Interview: Robert Harders’ Original Pitch for Halloween 5
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers is one of the more divisive entries in the Halloween series. Certain elements, such as the mysterious Man in Black and the Thorn tattoo symbol, have remained controversial subjects to this day. While Jeff Burr (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III) was originally in talks to helm the project, his involvement ended once Debra Hill (co-creator of the original film) recommended French-Swiss filmmaker Dominique Othenin-Girard for the gig.
A meeting was set up by Halloween series producer Moustapha Akkad, which Othenin-Girard reflected on in an interview with HalloweenMovies.com back in 2006. “Once I got their attention, I asked Mr. Akkad if I could let in a friend of mine, a writer I worked with. Mr. Akkad was irritated by my boldness, but allowed me to go on. Robert Harders entered and I started to work with Robert in front of them, explaining the story I was going for. He had not read their script and had not seen Halloween 4. After 20 minutes, Mr. Akkad interrupted and said that to be a producer is to be able to take important decisions alone. He let us go. Two hours later, my agent, who thought I went too far, received a call from Mr. Akkad. The next day, I went in with Michael Jacobs.”
Many different avenues could have been pursued after the success of Halloween 4‘s shock ending. Today, we look at one of the possibilities with this exclusive interview with writer Robert Harders (known for the Brian De Palma film Home Movies, as well as being a script doctor for acclaimed filmmaker Robert Altman). Here, Harders shares his perspective of the genre, his meeting with Othenin-Girard, and details how he envisioned the revenge of Michael Myers.
How did you meet Dominique Othenin-Girard?
Robert Harders: Dominique and I met through our mutual agent. Our meeting was set up because he was a director looking for a script and I was a writer with a script. I liked Dominique right away and we have remained friends. Dominique liked my script – a thriller called Burnt Hills – and, with each of us attached, it was set up in a development deal with Raffaella de Laurentiis’ production company, but was never produced. I wouldn’t want to speak for Dominique as to why he brought me to the Halloween 5 pitch meeting exactly. I think it’s fair to say we recognized that we worked well together and responded to each other’s ideas.
Were you a fan of the Halloween series or of the genre?
RH: I thought the original Halloween movie was impressive story telling and on a par with Night of the Living Dead and some of the films I remembered from growing up like Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. What I’m trying to say is that I liked good stories, regardless of the genre. The stories mentioned above are, in my opinion, actually quite sophisticated in that they operated on multiple levels – employing horror and suspense to entertain (the genre aspect) but entertaining in order to draw the audience into participating in a deeper, perhaps even unspoken, social, political, or moral conflict – and that it was this sophistication that made the films great. Once the franchise potential was realized for movies like Halloween then it became a matter of turning out sausage. In other words, a formulaic and gratuitous chase. Get the girl or group of teenagers isolated and bring on the monsters kind of stuff. Which was not at all anything I ever wanted to be involved with. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if it hadn’t been for my relationship with Dominique, I don’t think I would have even taken the meeting.
What did you think of Moustapha Akkad (or Ramsey Thomas, Akkad’s producer, who may or may not have been involved in the pitch meeting)? How did this initial meeting go for you and Dominique?
RH: If Moustapha Akkad was the man in the meeting, I remember him as being friendly. He listened to the whole pitch and I remember feeling that I had him for a moment or two during the pitch, but I’ll readily admit that what I thought might be a spark of interest could merely have been a businessman trying to understand what the hell I was talking about and how I had gotten in there in the first place. In other words, I had absolutely no illusions that the powers that be would jeopardize the franchise with so drastic a departure from what was expected by audiences around the world. There was a Ramsey connected with another project Dominique got me involved with but I don’t know if it was the same Ramsey you mention. To my horror, again, this second project was a horror story called The Dollhouse. We got a script written but it was never made. That one was a terrible experience because of the producers involved.
Do you recall why you were not involved with the film past the meeting? Did you ever discuss the project with Dominique while the film was in-production?
RH: Turns out they offered me the job of rewriting the original script anyway, but I turned it down, so my involvement with the project ended with that meeting. I was too excited about the ideas I had come up with and knew myself well enough to know I would hate doing what I felt they wanted. Fortunately, Michael Jacobs was available and he worked on the script. Michael’s a good writer and a nice guy. I remember Dominique telling me Michael saved the day because he came up with the house having a laundry chute, which I assume facilitated the chase. I never actually saw the film.
Dominique wasn’t impressed with writer Shem Bitterman’s original draft (which was ultimately discarded once he landed the job, although Bitterman still received a writing credit). Do you remember any aspects of this screenplay? What was your role during this meeting? What input did you have in the changes that Dominique was suggesting?
RH: So, I had a dilemma. I knew what kind of story they wanted, of course, and I knew that kind of story wouldn’t interest me. So, I put together a pitch that, as I remember it, started precisely where Halloween 4 had ended, which, as I am remembering it right now, had the Michael Myers character at the bottom of a collapsed mine shaft or some similar place and dead. And I imagined him there and remembered the classic scene in the original Frankenstein movie in which the creature is brought to life in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab surrounded by all that equipment. And so I proposed opening the story with a tremendous storm, thunder, fierce lighting, the shattered timbers, concrete, wires and rebar entangling and supporting the lifeless body of Michael Myers and channeling the storm’s life-giving electrical current from the heavens into the body of our creature. And bringing him back to life.
From there the Frankenstein story took over my imagination. You’ve probably seen Frankenstein the movie, but have you ever read the book? If not, you should. There’s a different kind of horror at work in the novel and I became very excited about trying to tell a story that evoked both Frankenstein the movie and Frankenstein the book. The details of the pitch are long forgotten, except for one key element, which was that the revived Michael Myers would no longer be the embodiment of pure evil. Instead, the harm caused by him – and I should say the significant harm that he would cause throughout the movie – was to be incidental. Unintentional. In response to attacks upon him. The result of his own need to survive in a world that was out to destroy him because it believed him to be the embodiment of evil he once was. In this scenario, Michael Myers was to have only one friend. The person who knows him better than anyone else, who knows to his horror the evil of Michael Myers past. I mean Loomis, the Donald Pleasence character. Think of the scene in Frankenstein when the creature meets the child by the pool of water. That’s the innocence I would have loved to try to have Loomis discover in Michael – can you image Loomis’ disbelief at even the possibility – thereby creating a terrible conflict for Loomis: how to save Michael Myers from the mob to see if he can get through to him, communicate to him. Loomis is a scientist, don’t forget. And that he is capable – and often the only one capable – of understanding of the depth of the evil that has existed in Michael – testifies, I believe, to the depth of Loomis’ own understanding of humanity. The movie then becomes about Loomis trying to save Michael Myers from the mob as he gets closer and closer to reaching Michael as a human being. The movie would have to end with Michael’s demise – something closer to the way it was handled in the novel, I thought.
The second draft of the screenplay (written by Dominique and Michael Jacobs) featured Myers escaping from the Halloween 4 mine shaft, and stumbling upon a shack on the outskirts of town, which housed an odd young man interested in the black arts. The shack was to be heavily decorated with all sorts of demonic artifacts, and during a rain storm the next Halloween Eve, the man was to perform a sort-of ritual/incantation that was to revive Myers. It works, of course, and Myers proceeds to kill his savior.
Although this scene was re-shot (excluding all references to the young man involved in the black arts; a more humble, older hermit in the man’s place), both scenes (the scripted/originally shot version & final version) do feel somewhat in the league of Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein. Was this an idea originally from Dominique’s mind that you expanded upon (justifying it with your Frankenstein connection)? Or was this solely your idea that Dominique took a liking to?
RH: I honestly don’t think I made any contribution at all to the way Michael Myers was revived for Halloween 5 or was any kind of catalyst for any of the ideas that ultimately made it into the script.
Your description of the young man and his demonic arts ritual strikes me as pure Dominique who had a penchant for the supernatural and had already explored supernatural themes in some of his earlier films (was it Night Angel?). I, on the other hand, really didn’t take to the supernatural as an explanation for anything. Instead, what I pitched took place within the mine shaft itself and relied on horror movie science a la Frankenstein, where the mine shaft becomes the laboratory, the entangling cables/wires become the equipment delivering the jolt of life (as in Frankenstein), but with no human being – no Dr. Frankenstein – present. In other words, my idea was that the monster is reanimated purely through the power of nature – nothing supernatural.
It is logical and most likely that Dominique had the supernatural opening already in mind and he may very well have told me about it before the meeting and that I tweaked it to suit my sensibilities for the pitch.
As an aside, I know you’ve mentioned your memory is a bit fuzzy on the subject, but do you recall what your thoughts were on what role Jamie Lloyd, Michael Myers’ niece, would serve in your idea for Halloween 5? She was the young girl featured in Halloween 4, who had a noteworthy scene at the end of that film that would’ve definitely affected how the story of Halloween 5 was set up.
RH: I don’t recall anything specific about the young girl.
See, my basic idea turned the whole horror movie concept on its head. Michael Myers was not the monster in my version. The monsters in the movie were to be the townspeople, the authorities, who, spurred by pure irrationality – fear, primarily, based on a lot of false assumptions – were out to destroy something they thought was evil, but, as Loomis grew to understand may not be evil at all (in my proposed incarnation. Traditionally, Michael Myers was certainly pure evil) and who may even have the potential for great good. That theme resonated for me. The trick for me, had I ever written the thing, would have been to include the young girl in the mounting danger Michael faced, as her sympathy and commitment to his safety grew since she, because of her innocence, would conceivably come to see in Michael the goodness that Loomis comes to see in him. That whatever happened in that mine shaft has brought to life a goodness in Michael’s nature that he had been denied previously, and that was equivalent in its potential power to the evil that had once existed but which has been killed off. Or perhaps it’s the girl who would have seen it first and helped convince Loomis. But none of this was ever taken seriously. I think they offered me the job because they liked my imagination even though the specifics I came up with were summarily rejected.
So, I don’t deserve any credit for anything in Halloween 5, and please believe I’m not shy about claiming credit whenever I feel I’m entitled to it. But Halloween 5 was just not such a case. All credit goes to Dominique and Michael Jacobs and probably Shem Bitterman and the production team, including the actors. They were the creative forces behind Halloween 5.