How John Carpenter Defied All Odds With Classic Halloween

If it were not for Carpenter’s selective hiring process, the Halloween would not have done nearly as well, and it would have ended where the whole film-making industry expected it to end up: with bad reviews and little success.

Mark Mincolelli, Student Journalist

When creating a horror film, especially a low budget, unknown movie, selecting actors that best fit the role of the characters within the plot is key. The recruitment process is long, but crucial to the turnout of the movie, and will ultimately determine how successful it will be. 

The director of the film, Halloween, John Carpenter selected stars Donald Pleasence, who portrayed Doctor Sam Loomis, and Jamie Lee Curtis who portrayed the film’s protagonist, Laurie Strode. The film takes place in the fictional midwestern town of Haddonfield, Illinois, on October 31st when Michael Myers escapes from his assigned psychiatric hospital, and develops a murder spree while Dr. Loomis attempts to track and halt his brutal actions. 

If it were not for Carpenter’s selective hiring process, the film would not have done nearly as well, and it would have ended where the whole film-making industry expected it to end up: with bad reviews and little success.

In the 1970’s, John Carpenter and his production crew of about 30 individuals ranging from ages 19 to 21, desired to create a Halloween film. Carpenter’s motivation derived from his passion for horror films, specifically The Escape of New York, and Assault on Precinct 13. He opened up a low budget creation with his team, and began taking auditions in the early 1970’s. With not much expectation, Carpenter was surprised to see the passion his team had for filmmaking, and he became more hopeful as to where this film could take him in his career.

The film began with a budget of just under $20,000, compared to the big time movies such as The Exorcist (1973), who typically were  in the general range of an 11 to 20 million dollar budget. Joseph Wolf, the CEO of Compass International Pictures, and one of the crews most important members, made it clear that “a lot of people worked on the film for free. They did not have the money to do it but we made the film upon love. They loved to work.”

 With such a substantially low amount of money in the bank, the production crew on the set of Carpenter’s Halloween would endure circumstances that were considered almost abnormal in the film industry, including working without pay for an undetermined set of hours and dedicating the entirety of their young lives to making this film. They made these sacrifices hoping to hit it big and provide the audience with not only a tremendous horror film, but with a underlying lesson to be learned.

Knowing that the low budget nature of the film was going to hold the crew back, selecting actors became an excruciatingly strenuous process, and as a result, became more and more crucial to the films overall outcome. When the films budget finally surpassed the brink of $15,000, Carpenter made his first call, and requested the acting services of a big market actor by the name of Peter Wilton Cushing, who’s biggest accomplishments in the work field came with his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. When his agent learned of this request in a phone call in the mid 1970’s, he told Carpenter that Cushing would “never be in [his] little low budget film.” 

Another rejection came in the form of Christopher Lee, who is most popular for his role as Count Dracula in a series of Hammer Horror films. Later on after Lee rejected Carpenter’s offer at the role of Doctor Loomis in his Halloween movie, he expressed his regret in saying it was the worst decision of his almost 70 year career. After multiple failures, Carpenter began to get results working in his favor, and his biggest acceptances came when both Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance elected to sign contracts and star in the movie.

The executive producer of the film, Irwin Yablans, recalled that “when Jamie Lee Curtis came to mind (for the role of the protagonist, Laurie Strode) one thing popped in my mind: Jannet Lee in Psycho, so we did hire Jamie Lee for that reason, who incidentally would be the best choice anyway, she turned out to be a fine actress.” Landing the actress that would ultimately create the reputation and future of this film would later pan out as John Carpenter and his crew’s single greatest decision. While landing Jamie Lee Curtis was a huge move, Carpenter and his executive producers knew that just one actor would not be enough to solidify horror film greatness. 

With a budget that was decreasing by the day, John Carpenter put all of his hopes in Donald Pleasance and the role of Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers’ psychiatrist. However, it was not Carpenter who had proposed the idea of trying to sign Pleasance. It was the executive producer, Irwin Yablans, who recalled Pleasance’s impact on the films You Only Live Twice and The Great Escape. Carpenter elected to call Donald Pleasance for an audition, and he accepted it which immediately launched the filming for Halloween

Carpenter and his team would create a film that not only would be live on through multiple decades, but will never lose the interest of the public. Carpenter defied the odds that were highly stacked against him and his filmmakers, and he showed that a strong desire that burns brighter than the those that doubt you will take you to places far greater than if you ever give up.