As a team, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are best known for getting goofy. Creative collaborators on the HBO series Vice Principles and Eastbound and Down and the early-aughts stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness, Green and McBride have given audiences a lot of laughs over the years. But this time, they’ve got a different set of tricks up their sleeve — they don’t want to make you laugh, they want to scare the pants off of you.
When Blumhouse announced they were taking the reins of the Halloween franchise, there were a lot of names in the horror industry you might have guessed would land the gig, Green and McBride were the kind of left field pick that makes a project instantly more exciting and impossible to pin down. And Blumhouse has kept the film shrouded in mystery — even if you were lucky enough to sneak a peek at what they were filming.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to join a group of journalists on the set of Halloween in Charleston, South Carolina, where a quiet neighborhood street was transformed to Haddonfield, Illinois and Michael Myers stalked the streets once again. While there, we spoke with Green and McBride (and technically co-writer Jeff Fradley, but he let his co-writers do all the talking) about their approach to the iconic horror franchise. They discussed how the film acknowledges the modern audience, taking Halloween and The Shape back to basics, why they wanted to scrub the sequel mythology, and a whole lot more.
In the new Halloween there was only one massacre, not a whole history of it. How does the history of Michael Myers play into it? Is there a celebrity obsession with him like we have with Charles Manson or is that something that came up?
DAVID GORDON GREEN: We talked about so many ideas, and so much respect for the entire franchise went into what we’re trying to engineer, so literally just a love of horror movies and a love of every Halloween movie across the board. We were trying to come up with what our take would be and really just found an original path that more or less takes the first one as our reality, kind of sets the tone for our story or history, and then we jumped forty years into the future and we see, exactly as your saying, how the world today responds to, was affected by… how we meet our characters in a different phase of their life under the reality of this traumatic event and have to come to terms with some of these issues horrifically, in many circumstances, how that is relayed and that’s kind of the fun of how we launch off. There’s a lot of things that we haven’t even huddled on to what to say, what not to say as this movie is unleashed in a short number of months. Obviously a lot of the fun is those reveals and seeing how these things unfold, how these characters interact with one another, who they have become and hopefully the honor of the franchise in what we’ve painted in our very unique portrait.
Does it address what happened to Dr. Loomis?
GREEN: It does address what happened to Dr. Loomis, yes.
Can you guys talk about the similarity in timing in comedy and the timing in horror?
DANNY McBRIDE We have talked about that a lot and honestly, that transition wasn’t that hard to make because I think with comedy you have to be very aware of where the audience is so you can decide what’s going to work next for them and what’s not going to work for them. I think when it came to pacing scares, or even just the suspense or tension of a sequence, I think it’s very much engineered the same way, of like having to have your finger on the pulse of exactly where you’re expecting the audience to be so you can play with their expectations of where they think it is going to go next or where it’s not going to go next.
Why was it so important to include three generations of Strodes, what did that allow you to do in terms of storytelling?
McBRIDE Honestly, I think the three generations just kind of came up organically the very first time we talked, it really was just looking at how much time has passed since the first one and you know, the mathematics of it are that there would be more. We talked a lot about this, that with the sequels, one thing that is hard is that in the first Halloween, no one has been in that situation with Michael Myers before so there’s this innocence there that you’re waiting to see stabbed the whole entire time and once everyone is aware of who Michael Myers is, that is kind of gone from those stories. You’re losing this very interesting in, with innocence, so I think by having these multiple generations, you’re able to cast a teenager who can sort of give us that. She’s never seen anything like this before, never seen violence like this, so she has been able to have a normal life, have friends and not be constantly afraid. So I think it was a way to keep what was cool from the first Halloween, that sort of innocent in to the story.
The first Halloween announces itself very strongly stylistically with that long opening tracking shot. Is there an opening scene in this one that kind of announces your take on the film?
GREEN: We have a very cool opening scene, very different to that, it is not a direct mirror to that but we do have fun acknowledging that kind of fingerprint along the way of our Shape’s path.
How do you tool this for modern times after forty years?
GREEN: You know, a character in the movie even talks about that, like the world has changed a lot since Michael Myers was around. The world has seen a lot of horrific shit and there’s a lot of bad things that happen now on a daily basis so is a man in mask with a knife still scary, and I think that’s what this movie answers, yes, he still is.
You guys are ignoring all the sequels for your timeline, but as such big fans, were there parts of the sequels you wished you could have touched on or was it fun just to do your own take on it?
GREEN: Anyone who’s a fan of any of these films will find nice little Easter Eggs acknowledging our salute to the filmmakers that have preceded us, in the stories and mythologies as they’ve unfolded. For us, it was a clean slate type of opportunity, where if there was a little inspiration or mirror image of something it’s very subtle in the movie because we want to start fresh for a new generation but with great appreciation for the previous.
How geeky do you want to get with the characters? Are we going to find out what the McKenzie’s are up to, is Ben Tramer alive again, does that factor in at all in your references?
GREEN: The only thing I’ll say is Lonnie Elam has not gotten what he deserves yet.
What’s your approach to the violence in the film? We’re hearing there’s quite a bit of gore in it so is it much bloodier than the first one?
GREEN: It’s something we’re really monitoring and playing with in production until we get into post production. We’ve got Chris Nelson, who’s an incredible makeup and effects artist so right now as were filming, we’re keeping in mind first and foremost tension and anxiety, which I think are the greatest elements this film can offer and even the scene we’re working on today, we’ll do the takes where it’s less blood, more blood just to see as we unfold in the editing process. For me, it was my first horror film and it means a lot to me, just in terms of my enthusiasm for the genre, from a splatter/slasher film to a psychological thriller, I love all those elements so I’m learning every day, exploring every day and I’ll know a lot more in a couple of months when I start to put the footage together to see the degree of gore but we certainly in very capable artistic hands.
Can you talk about your conversations you had with Carpenter, in regards to your ideas, and maybe things he didn’t like, he did, the advice he gave you about making this movie?
GREEN: His advice was brilliant: make it relentless. He had notes, which is something I was extremely nervous about, we worked very hard on the script, we were all very excited. It’s one thing for three movie nerds to geek out over the opportunity of maneuvering within this property, another to basically go kiss the ring of the godfather and see how that goes. I was sweating bullets, the first time I sat down with him he had the script in hand, flipping through it and he said, who is this Fradley, this is Fradley, which I thought was a great way to make him think.
What did the dynamic look like as far as writing goes? You guys can’t all have your fingers on the typewriter at the same time so does somebody take the first stab at it and you guys jump in, how does it work?
McBRIDE: It’s very similar to how we do the TV show, we sit in a room. Luckily we’ve all known each other since college, so we don’t get tired when the other person speaks. We will just outline and discuss and talk about it and get an outline we like, then just divide the outline up, everybody takes chunks, and so by the time the script is finished you have no idea what you wrote, what somebody else wrote. It’s all just one cohesive thing.
I know some of you are die hard, long time Halloween fans, when the opportunity came along to even pitch this, did you have something in your back pocket, something you always wanted to see that you’re going to finally get to do?
McBRIDE: I guess for me, I just thought the visual style of that first Halloween, the ideas of those tracking shots, the anamorphic of just the wide shots, it seemed to be such a simple formula of what made it so spooky and I haven’t even seen that duplicated in the other ones. So I feel like it was a bit about the visual style and the tone of it felt like it hadn’t been duplicated since the original.
Given the passionate scrutiny already from social media in regards to this film, how much pressure are you guys feeling?
GREEN: You know, I think the most pressure I have is wanting John to be involved and enthusiastic, and see what we’re doing, and appreciate what we’re doing, and the support in those collaborative elements. At this point, creatively, for my own protection, I have to acknowledge my collaborators. Everyone on this set is talent that is working for the passion of this movie and that’s interesting because you don’t often see a passion project as a low budget horror film, but this particular one is and we’re really lucky to have the people that we have; intelligent, technical and creative minds around us. So I’m looking at that as my shell, my place to hide and create, and the support of these dozens of voices is incredibly gratifying but also a bit overwhelming. If I was to, at this point in the creative process, to assume the world wide enthusiasm for this franchise, I’d probably be very uncomfortable with that.
In the first movie, Michael stabs, strangles, slices people. What makes a good Michael Myers kill?
GREEN: I think just what you said.
Talking to some of the other directors, some of them will say slicing the throat is more visceral, so what gets you guys going?
GREEN: For me I also like that there’s creative energy that we don’t need on screen. That Michael has little projects, and then you’re happy that the films don’t actually show him putting the tombstone on the bed. He’s got his arts and crafts projects.
It’s kind of become a joke that he’s learned to drive so in the forty years has he learned something else?
GREEN: Is he tweeting? Big social media fan.
He’s in his sixties now and I know you can be very fit in your sixties but has he just been working out in that mental institution that whole time?
GREEN: I think he’s been doing as little as possible and I’d like to know as little as possible about him, his history and his abilities. I think there was a reason he was called The Shape because in some ways he’s more of an essence than he is a traditional character, finding that line between natural and supernatural worlds and this mysterious and as un-verbalized as we can create a character. In some ways it’s like a film like Jaws, there’s not a lot of personality in the shark, technically he’s very elusive in the way that he’s shot and we’re trying to keep that as our framework and not get too much into who he is, why he is, what he’s been doing but along the way I do think it’s really fun to imagine the reality of some of the scenarios we visually realize.
The mythology is that he’s her brother and you’ve taken that away. How do you build upon that and was it hard to make that decision to remove?
McBRIDE: I was pushing for that removal right off the bat. I just felt like that was an area where he wasn’t quite as scary anymore, it seemed too personalized. I wasn’t as afraid of Michael Myers anymore because I’m not his fucking brother so he’s not coming after me. And also, you’ve seen it. so wouldn’t it be interesting just to see what would happen if it wasn’t that? And what does that open up for us if it was this random killing that has effected this character? So it just seemed like new territory to bite off. Maybe we’ll look back and say ‘Oh, it was such a mistake not to make them siblings,” but I don’t know, it seemed as opposed to just duplicating it would be cool to see if it gives us anything else.
This is now the second time in the Hollywood franchise, not counting Rob Zombie, have gone back and said most of the sequels don’t count. Do you think about the artistic ramifications of that and the impermanence of what you do? Like in twenty more years Jamie Lee Curtis will be playing a great grandmother, fighting Michael Myers all over again, discounting this one.
McBRIDE I feel like it’s almost one of the things like Batman or something. You see different artists take on these iconic characters so I think it’s kind of cool to see what different filmmakers will do with a property that is so well known. I would rather have that approach to Michael Myers than everyone just continuing some storyline and just trying to regurgitate these things. I think it’s more interesting to have someone like David or Rob Zombie, these filmmakers that just come and put their own stamp on it for better or worse, I think that’s a more interesting way for a franchise to stay alive than to just continue to beat the same drum over and over again.
Jumping back to that age thing for just a second, we did see that the mask was aged and I’m curious, was there other ways in the way you wrote it, the way you’re directing him, that the sense of age or history comes through?