What was a teenage Jamie Lee Curtis like on set of her first big film? How did they pull off those gory scenes without any digital effects?
Streaming on Oct. 12, Netflix’s series “The Movies That Made Us” sheds light on some of the darkest modern horror classics: “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Halloween,” and “Friday the 13th” — three scrappy productions that went on to see massive, enduring success.
The show’s creator and director, Brian Volk-Weiss, took The Post behind the scenes of those films, revealing little-known facts about what it was like making scary movies before the genre had any juice, the origins of some of the creepiest characters — and actual horrors experienced on set.
In the “Halloween” screenplay, killer Michael Myers is also called The Shape. When director John Carpenter began shooting, his buddy, Nick Castle, who had come by to watch, donned the rubber mask — a spookily altered Star Trek Captain Kirk mask — to appear in a shot as The Shape. It was not deeply thought out, Volk-Weiss told The Post. “Basically it was all these friends hanging out. ‘Oh, you want to play the bad guy? Sure!’ ” Castle ended up playing The Shape for most of the film — but in the scene in which Myers is unmasked, he’s played by actor Tony Moran. (Castle would go on to play The Shape in subsequent “Halloween” movies on top of directing his own films.)
Donald Pleasence, the veteran English actor playing psychiatrist Doctor Loomis, did not love being in the movie, and drank heavily. Shooting a scene in which his character rides in a car with a nurse, Pleasence was two bottles of wine deep — but thanks to a talking-to by Carpenter, who had tried to avoid confronting his only famous actor before that point, he managed to deliver a sober performance.
As a newbie actress, however, Curtis charmed everyone as Laurie Strode. It was her big break, and, at just 19, she would even help carry film equipment. “I’m friends with [‘Halloween Kills’ director] David Gordon Green, and he says she still does that,” said Volk-Weiss. (Curtis is reprising the role of Laurie for the sixth time in the franchise’s latest installment, “Halloween Kills,” out Friday).
Inevitably, “Halloween” has goofs: When the killer shatters a car window, you can spot a wrench taped to the actor’s hand. Volk-Weiss has a theory about another error being edited out in new versions: “I am positive, when I first saw this movie, I could see the Steadicam reflected in the window,” he said. “I’m convinced if you found a VHS tape from the ’80s, you could see it.”
‘Friday the 13th’ (1980)
“This film started off as a poster,” said Volk-Weiss. Eager to capitalize on “Halloween,” director Sean Cunningham ran a Variety ad for “the most terrifying film ever made” in hopes of attracting investors. It worked. “There was a good reaction to the poster, so they made a movie!”
The genre was just beginning. “The term ‘horror movie’ didn’t really exist until ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th,’ only a couple years after ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Exorcist.’ In the case of ‘Friday,’ they had all the correct ingredients — good-looking men and women, blood, a scary thing.”
One of the things it doesn’t have is Jason, who (spoiler alert) isn’t the killer and doesn’t appear until the final frame. In fact, the infamous hockey mask doesn’t even turn up until the third installment. “I remember watching it and being like, ‘Where’s the hockey mask?’ ” said Volk-Weiss. “Imagine if in the first Batman movie, he didn’t dress up as Batman.”
“Friday the 13th” was made by a rookie crew. “The cast was kids, the crew was kids,” said Volk-Weiss. The makeup department was tasked with improvising gory character deaths. Kevin Bacon’s Jack Burrell dies with a gushing arrow-to-the-throat wound — that visual being courtesy of a special effects guy who hid under the bed, blowing liquid up through a tube. “If you look at that now, it looks great!” said Volk-Weiss. “It’s the most simple trick in the world.”
Actor Harry Crosby — son of Bing Crosby — saw his effect go awry. “Making this film, everything was lowest common denominator,” said Volk-Weiss. This included the fake blood, which was made with cheap, hazardous chemicals. Crosby’s arrow-through-the-eye makeup leaked, blinding him for six months.
Despite an anemic budget, they found a composer, Harry Manfredini, who nailed the score: an echo of the first syllables of “kill” and “mommy.”
“One of the hardest things in a low-budget movie is that you get sh–ty music,” said Volk-Weiss. “The fact that they were able to find this guy, who made one of the most memorable soundtracks ever — right place, right time.”
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984)
Nascent director Wes Craven was inspired by a story he’d read in the Los Angeles Times about a series of deaths-while-sleeping in a Cambodian community; relatives thought nightmares were to blame. “Nobody knows if it was really true, but the people in the community, that was their takeaway,” said Volk-Weiss.
Craven named his villain after Fred Krueger, a schoolyard bully from his childhood. “It’s a very personal movie,” said Volk-Weiss. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from directing ‘The Movies that Made Us,’ for these films to work at this level, it doesn’t happen unless you’ve made a personal movie.”
In one scene, Tina (Amanda Wyss) is slashed to death as she thrashes around her bedroom, up the walls and onto the ceiling. Craven’s crew built a rotating room that, Wyss said in the episode, gave her vertigo. “The spinning room is bonkers — it still looks so good,” said Volk-Weiss. Another standout: the scene in which Depp’s character is sucked into his bed, which erupts blood — an homage to “The Shining.” The spinning room was used again, but the fake blood leaked into the equipment, sending electric shocks through some of the crew. “Not to the point of death,” said Volk-Weiss, “but I wouldn’t like that experience.”
Also dangerous was the iconic knife glove; Krueger actor Robert Englund nicked himself when he first tried it on. “Sometimes it just looks better on film,” said Volk-Weiss, “and you have to bite the bullet and just make sure everyone’s careful.”
The risks paid off. “Five or six dozen other horror films came out that year, and none of them were remembered,” said Volk-Weiss. “The fact that we’re still talking about this film tells you there’s heart in it.”