Director John Carpenter is a giant in the horror community. You can hardly blame anyone for thinking of him as such though—his catalogue of films is vast and he’s responsible for some of the “greatest horror films of all time,” notably The Thing and, of course, Halloween. But he’s not the only one who should be getting credit for these films. Like the quote goes, “behind every great man is a great woman.” And that woman was Debra Hill.
Debra entered showbiz in 1975. However, upon getting her foot in the door, she was unhappy with the treatment of women in the industry. At that time, what you had between your legs either meant you were in makeup and hair, or a writer and director. However tough the field was, Hill pressed on, working her way up from Production Assistant to Script Supervisor. She would first work with Carpenter on Assault on Precinct 13.
Hill obviously made quite an impression on Carpenter and went on to co-write the magnum opus that was 1978’s Halloween. No doubt the inspiration for Haddonfield, Illinois came from her hometown of Haddonfield, New Jersey. After the massive success of Halloween, she went on to collaborate with Carpenter on Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Fog, Escape From New York and Escape from LA. So yeah, without Hill, it’s possible none of these movies would exist and even if they did, they may not have become the classics they are today.
In 1986, Hill proved she could venture out of the horror/sci-fi game and opened her own production company with fellow female film friend, Lynda Obst. They went on to produce the ‘80s cult comedy Adventures in Babysitting, along with Heartbreak Hotel, and Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King, which earned Robin Williams a Best Actor nomination and Mercedes Ruehl a Best Supporting Actress nomination. She didn’t stop there. In 1988, she signed a contract with Walt Disney Studios and went on to produce one of my favorite comedies of all time, Clue. She also produced the impeccable Cronenberg adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, showing she still knew good horror when she saw it.
In 2003, Hill was honored with the Crystal Award, an award given by the Women in Film association to honor women in communications and media. Upon accepting her award, she said, “I hope someday there won’t be a need for Women in Film. That it will be People in Film.”
Sadly, we lost Debra Hill to cancer in 2005 when she was working on the Oliver Stone film, World Trade Center. Carpenter was quoted saying she was “one of the greatest experiences of [his] life” and that “she had a passion for not just movies about women or women’s ideas, but films for everybody.”
Debra Hill was the industry’s best-kept secret during her time and still remains so, except to die-hard fans like myself. It’s important that when we talk about how films like Halloween changed the game for indie filmmakers and the genre itself, we remember Hill was there every step of the way, fighting through sexism for fellow women trying to do what she did. Laurie Strode had nothing on this reel survivor girl.
This piece is part of Galloween, Cinefilles‘ month of all-girl horror coverage. Click the image to read more.