ARROW IN THE HEAD
With Halloween just around the corner, who better to interview than Stefan Hutchinson, a man who lives, breathes and fornicates the Halloween franchise. How's that? Well he's co-written and directed the acclaimed documentary Halloween 25 Years of Terror and has written two fine Halloween comic, "One Good Scare" and "Autopsis" with more comics on the way. We recently took the time to verbal combat with the lad and here's what he had to say about all that he has jammed on his kitchen knife.
What’s your favorite Halloween sequel and why?
It changes all the time. None of them come close to the original for me. It has hardly any plot and conveys itself on style and atmosphere – the sequels don’t have anywhere near the same flair – at best they are narrative exercises which don’t have anywhere near the same primal power. That out of the way, at the moment, it’s probably II or III. Having said that, I do like some aspects of H20 as well. The second and third films, however, have the added nostalgia factor that makes me overlook many of their faults, and there’s a certain feel to them which they’ve never captured in the sequels.
‘Halloween II’ has a great score, but I don’t find the mask or The Shape as creepy as in the original – you see him way too much, and he’s completely silent – I miss the pervy breathing of the original. This film also introduces the ‘Laurie was really his sister all along’ thing, which really hurts it for me. It makes the first film seem like a series of completely unlikely coincidences. For me, it was always more terrifying when The Shape went after Laurie purely because she’s the first girl he sees. It’s much more archetypal and fairytale – almost Red Riding Hood. If you watch the first film and imagine Laurie Strode as Red Riding Hood, The Shape as the Wolf, Sam Loomis as the Woodcutter, it works perfectly (likewise, if you view the Wallace House as Grandma’s House). The fact that it does so shows how the original is so simple and pure.
‘Halloween III’ is one of those films that’s worthy of another look. It seems a lot more relevant in these times. Sure, the last act is a bit haphazard, but it’s got the main man Tom Atkins – and really, what else do you need?
How did the Halloween 25 Years of Terror project come about?
Originally, some friends and I had been throwing the idea around of doing a road trip from Canada to California. This was way back in 2002. Then we found out about the Halloween convention, and I got in touch with Tony Masi about helping out in some way, because that seemed like a fun place to end the journey. At the time I wanted to produce a comic book (which ultimately came out as ‘Halloween: One Good Scare’), and hadn’t even thought about a documentary or anything. Tony asked if I would film it, which I was all for, despite not having a clue how to get the resources together at that time. It was when I saw the huge list of Halloween people on the list that I suggested we try and tell the story of all eight films. I had a long conversation with Stephen Jones (horror writer / critic), and it was he who suggested the ‘behind-the-scenes’ story angle.
Who financed it?
Originally, me. I was doing a really shitty job back then, so it was a case of reigning in favors from friends, borrowing equipment that sort of thing – I had to fly out to Italy on the way to get the cameras (and, wonderfully enough, there was a brief stopover in Amsterdam). The money was raised by myself and a good friend, Dave Newton. Dave sadly died of a leukemia-related illness in 2004, and this is why the documentary is dedicated to him. It’s just gutting that he didn’t get to see everything finished.
We cut together a trailer from the footage which we began to shop around, and I discussed the project with Malek Akkad in London – probably around December 2003, and then he was sent some footage and decided to get behind the project. So, from this point onwards, he arranged the financing.
You interviewed pretty much everybody that is somebody within the Halloween franchise in your documentary, how did you go about finding all these people?
A lot of them were at the convention, and many of those who weren’t had been contacted as part of that. Many of them were found by Sean Clark, who must have a sniffer dog that hunts down retired ‘Halloween’ actors. I was just floored that he found Little Buddy – no longer a victim of Conal Cochran, but a piano-playing Rabbi – Great!
Was it as exhausting of a process as I think it was?
Hell yes. The shooting itself was easy enough (we did two main bouts of shooting – one at the Convention, and all around Pasadena for the week leading up to it; one in LA over a year later), but it was everything that came after. It was mentally exhausting. There was a lot of bullshit. Lots of falling outs, in-fighting because it was a first project for many and there was a desperate sense of ‘making my name’ going on, lots of greedy ex-actor types, that sort of thing. It’s actually a miracle we actually finished it, all things considered.
Is the final cut of the documentary yours and how do you feel about it?
It is and it isn’t. Everything in there is what I wanted – I just wanted a bit more of it. The way we were doing it simply wasn’t working. I was writing paper edits from England, and the editor, in theory, was supposed to be following these edits. Sometimes he was doing, sometimes, for some own reason, he wasn’t – obviously I must write my edits in fucking Swahili or something.
So, I watched it with Malek Akkad, and we agreed on all of the necessary changes. We had a really, really detailed list written out. And that point the documentary was running at about 110 minutes – about 10-15 minutes too long basically. And again, the list of changes were sent off (some of these for the third time running). And lo-and-behold, they must have again been indecipherable or in a secret language that the editor was unfamiliar with. At this point Tony Masi stepped in (he was based in LA, whereas I’m based in the UK) and oversaw the final version, which came in at 84 minutes. My feelings are mixed, but I’d put that down to personal possessiveness than anything else.
I think what we got away with is quite good. I personally would have been more reserved in who / what was cut away. I think another 5-10 minutes wouldn’t have hurt it, and also more of the dirt (of which, as you can guess, there is a lot). I would have gone into more detail on some of the sequels and had more of a debate structure. In hindsight, I also would have delved deeper academically, but at the same time, that would have alienated a lot of people who could care less – so there’s a tough balancing act.
I’ve read a lot of the reviews lately, which to be honest have been overwhelmingly positive. However, there are some issues that fans have raised which probably should be addressed. Firstly, there have been rumblings about the portrayal of fans in there as obsessive - you have to remember we could only show material from what was received. I guess the sort of fans who take themselves seriously aren’t going to film their adoration for all things Myers.
Secondly, there’s the absence of new material from Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter – they were asked (more than once), and they declined. It’s not like they can be forced if they’re not interested, but some people seem to think we deliberately omitted them or something. Of course I wanted them in there – Carpenter especially, because he’s a hero of mine with a fantastic body of influential work. Carpenter felt that he had said everything he had to on the subject, which is completely understandable. Besides, our focus was on the whole franchise, not just the original - and it’s clearly stated on the packaging and every review that’s been put out on it - and for those who want to know everything about the original, there’s already two documentaries focusing on that. What else could we possibly tell people – how many leaves EXACTLY were re-used in various scenes throughout the original film?!?!?
Was there any footage, moments or interviews that were omitted from the final cut that you wish had stayed in there?
Yes, absolutely. I would have preferred a little more visual space in there (location footage from H2 and H3 didn’t make the final cut), just to give the information more time to breathe, and also to add some atmosphere, you know, in the spirit of the original film. The environment is just as much a character as any of the human players. One scene I would like to have seen in the final version is footage of young Danielle Harris swearing like a trooper.
“I’m gonna pull the piece of fuckin’ shit out of your ass” is one gem of a line she says. Sure, nobody needs to see it, but if we’d left that in, we could have sold many more units to pedophiles and kiddy-fiddlers everywhere! As well as that, you always get the good stories that people tell you off-camera but won’t go into on camera for obvious reasons. I guess this is why it’s always best, where possible, to interview your celeb-types when they are plied-up with hard alcohol.
Any funny “meeting the stars” stories you can share with us that happened during the shoot?
There’s not so many, surprisingly. The first person you meet, you’re like “Cool! This guy was the unaccredited dog handler from Halloween 5!” or whatever, but two people down the road, there’s no sense of anything. We did have several troubles along the way. On our first shoot, our audio guy, Olly, got arrested at immigration due to some stupid passport fuck-up in 1996. They locked him up for a few days with some Mexican gangsters then sent his ass home – absolute bullshit. We nearly got into further shit on the grounds of the ‘Halloween II’ hospital. It’s now a federal building – a veteran’s hospital I think. The short version is – don’t go there, it’s trespassing!
I’d gone to grab the stills camera and turned round to see Tony Masi and Sean Clark with their hands up and a gun being pointed in my direction. You have to bear in mind I’m from the UK, so I don’t see guns – ever, and that can only be a good thing. It was all a bit surreal. Then, to make it even weirder, some badass cop guy who looked like Carl Weathers (circa his ‘Predator’ era) appeared out of nowhere and gave some pretty severe deep-voiced warnings in our direction – “Mah Momma works in this building… Mah Daddy was a patient in this building… And I take your intrusion… personally…” Ouch. All the time he spoke he had his thumbs in his belt buckle as well, and his sunglasses were so dark we never once saw his eyes... he then went and gave Sean Clark a citation too…
There is one other story that ‘pops’ to mind, but the culprit shall remain nameless. When we were interviewing this person, his testicle popped out from his shorts mid-interview. Sean Clark was unfortunately sat directly in the ball-of-terror’s line of vision, and apparently it was like a small baby’s head – “Dude, I just saw his fucking ball pop-out.”
When the documentary was released, the 25Th Anniversary of Halloween had already come and gone. How come the title wasn’t changed?
Good question. We did talk about it several times along the way, and we had other possible titles like ‘Legacy Of Terror’ and tacky stuff like that (I’m guilty of suggesting the latter). The thing is, it ends specifically at the 25 year point. It’s an archive of that era.
With that said, I’m assuming that the release of the documentary was delayed at some point, missing the 25Th Anniversary mark. May I ask why?
Well, as I said earlier, we had a lot of unnecessary bullshit to deal with from Muppets-who-shall-be-unnamed. There was also a lot of mundane stuff – you know, life getting in the way. The actual documentary itself was finished in about May 2005, then from there it became Anchor Bay’s decision on when they wanted to release it. I never expected it to be a standalone DVD, so it was really intimidating for it to come out and have to stand up on its own.
The DVD came with a splendid Halloween comic book that you wrote! What were you aiming to contribute to Michael Myers world via the comic?
It goes back to the beginning again, really – the reason I ended up doing the documentary was born out of my desire to tell original ‘Halloween’ stories. After all, who wouldn’t want to do that? I wanted to try and capture the qualities of the original film, and go back to the concept of Michael Myers being ‘The Shape’ – the shadowy, stalking, sadistic, twisted and terrifying figure of the original film. There’s an ethereal and metaphorical quality there that has never been recaptured – the whole notion of abject horror and so on. I think one thing that does come across clearly in the documentary is that the original is the end result of a clear vision, whereas the sequels are all, to varying extents, movies by committee. With a comic book, in many ways it’s easier to remain true to the mythos of the original film.
One of the big debates among fans is the ‘two continuities’ of Halloween. When ‘H20’ appeared, it basically wiped the slate clean and abandoned parts 4, 5, and 6 as if they had never happened. There’s a hardcore group of H6 fans who to this day are still very vocal about that, and I can understand why. Myself, I’ve chosen to write in the new continuity – the reason being is that it’s simpler, which to me is closer to Carpenter’s blueprint. Also, as a writer, it creates a lot of space.
So, ‘Halloween Autopsis’ fits into that space. It gave me a chance to write character-based scenes for supporting characters of the films, to show the repercussions and so on. I think when most writers work on a licensed title, they do it for the high-profile nature of the job, but I’ve made no secret of my reverence for ‘Halloween’. I want to do the characters and moods justice without 500 men in suits changing the course of it and test screenings butchering things. In this sense, Malek Akkad is extremely supportive. He’s very protective of the characters and thankfully likes the directions I’m trying to go in.
‘Autopsis’ is about a photojournalist who develops an unhealthy obsession. It’s about images, it’s about The Shape, and it’s about Sam Loomis. So far, it seems to have gone over well, as with ‘One Good Scare’. There are little elements in there that should find their way into a bigger picture also, should everything go to plan. As I said, it’s great being able to write for the characters you grew up with, and you can use this medium to get into their psyche a bit more.
What’s your take on Rob Zombie’s impending re-imagining of the original Halloween?
I think it’s going to be great – it’s certainly going to be really interesting, and I don’t think they could have found a better person to do it. It’s going to rock like a bastard. From the interview we did, it’s clear that he has the admiration for the original, and a clear understanding of what makes it superior to its successors.
I know some are wary of a remake, but if they’d gone with ‘H9’, after all of the delays and false starts with that film, do you think it would have delivered in the same way this will? In the sequels, they have often repeated the same tricks which only serve to diminish any power from the film. I’d always been opposed to the idea of a remake, but think about it – we’re getting someone respected in the horror genre, a burgeoning auteur, rather than a studio boy which would have happened with H9. It’s genuinely going to bring new life to everything – it’s a great time to be a ‘Halloween’ fan. The only tragedy now is that the original series ended with ‘Halloween Resurrection’ and Michael Myers being bitch-slapped by Busta Rhymes… hopefully we’ll be able to rectify that in the comic books and restore some dignity.
What’s next for you? Any comics, documentaries or films on the horizon?
I think the next up will be the download release of ‘Sam’, which is a short novella that’s going to be available fairly soon from either www.halloweenmovies.com or www.halloweencomics.com (which is under construction). It was a nice way to flesh out the Sam Loomis character, but again hopefully without demystifying him too much.
After that, if all goes to plan, there’s going to be more comics. A lot more, hopefully. With Rob Zombie’s reboot, the original mythos will be continued in the comic books, and maybe even resolved. I just finished the treatments for the first mini-series, and the updates for all of this will be up shortly on my MySpace – www.myspace.com/rehab54 There’s another non-Halloween comic I’m hoping to work on, but I can’t say too much about that now, as it’s really, really early stages.
Outside of all pumpkin-related japery, I’ve just wrapped a pair of screenplays, both radically different – but both are situated firmly in the horror genre. One is called ‘Outside’, and it’s a very cold and cerebral type of tale, and the other is much more conventional but doesn’t have a title yet. I’m also developing a sick piece called ‘Sugar’ with Sean Clark which is in the tradition of 80s slashers, but hopefully will turn out to be a lot darker. The hope now is that something comes of these, you know, outside of the safety of the ‘Halloween’ banner, so I guess this is where the hard work really begins!
Thanks for the sit down Stef and keep whooping that ass until there is no ass left to whoop!