Another film originally scheduled for release in a different time finally lands in our cinemas. Not everyone would have guessed that David Gordon Green's Halloween Kills – the 11th successor to John Carpenter's 1978 slasher classic – would suffer much from Covid delays, but, had it emerged in October of 2020, the film might have been treated as a last-minute party political broadcast for the Democrats. Late on, a theme emerges: the notion that irrational fears are the driving force of populist mobs. The crowd are all out to get the homicidal Michael Myers. But they are chasing the wrong guy.
Does Green regret that the film did not emerge a few weeks before the election?
“Well, I have no regrets,” he says. “But it is funny when you see how culture affects media and media affects culture. It’s the chicken-and-egg thing. We made this movie two years ago. We’re all very sensitive and aware artists. Not only are we movie fans, but we love our families and our communities and we see tensions. We read headlines. We understand the power of hope and fear. As we are thinking about a monster movie – which is what a Michael Myers film is – we are trying to blur the line of good and evil. We have loved ones that believe different things to us, but we love them all the same.”
Was the election in their heads?
“No, not at all. It was a different world back then. I thought: this is going to play differently now.”
You would expect David Gordon Green, a neat man with a tuft of Tintin hair, to think deeply about such matters. Nobody else in the movie business has had a career much like his. A little over 20 years ago, he emerged from Texas with a beautiful, ethereal drama, much influenced by Terence Malick, entitled (though not in any way about) George Washington. His next two films, All the Real Girls and Undertow, were in the same vein: thoughtful, leisurely paced, emotionally oblique. Few would have guessed that, a few decades down the line, he'd be promoting the second of three Halloween sequels.
He hit the career fork in 2008 when he directed the stoner comedy Pineapple Express. A few years later, he came to Northern Ireland for the even-more-baked Your Highness. Featuring such unlikely A-listers as Natalie Portman and James Franco, that last film – the title references both the medieval setting and the characters' chemical confusion – broke new ground in agreeable dumbness. Ever since, Green has balanced more eccentric projects with broad, mainstream material. The last time we met we were discussing his abstract comedy Prince Avalanche. Now Halloween Kills. Should we be surprised by such a spectrum of interests?
"It actually makes me happy to hear a reference to George Washington and Your Highness in the same conversation," he says. "I have an appetite for all types of movies. As a fan of certain filmmakers, I don't want them to do the same thing again in new packaging. I say: mix it up. David Fincher, please make a comedy. I don't think I have a signature move as a filmmaker. I really do try to just disappear into the content. I like to just make movies as I might try on hats. I've never left an experience thinking: I shouldn't have done that. I always think: what did I learn from that? Who are my new best friends? And when can I get back to Belfast and make another crazy movie?"
Not everyone appreciated the antic chaos of Your Highness, but it certainly looked as if it was a blast to shoot. Everyone falls over at least once. The Kingdom of, ahem, Mourne is awash with low-brow jokes. The Malick influence has never been so diluted in Green’s work.
“You can’t have more fun making a movie than we had making that insanity,” he says (or perhaps admits). “You just hope when you make something that the audience appreciates it. Halloween is a perfect example. It’s engineered for this incredibly passionate fanbase. So if I don’t f**k it up entirely it’s at least going to make its money back. If I do a good job it will do more than that. With a movie like Your Highness it didn’t resonate. But I saw it a few months ago with my kids because they are now old enough.”
Fair enough. I was certainly underage when I saw Carpenter’s Halloween on initial release.
“There is something about showing that vulgar, disgusting movie to 10-year-olds,” he says of Your Highness. “Much like when you saw Halloween for the first time. Maybe it was a little too young for you, but it affected you. Let’s just hope that we can create things that we’re passionate about and that affect people.”
I tentatively mention that Green is among the few filmmakers to have his own "unrealised projects" section on Wikipedia. Even Martin Scorsese doesn't have such a thing and he's been attached to every sort of madness. Green was going to remake Suspiria before Luca Guadagnino grabbed the reins. There was talk of Ice Station Zebra. In the early years of the century, before he took his low-brow swerve, we were all excited about a take on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.
“Oh that’s gone,” he says. “A lot of these projects get caught up in these legal battles. Who owns what? Often there’s no clear answer as to who the rights holder is.”
He goes on to mention some complex legal shenanigans.
“It would take someone moving a mountain to make that one now. In 30 years maybe some people will have died and someone can start afresh and maybe make an animated series of it. Ha ha!”
What about his plan to make a film of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie? That rough tale needs some reclaiming.
“Yeah. It’s still sitting there,” he says. “It’s still a bunch of wonderful pages ready to be made into a movie. It’s hard to find the time to prioritise certain things. That was held by a company and then they moved on and I moved on. And so yeah, that is one you could resuscitate. The book series is kind of brilliant. It’s a fascinating tale of survival.”
Sequels and reboots
For now we have Halloween to process. The confusion of sequels and reboots would take several volumes to satisfactorily explain. There were eight immediate follow-ups, but one of those – Halloween III: Season of the Witch – had no direct connection to the others. Rob Zombie’s film from 2007 was a straight remake of the first. Following one more sequel to that reimagining, Green’s initial entry in 2018 (titled just Halloween, like two previous chapters) was a direct sequel to Carpenter’s original that paid no attention to any intervening sequels. We will be testing you on this at the end of the lecture.
How did Green feel about circling a sacred text? Individual shots of the 1978 classic are taught in film school. The picture did as much to redefine suspense as Hitchcock’s Psycho did a generation earlier.
“We thought if we did it out of love and appreciation for everything that John had created and if we looked not just at the narrative and mannerisms of Michael Myers, but also looked at the DNA of how the film was made, then we would have a version that honoured Carpenter’s legacy. And then you try and invite a new audience that might not be familiar with the story. So you’ve got those two lines that you’re trying to engineer. I wanted everyone in the world to see that movie, right? It is not just a fan-service type of movie.”
We start getting into the narrative weeds again when he moves on to the current episode.
"Fast-forward to Halloween Kills and I think you have to have seen the earlier movie. I think you have to be a fan. Okay, I don't think you have to. But I think to get a full appreciation, it helps."
Gordon now moves on to compete his trilogy with (barring pandemics) next year’s Halloween Ends. We are packing up our things as I throw one last question at him.
So, what are the odds of that really being an end to the franchise?
He smiles knowingly.
Halloween Kills opens on October 15th