Halloween is over. Christmas is near. A fitting time to explore an interesting link.
John Carpenter’s Halloween and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas have a good deal in common, and it’s not just that they’re both holiday horror classics. The films were also both released in the 1970s – Halloween in 1978 and Black Christmas several years prior, in 1974 – and they’re both credited for helping to kick-start the American slasher movement that primarily dominated the 1980s. Of course, most ’80s slashers had way more in common with Friday the 13th – released in 1980 – but the tropes of the sub-genre were firmly established in the ’70s by Clark and Carpenter.
What else do Halloween and Black Christmas have in common? Well, the origins of John Carpenter’s game-changing slasher classic can perhaps be traced back to a conversation he once had with Bob Clark about, you guessed it, Black Christmas – specifically, that conversation was about a sequel to Black Christmas…
Speaking with Icons of Fright many years ago, the late Bob Clark relayed the tale:
I never intended to do a sequel [to Black Christmas]. I did a film about three years later… started a film with John Carpenter. It was his first film for Warner Bros. He asked me if I was ever going to do a sequel and I said no. I was through with horror; I didn’t come into the business to do just horror. He said, ‘Well what would you do if you did do a sequel?’ I said it would be the next year and the guy would have actually been caught, escape from a mental institution, go back to the house, and they would start all over again. And I would call it Halloween.
Sound familiar? Yup, that’s basically the plot of Halloween, in a nutshell. Of course, a killer escaping a mental hospital and going on another rampage isn’t exactly all that original of a concept for a slasher film, but it’s hard to imagine that this conversation didn’t at least have some modicum of influence on Carpenter when it came time to make his own slasher.
Did he steal the idea from Clark? Clark didn’t think so:
The truth is John didn’t copy Black Christmas. He wrote a script, directed the script, did the casting. Halloween is his horror movie and besides, the script came to him already titled anyway. He liked Black Christmas and may have been influenced by it, but in no way did John Carpenter copy the idea. Fifteen other people at that time had thought to do a movie called Halloween, but the script came to John with that title on it.
How Halloween came to be, from what we’ve heard over the years, is that producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad approached Carpenter to direct a movie about a killer stalking babysitters. Carpenter and Debra Hill agreed, beginning work on a script titled The Babysitter Murders. It was reportedly Yablans who then suggested the movie be retitled Halloween, and set on Halloween night.
Are Billy and Michael Myers the same person? Did Black Christmas directly inspire Halloween? One of these questions is silly (but fun) to ponder, and the other seems to have a definite answer. Yes, Black Christmas did influence Halloween, if only because it laid the groundwork for ideas and even shooting styles that Carpenter would have even more success with just four years later. As for that conversation with Bob Clark, it certainly seems to have made an impression on Carpenter.
Black Christmas and Halloween. Equally influential classics, at the end of the day.