Michael Myers unleashes a new wave of holiday horror in Halloween.
It’s been four decades since writer/director John Carpenter told the story of Halloween, about a masked, mental hospital escapee named Michael Myers, who terrorizes the small town of Haddonfield and resourceful babysitter named Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis). The low-budget horror film was a sleeper hit, prompting a string of sequels and even a pair of remakes.
In 2018, that original story continues with Strode confronting Myers for the final time, but this installment wisely jettisons everything that’s taken place over the past 40 years.
“This one picks up after the very first movie,” explains make-up effects co-designer Christopher Nelson. “In our world, the sequels from part two onward don’t exist, so that includes the Rob Zombie films and all the sequels. Our film picks up years after the end of the 1978 movie, so it’s essentially a new part two to the first movie, or continuation of the first, which is the reason it’s called Halloween: it’s a continuation of that very first movie.”
A lifelong Halloween fan,
Nelson was enlisted for the project after meeting one of the producers at a party for a mutual friend and expressing his interest in the project. “Obviously the biggest challenge was the Michael Myers mask itself,” he elaborates, “bringing it back to life and giving the fans what they wanted. Talking to [director] David Gordon Green and the producers and everybody involved, that was a big concern.
“The other big challenge was to create make-up effects that could live within the story we all know and love, while bringing it into the modern, updated world of practical effects and make-up and not have them seem dated. There’s a bit of nostalgia in the make-up effects but making them new and fresh for a modern audience to enjoy.”
One of Nelson’s first decisions after signing on for Halloween was to bring in Vincent Van Dyke as co-make-up effects designer. “When I started reading the script,” Nelson elaborates, “It was going to be a considerable build. David wanted every victim or terrifying situation to be a ‘postcard moment.’ We all remember those moments from the first movie, like Nancy Loomis lying on the bed; or the guy pinned to the closet like a butterfly pinned on the wall. These are the ‘postcard moments’ burned into our brains, and we wanted to do the same thing with this movie.
“Since I love collaboration and didn’t have my own shop, I chose Vince, a really talented artist with a great team of people that I’ve worked with in the past. He’s also a huge Halloween fan too, and I wanted to work with somebody as passionate about the project as I was.”
“Halloween was the first horror movie I was introduced to as a kid,” Van Dyke continues,
“so when Chris came to me with this project, I was tremendously excited. Obviously it meant a lot to him, so it was a very collaborative conversation right out of the gate. Normally a department head will come to the shop occasionally to look at something or sign off on it, but this is probably the first time I’ve had a department head actually work in the shop for almost the entire build. Chris was hands-on with everything; sculpting the mask, providing his two cents and pushing me and my boundaries like they haven’t been pushed before, so it was a great, creative environment.”
An early priority was to redesign the Michael Myers mask, which sounds like a simple task but turned out to be anything but. “The original 1978 mask was a perfect storm of happy accidents,” claims Nelson. “It was a store-bought Captain Kirk mask that they cut the eye holes out of, spray-painted it white and ripped some hair off, so it wasn’t really ‘designed.’
“I had long discussions with David about how he was going to shoot and light the mask in this film, and how we were bringing it back as a character, because it’s been years and years now, so where has it been? What kind of shape is it in, and how did it get back into the hands of Michael Myers? Those questions meant it wasn’t as easy to recapture that look as people think.
“I brought in Justin Mabry, a phenomenal mask sculptor and a Halloween fan, to sculpt a 1978 mask for a possible flashback in the film. Vincent and I subsequently took a clay pour of it and altered it quite a bit. This film takes place 40 years later, so we aged and changed it, and that’s how it ended up the way it looks.”
“When I first got into this business, I made latex masks to break into this world,” offers Van Dyke, “so I was well aware of how fans of the film would really analyze this mask. It was clear to both of us how important it was to not reinvent the wheel, but to do something that was a homage to the original while hitting all the right notes we knew the fans wanted to see.”
“I also wanted there to be a sadness and a tragedy to it,” adds Nelson, “like the famous comedy/tragedy masks, so I altered the eyes and nose a bit, and tweaked the mouth and then altered the paint job, because I wanted the character to have a really tragic, empty face, not just a white mask walking around. I wanted it to be much more layered and deep, so that was the challenge, and I’m very proud of what we did. I hope people dig it.”
As for the thrills and chills that fans have come to expect from the Halloween franchise,
“I can say there’s plenty to satisfy fans of slasher movies, blood and gore,” promises Nelson. “Going back to what I said earlier, David was adamant about creating those memorable moments and not just blood draining on camera, which is easy and done every day. We wanted to create moments that were suspenseful and disturbing, not in a torture porn way but within the context of a spooky Halloween night.”
“I’m not a big fan of the gratuitous stuff,” concedes Van Dyke, “but that’s not what Halloween means to me or Chris. Everything in this film is shot in a way that remains slightly mysterious and even a bit haunting. I think we’ve given the audience what they want, but in a memorable way that is not gratuitous at all.”
According to Nelson, many of the major set pieces were scripted, but there was still plenty of room for suggestions. “Some of the deaths were very specific, while others were more ambiguous and would get finalized during the build. Dave’s [the boyfriend’s] death for example, was in the script as pinned to the wall with a butcher knife, but I wanted him to have this death shriek-like look on his face as he was revealed. For my character, who gets his head carved into a pumpkin head, David called and said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if [a] victim’s head gets carved into a pumpkin?’ It wasn’t until we started the design process that he said, ‘Why don’t you play the cop, and we’ll have your head carved into a pumpkin!’ so we built it specifically off of my head.
“For Oscar, the kid who gets impaled on the fence, David had a picture from a real incident in which a guy gets impaled on a fence through his jaw, that he wanted to re-create, so when Drew [Scheid] was cast, we started working out how to do it and saying to David, ‘We can shoot it like this, so it will be very specific and memorable.’ So, it was a combination of both.”
Working on the new Halloween film turned out to be a labor of love for its cast and crew and the make-up effects team is no exception. “I’m really proud of the work we did,” says Van Dyke, “and collaborating with Chris as a co-designer was a real pleasure. It’s almost impossible not to get some backlash on a film like this, but I think we’re both pretty pleased with the way the mask came out and the response it’s been getting.”
“I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world, getting to work on this movie,” agrees Nelson, “and I’m really happy with what Vince and I were able to accomplish. Not only did everything look the way we meant it to look, we had a blast doing it. Not only that it’s a Halloween movie and it’s coming out at Halloween, which is Christmas to me, so I’m super-jazzed about that. I’m really excited for people to see all the little secret Easter eggs we put in that hopefully people will catch, if not the first time, then maybe the next. So, it’s something that will live on, and I’m proud to be part of the Halloween legacy.”