john cribbs

Novelizations Are People, Too.

Well I've been threatening to do this for a while now, so here it is: the launching of my new series on movie novelizations. I've always been fascinated by these disreputable cash-in media oddities, ever since my days as a movie-starved youngster who would read and re-read the paperback versions of favorite films in the months between their theatrical debut and home video release (I remember specifically reading Rob MacGregor's adaptation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade three times during one interminable science fair.) I won't take time in this introduction to relate the many pleasures of the novelization, several of them discussed in Grady Hendrix's great article in Film Comment.* I'll try to scatter those across the series as I address a question nobody's ever cared enough to ask: is there any kind of value to be found in movie novelizations?


jack martin (a.k.a dennis etchison), 1982

special thanks to Ian Loffill

The towel fell away from the boy's face. Tears were streaming down his cheeks and blood percolated out of his open mouth. He was hunched over like an old man. See? thought Laurie. Look what Halloween did to him.

Michael Myers didn't put the razor blade in that little boy's candy. How could he when he was preoccupied breaking into hardware stores, defacing the chalkboard of the local school and snacking on freshly killed dog, not to mention his staring-past-the-wall, post-killing downtime? The night he came home was a busy one for the big guy, and I doubt he had time to leave wicked surprises for credulous kids who, like trusting Tommy Doyle, were under the naïve impression that Halloween was all doorbells and sugar daddies. As the opening credits of Halloween II reveal, there's something beneath the jack o'lantern that's ancient and evil, something beyond human comprehension that has no purpose but to senselessly slaughter and destroy. What, you never heard of Samhain? Druids and sacrifice? Does Loomis really have to take time out of his obsessive Myers hunting and mumbling to give you a lecture on the insidious origins of an unholy holiday homogenized through the centuries until it became a harmless excuse to egg houses? John Carpenter, his producing partner Debra Hill and production designer/protégé Tommy Lee Wallace, starting with the first sequel to their surprise 1978 hit, made a commendable if not entirely successful attempt at establishing an ambiance derived from the malignant nature of All Hallow's Eve's sinister character by portraying an evil even more abstract than the amorphous murder spree of the Shape, the star of what on the surface is a straightforward slasher originally titled The Babysitter Murders. That said evil corrupts the innocent is suggested in the opening scene of the series' first film in which a 6-year-old Myers grabs a knife, dons a mask and butchers his older sister, thus reclaiming the rite of trick 'r treating for October 31st's malevolent founders. However the idea that Myers was spawned from some kind of greater, impenetrable Absolute Evil - while alluded to by a raving Loomis in Carpenter's movie - is subtly introduced in Halloween II (a sequel that makes Myers less mysterious by introducing further family ties and a motivation for him going after Laurie Strode) by the insertion of its seemingly extraneous razor blade scene, which, in hindsight, was a way for the filmmakers to shift focus from their franchise boogeyman to a larger prospect of horror scenarios. Forget Michael Myers, Carpenter and company hint - there's lots of anthologizible evil happening on Halloween, like, say, this tale of druids rigging masks with chips of rock from Stonehenge that will destroy children en masse: one giant transmitted razor blade across America.

Interestingly though, the razor blade scene, which is no more than a kid with a shiny shard of crude steel protruding from his gaping upper lip being hastened to the hospital by his somewhat alarmingly composed mother, didn't appear in the theatrical print or subsequent home video releases of Halloween II. This cut (nyuck nyuck) makes sense when you consider the scene has nothing to do with the narrative - the pair end up at the same pediatric ward as Laurie but are presumably discharged long before Michael Myers arrives to carry out his unfinished business - although another explanation for its excision might have something to do with it being a "a vile and gratuitous bit of evil," in the words of Harlan Ellison.** Whatever the official reason, for several years, until the scene was reinstated into the movie on dvd, the only place this scene existed was in film's novelization, written by Jack Martin. Not only is the unlucky tyke part of the narrative (in the film he's just kind of there), he serves as a sick reminder to a near-traumatized Laurie that unconscionable evil is a part of the world that has to be faced; the realization rejuvenates her for a time. Novelizations can provide background that movies don't have the time or the correct tools of expression to communicate the way a writer can in a book, and they anticipated the Halloween series' move to more specifically Halloween-based mischief well ahead of the films themselves. Curtis Richards wrote original novelization, which apparently expands on the holiday's dark background.***

Richards' book opens:

The horror started on the eve of Samhain, in a foggy vale in northern Ireland, at the dawn of the Celtic race. And once started, it trod the earth forevermore, wreaking its savagery suddenly, swiftly, and with incredible ferocity.

Wow - and here I thought the horror started with Sam Hain, Judith Myers' boyfriend, trying to cop a feel of her foggy vale in suburban Illinois before her parents got home or her little brother stabbed her to death (whichever happened first.) Poetic license is the leisure of novelisers (either because the studios who commission them demand a certain flourish to the writing or, more likely, don't care) and Richards uses the prologue to relate the sad tale of a 15-year-old disfigured boy named Enda who, in a fit of passion, murders King Gwynwyll's daughter Deirdre and is thereby doomed to have his soul walk the earth forever searching for bodies to possess so that he can endlessly reenact his brutal crime. The book goes on to explain how the awkward Myers boy becomes host to this ancient spirit, reporting in detail his murder of Judith and subsequent evaluations by Dr. Loomis. In the Halloween II novelization, Jack Martin continues the development of Myers as having a supernatural origin prior to surviving six piddling bullets to the chest in the first chapter, using the film's characterization of Loomis to further this idea:

Loomis cocked the hammer with both thumbs and sighted at the mask. It had been raised only an instant, but long enough to reveal the inconceivably bland, emotionless features of a face free of any feeling, a creature so devoid of any recognizable human expression that it was capable of absolutely anything. It could as easily tear the arms and legs from a human being as from a fly, with no inner restraints, conscience, guilt. No hesitation. No consideration of the consequences, and no remorse. NO CONSCIENCE. A perfect killing machine, a pure and simple alien ego devoted entirely to its own subhuman purposes. It had not been born of man and woman - through them, but not of them. An imposter in humanlike form, a simulacrum catapulted here across generations of evolution from the dawn of prehistory to subvert and destroy the accomplishments of an entire species.

Tell me that's not exactly what Loomis was thinking when he saw Michael Myers' face. Suggesting that Myers hails from "the dawn of prehistory," whether it's Richards' disfigured druid boy or something less palpable, seemed to open the floor to new ideas. "Indeed," Carpenter later said of the series, "there were no more stories to tell. All you could do is what Friday the 13th did, which was to repeat the action sequences and make them gorier. I was trying with Halloween III to expand the concept, make it like there were different Halloween stories to tell. But the audience hated it and everybody got mad at me because they thought I destroyed their franchise." Carpenter wanted to use the series to "give young directors a chance to make their first film and maybe want different stories."

The first young director he approached was Joe Dante, fresh off The Howling, who in turn recommended old writer Nigel Kneale to handle the screenplay. Carpenter was a fan of Kneale, a legend across the pond for his creation of the iconic Professor Bernard Quatermass and his four serialized adventures (the first three adapted into feature films by Hammer Productions), so even though Dante ended up moving on to Gremlins the Manx writer was commissioned to do a treatment. Kneale quickly came up with an idea, essentially re-working a serial he'd written about a TV signal that makes teenagers commit suicide called The Big Big Giggle (which was roundly rejected by the BBC who feared real-life imitations) into a story of a crazed Irish toy manufacturer with a similarly outrageous scheme. The deranged mogul ships out Halloween masks fitted with a sliver of Stonehenge (part of which he's managed to smuggle to the states; funny, since Myers' murders in Halloween are preceded by the removal of a stone from its place in the earth: Judith's tombstone) from his home base in a small California town which, not unlike Quatermass II's Winnderden Flats, has been taken over by the villains and is patrolled by robotic armed guards from the factory.**** When activated by a subliminal flashing light on the Silver Shamrock ads, the chips cause mask wearers to literally bug out (that is, their heads melt and snake and insects emerge from their skulls.) Humanity's only hope is a successful yet down-to-earth common man, a familiar Kneale staple representing what Quatermass IV director Piers Haggard referred to as the "tremendous re-assertion of the importance of people, ordinary people, and how necessary they are in fighting evil."

Other similarities between Kneale's script for Carpenter and Quatermass II are the Halloween III baddie's habit of taking over good people's bodies (Ellie), the hero meeting a tramp who knows more than he should (for his part, Carpenter would let the homeless get their revenge by becoming the murderous goons in Prince of Darkness, then by becoming the heroes who crush the conspiracy in They Live) and an unbearable hick family, complete with obnoxious son, who are executed (almost comically) by the bad guys. Funnily enough, the most Kneale-like inclusion - the evil power coming from the transported Blue Stone of Stonehenge - was not from Kneale's draft, even though only three years earlier he had supernatural forces harnessed from the powerful Stonehenge-ish Neolithic site Ringstone Round killing children (and a dog) in his fourth and final Quatermass serial.

Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace (possibly at the urging of distributor Dino De Laurentiis) took a shot at making Kneale's script less talky and more thrilling. They brought some of their own references to the story, most of them from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They set the story in the same fictional town (Santa Mira, California - changed from Kneale's Sun Hills) and rewrote the ending so that it reflects and pays tribute to Siegel's film, with the hero running around trying unsuccessfully to warn people of an inconceivable threat to the world, after the love interest has had her body "snatched" and replaced, in Halloween III's case by a murderous robot (more on that later.) Like Miles Bennell the leading man is a doctor, consequently he's never able to get any sleep: he's disturbed trying to catch some z's by the discovery of a murdered man in the hospital, later in a hotel room he complains about being seduced when he just wants to sleep. "I see this film as more a 'pod' movie than a 'knife' movie," producer Debra Hill once remarked of the series' transformation, and she's right - it's almost a missed opportunity that they didn't cast Kevin McCarthy as the conniving Conal Cochran (I say "almost" because Dan O'Herlihy is great in the role.)

Carpenter and Wallace's movie also references the previous Halloweens, complete with a tagline - "The night nobody comes home!" - that plays beautifully off the original's while seemingly raising the stakes for its characters and an opening scene of the killer stalking his prey in a hospital much like Halloween II. At the same time, there was a clear distancing from what had come before: it seems almost subversive to replace the unquestionably evil Myers with a bad guy so giddy about his outlandish plot you're almost rooting for him (just compare Halloween III to another Carpenter sequel, Escape from L.A., which ends with a worldwide act of wanton terrorism that is perpetrated by the anti-hero rather than the villain.) In another subtle stab at de-powering the Shape and his lust for dominant killing, Nancy Loomis, throttled to death as victim Annie Brackett in Part 1 and whose death was verified by wheeling out her corpse in Part 2, appears alive and well playing Challis' spirited ex-wife (amusingly, in real life she later became the ex-wife of Tommy Lee Wallace.)

But it wasn't just the ditching of Michael Myers that made the next addition to the series different. The Halloween gang didn't just want to tell a different story, they wanted the series to grow up a little. The first movie takes place in schools and neighborhood streets and involves pranks and pumpkin carving - even the killer starts out as a kid. Part II's hospital setting is more grown-up, but presented as a place where young people shouldn't have to find themselves at the twilight hour: its weirdness is based on teenage Laurie (and to an extent the young EMT Jimmy) being out of her environment in this sudden adult world; the setting's changed, but it's still seen through a "young" perspective. Halloween III takes it in a whole new direction: it's not a movie about teenagers made for teenagers, it's about adults facing the threat of terrible violence against their children, whereas the parents were notably absent in the first two installments. The transition from 'knife' movie to something else meant a new attitude for the series, and the least successful elements of HIII have to do with Carpenter and Wallace trying to recreate the world of the film to fit this new mold. Obviously, any attempt to do so was just going to be confusing to the series' audience; at the time, Wallace stated "It is our intention to create an anthology out of the series, sort of along the lines of Night Gallery, or The Twilight Zone, only on a much larger scale, of course." That this decision probably should have been made before the release of a direct sequel with the same characters that picked up the exact same place the first movie left off apparently occurred to no one. For his part, Kneale, famous for being cranky, outspoken and generally dissatisfied even before he was old and bitter, had this to say: "I wrote what I thought was one of my best scripts. If they'd done it the way I wrote it, it would have been a good film, no question." So there was no chance that Kneale, who had novelised all four of his own Quatermass stories, would be handling the Season of the Witch novelization.

That duty, as with Halloween II, fell again to Jack Martin. Martin is in reality Dennis Etchison, the excellent fantasy writer/editor whose much-anthologized story "The Late Shift" first appeared in Kirby McCauley's seminal collection Dark Forces and has gone on to became one of the most recognized short works of the late 70's/early 80's horror fiction boom. It also appeared in the author's The Dark Country, its cover bolstered by the oft-attributed blurb "Etchison is one hell of a fiction writer! - Stephen King." "Jack Martin" is actually the protagonist of the eponymous award-winning story, an uninspired artist on a joyless vacation at a Mexican beach resort. Having already set himself apart from events at the dismal locale, Martin spends the second half of the story as a practically nonexistent observer, watching as his friend and other American tourists cover up an awful crime that occurred late the previous night. It's Martin's disengagement and indifference as he observes this gruesome spectacle that makes the brilliantly moderate narrative so unsettling. So maybe that's why Etchison used the name to write his novelizations: he wanted a certain amount of detachment from the material while possibly acknowledging that he, like aloof and impotent artist Jack, wasn't 100% into the assignment ("Dark Country" isn't written in first person, so the extent of Etchison's personal identification with Martin is debatable.) Not to suggest that there's nothing worthwhile to be found in his take on Halloween III (see next page), but although Etchison is a hugely respected author of short stories, half of his novels are novelizations, suggesting that it's in short fiction that he thrives (and he really does: just check out the the last sequence of "Dark Country" where he writes about the death of Karl Wallenda, it's breathtaking.) According to Etchison, the novelizations took "around six weeks each" to write (as opposed to the 1 1/2 to 2 years it takes him to write an original novel) and his ultimate motivation for writing them came from a professional relationship with Carpenter,***** for whom he had previously novelised The Fog (under his own name), that resulted in an offer to let Etchison take a crack at an original script for Halloween IV. Etchison is a Native Californian, which made him ideal to adapt The Fog and Halloween III, both specifically California-based (the third Halloween didn't try to pass for the midwest like the first two entries) and the Halloween III job provided him with a challenging lead character whose head he could break open to see what he found inside. That, and one giant razor blade.

In a bravura act of cheeky post-modernism, Etchison (as Jack Martin) dedicates the Halloween III novelization to himself*- (why not, it's a payday right?) The book, along with a traditional (possibly fabricated) Halloween verse is prefaced with quotes from Thomas Hardy and Kenneth Patchen. Etchison has gone on record as admiring fellow Californian Patchen, but the use of Hardy seems at first like a real stretch until one considers the connections between the author's work and the Halloween series. For example, Jude the Obscure's morose young son "Little Father Time" murders his siblings, just like lil' Michael Myers. The Return of the Native made a clear impression on the makers of Halloween IV, who chose the subtitle The Return of Michael Myers (what do I have to do, draw you a map here?) And it's been a while since I read it, but I'm pretty sure The Mayor of Casterbridge concludes with one character killing himself and the bullet-blinded masked killer by flicking a lighter and blowing up a room full of gas a'la Halloween II. Seriously though, Hardy did write a score of gothic tales, one called "Barbara of the House of Grebe" - referred to by T.S. Eliot as unleashing "a world of pure evil" - about a handsome man who's horribly burned and forced to wear a hideous flesh-colored mask. Even more relevant to Season of the Witch is where the police find Angel and Tess of the d'Urbervilles after she's murdered Alec: Stonehenge. That's right - Tess is discovered sleeping against one of the mighty rocks, having found peace following her homicidal act despite the site's "loneliness and black solitude." Clearly Hardy, nearly a century before Carpenter and Wallace, recognized a connection between the monument and death. The epigraph Etchison chose for his novelization is a parphrasing of a line from Hardy's poem In Tenebris II: "If a way to the better there be, it lies in taking a full look at the worst." This sets up Etchison's entire approach to the story and to the character arc of Dr. Dan Challis, who goes from a near-suicidal despair you never would have guessed existed in good-humored Tom Atkin's performance from the movie to a different kind of desperation: with a sudden urgency to save the world from Cochran's evil plan, he musters every ounce of power within him to escape from Santa Mira, far from the maddening crowd of android thugs, and get the word out.

Moving into the book, Etchison starts things off playfully by teasing fans of the first two movies who might have read the novel before seeing Halloween III or reading somewhere that the film didn't feature or even mention Michael Myers. Traveling on the California road one dark night, Challis happens to catch out of the corner of his eye, not once but several times, an uncommonly large person...coming in slow, oddly regular steps without saying anything. Sound familiar? Described more than once as a "shape" that emerges from the darkness, this recurring figure is never identified outright although it's later alluded to have been several different similar-looking robot henchmen in the employ of Conal Cochran, their threatening gait and ominous silence the closest the movie came to featuring an unstoppable, inescapable killer (even though the robots could just as easily be likened to the expressionless, non-verbal, slow-moving ghostly clipper ship crew of The Fog or the possessed street people from Prince of Darkness.) Other than these similar stalking butchers, the only reference to Myers in the movie is the original Halloween playing on tv, and it's a scene without him in it.

Michael Myers does make an appearance, it would seem, in a dream sequence unique to the novelization. Consumed by alcohol and bewilderment over recent horrific events, Challis dreams of children walking under a red and orange sky in Halloween costumes: The children, Challis understood with the sudden clarity of dream logic, had disguised themselves so as to pass through this place without harm. They were crying out to warn each other of danger. This is a nice reference to the origins of the holiday and the medieval practice of souling, when peasants would placate evil spirits by dressing like them to avoid being harmed by the agents of evil. But it backfires on these dream-devised kids when they come upon A tall, very tall figure... apparently a priest of some kind. (The children) trusted him because of the way he was dressed. Of course, Myers is able to move stealthily amongst the population of Haddonfield the night of the 31st because of his own "costume;" in his dark outfit and high collar, he could very well have been mistaken for a priest. The very tall figure leads the kids to the center of rocks which jutted out of the ground like jagged teeth - Stonehenge, duh - only to turn around and reveal: It had no face, only blank, fleshy white skin with no discernible and icy eyes lost behind dark slits. It was a face without guilt or remorse or compassion or any vestige of human feeling. In other words, a blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes lacking the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong? Etchison then reveals the Shape's most sinister prop: The figure produced a long, shining device from behind its robe. The object gleamed there long and curved and silver-red in the eye of the sunrise. A knife. While Myers probably doesn't have a robe hanging in his closet, the blade's as dead a giveaway as any. Etchison wraps up the dream with the first hint of the global and historical threat Myers/Cochran/the evil of Halloween present to the world: The children screamed. Their screams became the mourning wail of human beings everywhere, begging for mercy and the future of their race as the sky became red and runes of blood divided the landscape of the world. Challis snaps out of the dream just as Ellie asks "Want an apple?" a possible allusion to the razor blade sequence from Halloween II. ("Trying to keep the doctor away, eh?" is Challis' glib response.)

Etchison's figure may or may not be meant to evoke Myers, but the writer definitely plays with the killer's presence from the two previous movies, specifically by titling the first section of the novel "The Night He Came Home Again." This play on the first film's famous tagline is just a tease: the one returning home is Challis, visiting his former residence to drop off presents for his two kids and hopefully fend off his easily-irritated ex-wife. The doc is a wreck, his alcoholism more apparent than in the movie where he's seen unwinding in a bar and casually bringing a six-pack along for the ride to Santa Mira. He harbors a lot more resentment towards his ex-wife and even his kids, at least as far as the loss of his fatherhood duties and affections: now he has to buy them presents when he goes over to see them. Challis isn't quite ready to make like ol' Charlie Bowles and take a hacksaw to his family, but this resentment sets up an interesting comparison to Cochran, a man who really hates kids for no apparent reason. His abhorrent plot that threatens to magically eviscerate not only Challis' estranged kids but all the happy families who shopped Silver Shamrock this October will eventually bring Dan around to his imminent parental obligations, keeping children safe from the Halloween threat. Just as Michael Myers "came home" to literally sever his final family ties, Challis' belief that he can never go home again will get turned around when he realizes his family is in danger and require his protection. (There's an extended mask-buying sequence in the book that isn't anywhere in the film - at first it seems like Etchison might be going off Kneale's script, in which Challis is the one to purchase the Silver Shamrock masks for his kids rather than the ex-wife. Instead he sticks with Wallace's change, to have the awful ex-wife responsible for bringing the implements of destruction into the house. I think Kneale was right on this one: Challis bringing home the popular masks would have given the ex-wife more motivation to be mad at him and show that he's a good dad despite his kids' apparent greed. It would also have upped the stakes of stopping Silver Shamrock if he was the one directly responsible - albeit innocently - for his children being put in jeopardy. But oh well.)

These are character beats that Etchison can develop and take time with in a way that the screenplay simply couldn't afford to: in fact the whole book is all about Challis. He's in every scene and nothing happens that doesn't play out through his perspective, which means that every murder scene from the movie - except the memorable end of the Kupfer family, which Challis witnesses - occurs off-page. Grimbridge? The reader follows Challis as he runs down the hospital hallway and recoils at the sight of the man's freshly-crushed eyeballs (the opening chase found in both Kneale and Wallace's scripts is nowhere to be found.) The helpful homeless guy? Challis glances his helpful headless body in the back of a van. Poor Marge Guttman, who prematurely sets off the face-melting chip? Challis hears her scream and gets an eyeful of her melted face when he heads over to her hotel room to investigate. Challis doesn't see what happened to Marge in the film; in the book he's the one who meets her beforehand rather than Ellie, one of several scenes where another character's dialogue from the movie ends up spoken by Challis. The character of Teddy, Challis' loyal female forensics buddy who apparently never goes home, changes clothes or leaves her desk and ultimately ends up getting her skull drilled, is eliminated from the novel entirely. In Etchison's mind, this is Challis' story, so we see what he does. This is a typical Etchison formula, found in his best-known stories: a drunk Jack Martin doesn't witness the brutal crime in "The Dark Country," and what exactly happened is obscured by the group of men desperate to cover it up. In "The Late Shift," his lead character doesn't witness the attack on his friend by mysterious corporate henchmen and meets up with him in the hospital, similar to the reworked Challis/Grimbridge relationship in the novelization ("Late Shift" even ends with its lead failing to escape the same henchmen in a strange town and unsuccessfully calling for help from a phone booth just like Challis right before the last reel of Halloween III.) This is what works for the writer, and may explain why his Halloween II novelization feels a little jumbled, with three different storylines to cut back and forth between, not to mention the minor characters who command the narrative in the scenes where they're dispatched: it's hard to build a character only to kill them all within a couple pages.

The singular Challis perspective and limiting of non-Challis observed kill scenes makes for an interesting change, since it tones down the slasher-type violence peppered throughout the movie, which is presumably what Carpenter and Wallace added that so disgusted Nigel Kneale. "They were not just cutting it, but putting tatty bogie stuff in - slashing eyeballs and all that kind of awful crap," Kneale later reported. "(My script) was about magic, not spiking people's eyeballs and drilling through their heads with electric drills. The thrills were coming through bits of violence rather than implication and hints. The main story had to do with deception, psychological shocks rather than physical ones." While it's kind of hilarious that Kneale would really take the high ground against the inclusion of violent scenes when his plot hinged on the mass murder of children, his complaints about Carpenter's excessive violence recall the production of Halloween II, for which Carpenter somewhat famously directed more gore-friendly reshoots after Rick Rosenthal's first cut was deemed "not scary enough." In his Halloween II novelization, Etchison not only featured one of the scenes Carpenter had added - the murder of the random teenage girl at the beginning ("The blood shot out in all directions from the extra mouth that now opened beneath her chin") - but even included an additional murder of a female reporter who's no more than a background character in one scene of the movie (this presumably his own invention.) As evidenced in the stories I mentioned, Etchison's reputation in the horror field draws from his subtle approach; he's not one to sensationalize his writing with lots of tatty bogie stuff like the Splatterpunk kids who'd emerge in the mid- to late-80's in the wake of Clive Barker. Carpenter was also once known as a director more concerned with atmosphere than what the inside of his characters looked like, making Halloween II (which doubled the body count of the first film and included throat slashings, eye stabbings and a nude scaldingly-hot tub drowning) something of a departure for both Etchison and the once-moderate director who was now insisting the movie needed more brutal slayings. Arguably, Carpenter never really looked back - while his subsequent horror films from The Thing to Ghosts of Mars are nothing if not atmospheric, they're also not shy in the graphic gut-ripping and decapitation departments. Not that I'm someone to unreasonably insist that explicit violence and gore are necessarily representative of lack of imagination or a substitute for creative storytelling.*-- It's just interesting to note that, while Halloween III is as full of nasty killings as its predecessor, Etchison took a firmly different approach to the violence than in his Halloween II novelization.

He even handles the appalling dispatching of the insufferable Kupfer family with a surprising sensitivity those familiar with the film may have thought infeasible. The movie's most infamous sequence, the scene reveals Cochran's plan when his television commercial sets off the chip in the mask worn by Buddy Jr., causing his skull to disgorge snakes and crickets (Etchison has the good sense to change the crickets to spiders "the size of a black hand") that subsequently attack and kill the parents, making them the first in a projected long line of Silver Shamrock victims (Carpenter would return to the "body dissolving into bugs" bit in the "pray for death" scene of Prince of Darkness.) Kneale, who Carpenter recalls painting an unflattering portrait of teenaged horror movie fans, was undeniably critical of ugly Americans and yokel families in general, hence the similarly "funny" death of a picnicking trailer park father, mother and selfish son in Quatermass II (for Carpenter's part, kids are killed in Assault on Precinct 13, threatened in Halloween and The Fog, evil in In the Mouth of Madness and the Village of the Damned remake.) Etchison's "Dark Country" has shades of Kneale's cynicism (and he gives a little shout-out to Kneale in the Halloween III novelization by having Five Million Years to Earth, the U.S. title for Hammer's verison of Quatermass and the Pit, announced as part of a Halloween movie line-up, along with Carpenter's original movie) but he shows more compassion for the crass Kupfer clan as they're under assault from "the stoboscopic effect, speeded up until the room was blazing under a machine-gun assault of orange phosphor." He describes Buddy Sr.'s horror "as the defiled head of his only son opened like the doorway to another dimension and spewed forth darkness and decay," and how he "wept impotently, pounding his fist into the carpet which now crawled with the unspeakable malformations of nature's underside." This is the furthest Etchison allows the narrative to move away from Challis: although he's watching everything happen on a TV monitor, he's physically absent from the horrors inflicted inside the "test room." By temporarily switching to Buddy Sr.'s psychological state at the destruction of his family, Etchison creates a correlation between the two characters that one wouldn't quickly reach watching the movie. For one thing, their names - Challis and Kupfer - are somewhat alike, a "chalice" being a classier kind of "cup" in which to collect the unfathomable horrors of Santa Mira.*--- Challis' kids, in the film and book, aren't portrayed any more sympathetically than Buddy Jr.: when their father arrives at the house, they demand presents, instantly reject them and openly display their mother's "better" gifts in front of Challis, pulling on their beloved masks, turning on the TV and ignoring him entirely. The visual link between them and Buddy Jr. in front of the TV in his mask are undeniable, and since each are wearing a different mask, together they make up the "Halloween Three." Whatever level of estrangement or pampering went into their children, both men are fathers and find themselves equalized by Cochran's global act of terror.

Etchison makes these connections clearer and limits the amount of reckless violence because he wants the loss of life to feel heavier, the ultimate thing at risk greater than the first movies' threat to the rows of Haddonfield houses. Cochran lines the entire nation up for a slaughterhouse, as displayed in the montage showing Shamrock-rocking kids across America getting ready for Halloween. Etchison obviously needed this assembly of images to add weight to the potential consequences of Cochran's plan, and, in a bit of novelization magic, he manages to maintain Challis' perspective by having the doctor see them on tv after he's been captured and left tied up wearing a mask (almost mockingly, the same skeleton mask as his son.) To present the innocent population of Phoenix and blithe skateboarders of Baton Rouge directly to the hero rather than the audience as Tommy Lee Wallace did, Etchison brings the threat directly to him and awakens his resolve. Determined to thwart the transmission of the deadly signal, he thinks about one of his nurses - a minor character from the movie - and her selfless dedication to helping children. She did it because they needed her, because she needed them, because they needed her, because she needed them. And so the circle of self-perpetuating life continued. Hardly powered by the stone relics of a doomed past. But a living energy that dwells in all that breathes. It's funny that Etchison presents the idea of a self-perpetuating circle as contrast to Stonehenge, a seemingly eternal circle (although it's incomplete now that Cochran's stolen the Blue Stone - thus disrupting the circle of life? Hm.) Challis further overcomes his fear and finds comfort in the realization that there are only two screams worth heeding...The scream that ushers in the beginning of life. And the scream that ends it. All the others in between are useless indulgences.

Ultimately, Challis finds himself at this conclusion:

That's the trouble with plays no favorites. And it respects no one. Well, we may all be living under a sentence of death; we are born into it; that is our fallen lot. But we don't have to embrace it until the last vital taste of life has turned to dust in our mouths. There are those whose job it is to make what's left as free of pain and suffering as possible. And I am one of them...He had come a long way, but it was worth it. He had avoided it down the nights and the years. But at last he had found it again. He had a purpose. And he was alive.

Loomis is driven by his goal to stop Michael Myers, and now - in the last remaining chapters of the book - Challis has found his own reason to live. Recalling the Hardy quote, he's taken a good look at the worst that could happen and found a better way to live than moving from one bar to another, fighting with his ex-wife, stumbling from one meaningless relationship to the next. Rather than spend his days dying in front of the TV, he does what every good parent should and gets the TVs turned off, striking against its opiate power at the same time he's actively putting an end to the more concrete threat (although perhaps not completely: the book shares the movie's ambiguous yet ill-boding cliffhanger climax.)

That threat of course is the insidious evil of Conal Cochran, the mischievious Irishman**- who looks forward to his little "joke on the children." Childlike himself, and noted inventor of sticky toilet paper, the soft chainsaw and the Dead Dwarf gag (wonderful touches left over from Kneale's script), he's written by Etchison like a Roald Dahl character, an evil Willie Wonka (or, more precisely, Benny Hill's good-hearted Toymaker melded with Robert Helpmann's fiendish Child Catcher from Dahl's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang script.)**-- His plan to immolate childen in the name of ancient evil/druids/Samhain is related in the novel through his creepy countenance, his lecherous movements mangled with the sick pleasure of a pedophile: Cochran unwrapped the mask and installed it over the little boy's head, taking great pains to adjust it perfectly so that the neck flap with the Silver Shamrock trade seal was positioned exactly at the base of Little Buddy's skull. Then Conal Cochran clapped his hands with childlike satisfaction and let the boy go. After defeat, Cochran gets a lengthy description close to Etchison's portrait of Myers-seen-through-Loomis in Halloween II, fostering the idea that Cochran's brand of evil is as unkillable as the physical threat of Michael Myers:

Cochran was nothing new, whatever his latest disguise. He and the dark forces he represented had been around in one form or another since the beginning of time; there was no good reason to believe something so ancient had really been destroyed in a blaze of fireworks in a small town on a cold autumn night. This year's dark venture was like a rerun on the Late, Late, Very Late Show, an endless loop re-enacting the last reels of the same relentless stalking of the heart of the American dream. It had always been so...He would come to movie theaters and TV screens over and over in untiring replays for as long as people turned away and pretended he was not really there; for that very refusal gave him unopposed entrance to their innermost lives. Nothing ever stopped his coming and nothing ever would stop it, not for as long as people deferred the issue of his existence to the realm of fantasy fiction, that elaborate system of popular mythology which provided the essence of his access...For now, he was still advancing, merely shifting from one field of view to another, larger one, from a single television screen to the televised psyches of a nation. Challis shuddered.

Smart of Etchison to use the TV theme there. In terms of politics, Carpenter and Kneale were clearly of the same mind as far as television being a potentially life-draining, mind-altering medium of mass control. Carpenter returned to subliminal messages transmitted through the tube in They Live, thematically similar to the Kneale-written Year of the Sex Olympics, in which the lower classes are kept in line by a government-controlled media that offers a steady stream of broadcast pornography and, eventually, sanctioned murder on television (the series anticipated the reality TV craze by decades.) I'd say Etchison doesn't have much use for this, although the running horrorthon featured in the background of all three of the first Halloween films (at the Doyle house in Part 1, in the hospital break room in II, at the bar and leading up to the "big giveaway" in III) pops up now and then in the novel, suggesting television's ubiquitousness.

Most of the movies' use of technology is downplayed, especially the robots. Although "The Late Shift" has mindless automatons like the henchmen androids of HIII (and a corporate conspiracy), Etchison never seems very interested in them. Something one hopes for diving into a novelization is that it might clear up a few of the movie's loose ends or explain some of its more abstract ideas. Unfortunately Etchison doesn't resolve the issue of Ellie, like when exactly she was "replaced" by a robot. Was she a robot the whole time? It's less than 24 hours max between her abduction and the appearance of her fully-functional mechanical doppelganger. But if she was a robot the whole time, why would she have involved Challis in the first place and put the whole operation at jeopardy? Why would she have emotions, have sex, be upset at the sight of her father's hidden car? If she was "replaced" between the time she was taken and when Challis rescues her, what happened to the real Ellie? One assumes she's dead, but we never find out. Was her body used to create the organic shell of the automaton?

One possible explanation for avoiding these explanations is that Etchison felt making Ellie a robot was dumb and wanted to get it out of the way of the Challis narrative that suited him more. What Etchison does do is try to make sense of Ellie's change of character, which Challis doesn't seem to even notice in the movie: she doesn't say anything,  she seems shell-shocked. Etchison has Cochran explain that she's been regressed to child-like state, and will forever have the mentality of a six-year-old. She even plays a bigger part in the conquering of Silver Shamrock: instead of Challis tossing the chips into the group of scientist-bots and frying them, a child-like Ellie scatters them over the 'final processing' lab under the impression that she's releasing "little birds." She seems like she's confused and doesn't know what she's doing, which would explain why she doesn't immediately turn on Challis, and when she attacks him in the car later Etchison makes it so that seems to have "awakened" to her robot purpose. It's still pretty clunky and doesn't make a lot of sense, but at least it's more interesting.

If the transition from Halloween II to Halloween III wasn't successful for the Carpenter gang, at least it was for Etchison. Season of the Witch, while no classic like his best work, allowed him to tackle some of the themes he's best known for and turn a weird little thriller into an existential reawakening for the main character. Sadly, his apparent attempt to do something new and interesting with Halloween IV didn't work out: Etchison's pals Carpenter and Hill backed out of the Halloween franchise after Part III, and Moustapha Akkad rejected the draft, calling it "too cerebral" and insisting that any new Halloween sequel would have to feature Myers as a flesh and blood killer. Etchison kept in good spirits about his indirect involvement with the series, even making a reference to there being a "Halloween 5" in his 1986 novel Darkside (the lead character in the book composes film scores, seemingly for mostly cheap horror flicks, and "Halloween 5" is his next project, this prior to the release of Halloween IV and before Michael Myers was confirmed to return to the series.) Since Nigel Kneale surrendered his credit on HIII, Carpenter decided to channel him vicariously by making a movie about a team of scientists who accidentally unleash a dark, malevolent force (a'la Kneale's The Stone Tape) that emits from a bizarre archaeological object discovered underground (Quatermass and the Pit.) He wrote the screenplay for Prince of Darkness under the name "Martin Quatermass," and included a reference to "Kneale University."(Kneale's opinion of the movie? "For the record I have had nothing to do with the film and I have not seen it. It sounds pretty bad. With an homage like this, one might say, who needs insults? I can only imagine that it is a whimsical riposte for my having my name removed from a film I wrote a few years ago [Halloween III] and which Mr Carpenter carpentered into sawdust.") Also featured in Prince of Darkness? Thom Bray playing a character named Etchison.

~ 2012 ~
*It's not online but here's a similar piece {LINK} he did for Slate Magazine.
** Ellison's rant against the movie and other horror/thriller/slasher/"knife kill" movies of the era, featured in the collection An Edge in My Voice and mentioned before by me on this site, received a responding letter from a defensive horror movie fan who called the writer out for either "lying or...criticizing films he has not seen" for mentioning the razor blade scene. Ellison fires back by correctly insisting the scene existed in the pre-release print he saw before being edited out by producers who "may have had a momentary spasm of good taste and excised it, thereby denying you (the author of the letter) a moment of pleasure," although his description of the scene itself ("kids bite into apples filled with razor blades") isn't really what happens.
*** I would have loved to have read it for this article, but it's one of the few novelizations that's considered something of a collector's item and is hard to come by cheaply. My most-wanted novelization is Phantasm, written by Don Coscarelli's mother, romance novelist Kate Coscarelli. It is seemingly impossible to track down: the only copy on Amazon is currently going for 300 bucks.
**** It's also reminiscent of the island community of conspiratorial druids in The Wicker Man.
***** They apparently bonded over the coincidence that Etchison had just published a story called "White Moon Rising" and Carpenter was working on a script for the movie Black Moon Rising, a largely forgotten Tommy Lee Jones-Linda Hamilton-Bubba Smith movie about a super spy car.
*- It's more endearing than the reference to something being like "something out of a Stephen King book wink wink" in Richard Bachman's Thinner.
*-- Least of all to sound like those who gave rise to the real life December 1982 "Halloween II Murders," in which a California man murdered an elderly couple by stabbing them 43 times, afterwards claiming he'd been suffering from hallucinations allegedly brought on by watching Halloween II on PCP. (The film was played for the jury so a psychopharmacologist could point out similarities between its scenes and the visions described by the defendant.)
*--- "A classier kind of cup?" Cripes, that whole section is going to come back to haunt me.
**- Allegedly, Nigel Kneale's original script is super-racist against Irish people. Although Carpenter and Wallace don't elaborate, it's been suggested by people like Kim Newman that Kneale's portrayal of the Irish is out of context for Americans and not actually offensive.
**-- Dahl's script, which loosely followed his friend Ian Fleming's book, was in turn novelised by the prolific British noveliser John Burke.