This past year I got back into books big time. For years on end my new years resolution would inevitably be to read more. But that never happened. But 2019 proved to be different. I began reading again. And once more, I’ve become a book fiend. I love paperback novels. I love the way they feel. The way they smell (as long as it’s not rancid). The way they transport me to magical far away places. Being a massive Halloween fan, when I found out earlier this summer that the first 4 Halloween movies were novelized, naturally I was all over that like white on
rice Michael’s mask. As I write this intro, it’s late Halloween night. I spent the past 3 weeks reading the 4 Halloween novels, having just finished Halloween IV. I had a blast with each of them, some more than others. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the first novel, Halloween.
HALLOWEEN by Curtis Richards
Penned by Dennis Etchison using the pseudonym of Curtis Richards, this book was released in October of 1979, one year after John Carpenter’s Halloween made a killing at the box office. A rare and collectible piece of Halloween memorabilia, the book closely follows the film but adds in enough details to differentiate it from the movie. Namely, it provides a little more background information into what makes Michael Myers tick, and it really takes on a Celtic perspective. You’ll read words like SAMHAIN and “The Druid Festival of the Dead.” It’s the perfect companion piece to the film itself, moreso in my estimation than the actual Halloween II movie sequel. It’s rather well written too, and isn’t merely a throwaway movie novelization. Check out Chapter 1 below for instance…
Not bad, eh? Really sets the mood and evokes that autumnal feeling of late October and sleepy suburbs where danger lurks in the darkness. Curtis Richards, er, Dennis Etchison, was something of a proficient horror writer in his day so it’s nice to see someone so professional handle this project.
Unfortunately, being out of print and rare, copies of this book go for a pretty penny. It seems insane to drop triple figures on a book — a rather thin 166 page book at that — but this is a nice prize for diehard Halloween fans. From now on, every October I’ll be watching the movie and reading the book. There’s something about reading the movie in written form that is immensely satisfying. It’s one of those concepts that work equally well as a novel or as a film. I’m glad we have both — the best of both worlds, as it were.
Following the smash success of Halloween, Halloween II hit theaters on Halloween Eve of 1981. The movie novelization, penned once again by Dennis Etchison who changed his pseudonym from Curtis Richards to Jack Martin, soon followed.
HALLOWEEN II by Jack Martin
Although certainly cheesy, I appreciate the creative deviations the novelization made in comparison to its film counterpart. Seeing a human face screaming out in agony covered by a carved jack-o-lantern is quite the gruesome sight. It’s exactly the kind of cover that would stop me dead in my tracks walking by a bookstore or newsstand.
As it is with movie and video game boxes, in addition to the front cover I love admiring the back as well. The summary gives you a good idea of what you’re in store for, and the back cover of Halloween II is at once simple but effective and enticing. The perfect sort of book to read snuggled up by a roasting fire on a cold October evening.
Like many movie novelizations of its time, Halloween II featured some photos plucked straight from the film. That or publicity stills, such as this eerie shot of The Shape’s evil presence looming over the desolate Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.
A recurring error were the photo captions which mostly spelled Laurie as Launie. How no one in editing caught that is practically inexcusable. Thankfully, they get the name right in the book and it’s a small misstep that’s mostly harmless. I get a kick out of it every time that I see it, though. Launie Strode? Get out of here with that
Halloween II begins with this prologue. I love the part that goes, “You know what it is like.” YOU DAMN RIGHT I DO. And it’s practically the best time of the year for me. Dennis Etchison (or Jack Martin if you will) does a fantastic job of painting the scene for us. It’s Haddonfield. It’s Halloween time. It’s irresistible. Vivid sentences like “the broken moon drifting like a gauze-covered face” bring to mind gloriously rich pictures. Mr. Martin sets the mood right off the bat. You can’t help but want to read on.
Chapter One opens with the haunting line, “There was a shape in the bushes.” This is followed by letting the reader know that the dead walked in Haddonfield that night. The lines about the Devil first being seen on Lampkin Lane and being a four-foot-tall version jumps off the page to me as well. Good stuff by Etchison.
Here’s the infamous opening scene of Halloween II where the neighbor comes out asking Dr. Loomis what is going on out there. It’s always been one of my favorite scenes from the entire franchise. I just love when the neighbor goes, “Is this some kind of joke? I’ve been trick-or-treated to death tonight” followed by Loomis saying “You don’t know what death is” as he runs around the house and the Halloween theme plays. Gives me the chills every time!
But notice in the novelization it gives a little more character insight. After the neighbor asks the question, in the film Loomis answers immediately. But here, the reader can read Loomis’ most inner thoughts… how he held to the gun, the empty gun… how he thought to himself this is it. How he should have known that Michael was a force beyond human. And how Halloween is over. The games. The roles. The cheap thrills. Now it really begins. This is what I love about novelizations. The writer can color between the lines and give you a little more depth than the film does.
Here’s another shining example of more character insight. After Sheriff Brackett asks Loomis if he knows what Haddonfield is, we see that Loomis is at the point of exasperation with the Sheriff. How one can never expect more than a grunt from a pig, how it’s not the Sheriff’s fault that he is merely a pig in a game ruled by lions, tigers and boogeymen. And how the Sheriff’s very own term “slaughterhouse” is an appropriate metaphor for what might possibly come. God save us all. Loomis benefits greatly from the added insights that Etchison weaved in throughout, making Halloween II a wonderful companion piece to the film itself.
HALLOWEEN III by Jack Martin
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a polarizing and controversial film in the franchise. That’s mainly because it does not feature Michael Myers outside of a meta cameo. The producers had the idea of turning the Halloween franchise into an anthology series. It was universally panned when it originally came out in 1982 as moviegoers wanted more Michael but were instead given a movie about killer masks. Over the years however, namely in the last 15 years or so, Halloween III has earned something of a cult following. It is now viewed in the eyes of many as an underrated horror film that would have worked so much better if it were given any other name other than Halloween III.
I have vivid memories of renting it from Hollywood Video 25 years ago in 1994. Back then there was no internet, no YouTube, no Twitter. I had no idea the movie didn’t feature Michael Myers. I just thought from the cover and title that it would be about a killer witch teaming up with Michael to slaughter the denizens of Haddonfield, and that idea captivated the shit out of me as a 10 year old kid. Alas, there was no evil witch (in the sense that I was imagining at least) and certainly no Michael. I was PISSED. However, I finally rewatched Halloween III this past October for the first time since that disappointing night and I have to say, I really enjoyed it as an adult who was now able to get pass that whole Michael thing. It truly is an underrated horror film.
Ooh, how deliciously creepy! The back is perfectly stated and instantly makes you want to snuggle up in bed and read this book. OK, so the back is somehow inaccurate of how the real story goes but hey, I’ll give them points for creating a spooky atmosphere right away.
Something about those shapes… downright demonic. The witch in particular with its sharp pointed hat… it’s an image that has burned itself into my retina from when I first saw it in 1994. Say what you will of Halloween III, it has a badass cover and the tagline “The Night NO ONE Came Home” is a clever play off the original film’s tagline “The Night HE Came Home.”
I love the scene in the movie where the homeless guy in Santa Mira — you know, the ONE guy in town who isn’t brainwashed by Silver Shamrock — tells Cochran to go fuck himself. It was a joy reading it in the novelization. Could totally visualize the actor shouting that line with rebellious fist thrown in the air and all. The paranoia is real, bleeding off the pages, and with good reason. Some shady shit is happening in the small cultish town of Santa Mira, and it’s up to Dr. Dan Challis to find out why…
Here’s a nice added bit by Dennis Etchison. The actual film only showed a small snippet of the first Halloween film, but here Etchison dives in a little deeper. You might be wondering why, or if it’s just a bit of fan service, but the next paragraph reveals the true reason why…
Challis’ wife in the movie, Linda, was played by Nancy Kyes. She also played Annie Brackett in the first Halloween film. So after Etchison wrote about the teenage girls walking down a street in the sleepy suburbs of Haddonfield, Dan Challis sees Annie and thinks to himself, “Hmm. I know the type well. Reminds me a bit of old Linda. I’ll bet that’s what she was like at that age. Always on hand with the right remark to shoot down anybody in sight.” That part made me laugh out loud harder than I probably should have. That is worth the price of admission alone!
As Etchison wasn’t shy on doing, Halloween III has its quiet moments of introspection and philosophy. It added a lot of extra depth to the characters than what the movie was able to portray. Books can just describe a character’s innermost thoughts in a way the film medium simply cannot. While I enjoy the movie itself, the novelization of Halloween III is definitely a hit and one I plan to revisit in the years to come.
HALLOWEEN IV by Nicholas Grabowsky
The first Halloween novelization not written by Dennis Etchison (AKA Curtis Richards AKA Jack Martin) was Halloween IV. While I find the cover to be simple and cool, I wish Grabowsky had gone with the classic poster version of the actual film.
The back is a bit wordy one might say, but you gotta love that bright orange for the title and the font itself.
The book starts off with this stellar prologue, immediately hooking the reader in. Once again, as with the other Halloween novelizations, there are some extra details here and there that help to better flesh out the various characters. My favorite example of this was when Brady was brawling with Michael Myers. Before he bites the dust, Brady thinks to himself for a second HEY… what if I actually put an end to this guy and become a folk hero of Haddonfield lore? It’s small stuff like that that makes it a little more interesting.
Sadly, this is where the movie novelizations stopped for Halloween. It ended at Halloween IV in 1988. There was no novelization for Halloween V in 1989, or Halloween 6 in 1995. And so forth. Who knows why? Maybe Nicholas Grabowsky’s novel didn’t sell as well as they were hoping. Or maybe the (horror) movie novelization business as a whole was starting to die out a bit. Well, the novelizations for Halloween stopped until 30 years later, anyhow…
HALLOWEEN (2018) by John Passarella
The 40th year anniversary saw Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her beloved role as Laurie Strode. A new Halloween movie was finally coming out and it wasn’t being directed by Rob Zombie — score! Naturally, it called for a novelization, and John Passarella was the man for the job.
Weighing in at a hefty 371 pages, Halloween (2018) is no lightweight novel. John Passarella was not shy on describing set pieces or adding extra depth to the characters. If you enjoyed the film then I think you’ll enjoy the novel too. As long as the page count does not intimidate you, I’d recommend it to all fans of the film. Best of all, it’s readily available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. It won’t cost you an arm and a leg, either. I recently reached out to John Passarella for an interview and he was kind enough to accept. Enjoy the Q&A!
- When were you first exposed to Halloween (1978), and what were your thoughts?
JP: I don’t recall the first time I watched it, but it wasn’t in the theater. My guess is that I first saw it at home, probably a video rental. My mother was a big fan of horror movies at the time, while I was more of a science fiction/fantasy fan. She always had horror movies on the TV while I spent most of my free time reading. When I first saw it, I thought it was stark and effective, with a understated supernatural quality to it, while other “slasher” movies that followed seemed more interested in violence/gore for its own sake. Even then it felt unique.
- Top 5 favorite Halloween films from the franchise?
JP: I am so bad at picking favorite things, let alone ranking them. The original stands alone at the top. I enjoyed H20 when it first came out. For the Halloween (2018) novelization, since I was pressed for time (less than 2 months to write it) and was told that the movie would ignore all the sequels, I didn’t take any time to re-watch any of those films. My wife watches the original movie every Halloween season, so I watched that again this year, but I definitely need to reacquaint myself with all the sequels.
- How did you get involved in the process of penning Halloween? Did you have to make some sort of pitch or did Titan Books reach out to you?
JP: Titan Books approached me. Probably the best early email I’ve ever received! I had done several original Supernatural tie-in novels for them, plus an original Grimm novelization. And I had worked with several editors there. The editor for the Halloween novelization thought it would be a perfect fit for me.
- How long did it take for you to write the book? When did you first start drafting it? How many copies have been sold as of November 2019?
JP: I’d have to check my first contact emails, but I think it was either late March or early April of 2018. After I agreed to write the novelization and the studio approved me, I had to wait for the script to get started. I think that came in the first week of April. The novel was due by the end of May, so it was a compressed time frame. I received access to the daily film photo archive after I had already started writing the first draft. I had to backtrack and rewrite some scenes after I saw the photos of those sets/scenes. They reshot the ending and added some other scenes, mostly flashbacks and some of those still didn’t make it into the final film, but I was fortunate in that I hadn’t gotten to the ending before it was changed. I only had to write the ending once. As far as sales, I have no idea how well it did overall. It has gone into a second edition. For these work-for-hire projects, writers don’t get royalties, so we don’t get royalty statements which would show sales to-date.
- How did you feel watching the movie for the first time? Was it surreal to see your (novelization) words (more or less) being played out in front of your eyes in a capacity-filled theater?
JP: Surreal is a good word for it. I did not see the film until the premiere. At the time, I had three versions of the story bouncing around in my head. The script and revision, my novelization, and then what actually made it into the final film. There were things that were in the script, but didn’t make it into the film. Other things, mostly additional dialogue made it into the film, but wasn’t in the script at all. I made a point of including all the script dialogue, while adding a bunch of my own. Whole scenes were cut from the final film. Other scenes were really truncated. A few played out differently than they had in the script. They added a lot more humor via dialogue. And the editing of the movie had a thriller feel to it, rather than a horror/suspense film.
- There were obviously some cuts made from the movie (script) as compared to your book. Was there any one thing in particular that stuck out to you as you watched the film? Any part or scene omitted from your writing where you wish made it on the big screen? For me, I have to say the book definitely made me care more about Dana and Aaron. They were fleshed out a lot more (naturally) in your book than they were in the film. Understandable, but unfortunate nevertheless.
JP: I think the filmmakers made a choice to make the film mostly Laurie’s story, so a lot of the character development and scenes involving other characters were trimmed. Reading the script, I had this idea that Allyson was the star, so to speak, and it would be a passing of the torch from Laurie to her granddaughter. But the film leans more on Laurie vs Michael, so a lot of Allyson stuff, early on and at/after the dance, got cut to keep a reasonable running time. And, yes, Dana and Aaron had more “screen” time on the page, more scenes, more character development. That’s one thing that helps give the novelization some life and purpose outside the film. Fans can delve a bit deeper into the story and the characters.
- In the restroom scene, Dana reads a message scrawled on the side that recites Budd’s infamous “amazing grace come sit on my face” line from 1981 Halloween II. Was that in the original movie script or did you add in that nice little touch yourself? I couldn’t but smile when I read that.
JP: I can’t take credit for that line. It was in the final script, but did not make the final cut.
- It’s been a year since your novel came out. How do you feel about the book overall? Is there anything about it you wish you could have written differently or is it how you wanted it to be?
JP: I don’t know if I would have written it differently if I had seen the movie (a rough cut maybe) before I finished, but maybe. What I enjoy the most in books is suspense, so I naturally tried to create as much suspense as possible. The original film relies heavily on suspense and I took that as my model (since I knew I wouldn’t see the finished movie until its release). A couple scenes (conversations) changed a good bit from script to screen and I would have liked the book version to be closer to the finished film versions but that was out of my control. I didn’t have time to stray too far from the script’s plot, to explore any side roads or backstory, so I may always wonder about that. And in a couple places, I probably described a set in too much detail. Usually the “sets” are only in my head. This was the first time I had actual photos to describe to the reader!
- Have you been signed on to write the movie novelization for Halloween Kills and/or Halloween Ends?
JP: I’d certainly be interested in writing those novelizations, but I haven’t heard anything about them yet. The second film has finished filming but won’t be out for an entire year. The first film came out several months after filming wrapped and everything on the novelization side moved quickly so that it could come out the same time as the movie. Right now, we still have a long window, so I’m not surprised I haven’t heard anything yet. If Titan Books is planning a novelization for the second movie, I may not know until a few months into the new year.
- What do you think it is about Halloween and Michael Myers that has endured with so many fans 40+ years later and counting?
JP: The primal nature of the fear that Michael Myers represents, an unstoppable, merciless, and unknowable evil, represented by the unchanging, unflinching mask. He seems to be so much more than what we see on the surface. Loomis decides after years of examining him that he is simply evil, possibly evil incarnate.
- Advice for aspiring authors?
JP: Finish what you write. Once you finish, you have something you can use to get representation, to sell to a magazine or book publisher. And if it doesn’t sell or work for you, finish the next thing, and the next. I started writing at the age of 11, but didn’t publish my first novel until I was 37! I like to think it wouldn’t take so long if I started writing today. When I started, I relied on Writers Digest and Writer magazines, a dictionary and a set of encyclopedias (and my local library) for research, and a manual typewriter (I taught myself to type before they offered a course in school) with actual carbon copies as my only backups. These days, you have webzines, online writers groups, self-publishing tools, social media for marketing and networking, etc.
- Have you, by chance, read any of the other Halloween movie novelizations by Dennis Etchison or Nicholas Grabowsky?
JP: No, though I’d like to hunt down a copy of the original movie novelization. It seems they are hard to come by these days.
- What’s next for John Passarella?
JP: Thanks for your interest in my writing and the Halloween novelization. I’m working on a fourth novel in my Wendy Ward (Wither) series right now, but it’s not under contract, which means I don’t have deadline pressure pushing me to the finish line. I don’t suffer from writer’s block, per se, but procrastination is a real hurdle. I work much better and faster when there is a looming deadline!
Thank you once again to John Passarella for taking time out of his busy schedule. All the best in your future projects!
HALLOWEEN: THE CHANGING SHAPE OF AN ICONIC SERIES by Ernie Magnotta
Last but not least, we come to Ernie Magnotta’s Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series. This is a comprehensive retrospective on the series that covers the entire franchise sans Halloween III and the 2018 version (it came out just one day after that film premiered). It’s an impressive tome of Halloween knowledge that comes highly recommended. It’s currently on sale on Amazon as of this writing. Its original price is $49.99 but it’s been slashed to $36.47. I bought a copy earlier this year and it’s definitely a must-have item for any diehard fan of the franchise.
Although not a novelization, being so damn impressive, I had to list and feature it as well. No Halloween fan is complete without it!
I enjoyed reading all five Halloween novelizations this past October. They’re worth seeking out if you love the movies and you enjoy reading. The older ones will be a bit pricey, but c’mon, it’s HALLOWEEN. Everyone’s entitled to one good scare! If I had to rank and rate each book out of 5 stars, it would go as follows:
1. Halloween ****½
2. Halloween IV ****
3. Halloween III ****
4. Halloween (2018) ***½
5. Halloween II ***
BONUS: THE PAPERBACK HUNT
So with these older books, it’s always fun to find a stamp inside the book telling you which paperback store it once belonged to eons ago.
Two of the Halloween novels I bought off eBay came courtesy of Westgate Book Exchange in Las Vegas. What a trip!
A quick online search and I found the place! It was fascinating to see the store pictures and visualize where my Halloween books came from however many years ago. Sadly, they seemed to have closed some time in 2015.