'Halloween' Cinematographer Dean Cundey returns to the scene of the crime
Evil is real. The excitement happens when it invades our safe areas.
Dean Cundey understands this well. Back in 1978, the legendary cinematographer expertly used shadows to illustrate the encroachment of evil into the otherwise idyllic small town of Haddonfield, Ill. in the original “Halloween.” The film — which revolutionized horror cinema when it introduced the sadistic Michael Myers and scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as student Laurie Strode — celebrates its 40th anniversary on Oct. 25.
Since Haddonfield, Ill. is a fictional place, “Halloween” gets its calm-turned-nightmarish suburban atmosphere from Alhambra, Calif. Key scenes for the film were shot on location at Garfield Elementary School.
Living on Atlantic Boulevard at the time of filming, Cundey, an up-and-coming cinematographer, was familiar with the location selected, which doubled as Laurie Strode’s classroom. “That was actually two blocks from my house, I walked to work those days,” he said. “It was also ironic because it’s the school my son was attending.”
As a child living on the west side of Alhambra on Montezuma Avenue, Cundey recalls walking to Fremont Elementary everyday. His childhood home was located in a cul-de-sac that provided outdoor adventures. “At the end of the cul-de-sac was what would become Monterey Highlands, but it was just rolling hills of grassland with a giant eucalyptus tree on top of the hill,” he said. “That was our playground right in the middle of Los Angeles.”
Halloweens in Alhambra were also idyllic for Cundey. “It was a great community and everyone knew each other so you would always get great candy,” he said. “My mother made a Superman outfit for me that was made out of long johns and dyed them blue with red trunks, so I was Superman every other year.”
Cundey was born in nearby Altadena on March 12, 1946 before moving to Alhambra. While attending Alhambra High School, Cundey would visit Alhambra Camera, where he first found an issue of American Cinematographer magazine. “The camera shop had a newsstand and one magazine was American Cinematographer and when I saw that, I realized that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to be apart of making movies and creating illusions,” he said.
He has since become a prolific cinematographer. Along with the 40th anniversary of “Halloween,” he is celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar in cinematography. He is also commemorating the 25th anniversary of “Jurassic Park,” and was the cinematographer on the “Back to the Future” trilogy, as well as “Hook,” “Escape from New York” and “Apollo 13.”
Cundey worked as a cinematographer on other films with “Halloween” producer Debra Hill. But this movie would be Cundey’s first collaboration as director of photography with the film’s director, John Carpenter. “John and I would talk about the intent of the shot, then I would light it,” he said. “He and I worked together to create the look of Halloween and I had the freedom to contribute so much.”
This Halloween, John Carpenter will be performing all of his famous movie scores at the Hollywood Palladium. In addition, a new “Halloween” 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (plus Blu-ray) came out on Sept. 25, which has Cundey’s blessing. “John and I have been going over the various new releases and redoing them for an extremely clean and sharpest image you can get,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to see the interest in redoing them and reintroducing them to a new audience.”
A new “Halloween” movie Directed by David Gordon Green is set to hit theaters on Oct. 19, which happens to be Michael Myers’ birthday. The present-day film will pick up and take place exactly 40 years after the original film, while other versions produced will be disregarded. John Carpenter composed the new movie score and is involved with production oversight.
Cundey doesn’t feel like he missed out by not being involved in the sequel. “I’m just as happy to have made the first one, and to be remembered for that, as opposed to saying you also made the other one that wasn’t that good,” he said,
“Halloween was incredibly unique for its time and to remake it, you’re taking what was an amazingly unique premise, a unique storytelling and just trying to reconstruct it.”
Cundey sees Alhambra as integral to his cinematography career and his life. “Alhambra gave me so much as a kid, it gave me my life and my education, but also my experiences, my attitude, my perceptions of the world,” he said. “It’s always been a great community for people so I’m delighted to be able to come back and share some of that.”
“It also gave me the camera shop that sent me on my way.”
View the new “Halloween” trailer here.
Listen to the complete interview with Dean Cundey here.