The Original Halloween: A Debra Hill Production

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 9.35.34 AM

This week the latest installment of the horror franchise Halloween was released to great box office success. A direct sequel to the original, it ignores all other installments and re-boots and has broken box office records.

In celebration, Jamie Lee Curtis tweeted the following:

The Tweet was shared on the horror social media page Dread Central and although it was received positively by most, there was also the expected backlash against anything celebrating the achievements of women by more than several of the rank and file immature fanboys. One commenter asserted that John Carpenter created the original film and therefore Curtis owes the success of the new film (and the entire franchise) to him. The facts beg to differ.

Halloween was co-created by a woman. Her name was Debra Hill. She is credited as the film’s co-writer and producer. It’s right up there on the screen with Carpenter’s name, although – despite their supposed literacy – many viewers have simply ignored its presence. In the minds of some fans, it’s almost like her name isn’t there at all. “This,” I replied to the commenter, “is why we need feminism.”

In the interest of fairness and equality, let’s talk a bit about Ms. Hill.

Debra Hill first met John Carpenter in 1975 when he was looking for a script supervisor on Assault From Precinct 13. A few years later, they went on to create Halloween together. She co-wrote the screenplay and also acted as producer.

Hill was responsible for all of the character development and dialogue of the three female leads. Without her, there would be no Annie with her sarcastic put-downs, no giggling, air-headed Lynda and – most importantly – no Laurie Strode, the shy intelligent final girl who sings to herself “I wish I had you all alone…just the two of us…” An unforgettable characteristic to be sure.

Hill’s realistic dialogue gave 1978 audience someone they could relate to. The scene that best illustrates this is the one in the car where Annie attempts to get Laurie out of her shell and ask a boy on a date while smoking weed. Hill herself directed the largely improvised scene, having discussed the context with the actors beforehand. The result is that we sympathize with these young women and in the end, root for Laurie to survive. Without the likability of three characters, Halloween would likely not have struck a chord with audiences of the day and would be forgotten rather than serving as a template for the countless imitators that came after it.

Hill is also responsible for the naming of the town Haddonfield, where the film takes place. She was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey and went to Haddonfield High School. She chose all the (now iconic) houses for the locations and she even played the hands of the young Michael Myers that pick up the clown mask at the opening of the film.

She went on to work as producer on Halloween II and III and re-united with Carpenter for 1980’sThe Fog, 1981’s Escape From New York and its 1996 sequel, Escape From L.A. In 1985, she produced David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Dead Zonestarting Christopher Walken as well as the Tim Curry classic Clueand 1988’s Big Top Pee Wee.

THE FOG, producer Debra Hill, Jamie Lee Curtis on set, 1980, (c) Avco Embassy

As one of Hollywood’s first female producers, she was a member of the Producer’s Guild of America, eventually coming to serve on their board of directors as well as on the Executive Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her work on Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, which also won a Golden Globe for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy for the year 1991.

In 2002, I was honored to watch Ms. Hill give a presentation at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood, California on the films she worked on with John Carpenter. Along with anecdotes from the making of the films, she spoke of the need for more women in the film industry to get behind the camera and the difficulties she faced as a female writer/producer. “I was assumed to be the make-up and hair person, or the script person…everybody called me “Honey.” I was never assumed to be the writer or producer.”

I was later shocked to learn that she was likely ill on the day I watched her speak. In 2005, after a long battle with cancer in which she had both legs amputated below the knee, she passed away. She was only 54.

In her name, The Producer’s Guild of America has established The Debra Hill Fellowship, which awards both men and women who complete an accredited graduate program in producing and “whose work, professionalism and passion mirror that of Debra Hill.”

In October of 2012, The New Beverly Cinema hosted the first Debra Hill film festival with all proceeds going to the Fellowship.

Debra Hill once said, “I hope someday there won’t be a need for women in film. It will just be people in film.” She was a pioneer who should not be forgotten by anyone. Least of all by horror fans to whom they owe a debt of gratitude for helping to create one of the genre’s most beloved modern classics. Thank you, Ms. Hill. Rest In Peace.

 

Sources:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/debra-hill-527694.html

https://www.thewrap.com/debra-hill-film-festival-honor-pioneering-producer-60091/

https://www.producersguild.org/page/DebraHill

http://www.cinefilles.ca/2015/10/01/remembering-halloween-co-writer-and-reel-survivor-girl-debra-hill/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1485210/Debra-Hill.html