If you’re under the age of 45, Halloween means something different to you than it meant to any other generation. Children disguised as ghosts and witches (along with plenty of adult zombies and superheroes) have been Trick-or-Treating for nearly a century now. The practice of going house-to-house and demanding tribute, usually in the form of candy or some sweet treat, is nothing new.
But the way Western culture thinks about Halloween, and the way the holiday is marketed, changed drastically in the late 1970s, all thanks to the craft of film producer Irwin Yablans. He provided the spark, and the money, for John Carpenter’s genre-defining Halloween films. Ten movies later, with another project in the developmental stage, it is practically impossible to think about All Hallow’s Eve in the year 2012 without invoking something of the spirit of that first gory blockbuster in 1978.
The Repackaging of Halloween
The movie tells a simple story: on October 31st, 1963, a young boy named Michael Myers murders his older sister in a particularly grisly manner. Fifteen years later, Myers makes his escape from the psychiatric hospital where he was sentenced to for life, returning to his home to stalk and terrorize the unlucky Laurie Strode and just about all of her friends.
If you haven’t seen the film, and you call yourself a fan of horror movies, you’ll no doubt see the influence of John Carpenter’s movie on just about everything else you love. The music, the look, the mood, the dialogue, and even the framing of the story itself have become so commonplace in Hollywood that the original Halloween is a sort of Bible for scare enthusiasts. If you are a fan of the original movie, watching Yablans’ vision, as knit together by John Carpenter, is a sort of return to your roots, especially since the movie has not been released on such a big scale since 1978.
Starting on October 25th, 2012 and running all the way through to the first of November, John Carpenter's original 1978 film Halloween will be back on the big screen. Thirty-four years after it first shocked and scared moviegoers, the movie that started it all will be showing at select cinemas around the country.
The film first appeared on October 25th, 1978, and earned just under $50 million at the box office. Irwin Yablans produced Carpenter’s Halloween on a budget of less than $375,000, but the impact of Yablans’ vision is bigger than the ratio of its budget to its earnings – Halloween is not just a horror classic, it changed the way people think about the holiday and the way filmmakers and pop culture mavens celebrate what was once little more than a kiddie festival of candy and pranks.
More about Irwin Yablans
In his memoirs, Yablans talks about his youth spent listening to radio shows, audio-only narratives that didn’t have the convenience of moving pictures to grab the audience’s imagination. That early education in “the theater of the mind” is the single biggest influence on the original Halloween film series. Yablans and two other producers came up with the $325,000 it took John Carpenter to make the film that would one day earn well over $100 million internationally. In the late 70s, Carpenter’s film was by far the most successful indie film in terms of profit. But the echoes of the film in terms of character and genre archetypes are more important than dollars and cents.
So who is Irwin Yablans?
His is not a name you’ll hear often outside the conversations and blogs of hardcore horror film buffs, but Irwin Yablans did more to shape contemporary film than any of the big names of the past quarter-century. Yablans created the film series that is most often associated with the name of its director, John Carpenter.
Fast-forward to October 2012; Yablans has timed the re-release of the original film with the publication of his autobiography, The Man Who Created Halloween, to present the story of how one man’s vision changed our entire society. The book is your typical rags-to-riches story in which Yablans describes growing up poor in Brooklyn only to one day change everything about Hollywood and the traditions associated with the 31st day of October.
Without Yablans, there is no independent film of any substance in America, certainly not one that includes thousands of gory flicks built around the last day of October. It’s difficult to describe Yablans’ career as a Hollywood insider, since we’re still living in the era he created. In more ways than your average movie fan knows, we live in Yablans’ world, paying $9.50 a pop to participate in it. Hollywood now produces horror movies year-round, and they all owe something to Yablans, Carpenter, and the creative team behind Halloween. These days, the work of independent producers and filmmakers has become just another Hollywood genre: movies like Juno and Napoleon Dynamite may be as far away from the subject matter of Michael Myers and company as you can get, but the way they were made and packaged follows the model Yablans used to change film history.
One of the most prominent examples of this phenomenon in the modern horror genre is The Blair Witch Project, a film made for next-to-no-money by an unknown creative team that would eventually set records in terms of ticket sales. The model is nothing new; it parallels what Yablans and Carpenter did twenty years earlier. In the mid-1970s, Irwin Yablans saw one of John Carpenter’s earliest films at a festival in Milan and saw the potential for his own vision of Halloween on film. 1978 was the year the modern horror movie was born, and its parents were two obscure indie artists that would forever change the way popular culture treats the month of October, and the way the movie business treats horror subjects.
Yablans is a fascinating guy, a man whose IMDB profile does a particularly poor job of honoring. He did more than change the way we think about October in general. Just one example of his influence in Hollywood was his successful effort to get big studio support for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, itself an obscure propaganda film based loosely on a slightly-less obscure piece of literature. Coppola’s film is on just about everyone’s list of the most important films in cinema history, the same way most horror fans think of the John Carpenter movie being re-released this October. It’s interesting to note that Yablans didn’t even go the traditional route of publishing his memoir, choosing to use Amazon.com’s indie platform CreateSpace rather than work out a traditional book deal.
Locations & Screenings
Over 500 theaters are planning to screen the film, most of which will also run a special mini-documentary about the making of the series and its influence on the movie industry called You Can't Kill The Boogeyman: 35 Years of Halloween. Here’s a list of theaters showing the films. Notice that all fifty states are represented, including some very small markets that are generally overlooked when it comes time for a film’s second release. Halloween and the accompanying short documentary will be appearing in big urban areas and small towns alike, so that no matter if you live in Edinburg, Texas or Chicago, there’s probably a screening within an hours’ drive.
Before Michael Myers, before the film’s iconic and creepy soundtrack, and before a virtual unknown from Brooklyn teamed up with a fresh-out-of-film school director, Halloween was a kiddie holiday. The success of 1978’s Halloween changed that, adding a very adult and gory edge to what was once a silly distraction involving candy corn and toilet paper.
The success of all things creepy, from AMC’s The Walking Dead to the Twilight series, owes everything to Irwin Yablans, a few hundred thousand dollars, and a mask that put an eerily empty face on the things that go bump in the night. Thirty-four years after it first spooked the pants off audiences, Halloween is still effective, both as a model for packaging movies and as a piece of entertainment. No, Yablans and Carpenter’s movie was not the first built around a horror theme, but it was the first in a long line of movies still being produced, easily one of the most influential pieces of film art ever printed. For kids of the 80s and 90s who grew up watching VHS copies of the movie or streaming it online on their computer screens, the opportunity to see the movie in all its big-screen glory is probably the first they’ve had. The October 2012 distribution of what is widely considered the birth of the modern horror movie is the first large-scale release since 1978, a rare opportunity to experience the story of Michael Myers in the format for which it was originally intended.
by Will Roby
Watch the original Halloween movie trailer below: