Will John Carpenter Save Halloween and the Future of Horror Franchises?
If you're a horror fan, you may have been reading some breaking news about John Carpenter's involvement in a new Halloween film. What casual fans might not realize though, is just how huge this news truly is for that franchise, and potentially for other classic horror franchises.
To catch you up to speed, it was recently announced via Blumhouse Productions that franchise producer Malek Akkad, Miramax, and Trancas International Films have reached an agreement to produce a new Halloween installment for theatrical release. But the real bombshell they dropped was of course that John Carpenter himself had signed on as Executive Producer/Creative Consultant, and talks were underway for him to do the soundtrack as well.
So, let's just unpack this. Malek Akkad has been a producer on every Halloween film since 1995's Halloween:Curse of Michael Myers, the 6th film in the franchise. He's also son of the late Moustapha Akkad, producer of every film in the franchise through 2002's Halloween:Resurrection, who passed away in 2005. But Carpenter himself hasn't touched the franchise since 1982's Halloween III:Season of the Witch. Carpenter had originally wanted the Halloween franchise to be anthology in nature; a series of stand-alone films, all themed around Halloween the holiday. But after the breakout success of the first Halloween (and with it Michael as a character), Universal Studios wasn't having this. So they struck a deal that if he helped make a proper "Myers-centric" sequel, they would help him try his stand-alone Halloween tale approach for the next one. So he begrudgingly wrote and produced Halloween II in 1981 (with partner Debra Hill) and brought on first time director Rick Rosenthal. Rosenthal would return to the franchise later to direct the much loathed Halloween:Resurrection.
While Halloween II didn't reach the stellar heights of it's predecessor in box office or acclaim, it was still deemed a success. But there was one huge problem in that sequel that few realized at the time, a plot problem that Carpenter himself isn't shy about admitting, destroying the mystery of the monster. While he blames it on a bad stew of stress, writer's block and alcohol, he ruined what made the original so compelling when he gave Michael Myers a specific motive. By introducing the revelation that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was Michael's long lost sister, it removed the fear of Michael coming to kill anyone/anywhere. It also started the ball rolling on plot threads that would become increasingly more absurd and convoluted, as other (less adept) film makers tried their hand at expanding that same mythology. No one that helmed any of the sequels tried to course correct this, so what we got was essentially 3 different franchise arcs, stumbling over each-others awkward attempts at juggling their own Myers mythologies. I say this with great love for even the worst of the entire franchise.
While the "Myers-free" Halloween III: Season of the Witch has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance/re-appreciation lately, it was the pariah of the franchise for sometime. (Much like Friday the 13th Part V:A New Beginning, a film first derided by fans for changing villains, only to be appreciated later in contrast with far inferior sequels.) Suffice to say, part 3 failed at the time, so the momentum for a Carpenter-driven Halloween franchise was 'dead in the water'. When the franchise picked back up for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, fans rejoiced to have Myers back, but it chose to double down on the plot problems introduced in the second film, with Myers now going after his niece (Danielle Harris). Carpenter isn't afraid to admit these mistakes made by himself and others who followed. Which means we may finally get a true tonal successor to the original Halloween after all of these years that has up until now, eluded the entire franchise.
To be fair to the franchise, this isn't a unique problem, but one that has plagued many a horror franchise. With little exception, when sequels/reboots/remakes try and expand on what is known about the villain, it leads to poor results. This is especially problematic in horror because mystery of the unknown is such a potent device to inspire fear, and once you forfeit that device, it's almost impossible to get it back. Fans are like recovering crack addicts a bit on this issue because we know it's bad for the franchise, but we also tend to eat it up and love pontificating on the very mythologies we ridicule. So here's to hoping this new approach for the franchise works, whatever it is. If it is a success, it could easily send a strong signal that trying to mine origin stories and new revelations about villain motivations is a franchise dead-end for the horror genre. I'm looking squarely at those handling the new Friday the 13th installment. You feel my look of cynical scorn? Do you guys? DON'T DO IT! At a time when every studio is salivating to procure and build upon franchises/cinematic universes, many are left not knowing what to do with these beloved but stale classic horror franchises. They need someone to shine a light for a better way, so here's hoping John Carpenter is that someone.
SETTLE THE SCORE
As if being brought on as an Executive Producer wasn't enough, the other part of that bombshell is something I don't think enough fans are giving due appreciation. He's in talks to do the score for the film, guys! I lost it when I read that! This is as important, if not more important than correcting the plot issues, in terms of attaining a true tonal successor to the original Halloween. I can't empathize enough how crucial a filmscore is to the success of a film, let alone a horror film. No film makes this case better than the original Halloween and nobody does horror/sci-fi scores better than John Carpenter. No one. He's not just a director and screenwriter, the man has also scored most of his own films: Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, Halloween II, Halloween III, Christine, Big Trouble Little China, Prince of Darkness, They Love, Body Bags, In the Mouth of Madness, Village of the Damned, Escape from L.A., Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. If you know these movies then you know he's really freakin' good at scoring movies. The man is a genius director, but is arguably a better composer. He credits his father being a music teacher with setting him down that path, one that had gone largely under appreciated until recently. Death Waltz record label has played a pretty significant role in this by releasing reissues of many of his soundtracks. What started out for him as a simple economic solution to not being able to afford someone to score his films, went on to define them and today has begun to define him. Thanks to the success of the Death Waltz reissues and his Lost Themes albums, he's begun touring, not as a famed director, but as a respected musician/composer.
It might be easy for some to take a film's soundtrack for granted, even if it's the most iconic horror soundtrack of all time. But nothing can sink a movie or raise it to "classic" status, like an effective score. You simply don't get more iconic and effective than the soundtrack and main theme to the original Halloween, so this sampling of the themes from the entire franchise is a great study of how small alterations can completely change the mood of the film, even with very similar elements carried over. Clearly the original stands head and shoulders above the rest, but it's interesting to hear the little twists that each film uses to set their version apart. My personal favorites are the first two, both done by Carpenter, but oddly enough, the 3rd place goes to Halloween:Resurrection. The movie itself was lame, but the theme seems to have a good sense to lean heavily on the vibe of the original in a way the others don't. It's a shame the actual film didn't as well. Which is your favorite?
It's important to bring up some caveats here and keep our expectations a bit tempered. It seems like all of the major classic horror tent-pole franchises are in a state of flux right now. There have long been development rumors of varying veracity and detail about new Halloween, Friday the 13th and Hellraiser films in particular. More often than not, many of these developments lead to nothing but speculation and dashed hopes (or horrors). Especially when rumors involve bringing back the franchise creators, as is the case with Clive Barker's on-again/off-again involvement with all things Hellraiser. That one in particular never ceases to breaks my heart. Poor Clive getting the studio shaft, deserves it's own entire series of articles. But we also need to be mindful that having legends of the franchise coming home to roost can yield depressingly subpar results. Think George Romero and Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead or (cringe) Survival of the Dead. Or the fact that so much has to go right and so little has to go wrong, to turn the best intentions into a very flawed end product. All that said, this is an amazingly awesome start to what could be a proper rebirth of the Halloween franchise. One that us fans don't have to be embarrassed to love. If they can pull this off and it's a success, it could end up breathing much needed life (and studio respect) into the other lingering classic franchises.