Since 1978, we’ve all been terrorized by psycho-creep Michael Myers and his striking mask. Over the span of 31 years, ten films were made under the Halloween moniker — some great, some garbage — mostly following the basic premise that Michael Myers keeps returning to his hometown, thirsty for blood.
The stories behind the makings of these films are part of what makes them so captivating, though it does take the edge off some of the terror. Here’s a collection of secrets from the making of this classic horror franchise that launched Jamie Lee Curtis‘s career and paved the way for each slasher film that came in its wake.
1. It almost wasn’t Halloween at all.
When John Carpenter and Debra Hill began writing the script, they called the project The Babysitter Murders. It was to be, as you can guess, about a bunch of young women being stalked and murdered. However, due to the success of past films based around holidays, producer Irwin Yablans insisted that the film should take place on Halloween and be named as such if they wanted to see the film reach its full potential for audiences. Clearly Irwin knew what he was talking about!
2. In the first film, everyone wore their own clothes.
When the first Halloween film was being made in 1978, the budget was set at $300,000. This was exceptionally low for the kind of film Carpenter was trying to make. As a result, many of the creative decisions were based strictly on how to make everything as cheap as possible. One of these decisions was to have the cast use their own wardrobes. This worked out nicely for the teenage girls since it helped make the characters more realistic.
3. Jamie Lee Curtis was tricked into appearing in Halloween H20.
Jamie Lee Curtis agreed to appear in 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later after being absent from the franchise since Halloween II in 1981. She only agreed to return because she wanted to put the infamous characters to rest and have Laurie Strode kill Michael Myers once and for all. Everyone agreed on this, but once she signed on, she was informed that contractually, Michael Myers was unable to be killed.
They compromised by — spoiler alert — letting her cut off his head in the finale of the movie, but naturally, Michael was back for more anyway in 2002 for Halloween: Resurrection.
4. Jamie Lee Curtis thought she was fired after day one.
The original Halloween was Jamie Lee Curtis’s first film, and she hadn’t been the first choice for the starring role. As a result, she was super nervous on set. So when John Carpenter called her at home after their first day of shooting, Jamie Lee thought he was calling to inform her that she just wasn’t the right fit and would be letting her go. Fortunately, she was completely wrong and he was actually calling to tell her she’d done a great job and he was happy to have her on board. Sweet!
5. The films are not the morality tale people see them as.
The Halloween films contributed quite a bit to the classic horror tropes from slasher movies that started to emerge in the ‘70s. One of these tropes was that horror films were ultimately morality tales, and this began with the first Halloween movie.
The promiscuous teenagers in the film end up dead, while loner (and assumed virgin) Laurie Strode lives. John Carpenter insists this was really never his intention, and his reasoning is more logical — the teens that were busy having sex were distracted and easy to kill, whereas Laurie’s character wasn’t swayed by the usual temptations and therefore remained alert and, ultimately, alive.
6. John Carpenter had to adapt Halloween II to be more like other horror films.
The first Halloween film is actually super tame when it comes to gore. The most violent scene, where tiny Michael Myers kills his older sister in the first few minutes of the movie, is done stylistically so you don’t really see any stabbing at all. Most kills are done slightly out of frame, where you only really see Michael doing some crazy stabbing. At the time, this was how horror was handled.
However, once other slasher films began taking off, the landscape of these movies started to change. Slasher films became known for their thrilling kills and unnecessary, over-the-top gore. And for that reason, when Halloween II was being made, Carpenter actually had to alter some of the kills to make them more sensational to keep up with the new trend in horror (think: the nurse who gets a huge syringe to the ‘ol eyeball for literally no reason).
7. John Carpenter had no interest in making more than one film.
Halloween was never intended to become such a long-running franchise. It was meant to be a standalone film, and the creators were passionate about this. When the executive producers approached John Carpenter about making the second film, he refused to direct. He and others who had worked on the original film felt like they’d had the experience already, made the movie they wanted to make, and were ready to move on. But with a budget of $2.5 million, Carpenter begrudgingly agreed to produce, and much of the original team came back on board, though some with new roles on the set.
8. John Carpenter wrote the infamous score himself over 3 days.
The ultra creepy score to the movies, which has become synonymous with Michael Myers and iconic on its own, was another element of the original film that was highly affected by lack of budget. Early test screenings of the movie proved that without a spooky score, the horror ambiance was seriously lacking. It needed a score, it needed one quickly, and there was hardly a budget left to speak of. So Carpenter sat down at home in front of his piano, started plunking out keys, and in 3 days, the infamous score had been written.
9. There are lots of connections to the Psycho franchise.
The biggest connection between the two films involves the stars of each. Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays the protagonist in several of the Halloween movies, is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who played the infamous Marion Crane in Psycho. This was part of the reason that John Carpenter was so eager to cast her.
Another main character of each film actually shares the same name. Though played by different actors, Sam Loomis in Psycho is Marion’s boyfriend, while the character of the same name who appears in most of the Halloween franchise is Michael’s psychiatrist. Much like choosing to cast Janet Leigh’s daughter, Carpenter did this out of respect for Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film.
Fans of both movies might also catch that in Halloween H20, Janet Leigh makes a brief appearance playing Jamie Lee Curtis’s secretary, and she even drives the same car she did in Psycho.
10. The infamous mask was super cheap.
Since the budget was so tight that the cast was wearing their own clothes, there wasn’t much room to spend lots of money on a way to make Michael Myers spooky. When John Carpenter had the idea to have the killer wear a simple mask, the prop department set out to find the creepiest one. Out of the four masks they chose (including Captain James T. Kirk and Spock, Emmett Kelly, and Richard Nixon), the $2 Captain Kirk mask won out as the creepiest one.
They removed the eyebrows and sideburns, spray-painted it white, and enlarged the eye holes, creating an emotionless and terrifying facade for the killer.
11. It took a lot of work to make the setting look accurate.
To make the first Halloween film look like it actually took place during a Midwestern fall was no easy feat, considering it was shot in LA. If you look closely, you can actually see some palm trees in the back of some of the scenes (which definitely don’t exist in Illinois!). To achieve the look of fall, the prop department painted individual leaves to scatter all around the ground in outdoor scenes. However, the small budget meant they didn’t have a ton of them. When a scene was finished, the cast and crew would have to run around and gather up all the scattered leaves so they could save them in a trash bag for the next scene.
12. Jamie Lee Curtis wore a wig for the entirety of Halloween II.
Jamie Lee Curtis had cut all of her hair off before the offer to do Halloween II came around. Since the second Halloween film is supposed to take place right where the first film left off, they couldn’t exactly make an excuse for why the character suddenly had drastically different hair. The only solution was to have Jamie Lee don a (fairly obvious) wig for the movie.
13. Danielle Harris didn’t reprise her role in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers because they wouldn’t pay her enough.
The character of Jamie Lloyd, originally played by Danielle Harris, appeared in three of the Halloween films. Fans were disappointed to discover that in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Jamie is played by a different actress.
When producers approached Danielle after the first two movies about the third installment of her character’s story, she requested a pay increase which was denied. Considering the alleged $5,000 she wanted was still less than what they’d paid her to appear in her previous films, she turned it down.
14. The series was almost an anthology.
Those who have seen the entirety of the Halloween franchise might wonder what the heck was up with Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Not only does Michael Myers not appear at all, but the plot is entirely different than every other film in the series — revolving around a weird Celtic ritual and a crazy mask maker.
Since Carpenter hadn’t wanted to do more than one film, he made sure to wrap up the story of Michael Myers in Halloween II. When he was approached yet again to do a third film, the only way he would be involved was if the story continued as an anthology — each Halloween film telling a totally different story.
Alas, when Halloween III bombed at the box office and caused an uproar over the lack of everyone’s favorite slasher, they returned to the Michael Myers story with the next film (but this time, Carpenter refused to be a part of it).
15. They only had 20 days to shoot the original film.
Halloween was released in October of 1978 and was filmed just a handful of months prior in the spring. Due to the budget constraints, they had a mere 20 days to shoot the film in its entirety. The opening scene — a long, tracking shot through the Myers house — was filmed last, as they had to transform the dilapidated house used in the rest of the movie into much better shape to make it look years younger. This shot was also the most difficult, as the long scene really only cuts away once.
16. There’s a bunch of alternate versions of the films.
Many of the original films of the franchise actually ended up with alternate versions. For Halloween and Halloween II, additional footage needed to be shot to fill the runtime in order for the movies to be shown on television. A few scenes also had to be cut for gore, which means they had to be filled with alternate scenes as well. Due to this, both films have extended cuts floating around.
Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween also has an alternate ending that completely changes the film, and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is infamous for having a rare Producer’s Cut that causes dissonance between fans.