Time hasn’t been kind to some of horror’s classic franchises. A Nightmare On Elm Street has lain dormant for years, while Friday The 13th was recently dumped from Paramount’s schedule indefinitely. There’s a case to be made that the classics are best left to rest in peace, which is why not everyone was enthused about the recent news that, a decade after its first failed reboot, John Carpenter’s Halloween was gearing up for another relaunch. However, the announcement wasn’t as bad as fans may have been expecting: Carpenter himself is onboard as executive producer, and a new Halloween sequel is in the works from director David Gordon Green and writer Danny McBride.
Green and McBride’s new film will follow after the events of Halloween and Halloween II, presumably continuing Mike Myers’ never-ending quest to kill his younger sister, Laurie Strode. McBride has stated that the pair are going for a “straight-up horror,” returning to the more methodical, grounded writing and vibe of those original two movies. As far as sequel news goes, this is about as good as it gets – the original creator is involved from the ground up in a return to his vision of the series, with a pair of enthusiastic filmmakers ready to reinvigorate the franchise and move it forward.
But while Carpenter’s blessing is unquestionably a good sign, David Gordon Green being tapped to direct has raised some eyebrows. A competent and experienced director he may be, Green’s filmography has rarely ventured even close to a horror film. In fact, he’s mostly gone the opposite direction with light-hearted, affecting comedies such as Pineapple Express and Prince Avalanche and the dark small-town drama Joe. Yet when one considers his technique and talents outside of his genre preference, it becomes clear that Green is an ideal candidate to once bring again bring Michael back from the dead.
For starters, constrained setting is a firm characteristic of Green’s movies. Many of his productions have taken place in a small town or in a very particular set of locations, creating a sense of homeliness in each picture. In Prince Avalanche, a country road is being painted by the two lead characters, and we never leave the two leads or their one-way trail. Viewers learn about their homes and their home lives but we never see them, only going by their descriptions. Joe takes place in a town weathered by age and tradition, with Joe (Nicolas Cage) and the other characters’ houses regular backdrops for the drama, making their living spaces part of the fabric of the film.
Green builds curiosity for the places his stories take place in. He draws out the lives of the people he’s depicting by focusing on how and where they’re living. We get a sense of who they are as a person – how messy they are, how they decorate, how well they stock their fridge what their relationship with their living mates is like – gradually building the film’s own distinct ambience. The tension and expectation becomes all the higher as we begin to invest on the characters as living people. The calamitous ending of Joe is about more than just the lead character’s arc, it’s about this town we’ve come to know and how the various lives it contains affect each other profoundly.
This was one of the fundamental building blocks that John Carpenter used in creating the terror of Halloween. Haddonfield, Illinois is built with repeating shots of the houses and streets, creating a closed-in feeling. This is a happy little town, with happy people living regular lives. The town is innocent, Laurie is innocent, her friends are innocent (well, sort of) – and a crazed killer irrevocably shatters that. And when it’s revealed Laurie is Michael’s sister in the sequel, suddenly that innocence from the start becomes menacing – what else don’t we know? What else is being covered up under a veil of simple family life?
Drawing from that, arguably the greatest achievement of the original Halloween movies is their sinister tone. From the theme to the cinematography, they’re absolutely spine-chilling. Much of the first film is shot in broad daylight, defying genre traditions but also violating the idea of daylight as a safe space, distinct from the danger of darkness. Hearing Carpenter’s shiver-inducing theme as Mike Myers appears behind a hedgerow drives home the menacing fact that this killer doesn’t just come out at night; he stalks his prey any hour he pleases.
This style of cinematography, a mix between practicality and wishing to maintain a natural texture in shooting, is something Green favours almost entirely. The aforementioned Joe and Prince Avalanche, his earlier work with Snow Angels and All The Real Girls – all heavily or entirely use natural lighting. He’s a director who draws a direct correlation between the humanity of his characters and the realism of their setting and doesn’t wish to hide behind anything to do it. He wants us to see them as they are and presents their situation plainly, letting what they’re going through speak for itself – a powerful tool when showing someone terrified for their life at the hands of an unstoppable killer.
In horror in particular, there can be a tendency to hide behind special effects and shooting predominantly at night to create a more menacing mood. Carpenter rejected these principles in favour of redefining the genre with Halloween. He was successful, and in doing so made a staple of cinema that’s been copied and rebooted and recycled over and over. For fans, Mike Myers almost became a running joke, each movie expected to push Halloween further into pure schlock territory, begging for each instalment to be the time Mike Myers dies for good. Mike’s resurrection is now, finally, back in the hands of a director that understands how to make the sociopathic killing machine truly horrifying.