Film and television dominate the spooky season. Horror classics and cozy comfort movies are taking over streaming services this month. While these films are a staple to my Halloween season, I never really thought much about the people behind them until this year.
Hollywood has its share of industry “heroes,” or those leading the way for others like them to follow. However, one trailblazer is often missing from the ranks and is criminally underrated: Halloween producer Debra Hill.
Hill was born in a small New Jersey town called Haddonfield (sound familiar?) in 1950. After her college years, she began working in adventure documentaries as a production assistant. While working on smaller films, within a year, she had beefed up her resume to include assistant director, second unit director and script supervisor, which she met John Carpenter doing. Hill and Carpenter realized they worked well together and decided they wanted to write something to produce.
And so Hill and Carpenter became the parents of the ever-iconic Halloween franchise. While Hill and Carpenter only wrote the first two, they continued to give input throughout the years. Carpenter still works with the franchise to this day.
Debra Hill is not just a producer who lucked into a successful film. Women were not generally producers in the 1970s, but she earned her role with her knowledge of filmmaking and finances. With only a $300,000 budget, they were left with an inexperienced crew, which she led with an iron fist to a $60 million gross victory. Hill also wrote a solid amount of dialogue between the girls to make sure it read sincerely — she also had a large part in the creation of Laurie Strode, who really does feel like the girl next door. Halloween would not be what it was without Debra Hill.
A little fun fact for you: Hill is the one wielding the knife in the opening kill scene of Halloween.
Despite often having her name tied to John Carpenter, Hill had a hand in over 37 films and television shows throughout her career, with and without Carpenter. Outside of the Halloween franchise, Hill wrote (or co-wrote) and produced The Fog, Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. She holds an extensive list of other production credits, but a few notable entries include Halloween III, The Dead Zone, Clue and Adventures in Babysitting.
Hill brought up many times that she was mistaken for the makeup girl or a secretary at the beginning of her career, but by the end, she was being greeted with a respectful “ma’am” everywhere she went. For many filmmakers, Halloween was the first time they had heard of a woman producing, especially on such a lucrative film. Hill opened the door for women in the industry, even if just by making studios begin to consider them. She was still frustrated with the lack of women directors in the industry and often worked with very little support. When honored with the 2003 Women in Film award, she stated that she hoped for a better future where the category would not have to exist.
Devastatingly, Debra Hill lost her battle with cancer in 2005 at just 54 years old. Her wit and zest are forever immortalized in her iconic work and its impact on the movie industry.
I knew Debra Hill’s name from my annual Halloween rewatches, but I never learned much about her until listening to a podcast. Halloween Unmasked, a podcast by The Ringer, sheds light on the making of the classic horror film and its legacy. Specifically, the second episode, “John Carpenter Calls Action,” discusses the four key team members in the movie’s creation, including Hill.
In the podcast, we learn that John Carpenter fell so in love with Hill’s talent, he fell in love with her. The two weren’t endgame, but they remained an inseparable and unstoppable force on the job. Carpenter credits much of Halloween’s lasting success to Hill. You can listen to Halloween Unmasked here.
So, when you watch Halloween Kills this season — remember to thank Debra Hill for Michael Myers and Laurie Strode.