The 1978 horror movie Halloween, directed by John Carpenter, is downright iconic, and has spawned multiple sequels, timelines and fan theories over the years. But, as fans get ready to see the latest thriller movie in the franchise, Halloween Ends, they may be shocked to hear that the story about the masked killer Michael Myers has some roots in the real world.
Like most of the 1970s horror movies, Halloween capitalised on the public’s serial killer fascination – which dominated the news cycles during the time. It was one of America’s first slasher movies – a sub-genre which spawned from Italian Giallo movies. The story of the well-known flick is pretty straightforward but nonetheless creepy, as a masked serial killer named Michael Myers, who first killed his family when he was six years old, returns to his childhood neighbourhood one fateful Halloween night.
Stalking the high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Michael, who escaped from a mental asylum, goes on a bloody rampage, killing every sexually active teen in his wake. From that short synopsis, you can see that the Halloween movies already sounds like a morbid true crime story. However, unlike some of its peers, such as Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween wasn’t actually inspired by a well-known criminal case.
Surprisingly, Halloween isn’t inspired by a real-life crime or serial killer, but Carpenter has admitted that his character, Michael Myers, does have real-life influences. Speaking in the 2003 documentary of the film called A Cut Above the Rest, the director revealed that the person who inspired the slasher icon wasn’t a prolific serial killer like Ed Gein’s influence on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – instead it was a nameless boy who he had briefly met during his university days.
While studying at Western Kentucky University, Carpenter visited a local mental institution, and the experience led to Michael’s creation. “I had a class—psychology or something—and we visited a mental institution,” the director recalled. “We visited the most serious, mentally ill patients. And there was this kid, he must have been 12 or 13, and he literally had this look.”
Carpenter would go on to describe how the young boy’s “evil stare” is what would inspire the emotionless killer Michael Myers as the interaction haunted him. “It was unsettling to me; it was like the creepiest thing I’d ever seen as a stranger,” he said. “It was completely insane.”
Carpenter never disclosed the name of the young patient or further details about his whereabouts – which is probably for the best, considering how much attention the fictional character based on the boy has received over the years. Still, even without a known identity, hearing that a child could shake the horror maestro Carpenter in real life does elicit a few chills up the spine.
The Halloween character Dr Loomis, would go on to describe the young boy’s impact on Carpenter in a scene where he recalled meeting a six years old Michael Myers. “I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes; the devil’s eyes,” Loomis said in the monster movie. “I realised what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
Along with the boy, Carpenter was also inspired by the real Celtic traditions of Halloween when writing his script with then-girlfriend Debrah Hill – especially Samhain, which in some literature, references the practice of sacrifices and bonfires.
“We went back to the old idea of Samhain, that Halloween was the night where all the souls are let out to wreak havoc on the living, and then came up with the story about the most evil kid who ever lived,” Hill told Fangoria in an interview. “And when John came up with this fable of a town with a dark secret of someone who once lived there, and now that evil has come back, that’s what made Halloween work.”
So there you have it, a real-life child and an ancient ritual are where the real drivers behind one of the best horror movies of all time. Another influence for Halloween Carpenter mentions isn’t based in reality, though. In the documentary, A Cut Above the Rest, the director also cites the 70s science fiction movie Westworld as an inspiration for Halloween, especially Yul Brynner’s portrayal of a “killer robot that couldn’t be killed”.
The fact that Michael Myers had the described “evil stare” of the real anonymous boy, plus the single-minded determination of a killing machine, has all led to the character making history and standing as one of the most imposing figures in the horror genre, period. Michael Myers has been kicking for decades in pop culture, and fans can now see his latest bloody outing in David Gordon Green’s Halloween Ends.