The Stories Behind Three Classic Halloween Movies

I’ve said this a million times, but I’ll go ahead and repeat myself for the first-time Neatorama reader: I loooooove Halloween. Halloween is like Christmas at the Conradt household. If I could keep my house decorated macabrely (I just made that word up) year-round, I absolutely would. Needless to say, I’m already in the mood for spooks and spirits. To help get you in the mood, though, we’ll explore the guts of classic horror movies you might find yourself watching on October 31.

Night of the Living Dead - 1968

Quick synopsis for those who haven’t seen it: The dead are mysteriously brought back to life and a mob of them swarm a farmhouse, where a bunch of people are holed up. Chaos ensues.

Would you believe this was supposed to be a horror-comedy? Well, you might, if you’re familiar with writer/director George Romero’s other movies. The first draft of what was then titled Monster Flick involved some teenage aliens who make friends with Earthling teenagers. Draft #2 is kind of a cross between draft #1 and the final Night: a man discovers a bunch of corpses in a field that were apparently used by aliens for food. Finally, draft #3 was pretty much the version that we know today.

It was produced for a mere $114,000 and has since grossed more than $30 million. Despite its popularity with audiences, critics didn’t much care for the film. When it premiered on October 1, 1968, Roger Ebert was upset that theater owners let kids in (there was no film rating system at the time). The New York Times said it was a “junk movie” and “really silly,” and other critics thought it was simply too gory. A few really loved it, though – Rex Reed said it was the epitome of a B movie turned into a classic. A few other quick facts:

• Taking a cue from Hitchcock, Bosco chocolate syrup was used as blood. George Costanza would be proud (or horrified, I’m not sure which).
• Similarly, when the zombies are eating bodies, they are really eating ham with Bosco on it. Ew.
• “Zombie” is never uttered. They’re usually referred to as “things”.
• Pay close attention to the graveyard struggle between Johnny and the zombie. Some of the moans made by the zombie are real – the actor playing Johnny accidentally kneed him in the groin at some point during the fight.
• The body discovered upstairs in the house was crafted by Mr. Romero himself. The eyes are made out of ping pong balls.
• Before George Romero wrote and directed horror movies, he edited shorts for Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

Halloween - 1978

Originally called The Babysitter Murders, Halloween was the movie that introduced us to Jamie Lee Curtis. Like Night of the Living Dead, John Carpenter and the makers of the movie were under some serious budget constraints - $325,000. There wasn’t much money for wardrobe, props or makeup, resulting in some pretty interesting stories. For example, the movie was filmed in California in the spring, not Illinois in the fall… which, of course, means no pumpkins or fall leaves. The crew managed to find some fake fall leaves, and after every scene was finished, they collected each and every one to be reused in the next scene that called for leaves. Also like Night, its tight budget made the fact that it grossed $47 million even more impressive (that’s something like $150 million today).

• The little girl who plays Lindsey Wallace is Kyle Richards – she’s Paris Hilton’s aunt.
• Because the budget was so low for the film, most of the actors wore their own clothes. Jamie Lee Curtis’ wardrobe cost about $100 and came from J.C. Penney.
• This is probably common knowledge by now, but if you haven’t heard, Michael Myers is William Shatner. His mask is, anyway. His trademark face is a $1.98 Captain Kirk mask, spray painted bluish-white and given larger eyeholes.
• Again, an homage to Hitch: Tommy Doyle, the little boy Laurie Strode babysits, is named after the Lt. Det. Thomas Doyle in Rear Window. Dr. Sam Loomis’ namesake is Marion Crane’s boyfriend in Psycho. Leigh Brackett, the sheriff and dad of Laurie’s friend, Annie, was named after a screenwriter who wrote for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, among many other things (including The Empire Strikes Back). And there’s the obvious as well: Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who starred as Marion Crane in Psycho.
• The famous theme song is written in 5/4 time, which is not very common. Carpenter wrote it himself. The movie credits “The Bowling Green Philharmonic” with the song, but in reality, it’s Carpenter and a bunch of his friends. He grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The Exorcist - 1973

This one was based on a real-life incident (read about it here), although liberties were taken for creative purposes, I’m sure.
It has grossed more than $402.5 million worldwide and earned 10 Academy Award nominations, but only ended up winning for best sound and best adapted screenplay.

Like the other movies we’ve talked about, the original reviews were mixed. One critic called it the only scary movie he had seen in years, but The New York Times (which apparently doesn’t like any horror movies) said it was “a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap.” And the Rolling Stone critic said it was basically religious porn. But, on to the trivia:

• The famous staircase where Karras dies can still be found in Georgetown. The students that went to the University charged people $5 to stand on their rooftops and watch the stunt being filmed.
• When the movie first came out, some theaters provided “Exorcist barf bags”.
• Linda Blair received death threats due to her role in the controversial movie. As a result, Warner Bros. provided her with bodyguards for six months after the debut of the movie.
• Lots of other people were considered for the main roles – Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn were all in consideration for the part of Regan’s mother. Alfred Hitchcock was offered the screen rights and was offered the chance to direct, but turned them both down. The late, great, Paul Newman could have been Father Karras, and Jack Nicholson was in consideration, too. The studio wanted Brando for Father Merrin, but William Friedkin fought this pretty hard. He believe that the casting choice would immediately cause the film to be promoted as a “Brando flick”.
• When Ellen Burstyn is thrown across the room and away from her daughter, that scream of pain you hear is real – she fell on her coccyx and received a spinal injury that still bothers her to this day.
• Billy Graham apparently told people there was actually a demon living in the reels of the movie. I’m sure the producers didn’t mind this - more publicity for the film!
The Exorcist couldn’t have been made without Groucho Marx. Long before he wrote the book, author William Peter Blatty was on the Marx quiz show, You Bet Your Life. He pretended to be a sheik who couldn’t remember how many wives he had, and Groucho totally bought it. His successful ruse earned Blatty $10,000. When Groucho asked how he was going to spend his prize money, Blatty said he was going to take a year off and work on a novel… which ended up being The Exorcist.
• You probably know that the substance used for Regan’s vomit was pea soup. But do you know what brand? Here’s a hint: not Campbells. Apparently the crew gave Campbells a try originally, but the effect wasn’t what they had hoped for. So they switched to Anderson’s.
• When the demon leaves Regan’s body, the awful sound you hear is pigs being herded to slaughter.

I’ve got more, but this is already getting a bit wordy, so maybe we’ll make this a two-parter. What classic horror movies would you guys like to know more about?

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In 1969 I took my girlfriend (soon to marry) to see The Night of the Living Dead at a drive-in theater. Before I could take her back to her dorm we had to watch a half-hour of The Incredible Mr Limpit on the other screen since she wouldn't be able to sleep after the scare we had just watched.
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While not strictly Halloween, it does take place in October, the original "The Thing from Another Planet" still packs a scare punch. The characters are believable. The overlapping dialogue has often been cited for this. My mother would not allow me to see this film.
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