Category Archives: halloween

The Urban Legends of Halloween

The piece originally appeared on iHorror.

John Carpenter’s Halloween is one of the most revered horror films of all time, and in its wake came a surfeit of masked slashers attempting to replicate its success – most of them failing, more often than not.

There are a lot of components to Halloween which makes it such an effective film, from Carpenter’s piercing score to Dean Cundey’s eerie night-time cinematography to the terrifying, emotionless white mask Michael Myers wears – and all of it plays a part in creating a winning final product.

But the thing that makes Halloween such an enduring film – something these lesser copycats failed to realize – was Carpenter’s simple approach to the story. At its core, Halloween is an urban legend – more specifically, several urban legends rolled into one. It’s made up of the same stuff you’d tell around the campfire to spook your friends – a practice I’m sure has been around since campfires existed. In essence, Halloween is composed of the immortal substance that has terrified generations for centuries. Deep-rooted, primal fears that are utterly ingrained in our being. You can’t get much scarier than that.

These are the urban legends that make up Halloween.

The Creepy Old House

“Lonnie Elam said never to go up there. Lonnie Elam said that’s a haunted house. He said real awful stuff happened there once.”

This is what little Tommy Doyle warns his babysitter Laurie Strode as they pass by the dilapidated Myers house, for Myers is The Boogeyman, a tale as old as time. This is also a prime example of the urban legend theme that runs through Halloween, showcasing exactly how such legends are spread: by word of mouth.

So and so told me.

I know someone whose sister knows someone who said…

I heard it from a friend.

Think back to when you were a kid, racing through the neighborhood on your Huffy. Was there a scary house you and your friends avoided? Or maybe you stopped there just long enough in hopes to catch a glimpse of the witch or creepy old man who lived there? Of course. Every subdivision has a spooky house at the end of the block, one that youngsters warn each other to avoid. And how do the other kids know to avoid it? Well, they heard it from a friend…

The Escaped Mental Patient

The Hook” is possibly one of the most famous urban legends and you’ve likely heard one of its many incarnations at some point: young lovers on a secluded road hear a report over their car radio that a madman with a hook for a hand has escaped from the local sanitarium. Soon after, they hear a scratching at the car door. The horny boyfriend, desperate to get some action, tells the girlfriend not to worry – but she insists they leave, and so they do. The rejected boyfriend alleviates his tantrum by putting the pedal to the metal. Later, they find a bloody hook dangling from the handle of the car door.

It’s clear how the escaped mental patient aspect of this legend applies to Halloween, including the unforeseen danger lurking outside the car: who can forget the chest-clenching scene where Michael first breaks out of Smith’s Grove sanitarium and monkeys his way on top of the parked station wagon that’s there to transport him to trial?

But let’s not overlook the sex = death aspect of the hook story. The whole reason the teens in the tale survive is that, ultimately, they didn’t have sex. Purity is a generally agreed upon theme in Halloween – the teens who have sex and do drugs die, the ones who don’t (Laurie) live. I tend to disagree; I believe the real cause of the murders is irresponsibility – but I digress. (Also, the radio announcer alerting of an escaped mental patient, followed immediately by the listener’s death, is a scene directly from 1981’s Halloween II.)

Cars continue to play a big role in both urban legends and Halloween, such as in the case of…

The Killer in the Backseat

As the legend goes, a person (usually a woman) is driving home when a car suddenly pulls up close behind her, flashing its lights and honking its horn. Terrified, the woman races home, all while the mysterious car follows. She gets home, jumps out of her car, and runs to her door. Later, she discovers the car that was tailing her was trying to warn her…about the man with a knife crouching in her backseat.

Halloween‘s poor Annie Brackett isn’t lucky enough to have someone warn her about the killer hiding in her backseat. Instead, she’s allowed only a moment of confusion sitting in the driver’s seat, perplexed by the condensation that has formed on the inside of the car windows…just before Michael Myers springs up behind her with a knife. (It should be noted that the murderous backseat character in these urban legends is almost always an escaped mental patient.)

Cars aren’t the only recurring theme in both Halloween and many urban legends – so are phones.

The Babysitter & the Man Upstairs

Now we get to the nucleus of Halloween‘s urban legend roots: the babysitter in peril. While creepy phone calls had popped up before – most notably in 1974’s Black Christmas – it was Halloween that established a babysitter as the innocent victim on the end of the receiver. It’s so entwined with this particular urban legend that John Carpenter originally titled the screenplay The Babysitter Murders. Alas, the producer didn’t like it, and wanted it changed – but the theme remained the same. (It’s worth noting that director Fred Walton shot a short film, The Sitter, in 1977, which is based directly on “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” urban legend – and after seeing the success of Carpenter’s Halloween – decided to turn it into a full length film: When a Stranger Calls.)

The legend here actually isn’t as much a legend as it is a true story with a few embellishments. But the dressed-up version of the story follows a young female babysitter who receives numerous creepy phone calls from a stranger who keeps warning her to “check on the children”. Eventually, she calls the cops and they trace the call, resulting in the memorable line: “Get out! The calls are coming from inside the house!”

Michael Myers doesn’t actually call and harass Laurie Strode about the kids she’s babysitting – in fact, the relation of this legend to the movie is restricted solely to the “maniac stalking the babysitter” element – but still, there is a lot of phone play in Halloween. At one point, Annie – chewing a mouthful of food – calls Laurie, who mistakes the muffled sounds for an obscene caller. This plays a pivotal part later in the movie, and results in our final urban legend, a crossover of sorts…

The Roommate’s Death

Lovable airhead, Lynda Van der Klok, has just finished making love with her boyfriend Bob, who has headed downstairs to grab some beer. He soon appears in the bedroom door frame again, this time fully decked out in a sheet with eye holes. Only, that isn’t Bob playing ghost – it’s Michael Myers. Lynda doesn’t realize this of course and sits down by the phone to call Laurie to see if she’s heard from Annie. By the time Laurie picks up on the other end, Michael has wrapped the phone cord around Lynda’s neck and is choking her to death. All Laurie hears on her is moaning and gurgling – which she mistakes for Annie pranking her, a callback to earlier in the film.

Laurie ignores the threat but later discovers Lynda dead. This is related to the urban legend “The Roommate’s Death“, which sees a pair of college roommates alone in their dorm for the holiday weekend. One roommate leaves to grab some snacks, the other stays behind. Soon, the roommate in bed hears scratching and gurgling at the door – a warning she ignores. In the morning, she discovers her friend on the other side of the door, dead – throat slashed by a madman.

Halloween is so successful in terrifying us because it consists of all those tales we’ve been scaring each other with since swapping stories on the schoolyard. Stalkers, haunted houses, and boogeyman in the closet.

You could argue that urban legends and horror films share a similar three-tiered structure: interdiction, violation, and consequences. That is to say, characters who ignore the warnings, then willfully violate the warnings, and ultimately pay the price. But one thing is certain: horror films share the same function as urban legend – they’re intended not only to scare but also to warn.

Just like little Tommy Doyle tried to warn Laurie that The Boogeyman really existed.

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WATCH THIS: John Carpenter’s “Lost Film”, SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME!

This piece originally appeared on iHorror.com.

A pretty, sandy-haired young woman is stalked by a mysterious figure; first via car, then by creepy phone calls, and then directly outside her window. He’s even seen in the background spying on her while she converses on the phone. She eventually takes the shadowy figure head-on, stumbling around a living room and fighting for her life, ending with a climax that reveals nothing about the madman’s motivations. Oh, and the whole thing was directed by John Carpenter in the late ’70s. Gotta be Halloween, right? Wrong.

Though it wrapped shooting two weeks before Halloween even went into production, John Carpenter’s television directorial debut, the NBC-produced Someone’s Watching Me! was actually released one month after Halloween. Due to this loopy timeline it’s easy to think Halloween informed many stylistic choices of Someone’s Watching Me!, when in reality it’s the other way around.

Leigh (Lauren Hutton) is an ambitious television producer who moves from New York to Los Angeles. She settles in a large high rise apartment, the kind where the living room is basically one giant window overlooking the thoroughfare. Unbeknownst to Leigh, a creeper who lives in a building across the street spots her and takes a real liking to her. He starts following her, calling her, and leaving her gifts. She continually rebuffs the mystery man, causing him to pursue her more aggressively. With the support of her co-worker Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau) and her boyfriend Paul (David Birney), Leigh goes to the police. Tired of the cat and mouse game, the creep finally attacks.

While not an exact Halloween clone, Carpenter admits SWM! did lay the groundwork for what would become his slasher masterpiece. “A lot of the shots, the framing – and a lot of the flow”, would be reused for Halloween. Carpenter also says, “I got to make mistakes”, referring to the TV movie, which allowed him to hone and sharpen the basic idea and deliver a much leaner and ultimately more frightening movie with Halloween. There are a few familiar Carpenter players in the small cast, namely Adrienne Barbeau and Charles Cyphers. And if you pay attention, you’ll probably spot some names in SWM! that Carpenter would later reuse, including Leigh, Paul, and Officer Tramer.

Noticeably absent from SWM! are a few trademarks Carpenter’s films would come to be known for. He had no input on the score, so here his usual piercing synths are substituted with dramatic, swelling strings – common in ’70s television productions. And his stunning wide-angle lens shots – usually courtesy of Dean Cundey but here provided by Robert Hauser – have been cropped and tightened to fit the 4:3 aspect ratio of a TV screen. Still, the movie displays all the great themes the director would come to be known for, including voyeurism and paranoia.

Watching SWM!, it’s clear that Carpenter who, in 1977, was still new to the horror genre (at that point he only had two feature films under his belt: the sci-fi satire Dark Star, and Assault on Precinct 13, a dystopian Western exploitation flick), was heavily inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock – mainly, South By Southwest, Rear Window, and Psycho. At times it feels like it could be entitled Alfred Hitchcock’s Halloween, and I mean that in the best way possible. For a TV movie made in the ’70s, SWM! is incredibly suspenseful and flat-out spooky. The tension builds, keeping you guessing until the very end.

Someone’s Watching Me! is often called “the lost Carpenter film” due to its relative scarcity on home media, but don’t let the hoity-toity label exclude you – I assure you it’s not just for the John Carpenter completest. In fact, I would consider it required Carpenter, especially if you’re a fan of Halloween. It’s one of those special movies that shows its director in transition; especially powerful here since Carpenter’s next film would prove to be his greatest success.

RANTS: WHY SO BULKY? Bigger Isn’t Always Badder

It was announced yesterday that the long-gestating remake of The Crow had finally found its lead in Games of Thrones actor Jason Momoa. I’m only vaguely familiar with Momoa’s work, but the shoes of the jester-faced, star-crossed lover Eric Draven would not be easy ones to fill considering Brandon Lee’s mesmerizing and emotional original portrayal of the character, one that was only heightened and immortalized by his untimely death on set, the result of a freak accident while filming a scene for the movie.

But besides the deck already being stacked against Momoa, something immediately struck me as off about this casting choice. For those unaware, this is what Jason Momoa looks like: Continue reading RANTS: WHY SO BULKY? Bigger Isn’t Always Badder

5 Things I Want from the New HALLOWEEN!

As you’ve probably heard by now, Blumhouse announced yesterday that they’ll be producing the newest Halloween film, the first since Rob Zombie’s 2009 debacle, Halloween II. What makes this particular bit of news so exciting is confirmation that John Carpenter will executive produce, and could also possibly (maybe? hopefully?) score the film. Add to that the involvement of franchise producer Malek Akkad, Miramax Pictures, and bastions-from-the-start Compass International/Trancas International Films, and suddenly the tired and aimless franchise looks to have gotten a much needed shot in the arm.

Of course, the recognizable names mean nothing to the final product; a lot of variables could result in a boring, unmemorable film, namely the two most important puzzle pieces – the script and its director – which are, as of this typing, non-existent. But none of that stuff really matters right now because, as with every entry before this one, the announcement of a new Halloween film ushers in waves of excitement and possibilities that will keep me coasting and daydreaming until I see it in the theater.

The film has a projected release date of sometime in 2017, which means I’ve got a lot of time on my hands to fantasize about my dream production, so here are 5 things I’d really like to see in the new Halloween. Continue reading 5 Things I Want from the New HALLOWEEN!

Great Horror Movie Drunks, Part 2!

Last St. Patrick’s Day I whipped up a piece on some of horror’s greatest drunks. It was a far from comprehensive list, but then again it wasn’t intended to be. Soon after posting it I begin to think of other drunks I could’ve included, and a couple readers reached out with some suggestions, so I decided to do a follow up and, hey! Whatta ya know! You’re reading it now. And I’m drinking a Guinness as I type it, no kidding. So without further ado, here are some more of horror’s greatest drunks. Continue reading Great Horror Movie Drunks, Part 2!

5 Things I Love About HALLOWEEN!

For obvious reasons, Halloween is the quintessential October horror film. Come this time of year, sites will be flooded with articles and lists praising the film and its enduring legacy, and some will even promise to tell you 15 things you never knew about the movie. They’ll be wrong, of course, but hey.

As a horror fan and horror-website-runner-person myself, it is my duty to contribute a Halloween-related listicle during the month of October lest I want my gorehound card revoked. But instead of pointing out things everyone knows already (we get it, it’s a William Shatner mask) or attempting to write a thesis on the ‘sin equals death’ puritanical aspects of the movie, I thought I’d simply point out a few things I dig about it. Feelings that you the reader may also share. No need to over-analyze this sucker!

In the end, when it comes down to it, there’s not much to say about John Carpenter’s Halloween that hasn’t already been said a thousand times already, but here are a few moments I personally enjoy from the movie. Continue reading 5 Things I Love About HALLOWEEN!