The ‘Halloween’ franchise is an extremely divided series, not only with continuity, but also among the fan base. The series has become a “choose your own adventure” of sorts with different directions, timelines and story arcs, and each of which have their own fans – all of whom are passionate in discussions about which they liked or disliked. Interestingly enough, there was a point where the series was going to take an entirely different direction with the saga of Michael Myers all together – one that would lean more towards the Nightmare side of the slasher spectrum rather than the Friday side.
Around this time last year, I had begun writing a series of small-scare articles for a local drive-in theater on the Halloween franchise leading up to the release of 2018’s ‘Halloween’ from Trancas International, Blumhouse and Universal. My intention was a to do a series of articles on the production side of the franchise, with the intent to sort of explain the ever-changing continuities and to prepare the general movie going public for the creative decision to ignore the established mythology from 1981’s ‘Halloween 2’ and beyond.
Over the years I’ve heard snippets in regards to an abandoned ‘Halloween 4’ script from Dennis Etchison, who under the pseudonym “Jack Martin”, had written the novelizations of ‘The Fog’, ‘Halloween 2’ and ‘Halloween 3: Season of the Witch’. Upon doing some research, I had not only discovered an in-depth interview with Etchison, but I had also discovered the second draft of his script. Etchison was commissioned by John Carpenter and Debra Hill to pen a tale that would bring Michael Myers back to the town of Haddonfield. Together, the three began to develop an idea for a continuation of Michael Myers’ story, but with a much more supernatural twist. Carpenter had wanted Joe Dante, director of ‘The Howling’ (1980) and ‘Gremlins’ (1984), to direct from Etchison’s script, but for reasons unknown, Dante refused the offer.
Moustapha Akkad, however, felt that the script was too cerebral, and rejected it. He wanted something more traditional and something closer to the first two films, which in turn prompted a legal battle between Carpenter & Hill, both of whom defended Etchison’s script, and Akkad over who has say in the creative direction of the franchise. Akkad had won the battle, and Carpenter & Hill left the franchise.
Etchison’s script was then abandoned in favor for the ‘Halloween 4’ that we did get in 1988.
So how different is Etchison’s script? And is it any good? Well, let’s take a look.
Note: The following story details provided below are from the second draft of Etchison’s script, dated December 2nd, 1986, which is available to read online. They mostly coincide with the story details revealed by Etchison in a 2017 interview with Blumhouse, although there are some minor differences due to completing two more drafts since. Also, this isn’t going to be a traditional review that goes through the script beat for beat, as there is a lot of things happening in it, so I’m going to condense the different arcs individually. I will also be providing a link to the PDF of this script at the bottom of this review for those interested in reading the script itself.
The story, set ten years after the events of ‘John Carpenter’s Halloween’ (1978) and its direct sequel, ‘Halloween 2’ (Released in 1981, but set on the same night in 1978), doesn’t try to retcon the ending of ‘Halloween 2’ with a bullshit convolution to justify the return of Michael Myers – instead it adheres to that ending: Michael Myers and Sam Loomis are dead; killed in the explosion at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. But the events of that night continue to haunt the town, as the local residents, particularly the adults, live in fear and uncertainty as they are unable to let go of the past and find closure. Some believe that Michael will return to finish what he started, while others fear that one of the town’s children will grow up to be like Michael and bring a reign of terror to the citizens of Haddonfield, similarly to what happened in 1978. As a result of this wide-spread of fear throughout the town, the celebration of the holiday has been banned and anything Halloween related is illegal – even horror movies are deemed forbidden – in an effort to repress the children and to avoid another incident. But, it’s only a matter of time before people begin to push back against the Halloween prohibition, and as a result, The Shape emerges once again.
The script begins with Lindsay Wallace’s mother having a nightmare about that night in 1978 when she and her husband returned home to discover that terrible things had happened in their house and that her daughter had been a witness and was in harms way. She awakens from the nightmare just after Lindsay breaks open, revealing Michael Myers, who lunges out at her. This scene is significant to the themes of the script and gives a bit of a perspective of the adult characters and how their fears essentially bring Michael – more specifically, The Shape – back to Haddonfield. Mrs. Wallace is so frightened that she intentionally attempts to keep Lindsay, who does not remember that night, away from Tommy Doyle, who recalls everything. As Mrs. Wallace tries to keep her daughter safe, at least from her perspective, Tommy makes efforts to reach out to Lindsay and tries to get her to remember and embrace what had happened when they were children – he believes that the adults efforts to repress and control the youth is damaging them, and he tries to convince her to leave the town with him and to never look back.
Although Lindsay and Tommy are the lead protagonist, this script does have an ensemble of previously established characters from the first two movies: Leigh Brackett, Gary Hunt, Robert Mundy (A News Anchor who appeared periodically in ‘Halloween 2’) Marion Chambers (Now Marion Stern), along with Lonnie Elam and his friends Keith and Ritchie – as well as many other new characters. One of the things I really love about this script is that it continues to elevate the scope: the first film was primarily in a couple of houses in a small neighborhood; the second was a hospital; this one was the whole town – plus neighboring towns. With Jamie Lee Curtis making the decision to step away from horror to pursue her career as a versatile actress, Carpenter and Etchison were free from following the “sister” plot point (without ignoring it), and this allowed them to do a film that followed its own path, rather than repeat formula, and to focus on some of the supporting characters from the first two films. With one exception, at least in my opinion, I felt this script made good use of these characters and I thoroughly enjoyed that this one focused on how the events of the first two movies effected these characters and the community.
Sheriff Leigh Brackett and Deputy Gary Hunt have an eventful day, dealing with protesters, multiple robberies and an overbearing PTA calling for stronger censorship as local and neighboring businesses fight to keep their doors open by pushing back against this relatively new law that has been established by the town. What this script does very well is that it gives depth to the conflict by showcasing opposing opinions, as not every citizen of Haddonfield agrees with the collective’s solution to prevent a repeat of 1978; some business owners sell Halloween related merchandise off the books and behind closed doors, and a local television station runs ads for a horror movie marathon at the triple screened Lost River Drive-In, located across the river from Haddonfield, which sets the controlling PTA in a frenzy. This isn’t an award-winning script with award winning characterizations, but they are damn strong for a slasher franchise.
The television news station is looking to stir the pot amidst protesters and threats for running the ads for the Lost River Drive-In, and in an effort to boost ratings, news anchor Robert Mundy is assigned to cover a retrospective on Michael Myers and the murders of 1978. Mundy is actually one of the most likable and down to earth characters in the script. He reluctantly takes the assignment after some arm twisting by his boss, but he clearly just wants to leave things be and move on, aware that the topic and events has already had a negative effect on the community. He begins by trying to contact the survivors for interviews; after being unable to gather contact information for Laurie Strode, who left town after graduating in 1979, he attempts to interview Tommy, but angsty Tommy isn’t very cooperative, which is a sliver of a missed opportunity because both characters essentially felt the same way about how Halloween had changed the town, but instead Tommy lashes out at Mundy for keeping it going. Mundy follows this up with a trip to Smith’s Grove to ask about changes to security measures, and of course, one or two questions about Michael Myers. Here, he is met by the facility’s new director, Dr. Marion Stern, formerly known as Marion Chambers. Here, Marion is on full damage control mode and shows Mundy a VHS recording of a Michael and Loomis session while making a bold suggestion that Michael may have been a product of Loomis’ madness.
Now, this is one of the two things I just didn’t really care for in this script. Upon a second reading, I feel like I understand what Etchison was going for here a bit more than when I first read this last year, but it still doesn’t quite sit well with me because it seems to betray and slander Loomis’s character. To elaborate on what Marion proposes: she paints a scenario where perhaps Michael had found his sisters dead body and had been in shock, and because he was never tried officially due to being a minor and because he never spoke a word since, he had become what the townspeople, the media and what Loomis had accused him of being. In the video, we’re giving a glimpse of a bat-shit crazy Sam Loomis, not all that different than the version of him in ‘Revenge of Michael Myers’, who angrily shouts at Michael and even raises his fist threatening physical violence against him. I just didn’t like how the character was portrayed here. Yeah, Loomis was a bit over the top at times throughout the series, but to me, it came out of a place where he was the only person who truly understood Michael and yet, nobody believed him. I hated asshole Loomis in ‘Revenge of Michael Myers’, and I especially hated the asshole version in ‘Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2’; the Loomis I’ve grown with is defined by a line of dialogue in the ‘Halloween 4’ that we actually got: “Michael? Please don’t go back to Haddonfield. You want another victim? Take me. But please, leave those people in piece.” – to me, Loomis was truly a good guy that was constantly underestimated because of his outrageous, but true, beliefs.
Like I mentioned, I do understand what Etchison was trying to do: as we, the audience, knows that Marion’s perspective is wrong because we saw that young Michael did in fact kill Judith in 1963, and the whole premise of this script ultimately proves that Loomis is 100% correct – there was a sinister force inside Michael, so everything Loomis says in these recordings is pretty well justified, and there is even a moment later in the script when things begin to happen, where Leigh Brackett comes to the realization that Loomis was correct the whole time, and while that’s satisfying to a degree, based on his interactions with Loomis in the first two films, I just don’t like the way the character was written in these scenes, and I just don’t like the fact that Marion, of all people, is the one to really slander Loomis. She just seemed a bit more understanding and sympathetic in the first two films, especially in the third act of ‘Halloween 2’. She gives an interesting perspective, but it just didn’t jive with her character. Her position just seems off to me based on what’s already been established.
Lonnie, Keith and Ritchie are our secondary link to the teenage characters in the script, aside from Tommy and Lindsay, who are both regarded as outcasts among their peers; these characters actually feel like a collection of teenagers, slightly on the dick-ish side, but they’re not really the bullies that they were in the first film. Lonnie, who contrary to Laurie’s beliefs, did, in fact, graduate the 6th grade, is moderately likable in this script. They’re just really a group of care-free teenagers trying to have a great night. While there’s not a great deal of depth with these characters, they do seem natural and real.
The story eventually brings all of the characters together for a third act that starts out insanely good, but concludes on a rather weak note. All of the teenage characters make their way to the Lost River Drive-In, unaware that some of their friends have already been killed by the Shape. Meanwhile, the police are on the search for Tommy and Lindsay when they catch the word that there have been multiple murders; as the news spreads, panicked parents and the police, as well as Marion Stern and Robert Mundy flock to the drive-in, but they’re too late. Most of the kids have been killed, leaving only Lindsay left. As the Shape pursues her, Tommy – who disappeared for a chunk of the script after pulling a gun on Hunt – shows up and gets the first shots off, putting Lindsay in the clear, and allowing Brackett and the police to open fire. This is where the script becomes the most problematic for me: as the Shape is getting peppered with bullets, he begins to grow, becoming 10 feet tall at one point, and then as bullets hit parked vehicles, there’s a wave of explosions. When the smoke clears, the Shape is nowhere to be found, and Tommy & Lindsay escape on the opposite side of the Drive-In from their parents and police, deciding to leave town for good. Mundy and the Cameraman catch the two teenagers leaving, and Mundy blocks the camera telling the cameraman that he didn’t see anything, and requests the cameraman hand over the tape.
I loved the idea that the final act takes place at a Drive-In Theater, but I felt like the execution was a little off. The majority of the deaths are off screen, with Lonnie going car to car and discovering the bodies before getting killed himself. It’s also a little bit odd that Lonnie discovers everyone is dead, but Lindsay, who just disappeared earlier is left alive and unaware of what is happening. My biggest complaint though is the idea of the Shape growing – it’s just corny and doesn’t fit with the rest of the story, and takes it just a little too far. I also thought the final couple of pages were unclear and rushed, making the conclusion feel abrupt.
Overall, I do really love this script. I think it’s a very interesting, slightly layered, and character driven story with strong themes and ideas. It’s not particularly scary and some of the dialogue isn’t the greatest, but it would have definitely brought the franchise in an entirely different direction. That said, as much as I would have loved for this movie to have been made, I do have to say that I understand Moustapha Akkad’s perspective: if anything, the reactions to the Myers-less ‘Halloween 3’ were loud and clear; the people wanted Michael Myers back, and he wanted to give the audience what they wanted. I’m honestly not so sure if the fans of the series would have embraced this approach, so he probably made the right choice in the long run.
You can find the script here: https://ia800106.us.archive.org/29/items/Halloween4DennisEtchisonScript/Halloween%204%20Dennis%20Etchison%20script.pdf
Give it a read and let us know what you think!