15 Terrifying Facts About John Carpenter’s Halloween

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment

It doesn't matter how many times you've seen it; John Carpenter's Halloween, which was released 40 years ago, will always be required viewing for the holiday for which it's named. Here are 15 things you might not have known about the film.

1. IT TOOK LESS THAN TWO WEEKS TO WRITE THE SCRIPT.

Director John Carpenter originally intended to call his movie The Babysitter Murders, but producer Irwin Yablans suggested that the story may be more significant if it were based around a specific holiday, so the title was changed to Halloween. Carpenter and co-screenwriter Debra Hill wrote the original script in just 10 days.

2. IT FEATURES JAMIE LEE CURTIS'S FEATURE DEBUT.

Jamie Lee Curtis was initially interested in the role because she loved Carpenter’s 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13 and went on to audition for the part of Laurie Strode three separate times. Carpenter initially wanted actress Anne Lockhart for the role, but cast Curtis after her final audition, where she nailed the scene of Laurie looking out her window to see Michael Myers in her backyard. Curtis has reprised her role as Laurie several times in the near-40 years since the original film's release, and also lent her voice in an uncredited appearance as a phone operator in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (the pseudo-sequel that did not feature the Michael Myers storyline). In 2018, she'll play Laurie again when David Gordon Green will add yet another film to the franchise.

3. IT WAS SET IN THE MIDWEST, BUT IT WASN'T SHOT THERE.

Though Halloween is set in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois, it was shot on location in South Pasadena and Hollywood, California. If you look closely, you can see palm trees in the backgrounds of some shots, like the scene above where Laurie walks Tommy Doyle to the Myers’s house. Haddonfield is named after co-writer and producer Debra Hill’s hometown of Haddonfield, New Jersey.

4. THE PRODUCTION WAS INCREDIBLY SHORT.

The 20-day shoot commenced in the spring of 1978 and the film was released in October of the same year. The seasonal restrictions created some interesting hurdles for the production—dozens of bags of fake leaves painted by production designer Tommy Lee Wallace were reused for various scenes. Others may notice that the trees that line the streets of the fictional Haddonfield are fully green instead of autumnally colored. Carpenter initially wanted to somehow change the trees too, but budget restraints kept him from making them seasonally correct.

5. THE SCRIPT DIDN'T CALL FOR A SPECIFIC KIND OF MASK.

The mask for Michael Myers was only described as having “the pale, neutral features of a man,” and for the movie the design was boiled down to two options: both were cheap latex masks painted white and bought for under $2 apiece at local toy stores by Wallace. One was a replica mask of a clown character called “Weary Willie” popularized by actor Emmett Kelly, and the other was a stretched out Captain Kirk mask from Star Trek. Carpenter chose the whitewashed Kirk mask because of its eerily blank stare that fit perfectly with the Myers character. 

6. CARPENTER NAMED MANY OF THE CHARACTERS IN HALLOWEEN AFTER ACQUAINTANCES OR INFLUENCES.

Michael Myers came from the British film distributor who helped put out Carpenter’s previous movie, Assault on Precinct 13, in the UK, while Laurie Strode is named after one of his ex-girlfriends. Tommy Doyle is named after a character from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and Sheriff Leigh Brackett is named after sci-fi novelist and screenwriter Leigh Brackett, who wrote classics like The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, and The Empire Strikes Back.

7. HALLOWEEN’S ICONIC FLOATING P.O.V. SHOTS WERE DONE USING A PANAGLIDE CAMERA RIG.

The Panaglide was a competitor to the now-ubiquitous Steadicam, which allowed the camera to be fitted to a camera operator for far-ranging and smoothly unbroken shots. Carpenter loved it because he could shoot copious amounts of footage in one day to make up for the film’s minuscule $300,000 budget. Halloween was among the first films to use the Panaglide, alongside films like Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. Check out director of photography Dean Cundey’s original camera tests for Halloween using the rig above.

8. ONE CHARACTER WAS NAMED AFTER ANOTHER FAMOUS MOVIE CHARACTER.

Donald Pleasence’s character, Dr. Sam Loomis, was named after the character of the same name from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Curtis’s mother, Janet Leigh, appeared in Psycho as Sam Loomis’s girlfriend Marion, and was killed in the film’s famous shower scene. For the Loomis character in Halloween, Carpenter originally wanted either Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, but both passed on the film because the pay was too low. Pleasence would go on to appear in four Halloween sequels, concluding with Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, which was released after his death in 1995.

9. MOST OF THE MAIN CAST PROVIDED THEIR OWN WARDROBE.

Curtis bought her costumes at JC Penney, all for under $100.

10. THE THING MAKES A CAMEO.

One of the scary movies that Lindsay Wallace watches on TV is the 1951 version of The Thing (a.k.a., The Thing from Another World). Carpenter would later remake The Thing in 1982, though his version is more heavily based on the source material: a 1938 novella by John W. Campbell Jr. called “Who Goes There?”

11. MICHAEL MYERS IS PLAYED BY THREE DIFFERENT ACTORS.


Anchor Bay Entertainment

Michael Myers was primarily played by actor Nick Castle, who was Carpenter’s friend from USC film school and who would go on to co-write Carpenter’s 1981 film Escape from New York, but was also played by production designer Tommy Lee Wallace whenever needed. When Myers is unmasked at the end of the film, he is played by actor Tony Moran who would go on to appear in guest spots on TV shows like The Waltons and CHiPS. Moran was paid $250 for a day’s work and a single shot in Halloween.

12. THE MYERS HOUSE WAS RELOCATED IN THE 1980S.

Halloween fans looking to see the Myers home in its original location are out of luck: In 1987, it was relocated from its location at 709 Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena, California, after it was slated to be demolished. The home is now located at 1000 Mission Street in South Pasadena, and it won't be going anywhere. The home was named a historical landmark in the city of South Pasadena, not only because of its cinematic history but also because the house itself dates back to 1888 and is thought to be the oldest surviving residential structure in the city.

13. AT THE TIME OF SHOOTING, THE HOUSE REALLY WAS ABANDONED.

The scenes of the Myers house looking dilapidated were actually how the crew found it and they shot it as is. It wasn’t until the last shot on the last day of production (which is actually the first shot in the movie) that the entire crew banded together to paint the house and dress it with furniture to make it look lived-in.

14. CARPENTER COMPLETED THE ENTIRE SCORE FOR HALLOWEEN BY HIMSELF IN ONLY THREE DAYS.

A photo of director John Carpenter.
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

The director usually does all the music for his own films, and his theme for the movie came from a simple drumming exercise for the bongos that his father had taught him when he was a child.

15. CARPENTER FILMED NEW SCENES AFTER THE FACT.

To fill a two-hour time slot needed for television broadcasts of Halloween, Carpenter filmed additional scenes during the production of Halloween II (which Carpenter co-wrote and co-produced, but did not direct) that primarily featured Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis. The new scenes include Dr. Loomis at a hearing to review young Michael’s incarceration at the sanitarium and confronting a young Michael in his room, Loomis discovering Michael has escaped and scrawled the word “Sister” on his door, and a concerned Laurie asking her friend Lynda about the man she keeps seeing around their neighborhood.

15 Fascinating Facts About Schindler’s List

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

In 1993, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List brought to the screen a story that had gone untold since the tragic events of the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler, a Nazi party member, used his pull within the party to save the lives of more than 1000 Jewish individuals by recruiting them to work in his Polish factory. Here are some facts about Spielberg’s groundbreaking film on its 25th anniversary.

1. The story was relayed to author Thomas Keneally in a Beverly Hills leather goods shop.

In October 1980, Australian novelist Thomas Keneally had stopped into a leather goods shop off of Rodeo Drive after a book tour stopover from a film festival in Sorrento, Italy, where one of his books was adapted into a movie. When the owner of the shop, Leopold Page, learned that Keneally was a writer, he began telling him “the greatest story of humanity man to man.” That story was how Page, his wife, and thousands of other Jews were saved by a Nazi factory owner named Oskar Schindler during World War II.

Page gave Keneally photocopies of documents related to Schindler, including speeches, firsthand accounts, testimonies, and the actual list of names of the people he saved. It inspired Keneally to write the book Schindler’s Ark, on which the movie is based. Page (whose real name was Poldek Pfefferberg) ended up becoming a consultant on the film.

2. Keneally wasn't the first person Leopold Page told about Oskar Schindler.

The film rights to Page’s story were actually first purchased by MGM for $50,000 in the 1960s after Page had similarly ambushed the wife of film producer Marvin Gosch at his leather shop. Mrs. Gosch told the story to her husband, who agreed to produce a film version, even going so far as hiring Casablanca co-screenwriter Howard Koch to write the script. Koch and Gosch began interviewing Schindler Jews in and around the Los Angeles area, and even Schindler himself, before the project stalled, leaving the story unknown to the public at large.

3. Schindler made more than one list.

Liam Neeson, Agnieszka Krukówna, Krzysztof Luft, Friedrich von Thun, and Marta Bizon in Schindler's List (1993)
Universal Pictures

Seven lists in all were made by Oskar Schindler and his associates during the war, while four are known to still exist. Two are at the Yad Vashem in Israel, one is at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and one privately owned list was unsuccessfully auctioned off via eBay in 2013.

The movie refers to the first two lists created in 1944, otherwise known as “The Lists of Life.” The five subsequent lists were updates to the first two versions, which included the names of more than 1000 Jews who Schindler saved by recruiting them to work in his factory.

4. Steven Spielberg first learned of Schindler in the early 1980s.

Former MCA/Universal president Sid Sheinberg, a father figure to Spielberg, gave the director Keneally’s book when it was first published in 1982, to which Spielberg allegedly replied, “It’ll make a helluva story. Is it true?”

Eventually the studio bought the rights to the book, and when Page met with Spielberg to discuss the story, the director promised the Holocaust survivor that he would make the film adaptation within 10 years. The project languished for over a decade because Spielberg was reluctant to take on such serious subject matter. Spielberg’s hesitation actually stopped Hollywood veteran Billy Wilder from making Schindler’s List his final film. Wilder tried to buy the rights to Keneally’s book, but Spielberg and MCA/Universal scooped them up before he could.

5. Spielberg refused to accept a salary for making the movie.

Though Spielberg is already an extremely wealthy man as a result of the many big-budget movies that have made him one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, he decided that a story as important as Schindler’s List shouldn’t be made with an eye toward financial reward. The director relinquished his salary for the movie and any proceeds he would stand to make in perpetuity, calling any such personal gains “blood money.” Instead, Spielberg used the film’s profits to found the USC Shoah Foundation, which was established in 1994 to honor and remember the survivors of the Holocaust by collecting personal recollections and audio visual interviews.

6. Before Spielberg agreed to make the movie, he tried to get other directors to make it.

Part of Spielberg’s reluctance to make Schindler's List was that he didn’t feel that he was prepared or mature enough to tackle a film about the Holocaust. So he tried to recruit other directors to make the film. He first approached director Roman Polanski, a Holocaust survivor whose own mother was killed in Auschwitz. Polanski declined, but would go on to make his own film about the Holocaust, The Pianist, which earned him a Best Director Oscar in 2003. Spielberg then offered the movie to director Sydney Pollack, who also passed.

The job was then offered to legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who accepted. Scorsese was set to put the film into production when Spielberg had an epiphany on the set of the revisionist Peter Pan story Hook and realized that he was finally prepared to make Schindler’s List. To make up for the change of heart, Spielberg traded Scorsese the rights to a movie he’d been developing that Scorsese would make into his next film: the remake of Cape Fear.

7. The movie was a gamble for Universal, so they made Spielberg a dino-sized deal.

When Spielberg finally decided to make Schindler’s List, it had taken him so long that Sheinberg and Universal balked. The relatively low-budget $23 million three-hour black-and-white Holocaust movie was too much of a risk, so they asked Spielberg to make another project that had been brewing at the studio: Jurassic Park. Make the lucrative summer movie first, they said, and then he could go and make his passion project. Spielberg agreed, and both movies were released in 1993; Jurassic Park in June and Schindler’s List in December.

8. Spielberg didn't want a movie star with Hollywood clout to portray Schindler.

Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson auditioned for the role of Oskar Schindler, and actor Warren Beatty was far enough along in the process that he even made it as far as a script reading. But according to Spielberg, Beatty was dropped because, “Warren would have played it like Oskar Schindler through Warren Beatty.”

For the role, Spielberg cast then relatively unknown Irish actor Liam Neeson, whom the director had seen in a Broadway play called Anna Christie. “Liam was the closest in my experience of what Schindler was like,” Spielberg told The New York Times. “His charm, the way women love him, his strength. He actually looks a little bit like Schindler, the same height, although Schindler was a rotund man,” he said. “If I had made the movie in 1964, I would have cast Gert Frobe, the late German actor. That’s what he looked like.”

Besides having Neeson listen to recordings of Schindler, the director also told him to study the gestures of former Time Warner chairman Steven J. Ross, another of Spielberg’s mentors, and the man to whom he dedicated the film.

9. Spielberg did his own research.

In order to gain a more personal perspective on the film, Spielberg traveled to Poland before principal photography began to interview Holocaust survivors and visit the real-life locations that he planned to portray in the movie. While there, he visited the former Gestapo headquarters on Pomorska Street, Schindler’s actual apartment, and Amon Goeth’s villa.

Eventually the film shot on location for 92 days in Poland by recreating the Płaszów camp in a nearby abandoned rock quarry. The production was also allowed to shoot scenes outside the gates of Auschwitz.

10. The little girl in the red coat was real.

Promotional image for 25th anniversary rerelease of Schindler's List.
Universal Pictures

A symbol of innocence in the movie, the little girl in the red coat who appears during the liquidation of the ghetto in the movie was based on a real person. In the film, the little girl is played by actress Oliwia Dabrowska, who—at the age of three—promised Spielberg that she would not watch the film until she was 18 years old. She allegedly watched the movie when she was 11, breaking her promise, and spent years rejecting the experience. Later, she told the Daily Mail, “I realized I had been part of something I could be proud of. Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watch the film.”

The actual girl in the red coat was named Roma Ligocka; a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, she was known amongst the Jews living there by her red winter coat. Ligocka, now a painter who lives in Germany, later wrote a biography about surviving the Holocaust called The Girl in the Red Coat.

11. The movie wasn't supposed to be in English.

For a better sense of reality, Spielberg originally wanted to shoot the movie completely in Polish and German using subtitles, but he eventually decided against it because he felt that it would take away from the urgency and importance of the images onscreen. According to Spielberg, “I wanted people to watch the images, not read the subtitles. There’s too much safety in reading. It would have been an excuse to take their eyes off the screen and watch something else.”

12. The studio didn't want the movie to be in black and white.

The only person at MCA/Universal who agreed with Spielberg and director of cinematography Janusz Kaminski’s decision to shoot the movie in black and white was Sheinberg. Everyone else lobbied against the idea, saying that it would stylize the Holocaust. Spielberg and Kaminski chose to shoot the film in a grimy, unstylish fashion and format inspired by German Expressionist and Italian Neorealist films. Also, according to Spielberg, “It’s entirely appropriate because I’ve only experienced the Holocaust through other people’s testimonies and through archival footage which is, of course, all in black and white.”

13. Spielberg's passion project paid off in Oscars.

Schindler’s List was the big winner at the 66th Academy Awards. The film won a total of seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director awards for Spielberg. Neeson and Ralph Fiennes were both nominated for their performances, and the film also received nods for Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound.

14. Schindler's List is technically a student film.

Steven Spielberg gives a speech
Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images

Thirty-three years after dropping out of college, Spielberg finally received a BA in Film and Video Production from his newly minted alma mater, Cal State Long Beach, in 2002. The director re-enrolled in secret, and gained his remaining credits by writing essays and submitting projects under a pseudonym. In order to pass a film course, he submitted Schindler’s List as his student project. Spielberg describes the time gap between leaving school and earning his degree as his “longest post-production schedule.”

15. Spielberg thinks the film may be even more important to watch today.

In honor of the film's 25th anniversary, it's currently back in theaters. But Spielberg believes that the film may be even more important for today's audiences to see. "I think this is maybe the most important time to re-release this film," the director said in a recent interview with Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News. Citing the spike in hate crimes targeting religious minorities since
2016, he said, "Hate's less parenthetical today, it's more a headline."

Additional Sources:
The Making of Schindler’s List: Behind the Scenes of an Epic Film, by Franciszek Palowski

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2015.

The Most-Searched Holiday Movie in Every State, Mapped

iStock.com/chrispecoraro
iStock.com/chrispecoraro

Do you live in a Gremlins state or a Home Alone state? StreamingObserver is here to tell you. The streaming-industry site recently used Rotten Tomatoes and other public data sources to figure out the most popular Christmas movies in each state. Spoiler: It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t quite the Christmas classic you thought it was.

The list takes some liberties with what might be considered a “Christmas” movie. Die Hard (a favorite in Missouri and Wisconsin) made the list, as did Batman Returns (California’s most-searched movie) and Edward Scissorhands (popular in Nevada and Arizona). They aren’t quite the traditional Hallmark holiday fare, but they each include at least some nod to the Christmas season.

Then there’s the more standard Yuletide entertainment, like A Christmas Carol (Tennessee’s favorite) and Frosty the Snowman (South Dakota's pick). Christmas in Connecticut, oddly enough, is Montana’s favorite (unclear whether that’s the 1945 film or the 1992 TV movie), while Connecticut’s favorite is the 1983 Eddie Murphy film Trading Places. The Apartment, The Snowman, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Best Man Holiday also make an appearance. Seven states list Gremlins as their favorite, while six chose Home Alone and three chose Scrooged.

The data is based on Google searches, rather than surveys, so it's possible that the movie at the top of each state's list isn't so much beloved as it is curiosity-inspiring. It's possible that all these people are Googling Gremlins, then deciding not to watch it. But we feel fairly confident saying a lot of people will be watching Die Hard this Christmas season. (Tip: You can't stream it on Netflix right now, but you can rent it on Amazon.)

The 2018 results are fairly different from StreamingObserver's 2016 data, which you can compare here. Do you agree with your state's preferences?

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