About a year and a half ago, David Gordon Green received a cryptic, one-word email from Jason Blum. He had never made a horror movie or a slasher flick or anything resembling what you'd expect to see come out of the genre-focused Blumhouse Productions, but Green, in that moment, did have some kind of supernatural experience.
"It just said, 'Halloween?' and I knew exactly what he meant. I got a flood, like a psychic tidal wave hit me. And I was like, oh, that means I'm going to go make a new Halloween movie," the filmmaker told SYFY WIRE. "The strangest confidence was just injected into me, and my legs felt weird. I just remember feeling like my legs were on the edge of a cliff about to jump off."
He was right, at least about making the Halloween movie. The out-of-body stuff we trust him on. He's good at telling precise stories. Green has been a career chameleon, an indie film director at heart with a string of Hollywood hits, hopping between genres, from quiet and contemplative works of auteurship (George Washington, Prince Avalanche) to blockbuster comedies (Pineapple Express) and premium TV series (Amazon's Red Oaks, HBO's Vice Principals).
His range as a filmmaker, honed over the last 18 years, is part of what drew Blum, who could work with just about anyone at this point, to approach Green with the fraught job of re-setting (if not rebooting) an iconic slasher series that was bleeding out.
"It's a very anti-Hollywood notion, especially if Hollywood is taking an iconic piece of horror, there is a lot of pressure to hire a director who has made a bunch of good horror movies," Blum explained to SYFY WIRE (Universal, which is owned by NBCUniversal, SYFY WIRE's parent company, is distributing the movie). "They don't take a chance on a director who hasn't made a horror movie. But we have had very direct experience that [explains why] I would rather have a great director than a good horror director."
Whether or not he knew his short email would produce a psychic tidal wave, Blum had his man. And then his men's men, as Green brought on his longtime collaborator Danny McBride and their college buddy Jeff Fradley, a horror fanatic who also served as a writer on Vice Principals.
Blum generally offers his filmmakers a lot of freedom, in exchange for working on a lower budget, and with a proven duo like Green and McBride, the creative horizon was that much more open.
"The way we write, it's like abstract art. We just had ideas all over the place, and sometimes it'd be notecards, sometimes it'd be a whole draft that we'd write. One draft we had was like 140 pages, and we ended up in production on a 90-page script," Green said. "One day we'd think we struck oil and this is going to be the most brilliant idea, and then we'd wake up the next day and want to punch each other in the face for writing it."
To be fair to their faces, they were working with a lot of uncertainties, at least at first. The Halloween franchise had been on a steady downward trajectory for years, with a variety of different continuities. Rob Zombie rebooted the series in 2007 and made one sequel to that film, but there hadn't been a new Halloween movie since 2009.
This created a few important choices. Which thread should they pick up? And if they went with the original series, how would it work?
"In some versions of the scripts, we started entertaining the other sequels or nodding to them in a little bit more detail," Green says. "Then we'd pull back and refine."
Ultimately, they decided to cast aside all the sequels, and certainly the reboots, and pick up after the events of John Carpenter's first film… just 40 years later, in a scrubbed universe in which Michael Myers had never hacked anyone else to death and had been institutionalized in some hidden-away prison, being studied by doctors curious about his utter lack of moral compass or vocabulary. That meant catching up with Laurie Strode, the young heroine of the first movie, by projecting how that kind grisly trauma would shape her life over the course of four decades.
At that point, it was unclear whether Jamie Lee Curtis, who famously played Strode in that first film, would return to the franchise that helped launch her career.
"If we got her, we got our movie, but we were uncertain if she would be willing to do it, so of course we were talking about, how do we recast that?" Green admitted. "You could think about it in terms of, if you're rebooting a franchise, you could do The Force Awakens, which invites the original cast members and the tone and the art direction and the style of the movie. Or you could do Batman Begins, where you just take the mythology and you put a very distinctive spin on it."
Obviously, bringing Curtis back was the clear first choice, and when she ultimately agreed to join the movie, she was all-in. When Curtis got the script Green and McBride wrote for the movie, she offered a distinct point of view, something only someone who lived with the character for the last 40 years could bring to it.
"She had a cool philosophy that at the end of the original Halloween, when Laurie's talking to Tommy and Lindsey upstairs and she's trying to get them out of the house to go get the police across the street, she very pointedly tells them, 'Do as I say,'" Green relays. "And so her interpretation when she read the script is that we were taking the 'Do as I say' transition where Laurie is moved from innocent academic school girl to an authority figure, to someone that is empowered and strong and doesn't take bulls**t."
"Do as I say" became a mantra for the character, the filmmaker says, and helped inform the backstory they created. In the 40 years since the massacre, Laurie raised a daughter (played by Judy Greer) but became a bit of a paranoid shut-in, turning her home in the woods into an armed barracks, fortified for the day that Michael Myers returned.
When the film begins, though, Myers has been locked away for years. He's played once again by Nick Castle, who took on the mask throughout the franchise, and once again, we know almost nothing about him beyond the fact that he killed his sister as a little kid and has not lost his taste for murder after all these years. He's chained up in some prison far away from Haddonfield, Illinois, still refusing to talk. While many film franchises strive to fill in every blank left by earlier entries, Green and McBride showed no such inclination.
"If you know too much about him or you've justified his f***ed-up childhood," he says. "If there's too much humanity behind them, I either empathize with them, or I judge them in a way. I just like not knowing about him, and I really look at him like the shark in Jaws. He's just a bad dude that I like to watch."
That said, they didn't ignore some of the character's quirks or work to make him even more menacing than he's always been.
"We used to joke on set, in this institution for so long, so picturing him holding his lunch tray and going through the line of the buffet picking out what he's going to eat for lunch — it's always funny to think about what you don't see Michael do," Green said, laughing. "You don't see him driving a car but you know he does. Even in the original film. In our movie, he's got a strange sense of humor and he puts a sheet over his head and puts on glasses. So we tried to honor some of the wit and strange performance art of Michael."
In the end, the reviews indicate that Green was more than able to make the transition to horror movies, despite his lack of prior experience. What he did have, and what was more relevant in the end, was a love for the era in which the original Halloween was released, and an intimate understanding of the tone any sequel had to take.
"I feel like everything I do has some weird connection with some period of my early teenage years, because that's when I was an aggressive sponge, soaking up culture and being scared s***less by movies," he explained, waxing poetic. "I was laughing my ass off and falling in love and listening to music. That's when I discovered Halloween. I think this movie, in large part, is a result of that affection."