Halloween has without a doubt earned its place on the Mt. Rushmore of horror franchises. Michael Myers is an icon who paved the way for the likes of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. Carpenter’s seminal masterpiece spawned a slew of imitators throughout the early 1980s. And, of course, spawned a series of its own lasting eleven features to date. But while Freddy and Jason seemed to sign their merchandising deals right out of the gate, Michael took a little longer to get going. It’s crazy to even think about now, as we’re living in a golden age of Halloween related merchandise. By mid-to-late ‘80s, Freddy and Jason had everything from yo-yos to Head Squirters. Freddy, certainly, had more than either of them combined, especially in the height of Freddy Fever by the end of that decade, with more tie-in products than you could ever count.
But even if he had that same kind of reverence and recognizability, Michael Myers never got that same kind of treatment until very recently. In a 40 year history, the shape has only had a surplus of tie-in products for the last fifteen or so, and that’s being generous. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always been something. But they’ve been in short supply compared to those other iconic franchises. Still, what we’ve been given has often been great, and that’s why it’s worth it to do a deep dive into the history of Halloween merchandise to see what we can turn up. We’ll also be tracking this history up until the early 2000s, as that’s when things really began to take off. I think it’s more interesting, especially with an icon like Michael Myers, to explore those unseen corners of the franchise and its larger impact.
Because I’ve already written an extensive piece on licensed Halloween masks, we won’t really be covering those as much.
Let’s start instead in 1979, with the release of the first Halloween tie-in and still one of the most talked about, maybe even the best. That would be the film’s novelization, written by Richard Curtis (under the pseudonym Curtis Richards). In the days before home video, movies played in theaters a whole lot longer and re-releases were commonplace. With the 1979 re-release, after the film had gained some traction and notoriety, Compass International treated it a bit more like an event, handing out free copies of the tie-in book to theatergoers. That’s absolutely nuts considering how rare and often pricey the novel can be today.
The book itself is an interesting approach to an adaptation. It starts, for instance, in Celtic Ireland with a deformed boy ostracized by his community who sets his sights on the King’s beautiful daughter. After being not only rejected, but accused of rape for simply speaking to her, he murders both her and her lover in a fit of rage, an act of violence that seems to echo down through the centuries. We then cut to Halloween night 1963, just before young Michael Myers goes trick-or-treating, as his mother and grandmother talk about the disturbing notion that Michael’s been hearing voices that tell him to commit acts of violence, something that apparently happened to Michael’s great-grandfather as well. After young Michael kills Judith, we go on to see even more than we saw in the film, from Michael’s introduction to Loomis to their first therapy sessions and the fifteen years he spent locked away in Smith’s Grove. It’s about halfway through before we get into the adaptation in earnest, with a protagonist shift to Laurie Strode and her friends.
It’s one of the most unique, compelling, imaginative horror novelizations ever and it’s easy to see why it’s still as talked about as it is. It’s so different from the movie and yet it never really betrays that story, and that’s such a difficult balance for a novelization to maintain.
The next major Halloween tie-in didn’t come about until the sequel, with another novelization in the form of Dennis Etchison’s Halloween II, which was followed by the novelization for Halloween III by the same author. Writing under the name Jack Martin both times, Etchison stuck much closer to the source material than the Curtis Richards book. The story is pretty much the same for both, with Etchison only breaking to go deeper into the minds and thought processes of the characters as only a novel can do. Halloween II, for instance, spends a lot of time with Loomis and his growing frustrations with the Haddonfield Police Force. It also spends a lot of time inside Laurie’s head, as she’s relegated to a hospital bed and incapacitated for most of the movie. The novel lays a lot of clues through her scenes to the eventual twist revealing her to be Michael Myers’ sister.
You can kind of tell that the Halloween III novelization is much more within Etchison’s wheelhouse and that book really works because, in general, Halloween III kind of feels like a novel. Etchison has a lot of fun with the plotting and overall mythology of that film, especially when it comes to some of the less clear elements, like what exactly happens to Little Buddy when his head explodes while watching the Silver Shamrock Commercial. Essentially, as pointed out by Dinosaur Dracula, the chip on the mask acts as a kind of switch to open a doorway to another dimension, and the bugs and snakes and other creatures that crawl out of the boy’s head are actually crawling out of another world. If anything, it just takes one of the franchise’s most unsettling scenes and makes it even more unsettling.
After those three novelizations, the next big step for Halloween merchandising was a leap into the world of video games, which were still a very new concept at the time. Charles Band (yes, that Charles Band of Empire and Full Moon Entertainment) saw the potential to create video games for the Atari system based on recognizable properties. In 1983 chose two titans of horror, Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, to give the Atari treatment through his Wizard Video label. It was, as the legendary producer has noted, pretty much a complete disaster. First of all, on such an early system the game is almost completely unrecognizable as Halloween. You play as Laurie Strode, here simply dubbed “The Babysitter” and attempt to save all of the kids you can find in a never-ending house while dodging attacks from the nefarious Michael Myers, whose theme plays every single time he makes his way on screen. The gameplay had nothing to do with the game’s problems at the time, far from it in fact. To parents, Atari’s Halloween seemed to be more of a danger to impressionable young children than the movie itself.
Both Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were labeled as “adult” and many retailers flat-out refused to carry them. The ones that did would often hide them behind the counter and only sell them if asked. They were some of the earliest “violent video games” condemned by the moral right and various parent groups, something that only worsened as games developed in quality, truly blossoming as a movement in the 1990s. But for better or worse, that kind of began with Halloween. While controversy is often considered good for a brand, it wasn’t that way for these games, as Band and Wizard wound up losing a lot of money on them when they were almost flat-out banned by retailers.
Part of the problem with the lack of consistent Halloween merchandise likely has a lot to do with the inconsistent releases of the individual movies. 1982’s Halloween III was a very different movie from the first two, and thus tough to market. After that, it wasn’t until 1988 that we even saw another sequel. That’s a six year gap and at that point, the job of the marketing is really to remind audiences who Michael Myers is rather than leaning into their recognition of his likeness. Still, by that point we were starting to see the first licensed masks, beginning with Don Post’s “The Mask” and a similar shape design from Illusive Concepts, which led to a complicated legal battle over who “owned” that particular look.
The biggest piece of tie-in merchandising for 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was, once again, a novelization. This time Nicholas Grabowski was hired to pen the adaptation. Like Dennis Etchison, he stuck pretty close to the script, but played around with language a lot, especially in the characterization of the town of Haddonfield, adding an almost Bradbury-esque, Something Wicked This Way Comes layer to the novel. Which obviously fit with how much that particular entry plays into the general look and atmosphere of the holiday. Out of all of the Halloween novelizations, this is one that actually sometimes comes back into print (or eBook) courtesy of a revised and expanded edition sold by Grabowski himself.
Unfortunately, the next year’s Halloween 5 did not see a novelization nor really a major tie-in of any kind. In fact, the Halloween 4 novel was the last major tie-in before a lengthy period of next to nothing, save for the occasional mask, T-shirt or poster. The eventual release of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, like Halloween 5, saw no major tie-in. Although there was one major exception on its heels. About a year after its release, in 1996, Michael Myers truly got the classic monster treatment in the form of a model kit from Screamin’. That company produced a slew of model kits at the time based on the likes of Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, etc. and it truly felt like a throwback to the Aurora models of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and the other major classic characters. Standing at a massive 18” it was the first Myers statue of any kind, but what a great introduction.
Finally, it was only a year later that we received the next big tie-in, and what a treat it turned out to be. In 1997,Boulevard Press released a trilogy of Halloween Young Adult novels written by Kelly O’Rourke. On one level, it’s unsurprising. The 1990s were a huge time for YA horror, maybe one of the biggest decades ever. This was the age of Fear Street and Goosebumps and Scary Stories and so much more. These three Halloween books certainly fall right in line with those. They feel similar, they look similar and they definitely read similar—with one delightful exception: None of O’Rourke’s Halloween novels skimp on the gore. I was lucky enough to pick one up when they came out and I definitely read Halloween: The Old Myers Place cover-to-cover countless times as a kid. I even did a book report on it, which impressed neither my teacher nor my parents.
These books contained some incredibly grisly deaths, also doing some neat things with the mythology at the same time. The first book is the first Halloween story to have the genius idea to stick Michael Myers into the setting of a local haunted house attraction, which is something I still can’t believe the movies haven’t done. It’s like Hell House, LLC. with Michael in the mix and sounds fantastic even if it’s the only one I haven’t managed to get my hands on. The Old Myers Place deals with a girl trying to fit in at Haddonfield High and not be seen as the weird new girl, which is difficult when her family’s moved into the Myers house. It’s the most traditional Halloween story of the bunch, but it boasts some grisly death scenes, including a bit where a girl gets her fingernails scraped off on a tombstone that still churns my stomach to think about.
The last book, Halloween: The Mad House, is certainly the least traditional of the bunch and that’s kind of what makes it so exciting. First of all, it’s not even set on Halloween. It’s set in the dead of August when a group of kids from the high school set out to make a documentary project about the chilling legacy of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. In many ways, it’s kind of the perfect template for that long-rumored found footage Halloween, not that I’m at all advocating that that needs to be a thing. In this book, Michael technically doesn’t set out to kill anyone. After taking a beating the previous Halloween, he’s returned to the abandoned hospital to rest (which fits with his ritualistic nature of breaking out and going back again) when these kids suddenly show up on his doorstep.
The late ‘90s saw the first explosion of Halloween-related merchandise, largely thanks to the commercial and critical success of Halloween H20. And I, as a young fan, was there for all of it, snatching up whatever I could get away with getting my hands on. Not only did we have the YA novels, but 1998 gave us the 20th anniversary snow globe and (much more exciting)1999 finally saw the release of the very first Michael Myers action figure as a part of the now legendary Movie Maniacs line from McFarlane. Seeing the ads in my Spawn comics at the time, Michael was one of the first figures I ever really remember anticipating. Like all McFarlane figures it was incredibly detailed, though not all that poseable. But then again, Michael’s not known for being the most agile guy. As soon as I picked him up in stores, he just went on a rampage slaughtering my other figures, barely moveable as the figure might have been. He could still move his stabbing arm, and that was good enough for me.
McFarlane followed their Myers figure up with a larger 18” version later down the line, something that could go toe-to-toe with the Screamin’ model if fans really wanted, and one that had the added bonus of playing the iconic theme music.
Amazingly, after 20 years of nothing, the next Michael Myers plastic incarnation followed right on the heels of the McFarlane figure in 2000. Spencer Gift produced their own line of dolls, all of which either talked or played some kind of music or sound effect, called the “RIP Horror Collectors Series.” This lineup included the likes of Jason, Freddy, Leatherface, Ghostface, The Crypt Keeper and of course Michael Myers. Once again, our boy was 18” tall and played the theme music, this time via a convenient button on his chest. This Myers doll is probably best known for its mane of wild, crazy hair, though it kind of works for a piece of merchandise that’s kooky and off-kilter to begin with.
This was also the time that Don Post began to buckle down on their Halloween license, from a deluxe mask with blacked out eyes to officially licensed costumes including mask, coveralls and knife and a Michael Myers wall hanger decoration.
More importantly, though, 2000 gave us the first-ever Halloween comic book. I was a kid raised on horror comics, neck deep in Spawn and all the crazy stuff Dark Horse was doing at the time, and I was already familiar with Chaos! Comics as the place for edgy, naughty comics your parents didn’t want you to read. When they released Halloween #1, it was a must buy. I was stunned just to see it. The initial conceit, which they didn’t really stick to, was that they planned to release an issue of the comic on each subsequent Halloween. It was a cool idea, but three issues three years apart would have been way too easy to forget. Though the comic is set after the events of Curse of Michael Myers, it takes a lot of influence from the original novelization by going back to Michael’s time in the sanitarium. In fact, it even borrows some scenes directly from that book, including a moment during a Halloween Party where young Michael kills a girl bobbing for apples without drawing anyone’s attention. The next two issues, Halloween II: The Blackest Eyes and Halloween III: The Devil’s Eyes, do a lot of heavy lifting trying to connect the dots between Curse of Michael Myers and H20.
After that, we saw NECA’s first go at the Halloween franchise with their incredible two-pack depicting Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis on the lawn of the Doyle house. Then we got the Cult Classics figure, a two-pack with adult and young Michael, more great figures, more great comics and it ushered in what I consider to be the golden age of collecting (at least for this franchise) that we’ve been in ever since. It’s because of all of this surplus of great content that I wanted to shine a light on what came before, a lot of which has been forgotten. I was hungry for Michael Myers merch in an era where we were still kind of getting it, and I know a lot of fans older than I were starving for this kind of thing for much longer. It’s easy to end these things by saying “You can’t kill the boogeyman,” but that’s never more true than when something truly makes its mark on pop culture, be it as a mask, a book, a comic. Or maybe it’s that first recognizable statue, being immortalized in plastic, resin or vinyl for the very first time, that truly lets us know evil will never die as long as there’s a place to display it in our home.