“I saw the shape of the bad man, and I had a gun, and I didn’t know what to do with it!” It is day 19 on the Charleston, S.C., set of Halloween, a sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic of the same name. Jamie Lee Curtis is back playing the slasher genre’s most celebrated heroine, surrounded by her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), son-in-law Ray (Toby Huss), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). In the original film, Laurie was a teenage babysitter who narrowly escaped masked killer Michael Myers after he had slain three of her friends. In the new Halloween (out Oct. 19), Curtis’ character remains in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Ill., haunted by Myers and obsessed with the possibility of his return. The killer has spent the previous four decades in a psychiatric institution and is now being transferred to a maximum-security prison, but Strode is convinced he still presents a murderous threat. “She was really unhinged from the whole experience,” Curtis tells EW of Laurie’s ordeal back in 1978. “The woman we meet 40 years later is really a walking example of PTSD.”
Strode’s agitation today, however, is exceptional: She’s just witnessed Myers being placed on a prison bus, and her hesitation to shoot her onetime assailant has her completely undone. “Let’s press the reset button,” says Greer’s Karen at one point, pleading for her mother to calm down. “Let’s have a do-over.” Given the situation, her request seems perfectly reasonable. But Greer’s dialogue can also be interpreted as a wink to the film’s audience. Why? Because this is a direct sequel to Carpenter’s original film, and it operates as if the events depicted in the nine subsequent franchise entries never happened. And this cleaning of the slate isn’t the only element of the new movie that has caused eyebrows to raise among horror fans. Halloween (in theaters Oct. 19) is directed and co-written by David Gordon Green (George Washington, The Sitter), whose résumé, while eclectic, does not include anything resembling a horror movie. Even more curious, Green co-wrote the script with Danny McBride, a friend of the filmmaker’s from their days at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. McBride is best known for his comedic performances on the envelope-pushing HBO sitcoms Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, shows on which Green was a frequent director. So, is this new iteration of the franchise less “The night he came home” — the tagline for the original film — and more “The night he got high and told a bunch of off-color jokes”?
Green insists Halloween lovers need not worry. “We’re really trying to honor Carpenter’s vision,” says the filmmaker. “Danny said a really smart thing: ‘Until there’s killings, there’s no jokes. Let’s not give anybody anything to laugh at until we’ve scared them s—less.’”
It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of the original Halloween to the horror canon. Directed with dread-filled precision by the then-30-year-old Carpenter — who also composed the film’s chilling synthesizer score — the movie proved the commercial viability of the unstoppable-killer trope. Made for just $325,000, the film grossed $47 million domestically (around $186 million in today’s money), popularizing the slasher genre that would come to dominate the horror scene in the ’80s and ’90s. The movie would have a profound effect on an entire generation of filmmakers, including Green, who was about 11 when he saw it. “I was at a slumber party and watched Halloween and got so scared I became ill and had to go home,” says the 43-year-old director, laughing.
The franchise has taken a few twists and turns over the years. 1981’s Halloween II revealed that Michael and Laurie are siblings, while 1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers showed how the titular character’s powers were derived from an ancient curse. After being absent from the series since Halloween II, Curtis returned for her character to kill Myers in 1998’s Halloween: H20, and then she briefly appeared in 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection, only to be murdered by Myers, who, it turns out, she hadn’t finished off after all. More recently, Rob Zombie directed a remake, 2007’s Halloween, that grossed an impressive $58 million domestically, and then made a sequel to his own movie, 2009’s Halloween II, which raked in a less remarkable $33 million. (For those keeping score, that means there are now three films in the series called Halloween — including the new movie — and two named Halloween II, though Green points out his film is “technically the third Halloween II.”)
The last five movies in the series were made by Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films, which was initially the genre arm of Miramax and then of The Weinstein Company. But after Dimension was unable to produce a follow-up to Zombie’s second movie in a timely fashion, the rights reverted to Miramax. “The brand had gathered some moss and was ripe [for reviving],” says Miramax CEO Bill Block. The studio teamed with longtime Halloween producer Malek Akkad and, around three years ago, struck a deal to develop a new Halloween movie with Blumhouse Productions, the company responsible for the Paranormal Activity franchise and Get Out, among other horror hits.
It was Blumhouse founder Jason Blum who approached Green to direct. “I’m a big believer that if you can make a good movie of any genre, you can make a good horror movie,” says Blum. Also? “It was actually very hard to find someone for the movie. People were daunted by it.”
Green was in postproduction on his Jake Gyllenhaal-starring 2017 drama Stronger when he received the query from Blum. “I’ve always wanted to do a horror film,” says the director. “I rushed to sit down with him. Then I raced back to my office in L.A. where Danny was editing [Vice Principals] and he said, ‘Let me write it with you.’”
Like Green, McBride is a longtime horror nut. “Growing up, that was the best section to walk through in the video store, looking at all those movie boxes and figuring out which one you could convince your parents to let you rent,” he says.
The pair recruited a third writer, Jeff Fradley, another college friend with whom they’d worked on Vice Principals. The trio resolved that their Halloween should return to the comparative realism of Carpenter’s original film and ignore the post-1978 mythology. “If Michael Myers has been killed and come back to life this many times, there’s no way we could make a grounded film,” says McBride.
Blum also reached out to Carpenter to see if he would play some role in the franchise of which he had grown publicly critical, dismissing the later films for their “silliness” in a 2014 interview with Deadline. “Jason Blum came to see me and said, ‘Instead of sitting on the sidelines, criticizing these people, why don’t you jump in and help?’ So, I decided to help try to get it as good as I could.”
On Feb. 9, 2017, Carpenter revealed via Facebook that McBride and Green were writing the script for a new Halloween film and that Green would direct. “I might even do the music,” the filmmaker teased. The news prompted a mixed response, with one commenter on the Bloody Disgusting horror website writing, “Comedians should just stick to comedy.” “I like to be an underdog,” says McBride about the reaction. “I like to try to prove people wrong.”
The writers decided that the film should heavily feature Laurie Strode, even though there was no guarantee Curtis would return to the role. They depicted her as a compound-dwelling survivalist type whose apparently untethered fears for her family seem a lot less paranoid once Michael escapes. Green eventually asked Gyllenhaal, a friend of Curtis’, to contact the actress. “Jake called me and said, ‘My friend David would like to talk to you about something regarding Halloween,’” explains Curtis. “[David and I] spoke on the phone and he started to explain it and I said, ‘Just send the script to me.’ From the first couple of scenes, I understood what they were trying to do. It was very clear, the integrity, the simplicity.”
Curtis also signed on to the project because she mistakenly believed it wouldn’t involve much effort on her part. “I really focused on [the characters played by] Andi and Judy,” says the actress. “When I first got sent the script, I literally said, ‘Look, you guys, I’m in it so little, you can shoot me out in, like, five days.’” Curtis only realized her error when she landed in Charleston and began to rehearse with Green, unpacking the psychic damage Myers had inflicted on her character. “I started crying the day I arrived,” she says. “I didn’t stop crying until the day I left.”
Curtis reveals that working with Green was similar to being directed by Carpenter on the first movie, or as much as she can recall of that experience. “I’m sober 20 years, [but] I worked with John Carpenter when I was still taking quaaludes,” says the actress. “It was so long ago and we shot so fast. What I’ve realized now is that both John and David are Southern boys, raised as Southern gentlemen, [and] they both are surrounded by their friends.”
Speaking of friends: While the killer Myers is mostly played in the film by stuntman-actor James Jude Courtney, there is one cameo appearance in the movie by Nick Castle, who portrayed Michael in the original Halloween. “It was just a blast,” says Castle, a film-school buddy of Carpenter’s who is also the director of the 1984 sci-fi movie The Last Starfighter. “The first day I was on the set, Jamie came running over and said, ‘Is this nuts or what?’”
Carpenter himself also visited the Charleston set. “It was like royalty,” says Ryan Turek, a Blumhouse executive and co-producer on the film. “He’s just so dry in his wit. He came to set and he was like, ‘Guys, what are you bums doing? Let’s get to work!’ We were just like, ‘Oh, okay, yes, Mr. Carpenter. ” The director even followed through on his half promise to come up with the film’s score, a mix of new material and revamped tracks from the original movie. “We’ve got the basic themes from the first film, but we’ve improved them with the new technology,” Carpenter says. “I was working with tube amplifiers in those days, which you had to tune up!”
In addition to Laurie Strode’s extended family, new characters include a pair of British true-crime podcasters (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall), a cop (Will Patton) who was on duty during that fateful Halloween back in 1978, and a psychiatrist (Haluk Bilginer) who has been studying Myers. But the film’s three main protagonists are the trio of women, played by Matichak, Greer, and Curtis, which the latter believes is fitting in this era of Time’s Up. “Clearly this movie will be another voice in that same chorus of women taking back their stories, saying we are not that story,” she says.
Halloween premiered this September at the Toronto International Film Festival to a warm reception from audiences and most critics, including EW’s Leah Greenblatt, who hailed it as “big, funny, scary, squishy.” Should that acclaim translate into a healthy box office, don’t be surprised if Green’s film spawns a sequel. “If we got six movies out of [Paranormal Activity] — they found new footage five times in a row! — I feel like we can figure out the next chapter,” says Blum. “But we’ll see.”
Whether Halloween is a success or not, there’s every likelihood that one day the series will be rebooted yet again, possibly in a manner that asks audiences to ignore the events of this movie. “I can only hope that in 10 years or 20 years [filmmakers] are finding new ways to have Michael Myers scare people,” McBride says. “I don’t think Halloween would be the same without him.”
Halloween his theaters Oct. 19.