These Secrets About the Halloween Franchise Are Pure Pumpkin Spice

Take a chilling autumn stroll into the history of the 45-year-old Halloween franchise. And no, we're not screaming, you're screaming.

By Natalie Finn Oct 28, 2023 10:00 AMTags
Watch: Jamie Lee Curtis Reveals the ONE Item She Kept From Halloween

It's hard to believe the Halloween franchise ended for good with Halloween Ends last year.

But for now, at least, Laurie Strode has vanquished Michael Myers, Strode family scares will only be coming in the form of repeat viewings for the foreseeable future. But you do have many, many Halloween incarnations to choose from.

"They didn't mention a trilogy, they mentioned one movie," Jamie Lee Curtis told E! News in July 2022 about agreeing to revisit her iconic final girl role in 2018's Halloween—a direct-ish sequel to the 1978 original of the same name that begs audiences forget the seven films (not including the Rob Zombie-directed 2009 remake and sequel) released in the interim.

Contractual minutiae aside, "that was a very freeing experience," Curtis continued, crediting director David Gordon Green's approach behind the camera—and the film's unequivocal financial success—for jolting her own creative spirit back to life. "Getting a taste of the way David worked was like [remembering], 'Oh, s--t! This is fun!'"

Theatergoers certainly appreciated it, scaring up $256 million at the worldwide box office. So she dutifully reteamed with Green for 2021's Halloween Kills and then in 2022—albeit four years later for Laurie in the cinematic timeline—for Halloween Ends.

Stars Celebrate Halloween 2023

But while moneymaking titles, much like horror movie villains, are hard to kill, our heroine considered the latest film her grand finale.

"I had not wanted to mentally think about it. Then all of a sudden I started really thinking about it," Curtis told E! of playing Laurie for the last time. "Saying goodbye to Laurie Strode, to say goodbye to the fans who love Laurie Strode" and to countless others who've been essential to this journey, "I've gotten really used to it. And it's going to be sad. I guarantee you, end of next week, maybe over the weekend, there's going to be a day where I'm just going to be a puddle."

Meanwhile, we dealt with the end of an era by diving into the bowels of Haddonfield lore to explore how the Halloween franchise came to be and why an as-yet unstoppable man-demon in coveralls and a white mask has been handily terrifying people for 45 years. Here's what we found out:

Finding Laurie Strode

"Jamie Lee read for me. She was perfect for the part," Halloween writer-director John Carpenter recalled to Cinema Daily in 2021 of casting his inimitable scream queen in her first movie. "I thought she had an inner strength, a will to survive, which I used it in the movie."

That Haunting Feeling

Jamie Lee Curtis, however, thought she was going to be fired after their first day of filming. 

"You know, the director thinks about it and goes, 'Uh, I made a mistake.' That's why I remember this slow walk over to the phone and doing that thing of like, 'Um, hello?'" she recalled to Rotten Tomatoes in 2018 hearing the phone ring that night in the Studio City house she was renting with a hairdresser friend.

It was Carpenter, who's "from Kentucky, I believe," Curtis continued, "and he was like, 'Hey, darlin', it's John. I just wanna tell ya how happy I am and how fantastic you were today. I just know it's gonna be amazing.'"

Play It Again, John

Using an analog synthesizer, Carpenter also composed the unmistakable theme music that never fails to send a shiver up one's spine.

"I only had three days to do the music to Halloween," Carpenter recalled to NPR's Morning Edition in 2018. "I recorded five or six themes. And this wasn't scoring to picture. This was just scoring blind, and then I would cut the themes into the movie. I had to guess at various moods. What surprised me is, they actually fit pretty well into the movie. It's a cheap but effective way of scoring."

He returned to the franchise as an executive producer on the 2018 "sequel"—his first involvement since being a producer on 1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch. (He's received requisite "characters by" writing credits on everything since the 1978 original, which he cowrote with Debra Hill, as well as money.) And producer Jason Blum asked if he'd score the new movie.

So Carpenter did, with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, whose father is The Kinks' Dave Davies.

Group Effort

Upping the horror quotient, Halloween's central menace is referred to as "The Shape" in the closing credits. And the shape for most of the original film belonged to Carpenter's friend Nick Castle.

"Maybe he got paid a couple hundred bucks or whatever it was," Curtis told Rotten Tomatoes of Castle. "I mean, nobody got paid, anything. I think I got paid $8,000 for the whole movie, which at the time, for the lead in the movie was $2,000 a week."

Carpenter explained, "I liked the way he moved. He came from a dancer family so he had a grace, an odd grace about him. Plus, he was free. He was cheap. So he put on the costume and I said, 'Now, go from here to here.' And that was it."

Tommy Lee Wallace, who edited the film with Charles Bornstein, also spent time in the mask to help make ends meet, and Anthony Moran played Michael for the brief moment you see his face. But Castle instinctually came up with the terrifying head tilt.

"The direction on the first one was nil," Castle recalled to Movie Web in 2018. "It was really just, 'Go across the street and walk towards me.'"

Ultimately, he said, "If there is a lesson to any of this, it's that sometimes things happen for no reason, and you have the right elements at the right time."

A number of increasingly beefy stuntmen donned the mask after that, starting with Dick Warlock as "The Shape" in Halloween II. He was succeeded by George P. Wilbur (twice), Don Shanks, Chris Durand and Brad Loree. Wrestler Tyler Mane took over in the Rob Zombie-directed reboots, and James Jude Courtney, tag-teaming with Castle, has done the honors in the final three movies starring Curtis.

Facing the Consequences

Tony Moran—the actual face of Michael Myers—originally had major reservations about accepting the small but pivotal part.

"People don't know this, especially if they're younger," he told Horror Geek Life in 2020, "but back then, if you did a horror movie, it was just barely one step above doing soft porn."

Admittedly "uppity with a stick up my butt" about acting at the time, due to his little sister Erin Moran's Happy Days success, nothing about the project appealed to him—The title? "Pretty dumb." Jamie Lee Curtis? "I don't know who that is."—until his agent assured him that the Donald Pleasance was going to be in it.

"I was a huge fan of his, because he was a classic British actor," Moran recalled. "So, I thought to myself, OK, I have no idea why he's in this movie, but if I get it, great, at least I got a credit with him...Because no one is ever going to see the movie anyways, right? It's a horror movie, it's an independent, it's really low budget, and it'll have a week or two in the drive-in and that will be it."

Despite Halloween being a smash, he turned down the sequel, self-deprecatingly explaining, "I was an actor, not like this puppet with a f--king mask on." (Michael's bare face was never seen again until 2021's Halloween Kills, which thanks Moran in the credits.)

Moran has since realized there was nothing to be embarrassed about. "You want to talk about being blessed, I denied that movie most of my life and I stepped in gold," he said. "It's crazy stuff."

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Lest we forget, Michael was originally wearing a William Shatner mask that the filmmakers plucked off a shelf.

"Up on the shelves were these full face masks of Richard Nixon, and down at the end was Mr. Spock. And right next to it was this blank face Capt. Kirk," editor Tommy Wallace shared in the Halloween episode of Netflix's The Movies That Made Us. The crew deemed the Kirk mask creepier than a clown mask, and Wallace made it freakier by painting it white, widening the eye holes, removing the eyebrows and sideburns and darkening the hair.

"I thought, 'Is that a joke? Are they kidding?'" Shatner recalled finding out about the killer's disguise on Jake's Takes in October 2021.

Figuring Halloween II, in which Michael is seemingly consumed by fire, was it, the production let Dick Warlock take his whole costume home, including the mask. He sold the lot to a collector in the 1990s.

"The mask is really in the same shape it was as when I purchased it," the buyer, Mark Roberts, told Michael-Myers.Net in 2017. "I consider it to be the holy grail of horror movie memorabilia and I am doing my best to preserve it."

Tricks and Treats

Curtis remembered Halloween taking 17 days to shoot, while Carpenter counted 20, on a $300,000 budget. And initially the reviews were...not good. 

"A lot of people criticized my ending," Carpenter recalled to Rotten Tomatoes. "They thought it sucked. They thought it was bad."

"But then the audience started to build," the director continued. "Halloween was a word of mouth movie. That's why it worked." 

It ultimately made $47 million, enough to be the 10th-highest-grossing movie of the year among titles that played in theaters solely in 1978 (as opposed to blockbusters such as Superman and Saturday Night Fever, which came out in December and ran into 1979). And in 2006 it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress' U.S. National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The Great Unknown

Michael Myers is human enough to breathe (heavily) but too machine-like to be stopped by traditional methods. Curtis credits his blank visage and relentlessly uncomplicated M.O. for his four-decade endurance as the stuff nightmares are made of.

"The enigmatic, faceless, expressionless look of Michael," she explained to Rotten Tomatoes, "it projects into that mask every terrifying image we have."

At the same time, she added, "I'm talking out my butt because the truth is, I don't know anything about why he endures. I'm just glad he does because he's my buddy. Me and my shadow."

Carpenter also thinks Michael's inexplicable immortality has something to do with it. "He was less a human being than an element," the director told Cinema Daily. "It was this lack of characterization that made him scary."

Just to ram home how evil Michael is, in case the trail of human bodies wasn't enough, he strangles a dog in the first film. But, as heard in the DVD commentary, a trainer was right there and the dog was completely safe.

The Houses Halloween Built

Though the sinister action takes place in fictional Haddonfield, Ill. (there is a Haddonfield, N.J., producer Debra Hill's hometown), the Strode and Myers homes are in South Pasadena, Calif.

The Strode abode sits to this day at 1115 Oxley St., where the owners graciously keep a few fake pumpkins on the porch for tourists to pose with. And the derelict Myers house has since been moved from 707 Meridian Ave. to 1000 Mission St., saved from being demolished by a passerby who paid $1 for the structure with a promise to move it intact off the old lot.

Hard to Kill

Laurie is in the first two films, then is left alone to live her fraught life for most of the rest of the 20th century. 

1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch, written and directed by Wallace, didn't feature Michael Myers. But he's been in action since 1988's fittingly named Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and just won't die.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Loomis, the psychiatrist played by Pleasance who looked into a young Michael's face and saw pure evil, sacrificed himself in Halloween II but was back on the case in 1988 and stuck with the franchise until his death in 1995, eight months before the release of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, which was dedicated to the English actor.

Psych Evaluation

Writer-producer Hill said in the Halloween DVD commentary that British horror icon (and future Lord of the Rings star) Christopher Lee passed on playing Dr. Loomis—and told her years later he regretted it.

Carpenter shared in the commentary that Pleasance agreed to be in his film only because the actor's daughter was a fan of the director's previous movie, Assault on Precinct 13. And Loomis was supposed to have a wife, but Pleasance suggested they cut out any personal life whatsoever, making him all the more linked to Michael.

What's the Opposite of Cursed?

A number of actors have played Tommy Doyle, the 8-year-old boy Laurie is babysitting in 1978's Halloween, at various stages of life—including Paul Rudd, in 1995's Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Clueless came out earlier (which was probably for the best, career-wise), but the other film was his first. And because of that, despite it being absurd, it will always hold a special place in Rudd's heart. (And, wouldn't you know, now that he's a huge star he gets top billing whenever it's on cable.)

"That was the very first movie I'd ever done, and I'm really thrilled that I was able to do it," Rudd told Ain't It Cool News in 2007. "There was something trippy about working on a Halloween movie and seeing Michael Myers and seeing that face that I'd seen in movies and meet George Wilbur, who played him. And standing at the craft service table having coffee with Michael Myers. That was too cool." 

He thought they really had something when they were filming, but when he saw the finished product, "I remember thinking, Oh God, this movie's not good, and I was really kind of bummed out...I thought, Oh God, are people going to think I'm a joke? Am I ever going to get work as an actor after this comes out? I have since changed my tune: I love it. I'm honored to be part of a franchise that has lasted that long, that has that many devotees, and I couldn't be happier that I can say that my first movie is a Halloween movie."

Not Thirsting for More Halloween

Also making his film debut in the franchise was Josh Hartnett, who as Laurie's son, John Tate, managed to not be killed off in 1998's Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (though the character no longer exists in the final trilogy).

Hartnett wasn't sure being in what was originally titled Halloween 7: The Revenge of Laurie Strode was going to be a good career move. But Curtis' involvement—her big return to the franchise after 17 years—tipped the scales in the film's favor, as did Scream writer Kevin Williamson's uncredited script polish.

In the DVD commentary, Curtis recalled Hartnett wearing a beanie whenever the cameras weren't rolling. "I respected him for it," she said. "It was annoying, but I respected him for it."

Whether the Halloween reboot in 2018 would have included John if Hartnett had been interested is unclear, but the actor told Huffington Post in 2017, "I'm pretty much always looking forward. That's not something I would be looking to be a part of, but it's not that I didn't have a great time" shooting H20.

The Missing Links

There's been so much Halloween, it can be easy to lose the thread.

According to the lore, 6-year-old psychopath Michael Myers murdered his 17-year-old sister Judith after she went upstairs to have sex when she was supposed to be babysitting him. Institutionalized for the next 15 years, he escapes on Oct. 31 while being transported to a hearing and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield to wreak havoc on teens and whoever else gets in his way.

The action of 1981's Halloween II picks up within hours of the original, with Laurie hospitalized after her ordeal (Curtis saved her blood-stained hospital bracelet) and finding out soon enough that getting stabbed, shot and falling out a window didn't deter Michael in the slightest. Carpenter and Hill wrote the screenplay and produced, but Rick Rosenthal directed while Carpenter devoted his attention to his 1980 cult-classic The Fog.

The big twist in the sequel is that Laurie and Michael are sister and brother, the surviving Myers sister having been adopted after her distraught parents died in a car crash. Carpenter later explained that they needed a plot twist to add weight to a film they never envisioned doing when they made the first Halloween.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later director Steve Miner also considered his movie, the seventh in the series, as a direct sequel to the original—except he ran with the sibling plot that didn't exist in 1978.  

The movies in between also introduced a cult and a curse that's supposed to explain Michael's immortality, but that's been erased and the brother-sister connection is meta-dismissed as pure myth by Laurie's granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) in 2018's Halloween.

Which was how it was supposed to be all along. The 2018 film is "the continuation of a character that has no motivation really," Nick Castle explained to Movie Web. "That being said, there is a lot of psychology that is inherent in what you bring to this movie, as an audience...If you are a little kid who stabs his sister after she had sex, what does that say about your character and who you want to kill? But John very clearly didn't want to go into the psychoanalysis of this character early on."

Ever Consider a Stage Name?

It wasn't until he joined Saturday Night Live in 1989 that sharing a name with "a mass murderer, fictional though he may be," irked beloved funnyman Mike Myers a bit.

"I get on Saturday Night Live, which is exciting, and then I go to cash a check from NBC," the Austin Powers star recalled in a 2022 interview. "The cashier said, 'Michael Myers! You're not going to kill me, are you?'" It doesn't happen a lot, he continued, "But it was kind of a 'Really? Oh, well.' I was just grateful to be on Saturday Night Live."

Ironically, Wayne's World co-star Dana Carvey was in Halloween II, making his big-screen debut as "Assistant."

They Found Love in a Halloween Place

Nancy Stephens, who played psychiatric nurse Marion in the original movie, its 1981 sequel and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, and also came out of acting retirement to pop up in 2021's Halloween Kills, is married to Halloween II and Halloween: Resurrection director Rick Rosenthal.

They met making Halloween II, tied the knot in May 1981 and have three children together. That's the kind of indestructability we can get behind.

Halloween Eggs

That's O.G. scream queen Janet Leigh, Curtis' mom, playing Norma, the wise secretary at Hillcrest Academy, where Laurie (living under the name Keri Tate) is headmistress in H20. And when Norma drives away from the school before Michael arrives and heads start to roll, she does so in a 1957 Ford Custom 300, the same car Marion Crane drove in Psycho, Bernard Hermann's iconic score slipping into the background.

Incidentally, Marion's married boyfriend in Psycho was named Sam Loomis—just like the Halloween franchise's resident psychiatrist, plus there's the aforementioned nurse Marion ("coincidences" Carpenter has never commented on).

Also in the wink-wink category, Chris Durand, who played Michael in H20, was also under the robe and mask in Scream 2—which is glimpsed playing on TV in one of the dorm rooms. (H20 script doctor Williamson also wrote Scream 2, and H20 director Miner had directed several episodes of Dawson's Creek, which Williamson created.)

An Eye for Detail

Michael has so far proved unkillable, but if you stab a heavy-breathing creature in the eye, as Laurie does in the original Halloween, it will lose that eye.

In 2018's Halloween, meant to be a direct sequel to the 1978 film, "they put prosthetics over his left eye, the one that gets stabbed," Castle told Movie Web, "for any shot you'd see into the mask. They took that from the original. That's kind of neat."

Real Housewife of Haddonfield

Kyle Richards played little Lindsey Wallace, who's at first left in the care of doomed babysitter Annie (Nancy Kyes) before the more reliable Laurie takes charge, in 1978's Halloween. The Bravo star told E! News at the 2018 Halloween premiere that she certainly would have liked to have been in the new movie.

"Maybe there's a next one—where's John Carpenter?" Richards said with a smile. "Is he here? I'll be right back!"

She laughed, but the manifestation worked: Grown-up Lindsey was back for Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends.

Which gave Richards the chance to confirm to E! in 2022 that Michael Myers has got nothing on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion terror. "My new thing is," she said with a wink, "I think I'm just going to get Michael Myers and the Housewives together and let them have their own fun."

Halloween Forever

The original Halloween paved the way for, not only a dozen more movies featuring Michael Myers, but countless imitators, all trying to replicate the legendary final-girl formula: Alternately clueless/bratty/horny young people are picked off by a relentless killer until only the solitary "average"-but-savvier-than-her-friends heroine is left standing.

"What I've gotten from her is way more than she's gotten from me," Curtis told Variety about playing Laurie at the Halloween Ends premiere. "Because when I'm gone, her legacy will become mine. Now, of course, I have my children, and that is my life, and that's crucial. But in the films, she is my legacy, and I could not be prouder of any legacy—unless it's like Mother Teresa or, you know, a great great Nelson Mandela or somebody like that—but in a film character, there's not one you could name that I would rather be than Laurie Strode."

James Jude Courtney, who as Michael battled Curtis in the final trilogy, said of the heroine, "She's a poster child for an empowered woman. And an empowered human being empowers everyone around them, and she's empowered an entire legacy, an entire genre of human beings."

2018's Halloween is streaming on Peacock.

(E! and Peacock are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)