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BEHIND THE MASK: Beyond the Scenes of The Halloween Saga
A Special Look at Halloween
By Sean Owens
October 29, 2013
BEHIND THE MASK: Beyond the Scenes of The Halloween Saga
© Compass International Pictures
The Halloween franchise has always bared strange fruit for its audience, a combination of highlights and lowlights that can be exhilarating and maddening at the same time, Fortunately for most fans, the highlights out-weigh the less desirable moments. They recognize that when it hits its mark, it is filmmaking superior to the offerings of most other iconic madmen horror series - most of which were spawned from the success of Halloween in the first place.
This list, however, focuses in on the blurry edges just outside the peripheral of our clown mask's eye holes where there are always more levels just beneath top layer of Autumn leaves.
THE HITCHCOCK CONNECTION
The first and most obvious connection to Hitch is the casting of Janet Leigh's daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis. In 1978, the production's first choice to play heroine Laura Strode was June Lockhart's (Lassie) daughter Anne, but, due to other commitments, she was unable to accept the role. Co-writer, producer and John Carpenter's then-girlfriend, Debra Hill read other actresses for the role, but quickly realized that casting candidate Jamie Lee, the daughter of the most recognizable victim in horror history, would automatically mean a boost in publicity for the low budget Halloween.
While writer-director John Carpenter stumbled into lucky casting, he included deliberate connections to Hitchcock in the screenplay. Michael Myers' primary psychiatrist and only worthy advisory, Doctor Samuel Loomis, was brilliantly played by Donald Pleasance, but he was also named after Sam Loomis, boyfriend of Janet Leigh's character in Psycho. Little Tommy Doyle had the misfortune of being watched over by Laurie Strode - the last babysitter you want on Halloween night after a breakout at Smith's Grove Sanitarium. He also has the distinction of being named after Detective Thomas Doyle, the dryly sarcastic army buddy who does as little as possible to help Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.
HADDONFIELD IS A LIE
Growing up in a northeastern suburb, my friends and I thought no depiction of a town captured the feeling of fall in the 'burbs better than Haddonfield, Illinois. However, when audio commentary and the internet became commonplace, our view of this sleepy midwestern hamlet changed significantly. Principal photography for Halloween took place over only twenty days in the Spring of 1978 in sunny Southern California. Most locations used for Haddonfield were located in South Pasadena and, while pains were taken to omit as many signs of its actual geography, several palm trees can be spotted in the distance of certain wide shots. Access to normal Halloween-time fare proved frustrating for the crew since pumpkins were not in season on the west coast and there were certainly no fallen leaves (which are sparse even when it is October). Their solution was importing bags of leaves from out of state and painting Mexican gourds with orange paint to achieve the look of seasonal jack-o-lanterns. Before each scene, the cast and crew would sprinkle leaves on the ground and, during each take, would throw them in front of a fan off camera to give the allusion they were falling off the very green trees. After each scene's final shot, the crew would rake the prop leaves back into the bags to be used on the next location.
The old Myers' house sent chills down the spine of every kid hoping to impress his friends by meeting the dare to venture inside the dilapidated domicile. "Hey Lonnie, get your ass away from there." The challenge the filmmakers met was not making the dwelling look spooky because it was already falling apart, but, for the opening sequence set in 1963, the house needed to look like a home. They slapped a fresh coat on the old house and started filming before the paint was even dry. In 1987, every house on the block where the building sits was bulldozed except for The Myers' House. Citizens of South Pasadena petitioned to have the structure saved as a historical landmark. It is thought to be the oldest example of a framed dwelling that still exists in the area and when new construction needed the block to be cleared, the town moved the entire house a quarter of a mile away. It has been named "The Century House" and it now sits adjacent to the location used for the hardware store which Michael breaks into for his bag of trick or treats (for more on the Myers House check out tumblr).
The second half of Halloween takes place on the quiet tree-lined street where both Laurie and her friend Annie babysit in houses across from one another. Laurie is in the Doyle residence and Annie can barely be bothered to look after little Lindsey Wallace because, you know - boys and stuff. Amazingly, this street is actually in the heart of Hollywood, only a block or two from bustling Sunset Boulevard. These homes are in the middle a five block oasis that looks like an old midwest or eastern suburb and is two streets away from the iconic home used in the Nightmare on Elm Street films.
There are more versions of Halloween films than there are rows of corn on the outskirts of Haddonfield, itself. When the original Halloween was set for a world television premiere in 1981, the network needed to fill about twelve minutes due to editing of content audiences weren't ready for on their TV sets and also to take up an even time slot. John Carpenter took a second unit from principal photography on Halloween II and shot the extra scenes he wrote for the television version. Rarely do afterthoughts like these seem to fit in a film you already think is near perfect. Yet, for die-hard fans, this new content only proved to wet the appetite for Halloween II, due out later that year. There are two key scenes in Smith's Grove a mere six years after the opening sequence rather than jumping right to fifteen years later. In the first, Loomis pleads with a skeptical medical board to move Michael to a maximum security facility for fear that Michael's catatonia is all an act. In classic Loomis fashion, no one listens to the good doctor and blood will be on many people’s hands by underestimating this young boy. Loomis goes from the meeting to Michael's room where we see a twelve year old Myers staring out a window. Long dolly shots cut between the two foes until Loomis utters the chilling line, "You've fooled them, haven't you Michael? But not me." The second asylum scene takes place after Michael's escape in 1978 in which Loomis speaks to the nurse on duty in Michael's room. Everything is trashed as if in a violent fit of rage and when Loomis closes the door, we see "sister" carved into the wood. This is foreshadowing of the background revealed in Halloween II. A third Scene involves the main group of girlfriends at Laurie's house. Jamie uses the old "I've come out of the shower and wrapped a towel around my head so you can't see that my hair is different and we don't have to use the wig we're trying to get away with in part II." Each of her friends has come over to borrow the same blouse from Laurie and they throw some more conversation about who the creepy guy is they keep glimpsing. The scene adds nothing and is more obvious filler than the scenes with Loomis.
Halloween II has several television versions that differ in such random ways from the theatrical version. These are generally referred to as The Rick Rosenthal Cut named so after the director or The Producer's Cut (check out further details on the alternate versions here).
There are small additions and changes to 4 and 5, but the "Producer's Cut" of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is most notable simply because the changes from the theatrical version are so massive that it's almost a different film. Plagued by power struggles, indecisiveness, on set re-writes and (some say) reckless producing, eventually Dimension studios took over and ordered re-shoots. Re-shoots complicated even further with the death of Donald Pleasance. All this resulted in a film with some great editing and atmosphere, but more-so known for huge plot holes and an utterly confusing hodgepodge of a narrative. You felt the "too many cooks" syndrome upon first viewing. The "Producer's Cut" has gained cult status along with a more aptly named "Director's Cut," both of which are currently only available in bootleg form. Fans have strongly petitioned for the alternate version to receive the official release they feel it deserves and, slowly, but surely, their efforts may be paying off. Besides the fact that the suits are wondering why bootleggers are the only ones making money off this film they thought had officially laid an egg, the first officially sanctioned screening of "The Producer's Cut" was screened on Saturday, October 27th 2013 at the Tarantino owned New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. This first public screening could mean the studio is testing the waters for an official release. It' mystery gives it more credit than it deserves as it is still not the installment it could have been for Donald Pleasance's swan song. However, it is still far superior to the theatrical release.
The blank, pale, emotionless mask matches Dr. Loomis' description of the child he met so many years before and who he tried so desperately to reach a breakthrough with until all that was left to do was protect the public from what he suspects is truly a monster. By now, everyone has heard the infamous mask was crafted from a Captain Kirk mask purchased for exactly $1.98 in cold hard cash. Although the final version matches a vague description of it in the screenplay, Carpenter and Hill admit they had no idea what the mask should look like and that they'd know it when they saw it. The production designer, Tommy Lee Wallace, displayed two choices, one of which would have changed the "face" of Michael Myers forever. The alternative to the Shatner mask was that of a clown, continuing the creepy motif donned by the six year old Myers on the night he killed his sister so many years before. It's hard to say whether this would have been as effective. Certainly, there's no way to know if it would have reached the iconic status of its pale white brethren, but if the film kept its status as one of the most profitable independents of all time, there's no doubt the clown would have given nightmares to millions long before Pennywise from Steven King's It.
The mask underwent several changes throughout each installment of the saga, but most notable are Halloween II and H20. In II, they used the same mask from the original. However, having been stored under Debra Hill's bed in the years between films, it yellowed. It seems Hill was a heavy smoker and Dick Warlock's head was much wider than Nick Castle, who played Myers before. The general appearance of the mask was altered, significantly.
The aesthetic of the mask in H20 is probably the weakest part of an incredibly satisfying sequel. Arguably, I, II & H20 are the trilogy the franchise will leave as its lasting legacy. The "H20 mask controversy," as it has come to be known, stems from creative differences between the director and producers, which resulted in different masks being brought onto set. Each had a different goal of re-shooting certain scenes with certain masks. Once again, too many visions and not one captain lead this ship to look very different in many shots. It's a small detail to most, but we, the fans, notice every little one.
It has been said that expressionless mask is frightening because your subconscious can project whatever it wants onto it. Critics and fans alike have taken their own interpretations of subtext and forever state it as fact instead of just going to the source - John Carpenter. The most infamous is that Halloween is some sort of morality play instead of just a movie trying to make you look under the bed and lock your windows. The most famous is the theory that the virgin lives simply because she is pure and the other promiscuous girls are somehow punished. As if a teen having sex, smoking pot and drinking in the 70's gets what they deserve. Not only would that have included the entire cast and crew, but most everyone in the country. Did I mention IT WAS THE 70's?! Preposterous!, say Carpenter and Hill. They explain that Laurie escapes not for moral reasons, but she is simply less burdened with boys and sex due to shyness and awkwardness and, therefore, notices more around her than her friends who go through the day like normal teenagers. Besides Tommy Doyle and Laurie, the entire town of Haddonfield has closed the door (and its eyes) on that ugly chapter back in 1963 and is more than happy to ignore all signs of something afoot in the fields and backyards of their little slice of Americana.
In the biggest twist of all, the entire modern horror film, specifically the slasher movement, has taken this "rule" and used it as dogma. With the fact that Halloween is pure suspense and not slasher/ gore, it is almost cringeworthy to hear that it started the slasher craze without any elaboration beyond that and, most certainly, isn't worthy of the respect it damn well deserves.
Pictured above is the writer of “BEHIND THE MASK: Beyond the Scenes of The Halloween Saga”, Sean Owens. Sean is at the Strode House in South Pasadena, CA. The beard and bald cap are not real.