A History Of The Halloween Franchise In Print
Forty years ago this month, HE came home—he being Michael Myers, of course—and Halloween, the little low budget independent movie that could, soon transformed into a franchise behemoth, spawning sequel after sequel, a remake, a sequel to the remake, countless imitators, and a whole lot of narrative retcons. For the film's anniversary, Jamie Lee Curtis once again steps into the role that made her famous, Laurie Strode, in a new sequel that ignores the entire franchise save the 1978 original.
Writers Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley, and writer/director David Gordon Green wanted to scale back this new entry into the Halloween universe, bringing the proceedings back around to the taut suspense and emphasis on mood and atmosphere. It certainly helps they had the personal seal of approval of John Carpenter, the first film's co-writer and director, who serves as executive producer and composer for the new film. It's a means of bringing the series back to the elements that made it so wonderful in the first place, and of celebrating the Hitchcock-inspired approach to horror that dominated cinemas in the late 1970s.
And to further commemorate "the old ways," so to speak, Dark Delicacies will publish, on October 23rd, a tie-in novelization of the new film, written by John Passarella, known for his tie-in works for Supernatural, Grimm, and the Buffy-verse, among other publications. As SlashFilm writer Chris Evangelista notes, "Movie novelizations have become something of a niche item in recent years, but there was a period when virtually every major Hollywood production would commission one..." (Read more on the history of novelizations and their appeal here). But it wasn't just "major Hollywood productions" that received the prose fiction treatment—the original little indie that could, Halloween, had one, as did its next two sequels. Not only this, but Mr. Myers, AKA The Shape, would also stalk the pages of young adult texts in the decades following the first film's release. And as one might expect, a lot of these books get pretty weird.
Let us journey, then, down the dark and winding paths of the Halloween literary universe, and see what strange delights we can find.
Note: In addition to the world of written fiction, the Halloween franchise also branched into the realm of comics and graphic novels. This is a rather sprawling universe in its own right, and for the sake of brevity, we'll skip it altogether and focus specifically on the (solely) written word. But if you're curious, take a look at this thorough Den of Geek piece on the Halloween comics.
Second Note: As always, the obligatory SPOILER warning, as we're discussing the first four Halloween films in detail here (though, come on, get on it and watch these movies already!).
The first of the franchise's forays into the written word, this novel, by Richard Curtis under the pen name Curt Richards (and no, despite the rumor, he is not Dennis Etchison), pads out the film's narrative with extended glimpses into Michael's past and family history, much in the way of Rob Zombie's 2007 remake, without all the white trash characters and excessive nudity. It also attempts to explain the film's supernatural stinger—the reveal that Loomis had been right the entire time, that Michael was pure, unstoppable evil. It does this via an extended prologue set thousands of years in the past. Via the novelization's Wiki page:
The prologue of the novel takes place at the dawn of the Celtic race in Ireland and tells the story of a young 15-year-old disfigured boy named Enda who is passionately in love with the King Gwynwyll's daughter, Deirdre. After being severely humiliated for attempting to win her love Enda attacks and brutally slays Deirdre and her fiancé at a community ritual event on Halloween. Enda is immediately killed by the other members of the village and his soul cursed to wander the Earth forever, re-creating the events of that night.
We learn that Michael's great-grandfather gunned down a couple at an All Hallows Eve barn dance back in the 1880s, and that young Michael seems to be showing more and more violent tendencies. Curtis also provides glimpses into Michael's mind in the days leading up to his killing of his sister Judith, revealing that the boy hears the voice of Enda and sees images of the slaughtered Celtic characters seen in the prologue. It is this voice, this spirit of evil born on Samhain, that influences Michael to kill on October 31st. (Famously, too, Curtis devotes an entire chapter explaining one of the film's pseudo-plot holes, how a man institutionalized his entire adult life learned to drive a car.)
The concept of an ancient curse compelling innocent people to murder is an interesting one, but ultimately a mistake in the context of Halloween, since The Shape is far more terrifying the less you know about him, his murders more shocking when they come from no apparent motive other than to spread terror.
"Halloween II" (1981)
Horror author Dennis Etchison, mentioned above, enters into the Halloween novelization universe here, writing under the pseudonym Jack Martin. The writer befriended Carpenter and Halloween producer and co-writer Debra Hill, after Etchison wrote the novelization for The Fog. The pair liked his work with their material so much, they asked him to also write Halloween II. Unlike Richard Curtis's interpretation of the first film, there are no flashbacks to Druid murders here, but there are a few differences between the book and the theatrically released film. This is because many novelization writers get early access to the screenplay and base their work on those pages, rather than the finished project, often resulting in scenes appearing in the book that ultimately get cut from the film. In the case of Halloween II, we see several scenes involving a news reporter only briefly seen at the beginning of the film, including her grisly death. As reported by Travis Mullins for Dread Central, this character's scenes were cut either for pacing reasons or because her death wasn't violent enough (John Carpenter, acting only as screenwriter and producer, famously reshot several scenes for Halloween II to match the ultra-violence of slasher films popular at the time, a marked difference from the first film's emphasis on sustained dread over gore).
Aside from these additional scenes, however, the novel overall stays pretty true to Carpenter and Debra Hill's screenplay. Fans of Etchison will likely want to seek this one out (if they're willing to shell out big bucks for it), mostly because the text features elements both indicative of the author and also way outside his usual style. As an unnamed reviewer from Fright.com notes, the novel...
...contains some powerfully evocative prose here and there, with very Etchisonian chapter headings (including “Red Dreams,” the title of a subsequent Etchison publication). Plus, the high gore quotient forces the author far outside his comfort zone; Etchison has long been an outspoken proponent of 'Quiet' (i.e. non-gory) horror, but here he drafts uncharacteristic lines like 'blood shot out in all directions from the extra mouth that now opened below her chin, and does so with surprising relish.
"Halloween III: Season of the Witch" (1982)
A highly contentious film for both Halloween and general horror fans, with the third installment in the series, Carpenter and Hill decided to try something different. As far as they were concerned, Michael Myers and his embattled therapist Dr. Sam Loomis were dead and buried (or burnt to a crisp, as it were), and the only way forward with the franchise was to create an original Halloween-themed film each year. The result of this experiment involved, as Fright.com puts it, "an evil magician who utilizes an army of androids to extract pieces of Stonehenge and stick ‘em into Halloween masks, which when exposed to a computerized TV signal cause kids’ heads to split open and disgorge snakes and spiders."
Etchison returns for this novelization, again writing as Jack Martin, apparently basing his work on the first draft screenplay by British sci-fi writer Nigel Kneale, perhaps best known for creating numerous serials featuring his character Dr. Quatermass. Kneale ultimately removed his name from the film after director Tommy Lee Wallace and Carpenter made extensive revisions on the script, by some accounts, to include more violence and gore, and by Carpenter's own admission, because Kneale was "irascible," "mean," and altogether unpleasant to work with.
However, someone along the way must have given Etchison notes on the updated gore scenes, because, as we saw previously with his Halloween II novelization, the author has great fun writing schlocky violence. Take, for instance, one of the film's most disturbing scenes, which shows, in unflinching detail, exactly how the evil Halloween masks work. It's one of the few examples in horror history where a child graphically dies onscreen. Here's the clip, if you've never seen it:
Blogger Dinosaur Dracula points out that while this scene is upsetting enough in the film, Etchison takes the proceedings even further over the line, first by describing the bloody "red orbs" of the child's eyes as the mask transforms his very genetic makeup; next, by describing a spider the size of a hand leaping out of the boy's ripped-open mouth and stinging his mother to death; and finally, with these final two paragraphs in the scene, written from the father's POV:
...the defiled head of his only son opened like the doorway to another dimension and spewed forth darkness and decay.
Buddy Kupfer wept impotently, pounding his fist into the carpet which now crawled with the unspeakable malformations of nature's underside. His fist rose in a last spastic gesture of defiance as his physical body and the family he created, the substance of his life and the world of his choice, all he had lived and worked for and the only dream he had ever known degenerated before his eyes into a churning, formless mass of unleashed chaos.
The cosmic implications here are astounding, bringing into better clarity the grand plan of the "evil magician," not only to murder thousands of children on Halloween in a most gruesome fashion, but to ostensibly cover the world in slithering, slimy creepy-crawlies, all for his own amusement. And that's pretty messed up, especially considering that, at the narrative's end, his plan works.
'Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers' (1988)
After the box office failure of Halloween III, executive producer of the Halloween franchise Moustapha Akkad decided to bring Michael Myers back from the grave. Akkad brought Hill and Carpenter back into the fold, and they in turn solicited Dennis Etchison to write the screenplay and Joe Dante of Gremlins, Piranha, and The Howling fame, to direct. However, this iteration of Halloween 4 (or Halloween IV, depending on who you ask) never saw the light of day, as Hill and Carpenter exited the project, with Etchison and Dante leaving with them (you can read some of Etchison's script here). Instead, Akkad assembled a stable of screenwriters and produced a film that is actually much better than it has any right to be. The plot follows Laurie Strode's daughter Jamie as she adjusts to orphan life (Laurie died in a car accident) and the strange dreams she's been having involving "The Nightmare Man"—Michael Myers, of course, who didn't burn up and die at the end of Halloween II after all. She and her comatose uncle seem to share some kind of psychic link, and when The Shape learns of Jamie's existence, he kills some paramedics, a service station attendant (he needs those iconic coveralls, right?) and heads to Haddonfield with havoc on his mind. Naturally, Dr. Loomis (also not dead, just a little bit crispy) pursues his old patient, intent on stopping this evil entity once and for all. It's a flawed film, to be sure, but it's entertaining enough.
Anyone hoping the novelization by Nicholas Grabowsky might improve upon the film's mistakes will be sorely disappointed: most of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads indicate the book is almost a carbon copy of the movie, with only occasional sprinklings of the character's thoughts and feelings (the writer dedicates several paragraphs to the inner workings of the security guard who appears at the beginning of the film, for instance). Josh Hancock, writing for Horror Novel Reviews, commends the book thusly:
Horror fans will be pleased to know that Grabowsky describes the death scenes with plenty of gooey detail. Mangled faces, body impalements, pus-filled eye sockets, and crushed skulls all make appearances in the Halloween IV novelization.
There is also a Special Limited Edition, released in 2003, and an Ultimate Edition, published in 2015, that features a few extras, including an extended epilogue. These three editions of the book are all super rare and fetch a pretty penny online, though by most accounts, you're better off saving your money.
The Halloween Young Adult Novels (1997-1998)
Perhaps one of the oddest (in a good way) entries into the Halloween literary canon came about in the late '90s with the publication of three young adult titles set in Haddonfield and featuring Michael Myers, though no other staple franchise characters appear (i.e., Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis, Tommy Doyle, etc.) The novels, according to their author, Kelly O'Rourke, are fairly violent despite being written for a younger audience. The three books had a fairly short print run, and as such, they now fetch upwards of $600 on Amazon and eBay.
The Scream Factory (1997)
This first YA Halloween book follows, according to a Goodreads reviewer named Josiah, Lori Parker (possibly a nod to Laurie, possibly not) and her friends as they put together a Halloween party down in Haddonfield's city hall basement, at the behest of the mayor, who may or may not have ulterior motives. The Shape shows up to make bloody mockery of their festivities. One Amazon review notes there is a "graphic description of a dead dog."
The Old Myers Place (1997)
As our friend Josiah points out in their Goodreads review of O'Rourke's second Halloween installment, The Old Myers Place is not a direct sequel to The Scream Factory, with pretty much zero connection to the previous novel. Instead, we meet the White family, specifically teenager Mary, who have made the grave mistake of buying and moving into the titular Bad Place. Mary occupies the very bedroom where Michael butchered his sister Judith over thirty years ago. Once again, Michael returns to rid his childhood home of these interlopers, with his Devil's eyes set especially on Mary. O'Rourke's editors actually had to reign in the carnage on this one and encourage her to draft a more upbeat ending (originally, she killed off ALL her main characters).
The Mad House (1998)
The final YA entry to feature Michael Myers (for now...) once again involves characters treading into The Shape's old stomping grounds—in this case, Smith Grove Sanitarium (or, in this book, Smith Grove Mental Hospital). A documentary crew investigating famous haunted sites enters the abandoned facility, and you-know-who shows up to give them some genuine scares, having escaped police custody following the bloodbath only a year prior. The narrative anticipates Halloween: Resurrection by about four years, and it mostly sounds like the book pulls off the premise better than the film. (Thanks again to Josiah for the deets.) Many Amazon reviewers didn't appreciate Michael's excessive groaning and growling, a complaint seen throughout the series.
What strange delights will John Passarella's new novelization bring to the fold? Will the new film generate more sequels, and with them, more screen-to-page adaptations? How about more YA titles, or even tie-in novels for an older crowd? Time will tell, but as Tommy Doyle insists in the first Halloween film, "You can't kill the Boogeyman," almost ensuring The Shape's return to both the screen and the printed page.
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