Halloween (or That Time Halloween Was Changed Into a Commercial for Halloween 2)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Rex grew up in Texas then moved to Georgia when he was in his mid-20s. (He has remained in the south ever since.) He is not a movie reviewer or film journalist, just a guy who loves movies who keeps his wife up all night with the screams from chainsaw massacres and psycho madness coming from the TV. He misses video stores and believes the world would be a better place if we all slowed down and watched Tourist Trap once in a while. He appreciates Sam and B&S About Movies for giving him an opportunity to talk crazy about flicks he loves. 

2018 marked the 40th anniversary of probably the greatest story of teen chum in the suburbs ever told, the original, the classic, Halloween. The night HE came home, big, crazy Michael The Shape Myers. On Halloween night 1963 he stabbed up his sister Judith after she engaged in the fastest sex in the history of horny teenagers and then he did a stint in the juvie clink for terminally psychotic delinquents where he met a doctor crazier than he was and then he showed back up in Haddonfield fifteen years later on Halloween night 1978 to do the stick-and-stab boogie on a bunch of dumb disco teens who reminded him of his sister.

The flick was sort of a rite of passage back in the day. Kids were going to watch it to see if they could survive it. We were hearing reports of kids turning into puddles of Jell-O and having to be scraped off theater floors it was so dang scary. 

I was twelve when Halloween came out and mama refused to let me see it. She’d heard on the local Leo McNab radio news program that films like Halloween and KISS albums was steering teenagers towards hellfire and damnation. I reasoned that at twelve I’d be okay if it was just affecting teenagers, turning them into upside-down cross worshipping Satan-freaks. Mama wasn’t buying what I was selling, and daddy said he’d long learned to pick his fights with mama carefully, and he didn’t see any point throwing into the ring on this losing battle.

It killed me I couldn’t go see it but secretly I was kind of relieved. When word came down that a kid from Hill County Middle School was rushed to the hospital after he had a massive heart-attack at a 7:15 show Friday night show, I knew I shouldn’t push my luck. Up to that point in my life the scariest thing I ever faced was a long hot summer weekend at my grandma’s and she didn’t have air conditioning. I guess I could have sneaked in or got my uncle Tim to take me, but I tended to still listen to what mama said back then.

The next year they still hadn’t made a horror flick scarier than Halloween so they re-released it in theaters and you would have thought it was the first time. I don’t know what happened, but I missed it again.

Summer of 1980 hit and I had a lot more freedom in going to see movies, freedom in that I didn’t feel I had to ask mama about going to see what I wanted to see and she never asked so it worked out. A film “inspired by the true events of Halloween making a ton of dirty money” came out and it was amazing. Of course, I’m talking about the teen chum in the woods flick Friday the 13th. Gore and blood and boobs- whoa! It was a 90-minute blast of the cheapest of cheap thrills and I loved it.

This and a couple others like Terror Train, Prom Night and Silent Scream and I was hooked. I was now a full-fledged, frothing at the mouth teenage slasher movie fanatic. But there were all kinds of other great horror flicks coming out then, stuff like The Howling, Death Ship, The Fog, Scanners. It was a great time and I was at the theater almost every weekend seeing something.

Somehow, though, fate kept conspiring against me, and I never could catch up with Halloween. As far as cable, my daddy was always saying, “I pay to have the garbage picked up from the house, not dropped off,” so we didn’t have cable and we didn’t get our first VCR until 1983. (It was a glorious beast, big as an ocean liner, a top loader with wired remote.) So, there weren’t many options to catch up with it. Plus, honestly, with so many new horror flicks always coming out, there was always something playing to go see.

1981 come up on us and there was some buzz from my horror flick loving friends about Michael The Shape Myers returning to the big screen. I was out of the loop. Then Fangoria #15 came out with the grinning Halloween II pumpkin-skull on the cover and I was that 12-year-old kid again, dying to see the original.

As it happened, there was a big to-do about Halloween playing on broadcast TV, which coincided with the weekend release of Halloween II. I was determined to see Halloween II no matter what, so I was darn sure to have my butt parked in front of the TV on Friday night for the world premiere broadcast of the original.

I remember the night it filled up the screen of our 27” Curtis Mathes console TV like it was last night. It was Friday, October 30th, 1981 and it was a perfect night. There was a cool breeze blowing through the curtains, a little scrape across the windowpanes from the Live Oak just outside. It added just the right touch of creepy.

Me and my sister settled in with a big bowl of Jiffy Pop and ice-cold Big Reds for the flick.

Again, this wasn’t my first rodeo in Slasher City, but I knew Halloween was something different. It didn’t have a bunch of disgust-o Tom Savini blood effects, but it was definitely something that none of them other slasher flicks were, that being this was a bona fide scary dang movie. And when I say scary, I mean them little hairs on the back of your neck standing straight up shivering and ice water running through your veins.

We kept jumping in our seats and at one point, when that rusted length of gutter attacks Dr. Loomis in the Myers’ house,  I was so startled I let loose a popcorn fart that got us giggling through a block of commercials for Black Flag Roach Motel, Dr. Pepper and Frontier Motor Company’s used cars. I knocked over my Big Red and it left a stain on the carpet that remains to this day at my parents’ house.

The following night, Halloween, I went to see Halloween II with friends and with the original so fresh in my head I cheered as Michael The Shape Myers went after teens who not only reminded him of his sister Judith, but Laurie The Nerd Strode turned out to actually be his baby sister! (That’s what that business in the original was about when Loomis saw Michael had scratched the word “sister” onto the back of his asylum bedroom door.) Halloween II proved to be one of the best dead teenager flicks ever made.

When 1983 was showing up on calendars we had a VCR and I had a part-time job flipping burgers at Dirty Martins, so I went over to Palace Video, paid my membership fee and started renting little black boxes with movies in them.

I finally got around to renting Halloween. In fact, I rented the first three Halloween flicks for my own little movie marathon. Right away, though, about fifteen minutes into the original, I felt something was amiss.

The scene of the stuffy doctor talking to Loomis, saying Michael The Shape’s real middle name is Audrey, was missing! Immediately following that, the entire dang scene that totally explained what Michael The Shape Audrey Myers was doing was gone, the whole scene that set up the entire sequel and tied the two movies together so beautifully was M.I.A. gone, vanished and that was Loomis seeing the word “sister” scratched onto the door. The absence of these two scenes were too distracting for the longest, but then the movie seemed to be finished messing with me and I just got caught up in its magic.

I popped in Part II, but I didn’t think it worked as well with the original now. I don’t know. It was like two puzzle pieces from different puzzles that sort of fit together okay enough to go on to the next piece, but they really didn’t fit.

For weeks it haunted me. My friends were split. The ones remembered watching it on TV said I wasn’t cracking up, that those scenes were in the original. My friends who saw it in the theater said we were all crazy, that those scenes never were in it. I was perplexed, but I was a teenager and life went on.

Years went by and I fought being an adult, but I lost, and it happened anyway. At some point in the ’90s I’m picking up some favorite movies on VHS because, well, tape is forever, and I picked up Halloween. It didn’t look any different than it ever did as far as the box was concerned but after I popped it into the player, it was actually the version I’d seen all them years back on TV!

I had no idea why those scenes were put back in but there’s the stuffy doctor talking about crazy little Michael The Shape Audrey Myers and “sister” is scratched onto his bedroom door and then a scene I’d forgotten where Laurie The Nerd Strode agrees to loan Linda The Tramp her sweater for her date with Bob The Drinking Horndog. (You probably remember Bob The Drinking Horndog pulling and tugging at that sweater, trying to get to Linda The Tramp’s perky pups, and Linda The Tramp totally telling him to cool his jets and not to stretch out the sweater.)

Well, over time I came to learn this version of Halloween I got on video was the TV version specially put together for that world premiere television broadcast on the same weekend Halloween II opened in theaters in 1981. As for why it was released on tape, supposedly it was an “accident” where the wrong version was duplicated but considering Halloween had been around on videotape as long as there were movies on videotape, I never believed that story. That release caused quite a stir with horror fiends and everyone bought up that “accidental” release to have the different version with all those extra scenes.

At the time of the broadcast Johnny Carpenter and Debbie Hill said these scenes were necessary to make up for the running time of all the “rough scenes” that had to be cut out for the broadcast. Now, Halloween was never some gore epic and there wasn’t enough gratuitous sex and boobage to make a real dent in the running time once removed. All this got me thinking and thinking hard.

With how perfect and precise those extra scenes added to the TV version were, and how perfectly they played with Part II, it dawned on me like a sinner in church that a greater power was at work here, and that was the power of the almighty opportunity to make dirty money.

Yup, the classic teen chum in the suburbs fright flick Halloween had been pulled and pressed and kneaded and stretched like pizza dough until it was transformed into nothing more than a two hour long commercial for the release of the sequel, Halloween II!

This gave Halloween II a knife’s edge over the competition of every other gut-stabber being released at the time in that it had a two hour infomercial on TV for free that set up the entire plot of the second one, disguised as a NBC Friday Night at the Movies broadcast. (To drive this point like a crooked nail a little further, making the original film nothing more than a commercial was an in-joke in Halloween III. When our alcoholic hero with zero Halloween spirit sees a commercial for the original film on TV in a bar, here the original film is being used in a commercial to help promote the “big giveaway” where the 2,000 year old warlock villain wants all the kids to watch so he can melt all their noggins down into a torrential rainstorm of crickets, chiggers and rattlesnakes. Halloween was acting as a shill for another sequel once again!)

Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story realizing his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring only worked for deciphering Ovaltine radio ads, this TV version was only altered, and its entire plot shifted, so as to sell tickets to Halloween II.

Honestly, in the world of crazy cinema marketing techniques, this is probably one of the greatest marketing gimmicks ever perpetrated, if not the greatest, if only for the fact that nobody seemed to notice or even care. Carpenter and Hill altered their classic to help hedge their bets on folks wandering into a theater to see Part II on opening weekend and they were correct. Halloween II was the number one flick that weekend, taking in seven and a half million dirty bucks, which was some considerable folding money in 1981.

And, if we’re still being honest, the TV version of Halloween didn’t take anything away from it forever being a classic. Heck, if anything, it adds another interesting layer of history on the flick which very few flicks have. It’s not like when all them man-babies were crying in their mama’s basements that their childhoods had been suddenly rendered null and void after George Lucas started tinkering with the Star Wars flicks. Or when Paul Feig dared to change up the sausage fest of the original and cast his version of Ghostbusters with ladies, it had the same man-babies crying that their childhoods were based on lies all because something in a remake for a movie they saw when they were kids was changed around.

Whenever I hear that kind of nonsense I can’t help but smile and think, “Heck, Johnny Carpenter and Debbie Hill did that first, and no one even batted an eye that time they took Halloween and turned it into a commercial for Halloween II.”

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