‘Halloween’ creator enjoyed the skill to chill
Forget the blood. Forget the gore. Forget the slasher films that have made their way to the top of the horror genre of today. For “Halloween” creator Irwin Yablans, there’s nothing more sinister than the mere suggestion of our worst nightmares coming true. A believer in “theater of the mind,” he’s convinced that if his signature horror film were released to today’s audience, it’d never generate the kind of scares that it did in 1978. Kids today, he feels, have just become too desensitized to be able to appreciate that infamous musical score that cued the proximity of Michael Myers to his latest victim.
Recently, Yablans released a memoir, “The Man Who Created Halloween” (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, $16.99), which gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the Merchant of Menace went from humble beginnings as a kid kicking around his Brooklyn neighborhood to one of Hollywood’s horror-movie darlings. Is there anything that can scare the guy who has ensured some of us still sleep with one eye open? His answer might surprise you …
Question: How did you came up with the concept of “Halloween”?
Answer: I was desperately trying to find ideas for a young filmmaker I had come in contact with — John Carpenter. I was on my way back from a film festival in Milan, and I was sitting in the dark cabin of a Boeing, and that was a long, long, ride. And I thought to myself, “It should be a horror film.” Because we had a budget to worry about, I thought, “Halloween! Why not Halloween? We’ll do it in one location, and we’ll try to do it all in one night.” When the plane landed, I ran home and I told my wife about it, and she thought it was great. And I got Carpenter on the phone and he got it immediately. … He was so excited.
So, we agreed to meet the next day at a hamburger place across the street from my office, and I told him it had to be no blood, no gore — it had to be theater of the mind. I grew up with radio, and radio used to have some great, great shows — the equivalent of horror shows today. And I had $300K budget. It was purely an inspiration!
Q: How does it feel to know you’re responsible for millions of children and adults sleeping with the lights on?
A: I love it! I’m called a Merchant of Menace by some, but my kids would tell you this: I was really an impossible prankster. I would love to hide in closets. I just love it. But listen, everyone has to be famous for something. It is not a gory movie; it is not a sadistic movie. I think, today, it would get a PG (rating).
When I was a kid, I loved Halloween, and Halloween was just that — a kids’ holiday. When we made the movie, I said, “We’ve appropriated a holiday, and we’re going to change the perception of Halloween and make it for all.” Halloween is the one holiday in the year that we celebrate without responsibility or obligation. You’re encouraged to go out and be mischievous and you’re rewarded for it.
Q: Why do we love scaring ourselves to death?
A: It is that controlled aspect of it — the fact that you can test yourself and test the limits of your endurance, but it’s controlled. You’re in control. You’re safe. That’s the part that really makes people love movies. They can go and get a thrill, and, at any time, they can close their eyes or leave.
Q: There was an actual Michael Myers in your life at the time. Did he serve as the inspiration for the character?
A: Yeah! He was a very lovely man. He had big black horned-rimmed glasses. He was very sweet. This was John Carpenter’s idea — he met him and decided. Michael was very flattered, but his wife is still very mad at me because she wonders where her take of the millions of dollars is.
Q: You described sitting in the back of a theater and being surprised at what strong reactions people had. What is it about that movie that just completely freaks people out?
A: I thought about that for many, many years. Two things. One, the rhythmic pacing of the movie. They never know when he’s going to come out of the shadows. Second, the musical score. I was in Boston when I saw it, and there were people screaming and yelling and running up and down the aisles. It was just bizarre!
Q: If “Halloween” were released today, do you think it would have the same effect on people?
A: No. In fact, I’m amazed that people still get something out of it now, because when I look at it, somehow it looks somewhat dated. I’m surprised that people get the scares out of it still. This audience today of young people has been so desensitized that I don’t know if it would work.
Q: Are there any movies out there that scare even you?
A: Nothing scares me anymore. I’m just immune to that sort of thing. What scares me is television and the news — the reality of life. That’s what keeps me awake at night and troubles me.