Halloween was produced on a budget of $325,000 and grossed $47 million at the box office in the United States, equivalent to over $150 million as of 2008, becoming one of the most profitable independent films ever made. Many critics credit the film as the first in a long line of slasher films inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). The movie originated many clichés found in low-budget horror films of the 1980s and 1990s. The film contains little graphic violence and gore.
Critics have suggested that Halloween and its slasher film successors may encourage sadism and misogyny. Others have suggested the film is a social critique of the immorality of young people in 1970s America, pointing out that many of Myers' victims are sexually promiscuous substance abusers, while the lone heroine is depicted as chaste and innocent (although she is seen using marijuana). While Carpenter dismisses such analyses, the perceived parallel between the characters' moral strengths and their likelihood of surviving to the film's conclusion has nevertheless become a standard slasher movie trope.
Eight years of treatment leads Loomis to suspect that there is more to Myers than meets the eye, and plans to have him committed indefinitely. Seven years of trying to keep Myers locked up ends upon the arrival of Myers for his transfer to be prosecuted as an adult. Myers escapes from Smith's Grove, steals the institution's car, and returns to Haddonfield.
Loomis knows where he is going and pursues him. In Haddonfield, Myers stalks teenager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and some of her friends. At various points throughout the day Laurie sees a man in a white mask (Michael Myers) (from her classroom window, behind a bush while she walks home, and in the clothesline from her bedroom window).
Later in the evening, Laurie meets her friend Annie Brackett (Nancy Kyes) who is babysitting Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) across the street from where Laurie is babysitting Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews). After arranging to pick up her boyfriend, Annie sends Lindsey to stay with Laurie at the Doyle house before being murdered by Myers (who had followed them). Tommy sees him carrying Annie's body into the Wallace house and thinks Myers is the Boogeyman. Laurie dismisses the boy's terror and sends Tommy and Lindsey to bed. Myers later murders Laurie's other friend Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles) and Lynda's boyfriend, Robert "Bob" Simms (John Michael Graham), in the empty Wallace house.
Laurie worries for her friends' safety after receiving a strange phone call from Lynda at the Wallace house. She walks across the street and discovers the three bodies plus Judith Myers's missing tombstone. She is attacked by Michael Myers but escapes back to the Doyle house. Laurie stabs Myers in the neck with a knitting needle, in the eye with a clothes hanger, and with a knife in the torso, but he continues to pursue her. Eventually, Loomis spots Tommy and Lindsey running from the house and finds Myers in the upstairs hallway. Loomis rescues Laurie before nearly being strangled by Myers, shooting him six times and causing him to fall from the house's second-story balcony. Upon looking out the window for Myers' body, however, Loomis discovers that he is nowhere to be found.
Akkad fronted the $325,000 for the film's budget, considered low at the time (even though Carpenter's previous film, Assault on Precinct 13, had an estimated budget of $100,000). Akkad worried over the tight schedule, low budget, and Carpenter's limited experience as a filmmaker, but told Fangoria, "Two things made me decide. One, Carpenter told me the story verbally and in a suspenseful way, almost frame for frame. Second, he told me he didn't want to take any fees, and that showed he had confidence in the project." Carpenter received $10,000 for directing, writing, and composing the music, retaining rights to 10 percent of the film's profits.
Because of the low budget, wardrobe and props were often crafted from items on hand or that could be purchased inexpensively. Carpenter hired Tommy Lee Wallace as production designer, art director, location scout and co-editor. Wallace created the trademark mask worn by Michael Myers throughout the film from a Captain Kirk mask purchased for $1.98. Carpenter recalled how Wallace "widened the eye holes and spray-painted the flesh a bluish white. In the script it said Michael Myers' mask had 'the pale features of a human face' and it truly was spooky looking. It didn't look anything like William Shatner after Tommy got through with it." Hill adds that the "idea was to make him almost humorless, faceless — this sort of pale visage that could resemble a human or not." Many of the actors wore their own clothes, and Jamie Lee Curtis's wardrobe was purchased at J.C. Penney for around a hundred dollars.
The limited budget also dictated the filming location and time schedule. Halloween was filmed in 21 days in the spring of 1978 in South Pasadena, California and Sierra Madre, California (cemetery). An abandoned house owned by a church stood in as the Myers house. Two homes on Orange Grove Avenue (near Sunset Boulevard) in Hollywood were used for the film's climax. The crew had difficulty finding pumpkins in the spring, and artificial fall leaves had to be reused for multiple scenes. Local families dressed their children in Halloween costumes and trick-or-treated them for Carpenter.
In August 2006, Fangoria reported that Synapse Films had discovered boxes of negatives containing footage cut from the film. One was labeled "1981" suggesting that it was additional footage for the television version of the film. Synapse owner Don May Jr. said, "What we've got is pretty much all the unused original camera negative from John Carpenter's original Halloween. Luckily, Billy [Kirkus] was able to find this material before it was destroyed. The story on how we got the negative is a long one, but we'll save it for when we're able to showcase the materials in some way. Kirkus should be commended for pretty much saving the Holy Grail of horror films. It was later reported, "We just learned from Sean Clark, long time Halloween genius, that the footage found is just that: footage. There is no sound in any of the reels so far, since none of it was used in the final edit.
the idea was that you couldn't kill evil, and that was how we came about the story. We went back to the old idea of Samhain, that Halloween was the night where all the souls are let out to wreak havoc on the living, and then came up with the story about the most evil kid who ever lived. And when John came up with this fable of a town with a dark secret of someone who once lived there, and now that evil has come back, that's what made Halloween work.
Hill wrote most of the female characters' dialogue, while Carpenter drafted Loomis's speeches on the evilness of Michael Myers. Many script details were drawn from Carpenter's and Hill's adolescence and early careers. The fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois was derived from Haddonfield, New Jersey, where Hill grew up, and most of the street names were taken from Carpenter's hometown of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Laurie Strode was the name of one of Carpenter's old girlfriends and Michael Myers was the name of an English producer who had previously entered, with Yablans, Assault on Precinct 13 in various European film festivals. In Halloween, Carpenter pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock with two characters' names; Tommy Doyle is named after Lt. Det. Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) of Rear Window (1954), and Dr. Loomis's name was taken from Sam Loomis (John Gavin) of Psycho, the boyfriend of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). Sheriff Leigh Brackett shared the name of a film screenwriter.
The role of Dr. Sam Loomis was offered to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee; both declined the part due to the low pay (though Lee would later tell Carpenter that declining the role was his biggest career mistake). English actor Pleasence — Carpenter's third choice — agreed to star. Pleasence has been called "John Carpenter's big landing." Pleasence's daughter supposedly saw Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and liked the music, thus encouraging her father to star in Halloween. Americans were already acquainted with Pleasence as the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967). In an interview, Carpenter admits that "Jamie Lee wasn't the first choice for Laurie. I had no idea who she was. She was 19 and in a TV show at the time, but I didn't watch TV." He originally wanted to cast Anne Lockhart, the daughter of June Lockhart from Lassie, as Laurie Strode. Lockhart, however, had commitments to several other film and television projects. Debra Hill says of learning that Jamie Lee was the daughter of Psycho actress Janet Leigh, "I knew casting Jamie Lee would be great publicity for the film because her mother was in Psycho." Halloween was Jamie Lee Curtis' feature film debut and launched her career as a "scream queen" horror star.
Another relatively unknown actress, Nancy Kyes (credited in the film as Nancy Loomis) was cast as Laurie's promiscuous friend Annie Brackett, daughter of Haddonfield sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers). Kyes had previously starred in Assault on Precinct 13 (as had Cyphers) and happened to be dating Halloween's art director Tommy Lee Wallace when filming began. Carpenter chose P. J. Soles to play Lynda Van Der Klok, another promiscuous friend of Laurie's, best remembered in the film for dialogue peppered with the word "totally." Soles was an actress known for her supporting role in Carrie (1976) and her minor part in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976). According to one source, "Carpenter realized she had captured the aura of a happy go lucky teenage girl in the 70s.
The role of "The Shape" — as the masked Michael Myers character was billed in the end credits — was played by Nick Castle, who befriended Carpenter while they attended the University of Southern California. After Halloween, Castle became a director, taking the helm of films such as The Last Starfighter (1984), The Boy Who Could Fly (1986), Dennis The Menace (1993) and Major Payne (1995).
The opening title, featuring a jack-o'-lantern placed against a black backdrop, sets the mood for the entire movie. The camera slowly focuses on one of the jack-o'-lantern's eyes while the main music for Halloween plays in the background. Film historian J.P. Telotte says that this scene "clearly announces that [the film's] primary concern will be with the way in which we see ourselves and others and the consequences that often attend our usual manner of perception.
During the conception of the plot, Yablans instructed "that the audience shouldn't see anything. It should be what they thought they saw that frightens them." Carpenter seemingly took Yablans's advice literally, filming many of the scenes from a Michael Myers point-of-view that allowed audience participation. Carpenter is not the first director to employ this method or use of a steadicam; for instance, the first scene of Psycho offers a voyeuristic look at lovers in a seedy hotel. Telotte argues, "As a result of this shift in perspective from a disembodied, narrative camera to an actual character's eye ... we are forced into a deeper sense of participation in the ensuing action.
The first scene of the young Michael's voyeurism is followed by the murder of Judith Myers seen through the eye holes of Michael's clown costume mask. According to one commentator, Carpenter's "frequent use of the unmounted first-person camera to represent the killer's point of view ... invited [viewers] to adopt the murderer's assaultive gaze and to hear his heavy breathing and plodding footsteps as he stalked his prey.
Another technique that Carpenter adapted from Hitchcock's Psycho and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) was suspense with minimal blood and gore. Debra Hill comments, "We didn't want it to be gory. We wanted it to be like a jack-in-the box." Film analysts refer to this as the "false startle" or "the old tap-on-the-shoulder routine" in which the stalkers, murderers, or monsters "lunge into our field of vision or creep up on a person.
Carpenter worked with the cast to create the desired effect of terror and suspense. According to Jamie Lee Curtis, Carpenter created a "fear meter" because the film was shot out-of-sequence and she was not sure what her character's level of terror should be in certain scenes. "Here's about a 7, here's about a 6, and the scene we're going to shoot tonight is about a 9 1/2," remembered Curtis. She had different facial expressions and scream volumes for each level on the meter.
Some songs can be heard in the film, one being an untitled song performed by Carpenter and a group of his friends who formed a band called The Coupe DeVilles. The song is heard as Laurie steps into Annie's car on her way to babysit Tommy Doyle. Another song, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by classic rock band Blue Öyster Cult, appears in the film.
The soundtrack was first released in the United States in October 1983, by Varese Sarabande. It was subsequently re-released in 1990, and again in 2000.
Following Allen's laudatory essay, other critics took notice. Renowned American critic Roger Ebert gave the film similar praise in his 1979 review in the Chicago Sun-Times, and selected it as one of his top five films of 1978. Once-dismissive critics were impressed by Carpenter's choice of camera angles and simple music, and surprised by the lack of blood, gore, and graphic violence..
The film grossed $47 million in the United States and an additional $8 million internationally, making the theatrical total around $55 million, equivalent to over $176 million today. While most of the film's success came from American movie-goers, Halloween premiered in several international locations after 1979 with moderate results. The film was shown mostly in the European countries of France, the United Kingdom, West Germany, Italy, Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Yugoslavia, and Iceland. Admissions in West Germany totaled around 750,000 and 118,606 in Sweden, earning SEK 2,298,579 there. The film was also shown at theaters in Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Peru, the Philippines, Argentina and Chile. Halloween grossed AU$900,000 in Australia, which was a large and impressive amount of money for a film to gross at the box office in Australia at the time, and HKD 450,139 in Hong Kong.
Halloween was nominated for a Saturn Award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for Best Horror Film in 1979, but lost to The Wicker Man (1973). The film has received other honors since its theatrical debut. In 2001, Halloween ranked in at 68 on AFI's list of 100 Years...100 Thrills. The film was #14 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments (2004), counting down cinema's scariest moments. In 2006, Halloween was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2007, AOL named Halloween the greatest horror movie of all time in their 31 Days of Horror countdown.
Since Halloween's premiere, it has been released on VHS, laserdisc, DVD, UMD and Blu-Ray HD format. In its first year of release on VHS, the film earned $18,500,000 in the United States from rentals. Early VHS versions were released by Media Home Entertainment and Blockbuster Video issued a commemorative edition in 1995. Anchor Bay Entertainment has released several restored editions of Halloween on VHS and DVD, with the most recent being the 2003 two-disc Divimax 25th Anniversary edition with a lenticular 3-D morphing cover and a commentary track including separately recorded contributions by John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Jamie Lee Curtis plus the documentary Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest. The film was included with the 2006 documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Halloween's release. In 2007 Anchor Bay Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray disc.
Many compared the film with the work of Alfred Hitchcock, although TV Guide calls comparisons made to Psycho "silly and groundless and critics in the late 1980s and early 1990s blame the film for spawning the slasher sub genre, which they felt had rapidly descended into sadism and misogyny. Almost a decade after its premiere, Mick Martin and Marsha Porter critiqued the first-person camera shots that earlier film reviewers had praised and later slasher-film directors utilized for their own films (for example, Friday the 13th (1980)). Claiming it encouraged audience identification with the killer, Martin and Porter pointed to the way "the camera moves in on the screaming, pleading, victim, 'looks down' at the knife, and then plunges it into chest, ear, or eyeball. Now that's sick.
Many criticisms of Halloween and other slasher films come from postmodern academia. Some feminist critics, according to historian Nicholas Rogers, "have seen the slasher movies since Halloween as debasing women in as decisive a manner as hard-core pornography." Critics such as John Kenneth Muir point out that female characters such as Laurie Strode survive not because of "any good planning" or their own resourcefulness, but sheer luck. Although she manages to repel the killer several times, in the end, Strode is rescued in Halloween and Halloween II only when Dr. Loomis arrives to shoot Myers.
On the other hand, other feminist scholars such as Carol J. Clover argue that despite the violence against women, slasher films turned women into heroines. In many pre-Halloween horror films, women are depicted as helpless victims and are not safe until they are rescued by a strong masculine hero. Despite the fact that Loomis saves Strode, Clover asserts that Halloween initiates the role of the "final girl" who ultimately triumphs in the end. Strode herself fought back against Myers and severely wounds him. Had Myers been a normal man, Strode's attacks would have killed him; even Loomis, the male hero of the story, who shoots Michael repeatedly at near point blank range with a large caliber handgun, cannot kill him.
Other critics have seen a deeper social critique present in Halloween and subsequent slasher films. According to Vera Dika, the films of the 1980s spoke to the conservative family values advocates of Reagan America. Tony Williams says Myers and other slashers were "patriarchal avengers" who "slaughtered the youthful children of the 1960s generation, especially when they engaged in illicit activities involving sex and drugs. Other critics tend to downplay this interpretation, arguing that the portrayal of Myers as a demonic, superhuman monster inhibited his influence among conservatives.
Carpenter himself dismisses the notion that Halloween is a morality play, regarding it as merely a horror movie. According to Carpenter, critics "completely missed the point there." He explains, "The one girl who is the most sexually uptight just keeps stabbing this guy with a long knife. She's the most sexually frustrated. She's the one that's killed him. Not because she's a virgin but because all that sexually repressed energy starts coming out. She uses all those phallic symbols on the guy.
The unintended theme of "survival of the virgins" seen in Halloween became a major trope that surfaced in other slasher films. Characters in subsequent horror films who practice illicit sex and substance abuse generally meet a gruesome end at the hands of the killer. On the other hand, characters portrayed as chaste and temperate tend to confront and defeat the killer in the end. The 1981 horror movie spoof Student Bodies was the first mainstream film to mock this plot device; the killer's victims are invariably slain when about to have sex. Director Wes Craven's Scream (1996) details the "rules" for surviving a horror movie using Halloween as the primary example: no sex, no alcohol or illicit drugs, and never say "I'll be right back." Keenen Ivory Wayans's horror movie parody Scary Movie (2000) likewise lampoons this prominent slasher film trope.
Television rights to Halloween were sold to NBC in 1980 for $4 million. After a debate among John Carpenter, Debra Hill and NBC's Standards & Practices over censoring of certain scenes, Halloween appeared on television for the first time. To fill the two-hour time slot, Carpenter filmed twelve minutes of additional material that include Dr. Loomis at a hospital board review of Myers and Dr. Loomis talking to six-year-old Michael at Smith's Grove, telling him, "You've fooled them, haven't you Michael? But not me." Another extra scene features Dr. Loomis at Smith's Grove examining Michael's abandoned cell and seeing the word "Sister" scratched into the door. Finally, a scene was added in which Lynda comes over to Laurie's house to borrow a silk blouse before Laurie leaves to babysit, just as Annie telephones asking to borrow the same blouse.
The new scene had Laurie's hair hidden by a towel, since Jamie Lee Curtis was now wearing a much shorter hairstyle than she had worn in 1978. The new scenes were shot during production of Halloween II. An extended cut of the television version was released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 2001 as Halloween: Extended Version, which was actually the same as the second disc from the 1999 limited edition DVD.
Shortly following Halloween's release in theaters, a mass market paperback novelization by Curtis Richards was published by Bantam Books in 1979 and reissued in 1982, although it is currently out of print. The novel elaborates on aspects not featured in the film such as the origins of the curse of Samhain and Michael Myers's life in Smith's Grove Sanitarium. For example, the opening reads:
The horror started on the eve of Samhain, in a foggy vale in northern Ireland, at the dawn of the Celtic race. And once started, it trod the earth forevermore, wreaking its savagery suddenly, swiftly, and with incredible ferocity.
In 1983, Halloween was adapted as a video game for the Atari 2600 by Wizard Video. Either as the result of poor research by game developers or as an effort to save on licensing fees, none of the main characters in the game were named. Players take on the role of a teenage babysitter who tries to save as many children from an unnamed, knife-wielding killer as possible. The game was not popular with parents or players and the graphics were simple, as was typical in the 1980s. In another effort to save money, most versions of the game did not even have a label on the cartridge. It was simply a piece of tape with "Halloween" written in marker. The game contained more gore than the film, however. When the babysitter is killed, her head disappears and is replaced by blood pulsating from the neck. The game's primary similarity to the film is the theme music that plays when the killer appears onscreen.
Halloween spawned seven sequels, and a remake — titled Halloween and directed by Rob Zombie — released in 2007. Of these films, only Halloween II (1981) was written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Halloween II begins exactly where Halloween ends and was intended to finish the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. Carpenter did not direct any of the subsequent films in the Halloween series, although he did produce Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), the plot of which is unrelated to the other films in the series. He also composed the music for the third film, along with Alan Howarth.
The sequels feature more explicit violence and gore, and are generally dismissed by mainstream film critics. They were filmed on larger budgets than the original: in contrast to Halloween's modest budget of $325,000, Halloween II's budget was around $2.5 million, while the most recently released sequel, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), boasted a budget of $15 million. Financier Moustapha Akkad continued to work closely with the Halloween franchise, acting as executive producer of every sequel in the series until his death in the 2005 Amman bombings.
With the exception of Halloween III, the sequels further develop the character of Michael Myers and the Samhain theme. Even without considering the third film, the Halloween series is plagued with storyline continuity issues, most likely stemming from the different writers and directors involved in each film. Out of all nine Halloween films, including the 2007 remake, there have been eight directors. Only Rick Rosenthal directed more than one Halloween film. These were Halloween II and Halloween: Resurrection.