Horror Movie News and Reviews

Before Halloween, John Carpenter Tried to Make ‘Hillbillies from Hell’ With Tobe Hooper

Tonight’s Movie Pick Now Streaming on Netflix

File this one under “Did you know?”

Once upon a time in the early 70s, before the releases of Tobe Hooper’s classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and John Carpenter’s Halloween, Carpenter apparently wrote a script that he would later try to get Hooper to direct. If this had come to fruition, we likely wouldn’t have had a Halloween.

Legend has it that Carpenter penned a script in 1971 called Hillbillies from Hell, and after seeing the amazing Hooper film, approached the director about taking the helm. I’ve only come across one source of this information, but it’s a reputable one. The story is briefly touched on in New York Times columnist Jason Zinoman’s book Shock Value, which is based on firsthand interviews with a number of filmmakers. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

By their second and third movies, directors were expanding their artistic reach, but they were also becoming more defined by the conventions of the genre, in part because they had helped create them. Craven and Romero made their first movies on instinct and passion, but now they were engaged in a much more conscious dialogue with the expectations of a horror fan. That’s not to say they approached those expectations the same way. Craven, for instance, loved the grittiness and authenticity of Chain Saw while John Carpenter, never as interested in the realism of horror, responded to its comedy, ignored by most audiences, who were too terrified to laugh.

Carpenter, who marveled not at the reality but at the shameless artifice of the dinner scene, understood that Hooper was mixing horror and slapstick, because that was what he and Dan O’Bannon had done with Dark Star. He was so impressed that he contacted Hooper, told him he admired the film, and asked if he would be interested in directing a screenplay he had first written in a few quick sittings in 1971. Called “Hillbillies from Hell,” it followed a group of city girls driving out to the country . They take a detour and meet up with a family of cannibals, one of whom is a huge, unstoppable madman in a mask who chases girls around with a knife. After a few discussions, the collaboration fell apart. “There were complications,” Hooper said. “The deal didn’t work. [It was] about money. I regret not doing that,” Hooper said. But he didn’t really understand the extent of what he missed out on until two years later in 1978, when he went to see John Carpenter’s new movie, Halloween. As soon as the adult Michael Myers appeared on-screen, Hooper thought to himself: There he is!

I have to assume that had Hillbillies from Hell worked out, Carpenter likely wouldn’t have gone on to make the Halloween that we all know and love. Without Carpenter directing, it’s also likely that Hillbillies would have lacked the crucial elements that truly made Halloween what it is. As cool as it would be to see this movie, it’s probably for the best that it fell apart.

Carpenter and Hooper would eventually collaborate on Body Bags (pictured) many years later.

Zinoman’s book is full of interesting tales from and about the “masters of horror” (not limited to Hooper and Carpenter), and is definitely required reading for any horror fan.