“I learned how to kill from a Mafia hitman who lived with me when he got out of prison,” actor Jim Courtney tells me on set of 2018’s Halloween. Naturally, the journalists in the room weren’t sure if he was joking, though we quickly realized the veteran stunt performer tasked with playing a 61-year-old Michael Myers doesn’t joke about such things. “I’ve been complimented many times here on set on how efficiently I kill.” Michael Myers–the Shape–is one of the most effective killers in cinematic history, creating terror throughout Haddonfield, IL, leaving a body count of four people and two dogs. In the new Halloween, director David Gordon Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley decided to go back to the original, or rather, discount all the sequels we’ve seen so far. What if adult Michael Myers only ever attacked on that one night? What if he was simply re-institutionalized in a mental asylum after surviving multiple stab and gunshot wounds following a night of teen-slaying? And what would happen if, after all that time, he got out to menace Laurie Strode once more?
On the set of Halloween in Charleston, South Carolina, we got firsthand look at Michael Myers stalking again, 40 years after the original and nine years since the most recent sequel of any kind. Michael is a tall and slender man, almost old enough for social security benefits, and he’s been sitting in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium since that fateful night waiting for his return. Nick Castle portrayed the Shape in the original Halloween, and he’s returned for select moments in the new one, while the bulk of the Shape’s performance is handled by veteran stuntman, Courtney.
“MOST HUMAN BEINGS ARE AFRAID TO LOOK AT THE FACT THAT THERE’S A KILLER INSIDE THEM.”
“He has a stunt background,” Castle says about Courtney, “so he’s doing a lot of the physical work on the show and I’m coming down to bless the set, to make sure things are good, a couple shots here and there.” Castle, who became a director of films like The Last Starfighter in the years after Halloween, also explained that playing the Shape hasn’t changed much in the years since the original. “The first shot I was in [in the original], it was a determined walk, not in a rush or anything like that. I went out in the street and stopped and went back to John [Carpenter] and basically asked what was my motivation, something stupid, just like an actor and he said ‘just go over there and walk here.’” He must have done something right: seven different actors have played Myers in roughly the same way since. “David [Gordon Green, the director] of course saw me and said do that, do what you did.”
Courtney has an intense job in this film, living behind the Shape’s mask as he embarks on another murder spree. He has a much heavier approach to the character. “Most human beings are afraid to look at the fact that there’s a killer inside them,” Courtney explains, alarmingly matter-of-fact. “This is how we work things out in society: We have these amazing films and we get to vicariously live through situations as well. For me, for instance, when we were filming in the mental institution and before I/the shape broke out, all I focused on was ever since [being put away], it’s been building and festering so the energy was just expanding and expanding and I just held that space from what Nick created, and just let it grow and grow because he’s become more powerful. He’s defying death, he’s defying any type of restrictive condition. So to me, what Nick created has just gotten stronger and more powerful.”
That’s been the power of Michael Myers since his first appearance. John Carpenter and Debra Hill, with Nick Castle behind the mask, created a cipher for any and all things that go bump in the night, an evil in plain site that most people just ignore, even if it’s staring right at you. David Gordon Green and company are aware that his power and legacy are alive in the details. For example, since Michael got a wire hanger to the eye in the first movie, Courtney wears a makeup prosthetic to give the impression that his left eye is dead, milky and scarred. Even though the Shape’s mask never comes off in the movie, Green wanted to ensure that if we ever see his eye through the mask’s eye hole, it would look the way it would.
THE MASK IN HALLOWEEN 2018 IS MEANT TO BE THE EXACT MASK FROM THE ORIGINAL.
The mask itself was a great source of debate, too according to the head makeup effects designer, Christopher Allen Nelson. Unlike previous sequels, in which Michael just grabs another, unrelated, but clearly similar mask, the mask in Halloween 2018 is meant to be the exact mask from the original. “I looked at a lot of 40-year-old masks and the various stages they were in,” Nelson explained. “We looked at how they aged, saw what kind of decomposition they had, the folds and wrinkles, depending on how they were kept, and took into account the context of this story how this mask was stored over all these years.”
Most latex or rubber Halloween masks would peel, flake, or even turn to goop when left in the elements for that long, and Nelson and Green deliberated on that often. “In our minds,” Nelson offers, “it was kept in a bag, in a box, in an evidence room for quite a long time so being covered and away from UV light, it was a little more protected than a mask that was just laying out would be.”
Michael Myers’ mask was essentially preserved, waiting too for his eventual breakout. Laying in wait like a dormant volcano, the Shape is now back to wreak more havoc on the town of Haddonfield, IL. There’s still so much power in the simplistic evil of the Shape, even after 40 years. He’s out there. Somewhere. A man. A mask. A knife. Halloween.
Halloween will be released on October 19.