Halloween Kills director David Gordon Green on reviving Michael Myers yet again and delivering a fresh take on the horror icon.
This interview contains a light-ish spoiler or two for the film. Do not read if you want to go in cold.
Michael Myers always gets up again. That’s very much the motto of the Halloween franchise, with no amount of bloodletting keeping the boogeyman of Haddonfield down for good. In new movie Halloween Kills, he emerges from the flames to which he was condemned by Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode at the end of the ultra-successful franchise reboot back in 2018. When we meet them again, Laurie and the residents of Haddonfield are battered and bruised, but not broken, and they fight back against Myers as he continues his murder spree.
In the director’s chair once again is David Gordon Green, who returns along with writing partner Danny McBride to craft another Michael Myers tale – more than 40 years after he first slashed his way into cinema history. I chatted with Green to chat about how he took Halloween forwards, and how he plans to continue that with next year’s trilogy-closer Halloween Ends…
At what point did you know that you were coming back and doing this film?
We premiered the 2018 film at the Toronto Film Festival and we had this midnight screening. I was tired and I was like “what’s going to happen here?”. The reaction was beyond my expectations and so I only slept for about three hours that night – half out of adrenaline and half because my phone was ringing the next morning saying we had to get started on the next one.
John Carpenter always puts it so funny. He’s like “if the last one makes money, they’ll make the next one”.
And of course you got the green light for both Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends?
We had so many ideas for the first film that, when they asked if we wanted to make another one, we said “why don’t we just make two?” and that way we can have a full narrative. It’s a four-part mythology, beginning with Carpenter’s ’78 chapter and then three of us. Then I close the door on it, Michael Myers goes back to being a classic movie monster and then the next storyteller comes by to make a puppet show or a stage play or an animated spin-off or whatever the new incarnation will inevitably become.
But for me it was a matter of taking our appreciation for Carpenter’s movie and making Halloween 2018 out of that honour. Then we know where we want it to go. I knew what the last 11 pages of Halloween Ends were going to be three years ago. And then with that responsibility taken care of, we could make Halloween Kills as just a rambunctious rollercoaster, have a lot of fun, smash a bunch of shit and then leave.
I’m 100% down for the puppet show. When’s that coming out?
Was the plan always that this film would pick up immediately after the end of the 2018 one?
We’re all big fans of Halloween II, which is so much fun. The narrative didn’t quite work for us to keep that film in our storyline, but I thought this was a way to give it a hug and a high-five and take the same cue they took when they made Halloween II.
And will Halloween Ends do the same thing?
We catch up to the current day, so it takes place on the Halloween of 2022. Four years have passed since the massacre of Halloween Kills and we’ve had a chance to process not only Haddonfield and the recovery – or opposite of a recovery – from that tragedy, but we also see the world around us and how that has spun so fast in the last four years. It’s intimate in a lot of ways but it also has that scope of time and that’s one of the things I’m curious to see how that core maintains as it plays out in production.
I’m intrigued by that idea, because one of the things about this film is the idea of mob mentality. There’s that moment where the hero and villain axis shifts slightly and you’re not necessarily on the heroes’ side.
That’s part of the evolution, I think. If the ’78 film really showed the simplicity of good versus evil, here we’re blurring that line. Brackett has a line I love, where he says “now he’s turning us into monsters”. I think there is that uncertainty of who we are and what we’re trying to do with what limited information we have. It’s complicated.
I thought it was very fascinating and very timely. Was that always in the script or was it something that evolved?
Always in the script. We wrote it three years ago and wrapped the film two years ago, so it’s interesting to see how culture and storytelling can inspire each other – sometimes subconsciously.
On a more straightforwardly nerdy level, the Loomis flashback is really something.
We had talked about the various ways that films will engineer a reimagining of a deceased character. We were having these dialogues on the first film, because there was a time I was going to start our first film with the end of the Carpenter movie. I thought people might need to get up to speed with how that last movie ended. There was a consideration that we had written of beginning our film like that, but we were looking at how much it would cost to digitally recreate Loomis. It ended up with “no way, we can’t afford to do it and maybe we don’t need to anyway”.
But then, once we decided not to do that, we got to set and they were building sets. We saw that the construction coordinator looks just like Donald Pleasence. So that’s Tom Jones. He’s credited twice – once as Loomis and once as the construction coordinator. It was a total coincidence. We receded his hairline and Christopher Nelson is a genius make-up artist who did some augmentation, but it was uncanny. You get a trip every time he’d walk by set and, after we’d done that sequence, there was a reverence for the construction coordinator as he walked into work every day. When he walked on set for the first time with the coat on, it was like a moment of royalty.
I suppose that same idea of royalty must accompany Nick Castle whenever he’s involved?
I like to get him out on the first day of shooting to kind of bless the set, as he does. Day one was the scene of the elderly couple and Michael in the bathroom, so he was out for that shoot. He gives me notes on the script and he’s just really awesome to have around.
And is Carpenter involved on that level?
Oh yeah, I gave him the new draft of Halloween Ends two nights ago and he’s got a few days to give me some notes before we start prep on the movie. And I’m always excited to hear the new tunes. We do a balance of the retro themes from the original and, even in this movie, we have little music drops to accentuate cuts and punctuate certain things. I love bringing that back. Then the new cues that he and his son Cody and Daniel Davies do are always exhilarating for me to hear.
Then of course there’s that anxiety of showing him the script and the cuts for the first time. Sometimes I’ll watch him watch it. We’ll Skype and I’ll just watch over his shoulder, then he’ll turn and give me commentary, which is pretty amazing.
That’s got to be amazing, as a fan?
Oh yeah. In Halloween Ends, I’m trying to conjure him a little bit and rewatching his body of work for nods to his entire career as opposed to just a Halloween salute. We’ve got little tidbits from a lot of classic Carpenter in it.
One of the things with this film and with Ends is that, in some way deliberately and in other ways not deliberately, you’ve been given the luxury of time. First with the release delay and then the decision not to shoot the two back to back. Does that help?
Time always helps. I do feel like it’s helpful for me psychologically to have experienced Halloween Kills with an audience. Something that’s very important to me is to connect with an audience. That doesn’t mean it’s just a crowd-pleaser, but to make something that triggers what I’m looking for in the audience. I learn something from that. Halloween Ends is tonally very different so as I’m learning from this movie in its projected theatrical appreciation, I take lessons from that and it will affect how the next movie is made to some degree.
One of the joys of seeing it with an audience must be the reactions to the gore and the violence. Given how many slasher films we’ve all seen, how difficult is it to come up with fresh and inventive ways of killing people?
It’s a balance. As much as I like fresh and innovative kills, it’s also nice to lean in to some clichés and tropes because as a fan it’s fun to play into the genre and let everyone know that I’m a big fan too. We have a great group of collaborators, from make-up to camera to art department, and we all have different films that we’ve seen, so we challenge each other. Sometimes I’ll come up with something I think is a brilliant idea and Danny will tell me it has been in six other movies, then we think whether six is enough to make it a cliché that we want to do anyway. It’s trying to find that balance of when it’s familiar in a good way and when it’s familiar and boring.
As a filmmaker doing that, how much fun is it to be around all of that practical stuff like the blood and the squibs?
It’s only fun when I’m out of body. There are two versions of me on set. There’s me who is stressed out about the fact we’re running out of time and something looks fake or I can’t get the lighting right or the actor is complaining or we’ve only got enough blood for one take. Then there’s the other me, where I can take those three breaths and step out of my body and look at the scenario from the other side of the window. It’s incredible. I’m there with these brilliant, passionate artists and scientists.
Nobody is lazy. Everybody is there to fucking kick ass and, if we don’t get it, we will weep. You have grown men and women who are working their asses off and, if it sucks, they will cry. Once you know the stakes are like that for something as absurdist as a bloody scene in a slasher movie, you’ve got the right collaborators.
Are you still capable of being scared by Michael Myers? When the actor walks on set in the costume, do you still get a frisson of tension?
I’m very separated from it, but there are times when I don’t want him around me. If I’m working with an actor or something and The Shape is just lingering, I make him leave because it stresses me out.
Maybe you don’t want him at the monitor with you.
Just looking over my shoulder giving me notes! We keep him away because there’s a spiritual sense that Michael has to be around a corner so that he can have that gravity when he enters the area. You won’t see a lot of paparazzi shots of Shape because that mask is under lock and key. He’s not wearing it on his way from the trailer to the set. You’ve got something pretty special under there and you don’t want some rando leaning out of their home window taking snapshots of it because it doesn’t look right. Inevitably there’s a degree of anxiety which happens when that mask is in your periphery.
We spoke a little about music earlier. My editor is very keen that I ask you about the use of the song Shaving Cream.
It’s a classic, right? It’s how I taught my kids bad words, with songs like that.
Is it interesting to balance the tone of using something really silly like that?
I wouldn’t say it’s comic relief, but there’s a lighter atmosphere so we can contrast that with some harshness. We’re coming out of a devastating, horrific, upsetting sequence. We’re actually prelapping the audio. As we’re seeing something disturbing, we’re getting the audio of the audience laughing and applauding a ventriloquist. The sicko sound designers, man. When I heard that for the first time I was like “you guys are evil”, but it’s very effective also.
I am a big horror fan and I love that kind of tonal management in my horror.
Tonal management, that’s my job. I’m a tonal manager.
That makes it far less interesting than it is, like something that goes on a flipboard in an office.
I wanted to ask about the title Halloween Ends, which is quite a statement in itself. You mentioned earlier that you fully expect other Michael Myers and Halloween stuff to happen after you, but are you looking for this to feel like a definitive end?
Yes. Well, no. Yes. I don’t know. I’ll let you know when I finish the sound mix. It is written to feel satisfying, but I know I’m such a sucker for ambiguity that I don’t want to say yes. I do love a tone that gives you something to ponder. As much as I think that, narratively, the plot points feel conclusive, I bet you as tonal manager that I will fuck with you. So watch out.
One of the joys of anything like this is that, even if the villain appears to be vanquished and it’s over, there’s always the chance it isn’t.
Michael does those pilates sit-ups. So no matter how many times you take him down. And Laurie too. You think you’ve seen the last of them and then they just sit-up.
It would be funny if Halloween Ends just turned into duelling pilates.
That’s the reboot.
Just before I let you go, is there another horror icon you’d love to make a film about?
Well, I’m currently writing an Exorcist trilogy. So although I don’t necessarily entertain Pazuzu, the demonic world that Friedkin and William Peter Blatty created is something that I’ve found both disturbing and profound in my life. So that is the next exploration and hopefully, after that, I’ll lean into a musical comedy or I’ll go to Bollywood. I need to do something a little lighter and cheerier.
So not a musical comedy involving stabbings?
Not true. I won’t promise that.
A musical comedy, with stabbings and a reprise of Shaving Cream?
Now it’s like Toolbox Murders: The Musical.
That’s tonal management at its best! Thank you, David.
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