Hal­loween

John Car­pen­ter and Jamie Lee Cur­tis are re-team­ing for an­other stab at the Hal­loween fran­chise. But how is this ap­proach dif­fer­ent from the last 10 times, in a se­ries that seemed to have gasped its last breath?

Total Film - - Contents - WORDS JANE CROWTHER

He’s com­ing home, he’s com­ing home, he’s com­ing… Michael’s com­ing home.

It’s a cloud­less June day in LA and To­tal Film is stand­ing in Hill Val­ley square, cran­ing up at the fa­mous clock tower that Doc Brown dan­gled off dur­ing the events of 12 No­vem­ber 1955, as Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios’ back­lot tour trol­leys rum­ble past at reg­u­lar five-minute in­ter­vals. “This,” in­tones each guide to rows of awestruck tourist faces, “is the fa­mous set from Back To The Fu­ture!” It’s an apt set­ting for TF’s meet­ing to­day with the team be­hind the 11th bite of the Hal­loween cherry, given that this go-around – 40 years on from the orig­i­nal – messes with time­lines and ques­tions whether time truly heals all wounds. Can they, Marty McFly-style, re-set a fran­chise of di­min­ish­ing re­turns, mend­ing past mis­takes and cre­at­ing a stronger fu­ture?

Af­ter ogling through the win­dows of Lou’s Cafe and the Es­sex Theater,

TF wan­ders around the cor­ner to the new-build sound stages, sit­ting at the foot of the hill crested by the in­fa­mous, loom­ing home of Nor­man Bates. It’s an iconic re­minder of Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios’ long and prof­itable hor­ror le­gacy. Part of that his­tory in­cludes the dis­tri­bu­tion of John Car­pen­ter’s Hal­loween se­ries (they took on the ba­ton from Com­pass for Hal­loween II and Hal­loween III: Sea­son Of The Witch be­fore fur­ther in­car­na­tions moved to Fox, Gal­axy, Di­men­sion and, most re­cently, The We­in­stein Com­pany). It snapped up the prop­erty af­ter the orig­i­nal film – shot for $300,000 over 20 days in 1978 – be­came a huge hit, net­ting $70 mil­lion and cre­at­ing an archetype.

Car­pen­ter’s ground­break­ing self-penned, di­rected and pro­duced orig­i­nal slasher (co-au­thored by De­bra Hill) placed shy babysit­ter Lau­rie Strode (a then-19-year-old Jamie Lee Cur­tis) at the cen­tre of events in the small town of Had­don­field, Illi­nois, as an es­caped men­tal pa­tient and psy­chopath, Michael My­ers – wear­ing a blank mask that matched his im­pas­sive killing – stabbed his way through the neigh­bour­hood on All Hal­low’s Eve.

Over four decades and 10 films, the se­ries has made nearly $400 mil­lion glob­ally and ce­mented My­ers, or ‘The Shape’ as he was ini­tially known, as one of cin­ema’s most en­dur­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing bo­gey­men. Lit­tle sur­prise then that de­spite shrink­ing re­turns, unfavourable re­views (“Yet an­other mis­be­got­ten in­stal­ment of a long-ex­hausted fran­chise,” The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter said of Rob Zom­bie’s 2007 sorta pre­quel) and Car­pen­ter’s own de­spair with the con­tin­ued milk­ing of his prop­erty (“All of my ideas were for the first Hal­loween

– there shouldn’t have been any more”), that Uni­ver­sal would be in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­tend­ing the se­ries’ longevity.

The very def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity then, re­peat­ing the same thing and ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults. But this time Uni­ver­sal has a proven dis­rup­tor on-board in the shape of Ja­son Blum and his hor­ror-rein­vent­ing shin­gle, Blum­house Pro­duc­tions, who has a 10-year first-look deal with the stu­dio. Famed for his shrewd busi­ness model, abil­ity to rein­vent and sub­vert the hor­ror genre as well as bring home the ba­con and awards (Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity and The Purge have reaped se­ri­ous box of­fice while Get Out won an Os­car), Blum took on the cu­rat­ing of a Hal­loween re­turn in 2016 when Uni­ver­sal ac­quired it from We­in­stein.

“My deal-breaker was: I didn’t want to do it with­out John Car­pen­ter,” Blum tells TF as we sit in a dress­ing room on stage 13. Be­ly­ing his rep­u­ta­tion as the new mas­ter of hor­ror, Blum is dressed in white and has a cor­nu­copia of candy spread out on the ta­ble be­tween us. “So I met him, and he agreed to jump on board and do the mu­sic for the movie, which was great.” Oh. Seems al­most too easy, es­pe­cially given the no-bull­shit ap­proach of Car­pen­ter, who has never with­held unfavourable opin­ions.

Car­pen­ter, in the next door dress­ing room (head-to-toe black), is char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally blunt about his rea­sons to re­turn. “They [Blum and pro­ducer Malek Akkad] said, ‘Come back as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, and shep­herd the movie through.’ I thought, ‘You know what? That’s a good idea. Rather than com­plain, let me do some­thing pos­i­tive. Let me help.’” Car­pen­ter wanted to write the mu­sic and had a cou­ple of im­por­tant beats he wanted to see in a script but, with his ‘god­fa­ther’ bless­ing, Blum be­gan feel­ing out film­mak­ers, among them Stronger’s David Gor­don Green and his screen­writ­ing bud, Danny McBride. Wait, whaaaat?

“You know, I’m a big be­liever that if you’re a good film­maker, you can make a good scary movie,” shrugs Blum of a pair best-known for cre­at­ing com­edy as a team. “Which is very an­ti­thet­i­cal – Hol­ly­wood be­lieves you have to make good scary movies to make more good scary movies. I think that’s a bunch of malarkey.” Green ap­pre­ci­ated the fran­chise from a nos­tal­gic point of view hav­ing grown up watch­ing Car­pen­ter’s out­put, while McBride was a self­con­fessed fan. “Through­out my ca­reer I’ve al­ways looked at what I en­gage in pro­fes­sion­ally al­most like what I en­gage in as a film fan, as an au­di­ence mem­ber,” says Green. “This was an op­por­tu­nity for me to do some­thing dif­fer­ent, to be able to jug­gle comedic work and dra­matic work.”

THE PER­FECT 10

The duo’s start­ing point was to go through all 10 films “from a point of pos­i­tiv­ity”, ac­knowl­edg­ing in­creased

au­di­ence savvi­ness and par­ing back to the sim­plic­ity of Car­pen­ter’s orig­i­nal story. “We just put our­selves in the po­si­tion of the au­di­ence,” re­calls McBride, “What have we liked? What have we not liked? Quickly, in our process, we re­alised if we tried to con­nect this to all these other movies, we’ll fall in the same trap these other guys have fallen in, where you spend 30 or 40 min­utes of the setup try­ing to jus­tify where this fits in.”

Bear­ing in mind Lau­rie Strode had been offed in Hal­loween: Res­ur­rec­tion and My­ers had var­i­ously vac­il­lated be­tween a psy­cho­pathic men­tal pa­tient, a rage­ful sib­ling, evil in­car­nate, the prod­uct of a cult curse and a su­per­nat­u­ral su­per­man, the duo de­cided to get back to ba­sics and strip right back to the orig­i­nal film; in ef­fect ig­nor­ing all the events that come af­ter the fi­nal reel of Hal­loween 1. “That doesn’t negate those other films,” McBride rea­sons, “Those films are there. No one will come and take them away from your Blu-ray col­lec­tion. But this is a way to con­tinue what Car­pen­ter started, and hope­fully in a way peo­ple en­joy.”

And that means em­brac­ing cer­tain tropes that have since be­come clichés in a post-Scream and hor­ror com­edy world. “Homage, satire, par­ody and rip-off, there’s been a lot of these things that you can ex­ploit,” says Green. “For us, it’s a sub­jec­tive sense of taste. There’s no way to make a babysit­ter home alone with a bad guy with a knife in the house an orig­i­nal idea. But we could ac­knowl­edge that the au­di­ence has seen it 100 times, and come up with a few twists and turns in ex­e­cu­tion.”

No pun in­tended.

Dis­cov­er­ing Lau­rie Strode

40 years af­ter the events in

1978 – now a gung-ho gran clois­tered from the world as a re­sult of her trauma and in­abil­ity to let go of the be­lief that My­ers will re­turn – and adding the zeit­geisty el­e­ment of a true crime TV show team in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case, à la Mak­ing Of A Mur­derer, the con­cept was pitched first to Car­pen­ter and then Jamie Lee Cur­tis.

With Car­pen­ter sold, Cur­tis was ap­proached by Green’s Stronger star. “Jake Gyl­len­haal who is my, I guess, un­of­fi­cial god­son, called me,” says Cur­tis, strik­ing in a tai­lored black suit and black-framed glasses, in a dress­ing room two doors away from Blum and Car­pen­ter. Like Car­pen­ter, she isn’t one to suf­fer fools gladly. “I said to [Green], ‘Send it to me, I’ll read it, and if it works for me, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll tell you.’” Though im­pressed by the con­cept of the true crime jour­nal­ists open­ing up the tale, Cur­tis was also keen to en­sure her four-decades-in-the-mak­ing char­ac­ter got to re­claim her nar­ra­tive as well as ful­fill­ing the des­tiny Car­pen­ter cre­ated for her with her first film role.

“John is the most sig­nif­i­cant cre­ative shape shifter for me, he gave me an op­por­tu­nity. He’s given me a life, a cre­ative life. I feel like I have hon­oured it,” she pon­ders, re­call­ing how Car­pen­ter called her af­ter her first day of work to con­grat­u­late her on her per­for­mance. But, she in­sists, be­ing grate­ful can sit along­side strength. “I have 40 years of ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing alive and mak­ing de­ci­sions,” she says when com­par­ing her­self now to the green 19-year-old in 1978. That means that Cur­tis now not only wanted to help shape her char­ac­ter but exec pro­duce the movie. Af­ter all, seis­mic shifts in fe­male em­pow­er­ment have hap­pened in Hol­ly­wood and so­ci­ety since she last in­hab­ited Strode. “This movie is the ul­ti­mate #MeToo move­ment,” she nods as we dis­cuss how 50/50 by 2020, #MeToo and #Time­sUp have changed the cin­e­matic land­scape and au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tion. “And yet, what’s so com­pelling is that Lau­rie her­self is the op­pressed, abused, trau­ma­tised woman but when he comes, she is pre­pared.”

“There’s no way not to em­power women more as a re­sult of what’s hap­pened in the last year,” says Blum over cof­fee. “It’s not a con­scious ‘let’s al­ter it for this’. It’s in our DNA, in our con­scious­ness now. So it’s im­pos­si­ble that sto­ry­telling wouldn’t re­flect that to a cer­tain de­gree.” Green and McBride agree. The spot­light on fe­male em­pow­er­ment right

‘HOL­LY­WOOD BE­LIEVES YOU HAVE TO MAKE GOOD SCARY MOVIES TO MAKE MORE GOOD SCARY MOVIES. I THINK THAT’S A BUNCH OF MALARKEY’

JA­SON BLUM

now is re­flected in the script “100 per cent”, says McBride. “Not only just for the mes­sage that sends, but also just for the ba­sic sto­ry­telling of it. If you re­ally want to take a char­ac­ter like Lau­rie Strode and con­tinue her story, no­body wants to see her scream­ing in the closet and be­ing ter­rorised. Peo­ple want to see growth. It gives her a sto­ry­line she de­serves.”

“It was great to have Jamie Lee, who, as a strong and em­pow­ered fe­male voice, can call bull­shit on you when you’re writ­ing some­thing that feels false,” Green smiles. “It helps you nav­i­gate some­thing that feels ef­fec­tive and au­then­tic.”

Script sorted, the team be­gan film­ing in Charlestown, South Carolina, in Jan­uary. Though Car­pen­ter’s in­volve­ment day-to-day was min­i­mal (“I wasn’t di­rect­ing, so I didn’t have to worry about any of that. Mostly, I just watched the bas­ket­ball sea­son while they shot!”), he did sug­gest one fan-pleas­ing nod to the orig­i­nal. Bring­ing back the orig­i­nal wearer of the mask, Nick Cas­tle, to play ‘The Shape’ once again. “Ah, no­body moves like he does,” Car­pen­ter grins. “It’s such a spe­cific set of man­ner­isms that he had in the orig­i­nal film,” Green en­thuses, “It can’t just be any­one who can pos­sess a mask.

It fits ev­ery­body a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently.” He chuck­les, re­call­ing a geeky on-set mo­ment; “There’s a very well-known Dr. Pep­per photo of Nick, from 1978, drink­ing a Dr. Pep­per through the mask. We recre­ated that im­age.”

The team were keen to take Cas­tle and his per­for­mance back to the mor­tal­ity of

the orig­i­nal – no seem­ingly su­per­nat­u­ral sur­vival or text­book mo­ti­va­tion here. “If you want to have stakes in this, you have to know that there’s a way to beat him,” says McBride. “I re­mem­ber, in the sec­ond Hal­loween when he gets shot as he’s en­ter­ing the hos­pi­tal and he just gets back up, I was like, ‘Fuck, what’s go­ing to work now? Why does an ex­plo­sion work when gun­fire didn’t?’ It just makes the rules con­fus­ing. And once there was a def­i­ni­tion of what drove Michael My­ers, who ex­actly he was and why he was killing the way he did – it took what was scary about him away.”

BLOOD MONEY

Of course, re­spect­ful homage, truth­ful char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and artis­tic en­deav­our are all very well, but Ja­son Blum is also about mak­ing big bucks. His lean busi­ness model is well known; low­costs, rig­or­ous au­di­ence test­ing, smart mar­ket­ing and no ad­vance pay. “We call that cheap!” Car­pen­ter griz­zles with a twin­kle. But doesn’t that en­hance cre­ativ­ity, TF ven­tures? “I could have gone back to that [cre­ative] place if he had paid me a whole lot of money too so that has noth­ing to do with it. But Ja­son has a great for­mula for pro­duc­ing hor­ror films: he makes cheap movies, but they’re ef­fec­tive. He’s king of the world, like what’s his name? The Ti­tanic guy.”

Cur­tis, on the other hand, felt ar­tis­ti­cally in­spired by the paucity of pay. “No­body got paid well. It’s the en­ergy of peo­ple who wanted to be in­volved with this movie, cre­atively. It felt very much like the orig­i­nal movie. The way Ja­son makes movies made me want to – I went home and wrote a movie. I’ve never writ­ten a movie in my life! This movie has given me my mojo back!”

With Hal­loween fall­ing into Blum’s fran­chise model (The Purge, Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity, In­sid­i­ous), there’s no break­ing of the above-the-line spend. “Which means no one gets paid up-front, even on the se­quels,” he nods. “They only get paid in suc­cess.” That suc­cess then, needs to be care­fully or­ches­trated. Though Cur­tis talks of see­ing scenes on-set that were “crazy scary, I got dou­ble goose­bumps”, Blum is more san­guine. Au­di­ences want to be gen­uinely ter­ri­fied for their ticket money and that re­quires clear-eyed fi­ness­ing. “You have to fig­ure out new ways to get un­der peo­ple’s skin, or rein­vent the old ways. And you can’t re­ally tell un­til you put it in front of an au­di­ence. You think you have the scari­est thing in the world and the au­di­ence just sits there. It’s so im­por­tant to test, test, test, test. I’m more vo­cal about it and [Blum­house] do more of it, there’s noth­ing to be ashamed of. You have to keep your eye on [fan re­ac­tions] but also ig­nore it. If you’re just guided by that, then you have a movie made from re­search, and it’s go­ing to be very bland. Any movie that you make that would make them all happy, would be hor­ri­ble!”

And if it works the way it should, does Blum plan fur­ther ex­pan­sion? Ask most di­rec­tors or pro­duc­ers this ques­tion and they’ll mod­estly talk of wait­ing to see, but Blum is not for such disin­gen­u­ous chat. “I hope so. If it does well, we’re go­ing to make more, for sure. I’m in­ter­ested in com­mer­cial suc­cess.” McBride ad­mits that he and Green have an idea for where the story could go in sub­se­quent films but Green is keen to stress that fans shouldn’t worry about qual­ity. “The last thing any­one wants to do is crank out a bunch of movies and make a quick cash grab,” he in­sists. “We wanted to put ev­ery­thing into this movie. If there are sto­ries that branch off, or are in­spired… and for me per­son­ally al­low risk to be taken, lessons to be learned and cu­rios­ity ful­filled? Then I’d be in­ter­ested in it.”

Come Oc­to­ber then, it’s time for au­di­ences to de­cide if there’s enough rein­ven­tion and rev­er­ence to get Hal­loween sprung from cin­e­matic in­car­cer­a­tion and off on an­other killing spree. We’ll vote, with bums on seats, whether Blum and team have pulled it off. Trick or treat…?

Hal­loween opens on 19 oc­to­ber.

‘IF YOU WANT TO HAVE STAKES IN THIS, YOU HAVE TO KNOW THAT THERE’S A WAY TO BEAT HIM’

DANNY MCBRIDE

triCk or treat? The film em­braces the tropes of its past while cater­ing for the savvi­ness of to­day’s hor­ror au­di­ences.

Orig­i­nal Michael My­ers ac­tor Nick Cas­tle reprises the role for the first time.

the Write stuff The fran­chise’s founder turned chief critic John Car­pen­ter (be­low) not only gave his ap­proval for the new film, but also wrote the mu­sic.

Jamie lee Cur­tis re­turns as lau­rie strode – but she’ll be do­ing more than play­ing the vic­tim this time…

doC­tor’s or­ders The film recre­ated this fa­mous shot of Nick Cas­tle drink­ing through the mask (right).

movie mak­inG Cur­tis on set with di­rec­tor David Gor­don Green (left).

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