The Halloween H20 episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? was Written by Eric Walkuski, Narrated and Edited by Tyler Nichols, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
As we all know, the first half of the 90s could often be a scary time for the horror genre. Of course, there were more than a few stand-outs (Silence of the Lambs, New Nightmare, Candyman), but for the most part the slasher overload of the 80s had made the general audience rather weary of the genre – it was left to the hardcore fanatics to seek out the real gems. Even horror’s superstars weren’t pulling in the public anymore, some of them seriously slumming it in movies that were practically made to be sent direct-to-video (Jason Goes to Hell, Hellraiser 4, Child’s Play 3).
The unkillable Michael Myers was not immune to this phenomena. In 1995, after hibernating for six years, The Shape made a not so triumphant return to the big screen with the sixth Halloween film, The Curse of Michael Myers, a movie with plenty of behind-the-scenes drama of its own. It didn’t impress at the box office, grossing $15 million domestically, and it was by and large ignored by the same fans who’d been a support system for Michael Myers and the ever-dwindling population of Haddonfield. Halloween 6’s poor showing meant that while Michael would indeed return again one day, he might be headed direct-to-video, perhaps the only real way to kill the boogeyman. But instead of being tossed into the bargain bins, the next Halloween would ultimately shake up the franchise in a big way – at least temporarily – thanks to the return of one very important figure from the franchise’s past. No matter what your calendar currently says, it’s Halloween right now, so grab some treats as we figure out WTF Happened to Halloween: H20 Twenty Years Later (watch it HERE).
The disappointing performance of The Curse of Michael Myers seemed to indicate that Mr. Myers was no longer a viable money-maker on the big screen. Home video was a valuable market for horror movies, as it ever is, and Dimension Films, the home of Halloween at the time, was having some success in that arena. For a while, it looked like a direct sequel to Halloween 6 was going to be the way to go, but that notion fell through early on once things got interesting for the project.
Enter a young TV writer named Robert Zappia, whose filmography at that point included gigs on TV shows like Home Improvement and L.A. Firefighters… You’re excused if you don’t remember L.A. Firefighters… Zappia had written a sci-fi spec script called Population Zero that caught the attention of Richard Potter, an executive at Dimension. During a face-to-face, Potter told Zappia that the company had an open assignment sitting around: Halloween 7. Zappia, being a major fan of the franchise, jumped at the chance to write a new entry, and soon found himself tackling his first studio feature.
Zappia was ultimately told to ignore the many loose ends and strange plot twists of Halloween 6 and start fresh, a reboot of sorts. Zappia’s concept saw Michael Myers stalking an all-girls boarding school while a copycat killer helps police track him down. Sort of Halloween meets Silence of the Lambs if you will. It was to be called Halloween: The Two Faces of Evil, and it quickly had the support of producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein along with longtime franchise producer Moustopha Akkad and his son, Malek.
But things would change rather quickly for the seventh Halloween. Bob Weinstein allegedly came up with the idea of bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis to return to the role of the ultimate final girl, Laurie Strode – although Curtis would later say that she was the one who approached the studio with the notion of coming back to the fold. Regardless, with the 20th anniversary of the original Halloween right around the corner, having Curtis reprise her role was irresistible to all involved. Curtis would eventually say she did the part out of loyalty to the horror community who’d been so supportive of her early in her career. Fittingly, it would be her first horror movie since 1981’s Halloween II.
Robert Zappia got a call from Bob Weinstein telling him his initial draft of Halloween: Two Faces of Evil was very well received – but it was not going to be made. With Curtis now on board, Zappia was told to scrap the majority of his script save for the boarding school idea and find a way to bring Laurie into the mix. The budget would be upped significantly, and the new idea was to release the film theatrically, with the hope being the combination of Curtis’ return and the twentieth anniversary angle would be a big deal for moviegoers.
Once she was fully on board, Jamie Lee didn’t like the idea of doing the film without the two people who made the original: John Carpenter and his co-writer and producer, Debra Hill. The trio approached Bob Weinstein with the idea of all of them coming back to work on the new Halloween, but Carpenter had a major stipulation: he wanted to be paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million to direct the film, the thinking being he’d finally be getting the hefty payday he never received for his work on the other Halloween films. Obviously, the studio balked, and Carpenter and Hill walked away.
Regardless of the duo’s departure, Jamie Lee had taken a very active role at this point in the production, and though she never received a producer credit it’s clear she was one of the main people behind-the-scenes getting the film on its feet. She made sure the script would deal with the trauma Laurie had lived with after her encounter with Michael, and wanted to show that the past twenty years had done a major number on the character, turning her into a paranoid alcoholic who’d run away from Haddonfield. Her ideas were met with some resistance from the series’ producers, who were afraid Curtis was bringing the film into too dark and psychological of a territory for a Halloween film, but this aspect of the character was very important to Curtis, so she persisted and got her way.
Another crucial move by the actress was the hiring of Steve Miner to direct. Miner had directed Curtis in the fantasy film Forever Young a few years prior, and he was her first choice to direct Halloween 7 after Carpenter’s early departure. The fact that Miner had directed a couple of Friday the 13th sequels, as well as House and Warlock, proved he knew a thing or two about the genre as well. The director was gearing up to direct the horror-comedy Lake Placid in Canada at the time, but when it became clear the weather was going to be a huge problem for them that summer, the production was pushed back a few months, giving Miner the room to make H20 before jetting off to do the monster movie.
But let’s return to the script again for a minute. At this point, the all-girls school setting was changed to being a co-ed private school so that Laurie’s son John, a main character, could attend – although the production briefly flirted with the idea of the son being the only boy in the otherwise female-dominated school… What a school-year that would be for the young man…
Anyway, the idea of the copycat killer was still in play and eventually revealed to be the character of Charlie Devereux, John’s best buddy and roommate. A heavily rewritten version of the character was eventually played in H20 by Adam Hann-Bird, who actually thought he was signing up to play the killer when he was initially cast. About two weeks before production, Hann-Bird was informed the script had been altered significantly, and now he was playing the stereotypical horny best friend. At the end of the original version of the script, Charlie The Copycat Killer meets the real Michael Myers, who takes out the young psycho. Intriguingly, a different take on this idea would be explored, to much controversy, in David Gordon Green’s Halloween Ends with good old Corey Cunningham playing the role of troubled copycat killer.
But the script would get a major makeover by one Kevin Williamson, who at that time had become the biggest name in horror thanks to his scripts for Scream and Scream 2. Naturally, it was Dimension chief Bob Weinstein who encouraged Williamson to board H20 thanks to their shared love of the original Halloween, not to mention the major success of the Scream movies. Williamson was initially hesitant to join because he was burnt out thanks to his sudden popularity, but when he met with Jamie Lee Curtis he jumped aboard. Williamson worked extensively with Curtis and Steve Miner on the project and even stuck around the set to play script doctor during production. Ultimately, he didn’t get a credit on the finished screenplay because according to the WGA he didn’t contribute quite enough, but he eventually received an executive producer credit as a thank you from the Weinsteins.
Filming would take place in California on a somewhat tight schedule, with production commencing in February of 1998 with an eye toward releasing the film that summer. Playing Laurie Strode’s stressed-out son John would be Josh Hartnett, a complete unknown at the time. Hartnett got the role because he’d auditioned for another Dimension project, The Faculty, and the casting directors recommended him for H20. Not unlike his character, Hartnett didn’t easily conform to what was expected of him on set. His legendarily terrible hair in the film was his own doing – he hated the idea that the character would be presented as just another heart-throb, so he intentionally messed up his hair, even awkwardly cutting it himself. When cameras weren’t rolling, he’d wear a beanie just to make it look worse, so if you’ve ever been fascinated and appalled by John’s messy ‘do, you have Hartnett to thank.
Returning to the franchise alongside Curtis was Nancy Stephens, who played nurse Marion Chambers in Halloween and Halloween II. The opening scene featuring the character was one of the last remaining things that was taken directly from Robert Zappia’s first draft, although at one point the character was changed to be Dr. Sam Loomis’ daughter. At the end of the day, the filmmakers thought bringing back Nurse Chambers would connect the film even more directly to its predecessors.
Naturally, you probably know playing Laurie’s dedicated secretary was none other than Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee’s mother, in an homage to both their relationship and Leigh’s own history with the horror genre. Her brief role is littered with references to the legendary Psycho, right down to the car her character drives, which is the same one Marion Crane buys in the Hitchcock classic. Though it wasn’t the first time they were in the same movie, it was the first time mother and daughter had shared a scene together.
Another brief cameo comes from Dr. Loomis himself, during the film’s opening credits. We only hear his voice, obviously, but because the production couldn’t find the original audio of the deceased Donald Pleasance’s speech about Michael, they had to go to a voice actor named Tom Kane. Kane recorded his voice-over in the presence of one of Donald’s best friends, who was able to judge how close Kane’s voice was to the iconic actor’s. After about 50 takes, Kane got it right, and that’s the take you hear in the finished film.
Of course, the film’s most famous castmember, aside from Jamie Lee Curtis, is LL Cool J as aspiring novelist and security guard Ronny. LL was cast because market research told Dimension that this genre of film was very popular with African American audiences, so they felt bringing in a star of LL Cool J’s caliber would boost ticket sales. The movie’s young cast was properly starstruck by LL’s presence, and the rapper took his job as actor quite seriously, to the point where he’d hang around on set even when his character wasn’t in the scene.
Of course, there’s no Halloween without Michael Myers – okay, Halloween III aside – and stuntman Chris Durand was cast to portray the pitiless killer. Durand had been one of several stuntmen to portray Ghostface in Dimension’s Scream 2 the previous year, making him one of a very small group of people who can say he’s played two horror icons.
Even more integral to the character than the man playing him is the mask itself, which has undergone plenty of changes throughout the years. In fact, it would go through plenty of changes on H20 alone. The production started with a mask made by the guys at KNB, but three weeks into shooting, the Weinsteins decided they didn’t like the mask and ordered a new one, along with reshoots. After KNB’s mask was tossed in the trash, the production went to another legend in the make-up biz, John Carl Buechler (pronounced BEEK-ler), best known as the director of Troll and Friday the 13th Part 7 in addition to his many credits as a make-up artist. Buechler had created the mask for the previous film, Curse of Michael Myers, so he attempted as best he could to recreate the look of that one. Strangely, this mask-switching was done without Steve Miner’s knowledge, which is weird because you’d think the director should be informed of such things. Rumor has it he was not happy about the sudden change. Alas, this new mask wasn’t popular either, so then another legend in the game, Stan Winston, was brought on to create yet another mask. Reshoots were done in order to get close-ups of this preferred mask, but when you watch the film you’ll see at least four different masks worn by Michael, including an awkward CGI one… With so many masks on set, you’d think they could have just slapped one of them on that guy…
Another disagreement between producers and creatives would be the end of the film. Jamie Lee and Miner, as well as the Weinsteins, were determined to have this be the last film in the trilogy, if you will, following parts one and two. The idea was to kill off Michael and give Laurie the peace she needed to move on. However, Moustapha Akkad, owner of the franchise, understandably didn’t love the idea of killing off his golden goose, at least not permanently. Apparently it was Kevin Williamson who came up with the idea of having Michael pull the old switcheroo with the paramedic off-screen, that way when an eventual sequel was made they had a reason – ridiculous as it was – to resurrect Michael.
Jamie Lee wasn’t pleased with this caveat – she did not want to cheat the audience, and when she signed up to do the film it was with the understanding that Laurie would kill Michael, the end. When she found out things weren’t going to work out that way, she told the producers that if they wanted to have her in the next movie, they’d have to pay her a lot of money and kill her off in the first ten minutes… And she got her wish.
Years later, Curtis would express some regret about doing H20, mostly because it was made without the participation of John Carpenter and Debra Hill. She admitted thinking it’s a good movie but not a great one; but more than anything, she was happy to have gotten a nice paycheck out of it and put her stamp on it where she could… Of course, Curtis would revisit Laurie Strode a few more times starting in 2018, with a new trilogy of Halloween films that ignored all the other films save for the 1978 original.
Halloween H20 opened to the tune of $24 million over its first five days in August 1998, coming out just a little over three months after it wrapped production. It ended up making $55 million in the U.S. off a budget of $17 million, so it was certainly profitable, if not exactly a box office smash. While it didn’t blow critics away, it was a serviceable treat for fans of the franchise who’d yearned to see Jamie Lee Curtis return to the series that started it all, for her and for the slasher genre. Regardless of what you think of the many sequels featuring Laurie Strode, there’s no doubt that Jamie Lee is often the best thing about them. We love our Scream Queen, and it’s bloody good to know she loves us back.
A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/h20-wtf/