On a cloudy fall day in South Pasadena, calming new age music floats on the chilly morning air as the members of a small tai chi class execute their slow movements in front of the city’s library. At a house across the street, what appears upon first glance to be a film shoot is actually a neighborhood garage sale. It wouldn’t surprise me if a shoot were taking place at this particular house, especially in October.
“You can use one of the pumpkins,” says a woman who approaches the house, pointing to the orange foam rubber props positioned on a bench near the front door. “Would you like me to take your picture,” she asks.
I thank her for the offer, but I’ve had my picture taken in front of this house before.
“No problem,” says the woman, who happens to be the homeowner. Before walking away, she wishes me a happy Halloween.
In general, this isn’t the typical exchange you might have with a person who owns a famous movie house, which comes with the burden of people standing outside and taking photos on a daily basis. The owners of this house in South Pasadena, however, not only welcome fans, they encourage them to visit. Next to those fake pumpkins is a framed collage of color and black-and-white photos along a message that reads:
Yes, this is the house of Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) in Halloween (1978).
You can borrow the pumpkin, have a good time!
Another posted sign encourages visitors to use a pumpkin to “sit like Jamie Lee Curtis,” referring to the images in the framed collage in which Curtis, as high school student Laurie Strode, leaves her house and sits on a short cement pillar in the front yard. She holds the pumpkin in her lap while waiting to get picked up for her Halloween night babysitting job.
John Carpenter’s Halloween was released on October 25, 1978. With the arrival of the film’s infamous masked murderer, Michael Myers, Carpenter and co-writer/producer, the late Debra Hill, set off a trend of motion pictures about maniacs offing unsuspecting teenagers. Fifteen years after murdering his sister as a boy on Halloween night, Michael escapes the confinement of a sanitarium and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, to continue his killing spree.
With its meager budget of $300,000, the production didn’t have the luxury of traveling outside of Los Angeles to capture the traditional, romanticized Halloween that the filmmakers wanted—the kind that most Americans identify with. “You want to get to the core of your audience and the core of the audience is not Los Angeles. It’s out there in what’s derogatorily called ‘flyover country’ between Los Angeles and New York,” says Halloween production designer and editor, Tommy Lee Wallace. “That’s where we wanted to hit with our look, and our sense of it, and our feel. The kind of audience we were looking for was out there in the main part of the country.”
The small, fictional town of Haddonfield, which was named after the historic New Jersey town where Debra Hill grew up, was created completely with practical L.A. locations during the spring of 1978.
“Los Angeles presented a real challenge because in the spring, as most of the year, Los Angeles looks the same: it’s sunshiny and kind of nice, unless there’s a lot of smog in the air,” says Wallace, who later directed the cult favorite, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), and the hugely popular ABC miniseries of Stephen King’s IT (1990). “There are two kinds of autumn back east: there’s the beautiful bucolic, colorful leaves version of autumn and then there’s the moody, kind of rainy and cloudy and grey [version] with brown leaves falling through the air, and that was the best we could do.”
Though the filmmakers accepted the fact that they would have to deal with a certain amount of sunshine, they created their own brown leaves to scatter about the frame and sought out an area of town where the coverage of trees could provide a sort of canopy to block out L.A.’s famous sunlight.
Audiences didn’t seem to notice that the film wasn’t shot anywhere near the Midwest, or mind that they might have glimpsed a palm tree here and there. Halloween grossed $55 million, making it one of the most profitable independent films of all time.
“Obviously, we were successful,” says Wallace. “Maybe the limitations of Los Angeles, at that time of year, did something useful for us and caused us to go at it a different way. Who knows? Maybe that added to the scare power.”
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of the most popular horror films ever made, we spoke with Wallace about the film’s L.A. locations and returned to the old knifing grounds of Michael Myers to see if they’ve aged as well as the infamous boogeyman.
Wallace grew up in the same town as John Carpenter, Bowling Green, Kentucky, and by the time he was tapped to design Halloween, he had already worked in the art department on Carpenter’s first two feature films: the sci-fi comedy Dark Star (1974) and the brutally raw Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).
With the small budget of Halloween came a diminutive crew, which meant that everyone was performing multiple jobs. Wallace, new to the position of production designer, took charge of everything visual and therefore became the film’s main location scout without actually being asked to do that particular job. He had only been in town a few years at that point and admits that he wasn’t too familiar with the territory outside the proper city limits of Los Angeles. “I had gotten around a bit, but I was still scratching my head. ‘Well, OK, now we’ve got to go out and find the ideal place for this to occur,’” Wallace remembers thinking.
Just northeast of downtown L.A., Wallace stumbled upon a neighborhood that immediately struck him on an emotional level as having the potential to become Haddonfield, Illinois.
Though South Pasadena, the 3.4-square-mile city nestled between Pasadena and Alhambra, has typically been a go-to choice for filmmakers looking for a small-town atmosphere, Halloween was certainly one of the earliest popular films to take advantage the city’s quaint charm. Craftsman houses, streets of live oak trees, and a classic main street all evoke the feeling of innocence; a place tucked away from the rest of the world where danger on the horizon is inconceivable. The absence of tropical vegetation in South Pasadena allowed Carpenter to shoot his actors walking the streets in long, wide takes that helped convey the geography of Haddonfield. Subsequent to Halloween, other small-town films that chose South Pasadena included Carpenter’s own Christine (1983), Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Back to the Future (1985), Teen Wolf (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986). Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween also filmed in South Pasadena.
“The streets, unmistakably, have a lot of character,” says Wallace. “The mood was right; the feel was right; you only see so much with a camera, and if the frame works then you go with it. Part of this is desperation and part of it is aesthetics.”
The Myers House
The anchor of the film’s South Pasadena locations was its archetypal haunted house.
After arriving in South Pasadena, it didn’t take long for Wallace to find the dilapidated house where you could imagine neighborhood kids daring each other to knock on the door, as is depicted in Halloween. Its timeworn white paint and boarded up windows could just have easily made grown adults cross the street rather than walk in its shadow.
Other than adding a banged up rain gutter and a few other aging touches, the house on Meridian Ave. appeared almost exactly on film as it did when Wallace first scouted it. “Remember, we’re talking low budget. To walk or drive up this street and see this house and go, ‘Holy shit, look at that. That’s kind of ready to shoot.’”
A nursing home around the corner on Mission St. owned the house at the time and agreed to let the filmmaker use it. “I think they were pleased to have a location fee,” says Wallace. “They were using it as a graveyard for wheelchairs and crutches – sort of a little warehouse for equipment they weren’t using currently.”
The location that would become the home where Michael Myers murdered his sister on Halloween night, forever cementing its place in cinematic lore as the Myers house, also stood out in the neighborhood in terms of style. Unlike the famous Craftsman houses of Pasadena and South Pasadena that were built in the early 20th century, the Myers house was built in the late 19th century in a style reminiscent of saltbox homes that originated in New England. (It should be mentioned that Hill noted on the DVD commentary that the location was intriguing because its windows and front door made the house appear as though it had a face.)
Finding the house in its dilapidated condition was a windfall for the production looking for the ominous home of Michael Myers, but for the film’s famous opening POV shot that moves through the house, the location needed to appear as though it was a lived-in, middle class home. In order to achieve this, Wallace and his small team, which also included cast members, renovated the house to camera. Only the areas that Carpenter was going to photograph with a slowly roaming Panaglide camera were repaired. Paint was drying and wallpaper was going up until the camera began to roll, recalls Wallace.
About two days of the film’s condensed 20-day shooting schedule were devoted to preparing the house and filming the opening shot, which was photographed on the last day of production. “The logistics were insane,” says Wallace. As the camera operator moved through the house, a team of crew members was in tow: an assistant cameraperson pulled focus; director of photography, Dean Cundey, held a dimmable light that would change intensity based on what the camera was seeing; Wallace was carrying a bucket of blood that he used to smear on Michael’s sister after she was stabbed; off to the side of camera, Hill’s arm doubled as young Michael’s arm as he reached for a knife and stabbed his sister. Also as the camera moved through the house, electricians were jumping through windows and quickly moving lights to new positions while the camera was in another room.
“It was a zoo, and a wonderfully coordinated zoo,” says Wallace. “It was really fun and interesting and just a hell of a shot.” It is Wallace’s favorite scene in the film. Wallace remembers getting four good takes and that three of them were combined in the editing room to create the film’s masterful opening shot at the Myers house.
Today known as the Century House, South Pasadena historians consider it to be one of the earliest homes built in the small suburb, which was incorporated in 1888, the same year the house was constructed. About a decade after it was used as a location in Halloween, it was in imminent danger of being torn down to make room for an apartment complex.
The homes on both sides of the Myers house had already been demolished when late South Pasadena councilmember David Margrave recognized the house’s historical importance and bought it for a silver dollar under the pretense that it could be moved within a week’s time.
With nowhere to relocate the house, Margrave brazenly hired a crew to transport it down the street next to the railroad tracks running through the intersection of Mission Street and Meridian Avenue. The house still stands in that spot today, adjacent to the hardware store location from Halloween.
While fans from all over the world regularly visit the restored Myers house, a sign on the door asks visitors to please refrain from taking pictures on the porch or disturbing the businesses inside, which consist of a general contractor, insurance broker, and finance agent.
709 Meridian Ave.; South Pasadena (original location)
1000 Mission St.; South Pasadena (current location)
Smith’s Grove Sanitarium
On a dark and stormy night, Michael Myers’ psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), and a nurse drive to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where Michael has been incarcerated for 15 years. Upon approaching the gates of the hospital in a government-owned station wagon, patients in white medical gowns are seen aimlessly roaming the grounds. As Dr. Loomis gets out of the car to try and make sense of the situation, a man appears out of the dark, climbing on top of the vehicle and eventually smashing through the windows, forcing the nurse to flee the vehicle. The man speeds off in the car. We learn from Dr. Loomis that Michael Myers has escaped.
The dark roadways of the sanitarium were filmed along Lake Hollywood Drive around the Hollywood Reservoir.
“I lived in the Hollywood Hills and I knew that area pretty well,” says Wallace. “Especially at night, it’s eerie. It’s just a winding road with a chain-link fence. It doesn’t look very friendly or fun. It looks mysterious and looks obscure.”
Lake Hollywood Dr.; Hollywood
Throughout the entire history of film, if there’s only one privately owned movie house that is completely happy to oblige an enthusiastic fan base, it has to be Laurie Strode’s house from Halloween. The aforementioned prop pumpkins and comparison photos on display are not indicative of a welcome that fans will receive at most movie houses.
Wallace says Laurie’s house was one of the easiest locations to pinpoint. “All we needed was a little ‘shoe-leather,’ as we call it in the business: somebody coming out of a house and getting in a car, basically,” says Wallace. What is now one of the most visited movie houses in L.A. came from what was the simple idea of essentially trying to find a house that was close to another location. “We [needed] to break off and get this one little sequence—a couple of shots of Jamie hanging out and then coming out a door,” recalls Wallace of the assignment to find the house.
1115 Oxley St.; South Pasadena
Today, the main entrance of South Pasadena High School looks slightly altered from how it appeared in Halloween due to renovations made to the school between 2000 and 2003, but you can still see the corridor where Lynda (P.J. Soles) and Laurie leave the campus as Lynda complains about the stresses of high school cheerleading. The filmmakers also had access to a classroom at South Pasadena High School where Laurie would daydream out the window and see a masked man staring at her from across the street.
Though he couldn’t say for sure if school was in session when the filmmakers went into South Pasadena High School, Wallace says that it wouldn’t have necessarily disqualified the film from shooting there, especially if a monetary contribution was being made to a school fund. “That was way, way before Hollywood and other communities had gotten fed up with moviemakers. Now if you go to a typical location and ask to shoot there, they’ll say, ‘Well, yeah, for $12,000 a day,’” adds Wallace. “[Back] then you could find people who were excited about having you film at their location, and I suppose that includes those schools as well.”
Halloween also made use of nearby Garfield Elementary School in Alhambra for a scene in which classmates of little Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews), taunt him by repeating over and over again that the boogeyman is coming for him.
South Pasadena High School, 1401 Fremont St.; South Pasadena
Garfield Elementary School, 110 W. McLean St.; Alhambra
The Phone Booth
The production of Halloween was fairly contained in terms of its locations. In only on instance did the filmmakers travel a relatively long distance in order to capture a particular look that couldn’t have been achieved near South Pasadena.
For a scene in which Dr. Loomis makes a call from a roadside payphone warning Haddonfield police about Michael Myers’ return, Wallace found a barren stretch of open road east of L.A. in City of Industry. Today, the area is almost completely unrecognizable. In the four decades since filming, massive industrial complexes have risen, totally obscuring the rolling hills in the background that made the location attractive to begin with.
“We just needed a little bit of a vista and some hills in the background,” says Wallace. “I was just trying to find a countryside, a railroad track kind of thing or something remote that felt like we were—the point was we’re somewhere else.”
The only constant markers visible at the location today are a set a train tracks that Wallace found – a train coincidentally roared by during filming, adding to the production value – and a 1,600 square foot building built in 1970. Both can be glimpsed behind Loomis as he finishes his phone call and discovers an abandoned auto mechanic’s truck. What he doesn’t see is the naked dead body of the mechanic, which has been discarded in a patch of overgrown weeds. This, of course, is where Michael Myers obtained the mechanics coveralls that he would wear throughout the Halloween franchise.
Brea Canyon Rd. & Old Ranch Rd.; City of Industry
Of the most haunting images in Halloween, one that is often duplicated by fans finding their way to the location is that of Michael Myers eerily peering out from behind a tall hedge as Laurie and Annie approach. Along the same street are Lynda and Annie’s houses, as is the gloomy establishing shot location of Haddonfield.
(Side note: Lynda’s house can also be seen in the opening title sequence of ‘80s sitcom, Mama’s Family.)
Montrose Ave. bet. Oxley St. & Mission St.; South Pasadena
Upon arriving in Haddonfield, Dr. Loomis makes a stop at the town cemetery to check on the grave of Michael’s sister, Judith Myers. Escorted by the graveyard keeper, the two discover Judith’s headstone to be missing.
Wallace suspects that it was Hill who found the location, which was the Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery. The first interment at the cemetery dates back to 1882 and 16 veterans of the Civil War are also buried there. At the time of filming, much of the grounds were overgrown, but through the ‘80s and ‘90s a number of upgrades were made, so the cemetery is in a better state now than it was 40 years ago.
Hitchcock also used the cemetery in what would be his final film, Family Plot (1976). The location can also be seen as the cemetery during Laura Palmer’s funeral in Twin Peaks.
If you visit Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery, get your bearings by looking for the large headstone reading “Sinclair,” which is seen in a master shot next to Judith Myers’ desecrated grave.
601 E. Sierra Madre Blvd.; Sierra Madre
The second half of Halloween is set almost entirely around two houses across the street from one another. Laurie babysits Tommy Doyle in one house and Annie babysits Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) in the other. Both houses are stalked and their inhabitants assaulted by Michael Myers.
Wallace points out that the houses the filmmakers chose for Halloween were high-end homes because of logistics and the way houses appear on camera. “The houses one picks to look like typical, sort of everyday, kind of Main Street, kind of ‘regular people live here’— on film you have to pick a fucking mansion in order to get what looks normal and what is shoot-able and something you could get a film crew into,” he says.
Originally, it had been the intention to shoot both the Doyle and Wallace houses in South Pasadena. From a visual standpoint it would have made sense to work within an already established aesthetic. Continuing to work in South Pasadena would also have avoided a company move to another area of town.
Wallace says that he had lined up the perfect houses, but admits it was his fault as a newly minted production designer that one of the houses pulled the plug just before filming was to commence.
Though Halloween was filmed entirely on location, certain critical set pieces needed to be adapted into some of the real places. This was the case for the bedroom closet door in the Doyle house that Michael Myers breaks through during his relentless attack on Laurie.
While on his way back to the film’s Hollywood production office after scouting for other locations, Wallace stopped by the South Pasadena house that was to be the Doyle residence in the film’s climax. He needed to take measurements for the closet and happened to be passing by. “It was a cold call. Remember, there were no cell phones at that point,” says Wallace. The location’s housekeeper let Wallace in after he explained what he needed to do. After taking only a few minutes to get his measurements Wallace found himself in the awkward position of turning around to find one of the homeowners, the woman of the house, asleep in a bed. “I just tiptoed out and went down the stairs and left,” says Wallace.
By the time he returned to the production office shortly thereafter, the homeowner had heard what happened, wasn’t happy about it, and canceled the location. “It was just a lack of professionalism on my part and a terrible mistake,” says Wallace. The filmmakers had to scramble to find new locations.
Wallace doesn’t recall why the production didn’t try to find a couple of other houses in South Pasadena. He does remember that everything was moving very quickly and it’s likely that Hill knew of or had heard about Orange Grove Avenue, just north of Sunset Boulevard. in Hollywood.
The Doyle house, where Laurie ends up trapped in the aforementioned closet was built in 1920 and is most recognizable because of its second story balcony. Lindsey’s house across the street was built decades later in 1962. After a remodel, the house’s open carport seen in the film became an enclosed garage. Both houses were used in last year’s American Horror Story: Cult, which also takes place in the Midwest.
1530 N. Orange Grove Ave.; Hollywood (Doyle house)
1537 N. Orange Grove Ave.; Hollywood (Wallace house)
Please keep in mind that some of these locations are on private property. Do not trespass or disturb the owners. Follow Jared on Twitter at @JaredCowan1.