Halloween was written in approximately 10 days by Debra Hill and myself. It was based on an idea by Irwin Yablans about a killer who stalks baby-sitters, tentatively titled The Baby-sitter Murders until Yablans suggested that the story could take place on October 31st and Halloween might not be such a bad title for an exploitation-horror movie.
I shot Halloween in the spring of 1978. It was my third feature and my first out-and-out horror film. I had three weeks of pre-production planning, twenty days of principle photography, and then Tommy Lee Wallace spent the rest of the spring and summer cutting the picture, assisted by Charles Bornstein and myself. I screened the final cut minus sound effects and music, for a young executive from 20th Century-Fox (I was interviewing for another possible directing job). She wasn’t scared at all. I then became determined to “save it with the music.”
I had composed and performed the musical scores for my first two features, Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13, as well as many student films. I was the fastest and cheapest I could get. My major influences as a composer were Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone (who I had the opportunity to work with on The Thing). Hermann’s ability to create an imposing, powerful score with limited orchestra means, using the basic sound of a particular instrument, high strings or low bass, was impressive. His score for Psycho, the film that inspired Halloween, was primarily all string instruments.
With Herrmann and Morricone in mind, the scoring for Halloween began in late June at Sound Arts Studios, then a small brick building in an alley in central Los Angeles. Dan Wyman was my creative consultant. I had worked with him in 1976 on the music for Assault. He programmed the synthesizers, oversaw the recording of my frequently imperfect performances, and often joined me to perform a difficult line or speed-up the seemingly never ending process of overdubbing one instrument at a time. I have to credit Dan as Halloween’s musical co-producer. His fine taste and musicianship polished up the edges of an already minimalistic, rhythm-inspired score.
We were working in what I call the “double-blind” mode in 1978, which simply means that the music was composed and performed in the studio, on the spot, without reference or synchronization to the actual picture. recently, my association with Alan Howarth has led me to a synchronized video-tape system, a sort of “play it to the TV” approach. Halloween’s main title theme was the first to go down on tape. The rhythm was inspired by an exercise my father taught me on the bongos in 1961, the beating out of 5-4 time. The themes associated with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) now seems to be the most Herrmannesque. Finally came the stingers. Emphasizing the visual surprise, they are otherwise known as “the cattle prod”: short, percussive sounds placed at opportune moments to startle the audience. I’m now ashamed to admit that I recorded quite so many stingers for this one picture.
The scoring sessions took two weeks because that’s all the budget would allow. Halloween was dubbed in late July and I finally saw the picture with an audience in the fall. My plan to “save it with the music” seemed to work. About six months later I ran into the same young executive who had been with 20th Century-Fox (she was now with MGM). Now she too loved the movie and all I had done was add music. But she really was quite justified in her initial reaction.
There is a point in making a movie when you experience the final result. For me, it’s always when I see an interlock screening of the picture with the music. All of a sudden a new voice is added to the raw, naked-without-effects-or-music footage. The movie takes on it’s final style, and it is on this that the emotional total should be judged. Someone once told me that music, or the lack of it, can make you see better. I believe it. -John Carpenter