From Blumhouse Productions, executive producer/creative consultant John Carpenter and director David Gordon Green (who also wrote the film with Danny McBride), Halloween is a terrifying look at the after-effects of the trauma that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) experienced when Michael Myers put on the mask and went on a killing spree in Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night, four decades ago. But now, there’s also Karen (Judy Greer), the daughter who was taken away from her and who struggles with her mother’s non-stop paranoia, and the teenaged Allyson (Andi Matichak), who’s stuck in the middle of the rift between her mother and her grandmother, to keep safe, by any means necessary.
At the film’s Los Angeles press day, held on the appropriately Halloween-decorated backlot of Universal Studios, director David Gordon Green spoke at a roundtable interview about how the story evolved into what we see now, whether this ever would have happened without Jamie Lee Curtis, what she brought to the character this time around, why they decided to disregard the sequels while still paying homage to what came before, the films he watched for inspiration, putting together the creative team, and the influence of John Carpenter.
Question: From when you first pitched this to what we’re seeing in the finished cut, how much did this film change?
DAVID GORDON GREEN: A lot. We pitched it very quickly, aggressively and excitedly, the idea to honor John Carpenter’s original film. We didn’t imagine we’d have the luxury of Jamie Lee Curtis and that journey to explore certain paths. And then, we wondered, how much exposition do we need? How much backstory do people need? Do we need to recite the ending of the original film? A lot of it was just trial and error, exploring it. Until very close to production, the roles and dramatic narratives of Officer Hawkins and Sartain were reversed. And then, we thought, “Let’s just try it the other way,” and all of the sudden, we were like, “Oh, this is so much more fun.” There were those kinds of things. It was very playful, through the production. We’d be rewriting on the weekends, based on actor’s ideas, and keep it very open and organic.
What were you going to do without Jamie Lee Curtis, if she hadn’t signed on?
GREEN: The early conversation was, do you a Force Awakens tribute film to the original film, and try to design it with the same cast and same aesthetic, or do you do Batman Begins and take the mythology and put your fingerprint on it, which Rob Zombie had done already. We were really leaning toward preferring to do the tribute version, but we needed her, or what else were we gonna do? You could make a cast list, but you’d just roll your eyes at it. She’s the only Laurie Strode. I’m not sure what would’ve happened.
What were those initial conversations with her like? Were there ideas that she brought to you, that she wanted to see in the film?
GREEN: It was a very quick yes. I was finishing up this movie, Stronger, with Jake Gyllenhaal, and he had put in a good word for me. He told her that I was gonna call her, so I called her and she said, “Send me the script.” I remember that I was very nervous when I talked to her for three minutes, walking down the street in New York City. I ran back to my hotel, emailed her the script, and at 7am the next morning, she called me and said, “I’m in.” Something that I thought was really cool, that she pointed out, was that, at the end of the first Halloween, she was upstairs talking to Tommy and Lindsey, and she’s trying to get them to go across the street and get the cops, and she says, “Do as I say.” She said that was a pivotal moment for Laurie, in her transition from innocent, naive schoolgirl, to empowered, confident authority. She said, “I want this movie to be about the ‘Do as I say,’ Laurie.” I get goosebumps, just thinking about it. It became a cool mantra for us, in the writing. We put it in the script.
This film delves into trauma and what that does to the female psyche. Was there a lot of modulation, in the writing process, to figure out how you wanted to explore that?
GREEN: For me, it was just good casting. I grew up with three sisters and a strong mother, and had a strong female presence in my life, so I have an architecture of ideas. But then, when you get Andi [Matichak], Judy [Greer], and Jamie, and you say, “Here’s the blueprint, ladies,” you just step back and turn a camera on. My goal was just to get out of the way.
At what point did you come to the decision to disregard the sequels that followed the first movie, and specifically follow up that first story?
GREEN: I hung on tight to Halloween II for awhile, and [Danny] McBride was always trying to get me to let it go. And then, when we were talking about the ultimate path, it was actually in the writing itself, just thinking it’s scarier if it’s random. Actually, our collaborator, Jeff Fradley, wrote the sequence where Michael goes door to door, and he had this whole one-shot thing in his head, and we were like, “Oh, yeah! But that only works if he’s not just trying to kill his sister.” And so, that was a pivotal scene for me, not only in the effort to rehearse it and get it right, but also in terms of accepting that I was gonna have to say goodbye to a movie that I really liked. But, they were right. It totally liberates you from the burden. It enhances the randomness and the horror of it. I’d much rather him get out of the cage and just do what he does, and then the victim can turn the tale on its ass.
You do also have certain homages to the other films.
GREEN: You’ve gotta watch it again and again. There’s a fun one that I’m really excited about, that’s very subtle. In the original film, there’s a scene where Laurie is walking down the sidewalk and she’s singing a song to herself that says, “I wish I had you all alone, just the two of us.” They couldn’t afford the rights to a song, so Jamie and John freestyled that song on the set. So, I had a band write the version of the song, and when the boy and his father are driving the truck to the bus crash, that song is playing on the radio. There are a good handful of those deep cuts.
The original Halloween is such a classic. What was your reference, coming into this? What is your own history with horror like?
GREEN: I’ve never done a horror movie, but I’ve always wanted to. I’ve made a lot of movies and TV shows. I work all the time, but I don’t think anyone was like, “Oh, this is a job for David.” I’m not on anyone’s list ‘cause I don’t have a signature move. A lot of directors have that thing that they do successfully, and they do it and become the master at it, but I’m always the student. The attribute that I have is curiosity. I’m just excited to see how you would do it, and I know it’s gonna make me look better, if I surround myself with people like John Carpenter and Jason Blum, who know how to do this shit. I’m just excited to be in the arena. I have more questions than answers. I’d never done a horror movie, but I like a lot of them. I watched Silence of the Lambs six times to prepare for the movie. I watched Halloween I ninety times. I watched The Night of the Hunter, Black Christmas, The Toolbox Murders and Psycho, and just re-familiarized myself with a lot of the tropes and cliches, beautiful and bad, of movies from the last several decades. And then, I went in there and just had fun, knowing that I had a creative team that I believe in.
Basically, we took the crew from the HBO series, Vice Principals, that we did, and just moved right into this. The D.P. (Michael Simmonds) coincidentally shot some of the Paranormal Activity movies for Jason, and Tim Alverson is a great horror movie editor. Simmons called Dean Cundey and got his notes on how he shot the original. This is a low budget movie, so we had 25 days for principal photography, which is not much, but you try to take some of the flavor and the energy of the original. We were two weeks into production and we had to cut some scenes, just ‘cause we were gonna run out of time, or I spent too much time in the house trying to get a scene right. We had to lose the Honor Society ceremony scene. They’re things that I had to forgive myself for. I tried to bite off more than I could chew, in some ways.
When John Carpenter has an idea, do you immediately defer to him, or is there a discussion involved?
GREEN: With the utmost admiration and respect, everything he would say, I would process and contemplate. Not everything I would do, but most of it, I would give serious consideration to. I think I did almost everything. What are you gonna do, say no? It was fun to collaborate. You’d see his take on music. Sometimes he’d even have scored a scene and play it for you, and it would be beautiful, but then he’d be like, “It’s better with no music. Watch.” And then, you’d learn. He and his son (Cody), and their collaborator, Daniel Davies, would do all of this work, but then sometimes he’d show you that you don’t need it because it’s sometimes scarier with no music. We had that thing scored, but you’d try certain things without it and realize there was something there.