“Halloween,” John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher film turned cult horror classic, turned 40 years old this year.
Nancy Kyes, who appeared in the film as “Annie,” one of the babysitters who gets killed off, is an adjunct professor at Cal Poly Pomona’s Department of Theatre and New Dance. She talked about her involvement in the film.
Even though multiple mostly unsuccessful sequels were made and a franchise was created, the first film is still a hit, to Kyes’ surprise.
It became so and reemerged with the growth of the internet and pop culture conventions such as Comic Con.
“That combination just sort of brought this whole ‘Halloween’ franchise on the radar in a really big way,” Kyes said. “It was kind of amazing to me at that time to understand what a phenomenon this film that I made more or less with my friends so long ago [became].”
Kyes said she is still surprised at the film’s success after 40 years.
“It was really just a bunch of young people who knew next to nothing about anything,” she said. “Very little life experience on any level just trying to do their best and it turned into what it turned into.”
“Nobody had this idea that it was going to be the franchise that it became,” she said. “In 1978, when the movie was made, the whole sequel thing was just taking off, so we were making jokes about ‘Oh yeah, there’ll be a sequel.’”
She said she never imagined that the work she was doing with her friends was going to endure.
“The thing about all that work was that you don’t think you’re making great works of art that are somehow going to last through the ages.”
She said the phenomenon is especially surprising considering her own feelings about horror movies.
“It turned into something that people really appreciate, for reasons that I certainly never appreciate, because I’m not a fan of horror movies,” she said.
Kyes said she thinks one of the reasons the film has been such a success is because it brings fans together.
“For me, it’s such a phenomenon that there is such an interest and I think that what I see now is that the films themselves are a way to connect with each other,” she said. “It’s not so much about the filmmaking as an art form. It’s much more about the fans having a vehicle to connect to each other. It’s all about connection.”
Kyes studied classical theater and drama at Northwestern University and moved to Los Angeles in 1972 to work as an actress, where she worked in the commercial world to make a living.
While she was trying to find more acting work, Kyes also worked behind the camera in costume design and set design and found it fascinating.
She also worked as a camera focus puller and even as a script supervisor.
“That work was much more interesting to me than acting, actually,” she said.
Kyes started working with Carpenter when she was an actress looking for experience in film and Carpenter was just a graduate from USC looking to make movies.
“I’d never made a film before,” she said. “I knew that I wanted some experience in it, so a typical avenue for people in my position was to go to a film school and show up and say ‘I’m available to work on your films for no money,’” she said.
She said she met Carpenter through mutual friends and students working together at USC.
Kyes’ film debut was as a secretary in 1976’s “Assault on Precinct 13,” directed by Carpenter, which was the film that got Kyes her ticket into the Screen Actors Guild.
“He cast me in that and basically hired all of his friends in this extremely low-budget film, so everyone was working extremely hard to make this film look really good, which it did, and getting the experience of filmmaking in a professional world,” she said.
Carpenter wrote the part of “Annie” in “Halloween” specifically for Kyes.
“He happened to think that I was funny and so I just more or less played myself, which was great,” she said. “We made up a lot of that stuff right on the spot. It was so much fun and just really a wonderful experience.”
Keeping with her interests in what was going on behind the camera, Kyes also worked in the scene design and costume departments on “Halloween.”
After working on “Halloween,” Kyes worked on “The Fog” (1980) with Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh. Kyes played a secretary for Leigh, who portrayed a councilwoman.
Kyes enjoyed creating that film because of its location and special effects. It was shot in Point Reyes, in Marin County.
“I actually love it … there were just lots of great special effects that were real effects, not what you see today,” she said. “You’re really trying to fool people, right? You’re trying to scare them. And so, you have to dream up things, you actually have to cogitate what’s going to look good on camera, what’s going to stay within our budget and work and scare people.”
To attain that quality in filmmaking, Kyes said Carpenter surrounded himself with creative people.
“John at a certain point had this kind of repertoire company of actors he liked to use and not only actors, but crew people [also],” she said. “It was a group of people he could depend on and that sort of fed his creativity.”
After “The Fog,” Kyes’ life changed direction completely when she became a mother.
Around nine years later, Kyes decided to go back to acting but realized it wasn’t as attractive to her as it had been.
“I realized something had changed and I really was more interested in visual art and making objects with my hands,” she said. “There was this big transition in my mind which I owe to all that time I spent sitting on the floor playing with blocks and colors and watching my kids create chaos faster than anything you can imagine and watching all of these strange piles of random objects filling up.”
Because of these experiences, Kyes was inspired to create sculptures based on found objects.
“I began weaving and smashing them together and creating sculptures out of hundreds and hundreds of found objects and I started down this whole career as a visual artist,” she said.
After she started dedicating herself to sculpture, Kyes said she realized she needed a day job.
She said teaching felt natural to her because she had experience collaborating with her children’s theater projects at school.
When she was around 50 years old, Kyes decided to go get her master’s at Cal State L.A. and found the theater and art scene there very inspiring.
While she was pursuing her master’s, Kyes got hired to teach Introduction to Theatre at CPP in 2010 and that eventually became her full-time job.
Kyes teaches a number of classes at CPP, including “Through the Artist’ Eyes,” which aims to explore the creative process and the daily life of artists.
She is also working on a sculpture project made out of found objects that she binds together without the use of adhesives, called “Coastline,” which she said evolved directly out of collaborative investigation with her liberal studies students about how to use art to help people think deeply about their relationship to water.
The sculptures are scheduled to be shown this December at the Redmetal Barn in Cloverdale, Sonoma County.
She said she feels content and blessed to be at CPP’s Theatre and New Dance Department.
“[It] is a wonderful and amazingly creative place,” she said.
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