis, also the name of Janet Leigh’s lover in Psycho. In fact, many conspiracy theorists have taken it a step further to claim they are the same character.
A few other fun facts about Halloween:
- Michael’s mask was made from a cheap Captain Kirk (William Shatner) plastic Halloween mask spray-painted white.
- John Carpenter created a “fear meter” for Jamie Lee Curtis to use during filming.
- Both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing turned down the part of Dr. Sam Loomis due to low pay.
- The entire film was shot in just 20 days on a $300,000 budget, and went on to gross $47 million at the box office.
- The original title was The Babysitter Murders.
- Carpenter developed the Michael Myers character from his memory of a college tour of a psychiatric ward where he met a child whose stare terrified him.
- Myers’s body count in the entire movie is just 6; his sister, a dog, the truck driver, Lynda, Bob and Annie.
- Michael’s middle name is Aubrey.
Okay, so maybe I know a little bit too much about the movie. But it’s the movie with which I compare and judge all horror movies. It shaped me as a horror fan the way Stephen King’s book ‘Salem’s Lot helped shape me as a horror writer, right around the same time, in fact. The film contains such a sense of menace and creates a quiet tension that has rarely been matched since. There isn’t an excess of blood, and there are no over-the-top gore scenes at all. It is a slow boil of terror that culminates in the famous showdown between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. And I love every minute of it.
Image my delight when it was announced earlier this year that Jamie Lee Curtis will once again play Laurie Strode in a Halloween film next year, forty years after the making of the original. If this news wasn’t enough, John Carpenter said the new film will ignore all the sequels and only recognize the original Halloween when telling the story. It will be as if the sequels never existed. Maybe it would be better if they didn’t? Other than Halloween II and Halloween H20, would anyone really miss them?
I’ll probably be in the theater for the new Halloween film on opening night, but I doubt it will have the same impact the 1978 film had on a much younger version of me. That long ago night, forty years ago, in a darkened Granada Theater. The night he came home.