Haddonfield, the 'Halloween' slasher movie hometown, is right here in Central Illinois
Central Illinois is the hunting ground for one of the most famous serial killers in American history. He likes big knives, stalking babysitters, and mutilating the bodies of his victims.
But don’t worry. He’s not real.
Michael Myers is the white-masked villain in 1978’s “Halloween,” a slasher movie that revolutionized the horror genre. The franchise has endured for the past 44 years, including four reboots and some very silly sequels. The 13th movie in that series, “Halloween Ends,” will be released Oct. 14 in theaters and on Peacock.
The “Halloween” movies take place in fictional Haddonfield, Illinois. Clues sprinkled throughout the movies reveal that if Haddonfield really existed, it would be located near Pontiac right along Interstate 55. Other hints suggest it’s something of a doppelganger for Bloomington-Normal – from its geography to midsized metro amenities.
“We were looking for a mythical, small-town America where this whole drama could play out. So we invented Haddonfield, Illinois,” said John Carpenter, who wrote and directed the 1978 film and has executive-produced the more recent films. “The name hit perfectly for us.”
The name was borrowed from Haddonfield, New Jersey, near where co-writer and producer Debra Hill grew up. Carpenter himself is from a college town in Kentucky, not Illinois.
While Illinois has racked up the “Halloween” body count, it has not reaped the economic benefit of Hollywood moviemaking. The movies have all been shot elsewhere – places like southern California, Utah, and South Carolina. On the original 1978 shoot in LA, the cost-conscious crew used and re-used a big bag of fake leaves to recreate the fall foliage-lined streets of an Illinois town.
“When we shot the movie, we just had to watch out for palm trees, which don’t really occur a lot in Illinois. We did not succeed in getting rid of all the palm trees, but we tried,” Carpenter told WGLT.
Carpenter said they took special care in location scouting – to get the right architectural style of the houses that the trick-or-treaters (and Michael Myers) visit on Halloween night.
“There are some houses built here in Los Angeles that are from the 1920s, and they look kind of hometown Haddonfield-ish, so we tried to find as many of them as we could,” Carpenter said.
Bloomington native and “Halloween” superfan John Anderson is able to look past the occasional geographic goof – a mountain range or a California license plate in the background.
The overall vibe of an Illinois town is spot-on, he said.
“This looks like where I grew up. Where I rode my bike. Where I went trick-or-treating. It’s palpable on screen, and maybe that’s why it resonates so much,” Anderson said.
A franchise with 13 movies obviously produces a lot of fans – like Anderson and (full disclosure) the reporter of this story. They (we?) have tracked four decades of movie clues to hypothesize the size and shape of Haddonfield.
Carpenter said, in his mind, Haddonfield had around 30,000 residents – about the size of Galesburg or Pekin. The later movies (not directed by Carpenter) have provided conflicting views. Haddonfield is apparently big enough to have a good-sized hospital, a community college, country club, and two daily newspapers. But it’s also small enough that the Warren County sheriff’s department is the primary law enforcement agency in town.
It’s very much in the real world: In “Halloween,” the University of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the Illinois State Police all exist and are referenced. In the 6th film, a character played by actor Paul Rudd visits a bus terminal where a map prominently plops Haddonfield on the Interstate 55 corridor just north of Bloomington and Pontiac.
“That was the first one that I recall specifically. Seeing our town’s name on screen … if I didn’t jump out of my seat in the theater, I’m sure I sharply elbowed my friend next to me. It was incredible,” Anderson said.
It gets weirder. In the 2021 movie “Halloween Kills,” a Haddonfield resident who is trying to hunt down and kill Michael Myers is plotting his next move on a map. The map is of east Bloomington – and he points right at 313 Carl Drive. That’s the address where Bloomington’s most infamous real-world crime took place in 1983 – the quadruple murder of Susan Hendricks and her three children, with an ax and kitchen knife. Husband and father David Hendricks was convicted but later re-tried and acquitted.
“There must be a true-crime fan on the production team of the new ‘Halloween’ trilogy, because the coincidence is too astronomical to believe,” said John Wyatt Danenberger of Bloomington, who like Anderson is a “Halloween” and John Carpenter aficionado.
So what would it be like to live in a real Haddonfield, where a guy in a mask kills people, escapes custody, kills people, escapes custody, and kills people, again and again?
You can expect a lot of generational trauma. And that would be compounded by the fact that Michael Myers is not some external force. He’s a hometown boy, born and raised.
“It gets you where you think you’re safe. Holidays. A small town where nothing interesting ever happens. It gets you where you’re vulnerable,” said Eric Wesselmann, an Illinois State University psychology professor who has taught and researched horror movies. “And I think that Haddonfield definitely gives that sense – that everybody knows everybody. These events that would occur would reverberate across the community and eventually become their own folk tales.”
In the movies, that’s manifested into mobs of Haddonfield residents trying to take matters into their own hands – frustrated that police haven’t been able to apprehend Michael Myers. The most recent film, “Halloween Kills,” leans heavily into the torches-and-pitchforks reaction of the community.
That’s actually not so far-fetched, said Bill Lally, who has a Ph.D. in criminology and has taught at ISU and Eureka College. Lally is also police chief in Deer Creek, Illinois, a town of about 700 just northwest of Bloomington-Normal. He’s had agitated people show up to the police station or to a scene.
“We still have incidences of the public wanting to – I don’t want to say ‘take the law into their own hands’ – but they certainly want to be involved in the process. Let’s put it that way,” Lally said.
If an escaped mental patient like Michael Myers really started killing people, Lally said a multiagency task force would likely form to catch him. The manhunt wouldn’t be left to a single sheriff’s department and Myers’ pistol-wielding psychiatrist.
And it wouldn’t be a very long movie. Lally pointed to the power of modern forensics and the proliferation of security cameras. Michael Myers would pop up on Ring cameras all over.
“Especially somebody who would be on the spectrum of being mentally ill, which is what we’re saying here, the likelihood that they’d be able to avoid eventual detection and capture is relatively low, quite honestly,” Lally said.
Ultimately, none of that matters – because 65-year-old Michael Myers is still on the loose.
John Carpenter, the director, said the fandom around his creation was unexpected – and wonderful. He hasn’t even seen all of the films in the series. (Can’t blame him. There have been some low points, most notably an inexplicable kickboxing fight between Michael Myers and actor Busta Rhymes in the 2002 movie “Halloween: Resurrection.”)
“It just keeps coming. It’s a gift,” Carpenter said. “Everybody just tries to make a good movie from the very start. Sometimes they really hit like this one did. Go figure.”