There are movie monsters, and then there’s Michael Myers. The masked maniac who first came home in John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher, “Halloween” — and who returns 40 years later to terrorize an older Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), now a hard-edged survivalist, in this Friday’s much-anticipated sequel of the same name — is something different entirely: a near-mythic embodiment of evil at its most archetypal, killing indiscriminately and without explanation, his formless white mask betraying not a trace of humanity.
It’s that unknowable quality to Michael that’s cemented him as horror’s most enduring modern-day boogeyman, not to mention a regular in many a too-young audience member’s nightmares. For David Gordon Green, director and co-writer of the new “Halloween,” watching the original at 11 — through his fingers at a friend’s sleepover party, as he remembers it — proved exceedingly traumatic.
“I was scared to the point where I got ill and had to go home,” recalls Green, now 43. What so disturbed the young Green — who’d previously considered Jim Henson’s “The Dark Crystal” (1982) a scary movie — was the almost banal brutality with which Michael stalked and slaughtered his victims.
“It was realistic,” he explains, speaking by phone from his South Carolina home. “There was no joke, not even any Freddy Krueger tongue-in-cheek wit or one-liners. It was set in a simple, very relatable, recognizable neighborhood, with an everyday series of characters, and its horror [concerned] random violence, which to this day still scares me more than anything.
“I’m a firm believer that no matter how mystical or supernatural our entertainment can get, and no matter how globally devastating our headlines can get, the idea of someone randomly in your house with a knife is going to scare the [expletive] out of you.”
Green made his mark with the 2000 drama “George Washington,” a coming-of-age story set in rural North Carolina. After carving out a niche for himself with other indie features, Green scored his first box-office hit directing James Franco and Seth Rogen in the stoner comedy “Pineapple Express” (2008).According to the director, the project that did the most to reawaken his admiration for — and fear of — “Halloween” was actually last fall’s “Stronger,” the Boston Marathon bombing biopic he signed on to direct in 2015, two years after its central subject, Jeff Bauman, lost both legs in the terrorist attack.
In its own way, he says, Bauman’s story tapped into that same primal fear “Halloween” harnessed, of sudden and inexplicable violence derailing the lives of innocents. Green spent time with Bauman, gaining a new appreciation for the toll — both physical and psychological — the bombing and its fallout continue to take.
Some time after “Stronger” had wrapped production, Jason Blum, head of micro-budget horror haven Blumhouse Productions, reached out via e-mail to gauge Green’s interest in the “Halloween” franchise, which he’d signed on to resuscitate alongside Carpenter.
Invigorated by the idea of crafting a sequel that could double as a study in trauma, Green enlisted two frequent collaborators — Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, both of whom he’s known since college — to develop a pitch, which they and Blum then brought directly to Carpenter. And to hear it from the original “Halloween” director, who spoke by phone from his Los Angeles home, he and Green ended up getting on better than Michael Myers and a kitchen knife.
“He had a great story,” says Carpenter, 70. “And he just liked the original movie so much. I felt he could do it justice, that he could honor it.”
Carpenter was particularly taken with Green’s approach to the character of Laurie Strode, reimagined in the new movie as a Sarah Connor-esque action hero whose near-fatal run-in with Michael has left her with both post-traumatic stress disorder and an obsessive need to prep for their next encounter. The story also gave Laurie a daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak), both of whom risk ending up in the killer’s path.
“My original setup was that trope: the final girl, the survivor,” explains Carpenter. “And this movie empowers the final girl. She becomes one of three women who triumph over evil, and I just think that’s wonderful.”
In emerging from quasi-retirement to score and serve as an executive-producer on what was to be the 10th “Halloween” sequel, the horror legend says he always felt it was imperative to hire someone who could bring “a different imagination” to the property.
“The fact that he hadn’t done horror, I think, was a plus,” Carpenter adds, maintaining that he only had a few suggestions. “He knew what to do. The big thing is that he’s just a terrific director. It didn’t matter if he’d done horror. That’s the big mistake people make.”
‘Its horror [concerned] random violence, which to this day still scares me more than anything.’
On set, Green says that he looked to Curtis — who was encouraged to reprise her role by “Stronger” star Jake Gyllenhaal, a family friend — to serve as the ultimate (and obvious) Laurie Strode expert.
“She’s been processing Laurie for 40 years,” explains Green. As “Halloween” took shape throughout production in the first two months of 2018, the director and his star shared a desire to craft a timely update to the iconic horror property, one that could sate long-time “Halloween” fans and focus on would-be victims fighting back against the monsters that have long menaced them.
Sometimes, a little improvisation was all it took to manage both.
“At one point in the film, Laurie spots Michael for the first time, face to face,” recalls Green. “They make eye contact. He runs out of the back of the house, she runs around the corner, with a gun. In the original script, she didn’t hit him; she shot at him and missed. And Jamie Lee Curtis, on the day of filming this scene, looked at me and said, ‘Honey, Laurie’s not gonna miss.’
“I was like, ‘But wouldn’t he then have been shot?’ She responds, ‘He’s been shot before, he’ll be shot again. I’m not gonna miss.’ It was kind of amazing. I was just like, ‘Uh, OK. Guys, go get the [blood] squibs ready.’ ”Isaac Feldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.