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HALLOWEEN: BEHIND THE MASK - Phil Nutman

Chaos! Comics explores the missing years of modern horror's original slasher, Michael Myers.

By Matthew F. Saunders     October 04, 2000

Some evil never dies. The Shape has been shot, stabbed, burned and thrown out of windows, yet keeps coming back for more. Even non-traditional methods, like less than stellar sequels, haven't been able to take down modern horror's original mass murderer. But this October, fans of the Halloween franchise will be able to gain new insight into the knife-wielding Shape's alter ego, Michael Myers, in Halloween: Behind the Mask, a new one-shot from Chaos! Comics.

Written by Bram Stoker award-nominated author Phil Nutman and illustrated by David Brewer and Curtis Arnold, the 32-page special explores the 'missing years' first hinted at in the original Halloween film. After killing his sister in 1963 on Halloween night, a 6-year-old Michael was sent to Smith's Grove Mental Hospital. He remained there for 15 years, until he escaped in 1978 and returned to his hometown of Haddonfield to terrorize Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode.

But what happened to Michael during those critical years? Why did he kill his sister? How did he become the unstoppable force known as The Shape? And is he simply a psychotic killer or a dark, supernatural monster? Those are just some of the questions that'll be addressed in the first officially authorized Halloween comic. And while Nutman isn't giving any secrets away, he sat down with Fandom to discuss the series and the enduring curse of Michael Myers.

QUESTION: WHAT'S THE STORY ABOUT?

Nutman: As a young boy, Tommy Doyle, the kid Laurie Strode was babysitting [in the original Halloween], narrowly escaped dying at Michael Myers' hands. As an adult, Tommy believes he killed The Shape [in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers] while saving Jaime Lloyd's babyMichael's niecefrom the evil Druidic cult who nurtures the Myers' family curse. But Tommy is still haunted by memories of the slaughters, which have cast a shadow over Haddonfield, and is now writing a book to exorcise those fears. When Doyle obtains the private diaries of the late Dr. Sam Loomis, little does he realize Michael's not dead and is now stalking him. But can he learn Michael Myers' secret before The Shape makes him the next victim?

WHO ELSE STARS IN BOOK?

For me, you couldn't have a Halloween story without Dr. Sam Loomis, the Donald Pleasence character. Unfortunately, he was killed off in Halloween 6, and then Pleasence himself passed away. But by going back to tell the untold story, the years in Smith's Grove, I could have Sam as a major character. To me, he's always been the axle on which the wheel of Michael's murders spin.

DO YOU GIVE INSIGHT INTO THAT? SPECIFICALLY, WHAT DO WE LEARN ABOUT MICHAEL'S LOST YEARS IN SMITH'S GROVE?

All I'll reveal is we see his evil evolve. Readers are going to see Michael's evolution and the foundation of his relationship with Loomis. You're gonna see this is really Sam's story, but Sam's story is tied directly to Michael's. Basically, what readers are going to discover is how Sam went from being Michael's caretaker to becoming his gatekeeper and jailer.

HOW MUCH RESPONSIBILITY DOES SAM HAVE, IF ANY, IN THE CREATION OF THE SHAPE? THERE SEEMS TO BE A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THEM.

When I saw the [original] movie for the first time, there was a strong sense that Sam was cursed, that he was destined. Everything he had done in life, training as a doctor to help the mentally disturbed, [was supposedly geared toward] saving lives, to improving lives. Yet here is the great irony, that we have this bitter, twistedalmost seemingly insanely obsessive himselfdoctor, who is intent on destroying his patient. That is really the core of this story. And I riffed off the line from the first movie where he says he spent eight years trying to reach Michael, and then the next seven years trying to keep him locked up. But when he looked into his eyes, there was nothing there. He had the blackest eyes, the devil's eyes. Sam tries to break through Michael's barrier, and I shall say no more.

WILL MICHAEL SPEAK DURING THOSE EARLY SCENES, OR REMAIN A SILENT ENIGMA?

Michael should never speak. That's part of the power and strength of the character. To have Michael think or speak would diminish the power. So I said we're not going to have any thought balloons popping out of the top of Michael's head and he's certainly not going to say a word. So, how do you explorehow do you expressa character who doesn't speak, particularly in this case, where I deliberately avoided using part of the medium, which is being able to literally read the character's thoughts? Well, the answer [is] everything has to come through Sam's actions and reactions to Michael. I used a contemporary framing device, which is where we plug the story in chronologically between the end of Halloween 6 and before the events in H20.

Of course with the Loomis character having been killed at the end of number six, how could I bring him back and present things in Sam's voice? Well, the conceit is that Tommy has become as obsessive as Dr. Loomis and has found Loomis' private diaries, hoping to learn the truth and secret of the Myers' family curse and Michael's origins. So that gives up an opportunity to then segue back into the past and hear everything from Sam's point of view, in his own words.

GIVEN THIS PARTIULAR EMPHASIS, WERE YOU TRYING TO RECAPTURE THE SPIRIT AND FEEL OF THE FIRST FILM?

Very much so. I'm a huge fan of the original film. I must have watched it 30 times now in 22 years. I ended up re-watching it like 10-15 times while writing Behind the Mask, so I'm sick to death of it now! [Laughs]. No, really, it's a terrific filmJohn Carpenter's best and most satisfying from a narrative perspective. I stumbled from the theater limp and wet like an old dishrag the first time I saw it back in 1978.

The main strength of the piece is the fact that Carpenter and his producing partner, Debra Hill, collaborated on the script. John apparently wrote all the boy horror stuff, and Debra fleshed out all the female characters and made that stuff work. Even 23 years on, you look back at that film [and] they do actually act and behave like authentic teenagers, certainly back in the 1970s. That goes a long way to making the movie powerful because you believe these kids are real, and you believe the situation and jeopardy they find themselves in. And therefore, when The Shape strikes, we almost feel the knife blow.

So, what I wanted to capture was not only the palate of colors that Carpenter and his director of photography, Dean Cundey, usedI gave very specific instructions to Chaos! colorist extraordinaire Jason Jensen, asking him to watch and study the film very carefully to get the right feeling of color and texture, down to every little detailbut to try and create the same kind of emotional intensity so that the story builds and builds. It starts out kind of low-key and moves up and up. Hopefully readers, when they finish the comic book, are going to come away with a similar kind of experience to what it was like to watch the movie on the big screen all those years ago.

WERE THERE THINGS YOU COULD OR COULDN'T DO HERE, BECAUSE THE MEDIUMS OF FILM AND COMICS TRANSLATE DIFFERENTLY?

I tried to use the actual physical medium of the comic book itself to replicate the suspense and shocks you got in the first movie. I was very very careful about setting things up on say a right-hand page and then waiting so you turn. And then the next page, on the left-hand side, that's where you get your surprise reveal. [That's] the only way you can, in this medium, try and replicate that sense of shock or jolt you can get from a good horror movie, where something comes out of the closet and makes you go 'Ehh!'

That's one good thing about Chaos!, that they don't insert ads into the flow of the story like certain other companies do, Marvel being a prime culprit. The fact is, comics are kind of a weird hybrid between movies and books, so you've gotat least I strive forsome kind of literary quality and intelligent storytelling quality. At the same time it's primarily a visual medium, so you've got to show rather then tell like you would dramatically in a movie. Of course, you have to pick the exact frame you want [in order] to capture whatever you need to communicate in a given moment. That's very challenging.

WHAT ABOUT THE STORY ITSELF?

We're seemingly going into an even more repressive, conservative time, particularly about depictions of violence. The subject that is most touchy for society right now, particularly in this country, is the depiction of children committing acts of violence. One of the things I decided, which was initially for a dramatic reason rather than self-censorshipand I want to stress that strongly, this was an aesthetic decision[was that] I wasn't going to show [child violence], other than to replicate the exact frames from the original movie in the opening section of the book, in which we see young 6-year-old Michael stabbing his sister, although we don't see the actual knife blade going into her body. That's the only time we see young Michael committing an act of violence. There are a lot of acts of violence in this book, but who is responsible? Well, that's the question that readers are going to have to find out.

I can enjoy a good, visceral, gory scene, but that's not the be all and end all of it. Gore itself is not horror. Horror is not a thing, it's an emotion. There are hundreds of movies out there that throw the gore around, and they're not scary in the slightest. I am firmly of the mind that certain things that aren't shown have greater power over the audience. I wanted to try and capture that feeling, and that approach to the material in this book in particular. There's not buckets of gore flying around. But there are some pretty nasty moments in the book. In fact, my favorite is on I think it's page eleven, which makes my toes curl every time I look at it, and say, 'Phil, you sick bastard!'

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE HALLOWEEN FRANCHISE THAT'S ALLOWED IT TO ENDURE?

I think there are two elements. Donald Pleasence and the fact that there's something about the character of Michael Myers in the fact that he never speaks. And it doesn't matter what you seem to do to him. He seems to be unstoppable. He's the perfect embodiment of that fear factor that we all have in dreams, where we're trying to run away from something and we can never escape it. The fact that there's something irrefutable, inevitable almost, like Michael, that is unstoppable, almost like a force of nature?that's pretty terrifying.

DO YOU THINK THIS IS WHERE THE FRANCHISE'S FUTURE LIES, IN DOING STORIES IN COMICS FORM?

Well, actually, Halloween 8 is being written as we speak. In fact, as is typical in Hollywood, whilst one writer has been hired to already write a first draft script, myself and [Halloween 6 screenwriter] Dan Farrands have also been asked to do a proposal, which we have done, that actually takes elements from the comic book as a springboard for a movie. Whether we will get the opportunity to actually take it to a full draft remains to be seen. Obviously I'm biased, [but] this is a movie I really want to see. But I think there are Halloween stories that could be told better in comics form than perhaps in cinematic terms. Because you have the benefit of being able to use literary and writers' character devices that work within novels, you can incorporate some of those into a comic book, and at the same time have the benefit of a visual medium.

IS WORKING ON THIS PROJECT A DREAM COME TRUE?

Yeah, it never ceases to amaze me sometimes. And I don't take it for granted, what I've accomplished in 23 years of being published. What is kind of a thrill for me right now is that Mickey Yablans [the comic's licensor] and I have developed a very good professional working relationship, and we're also developing a very strong friendship. This makes me chuckle, because Mickey played one of the little kids [Richie] who tormented Tommy Doyle in the first movie. He trips Tommy with the pumpkin and then rushes off and runs straight into The Shape.

So it cracks me up to think that I'm now working with the nasty little kid from Halloween. I think, 'Hey, could I have imagined this 23 years ago, when I was sitting in the movie theater? If somebody had come up and tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Phil, see that kid on the screen? He's gonna become very important in your life in 23 years time.'' So yeah, there is a thrill. This is part of the reason I love what I do. And I'm very thankful that I have the opportunity to do what I do professionally.

WILL THIS SPECIAL LEAD TO MORE SPECIALS OR MINI-SERIES? DOES THAT DEPEND ON SALES?

Halloween: Behind the Mask answers some questions and poses others. I deliberately decided to make this story fit within the continuity of the movies, and to maybe tie up some loose ends while sowing seeds for future story possibilities. I know where the story goes from here. There's still a lot more from the Loomis diaries we haven't learned yet.

So yes, discussions are underway concerning a follow-up. Basically, Chaos and the licensor have just got to come to terms on a new contract. Chaos is committed to doing another book. They just haven't had the opportunity to sit down and discuss things yet. I'm sure that's gonna happen in the next couple of weeks.

But, no, pleasingly enough, everybody was so happy and excited about this project, and so pleased with the way the story turned out, that sales weren't the consideration. This is something Brian Pulido, Chaos! publisher and executive editor, is very very passionate about. I appreciate the fact that Brian gave me a great deal of freedom both as a writer and editor. He's been tremendously supportive about me and the project.

IN CLOSING, DO YOU THINK THIS WILL APPEAL TO HALLOWEEN FANS AS WELL AS GENERAL COMICS READERS, PARTICULARLY GIVEN THAT MOST OF THE MOVIE SEQUELS HAVEN'T BEEN WELL-RECEIVED?

I hope so. I hope I've done my job right. I've had tremendous support. Everybody involved with the project has given me over a hundred percent. And I'm hoping I'm going to delight and please die-hard Halloween fans, who as I've discovered are quite obsessive and can be very very critical. I also think, in terms of general comic book readers, if you want a good, scary, creepy read this Halloween season, this is the book to pick up.

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