HELL TO PAGE – HALLOWEEN: THE ORIGINAL NOVELIZATION

When I was young and had just started to learn that some of my favorite horror movies had actually had novelizations, Halloween became the holy grail. Not only because it was one of my absolute favorites, but because of the notoriety of the novelization itself. It was a long-sought treasure by fans. Those who had it seemed to cherish it. I would see on message boards that the early ideas for what became Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers were present in the book, that it explored the characters a little more deeply. That was all I ever wanted as a young fan, but I doubted that I would ever get the chance to actually get my hands on it, so I tried to put it—and most other horror adaptations—out of my mind.

Until one day, of course, when I came across a little used bookstore that I had somehow never noticed before despite spending quite a bit of time in the area. Like most stores on the street, it could have been a century old without anyone really paying much attention to it, and it smelled musty. Actually finding a bookstore with a horror section was a rarity, so I excitedly made my way over there and immediately found some of the biggest titles I had been searching for over the course of several years, including all three of Gary Brandner’s Howling books, Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror, and Curtis Richards’ novelization of Halloween.

That was the book I would always go into a bookstore hoping to find. I began reading on instinct, right there in the store, before I even paid for it. After I bought it I would still read and re-read it constantly. It wasn’t my first novelization, but it was the first for a film that I cared that deeply and passionately about. It floored me. It was like finding out that the film was an iceberg, and I was discovering a whole world of information below the surface that nobody else even knew about.

The book is an adaptation, to be clear. Just about everything in the film is there. But there’s so much more, as well. It takes such an interesting approach to the material that it stands out even in the wide and diverse and often incredibly ridiculous world of novelizations and media tie-ins. Halloween, the novel, begins in Celtic Ireland. Before Michael Myers or Laurie Strode, we’re introduced to a lonely, deformed and ostracized village boy who lusts after the king’s daughter, but she laughs at him and accuses him of assaulting her when he tries to speak to her. In rage, he murders her and her husband-to-be, either acting on or inciting a curse that will last throughout generations.

From there, we jump into October 1963, picking up with young Michael just as he’s trying on the clown costume for the first time, before he even goes trick-or-treating. His mother is much more of a presence here, as is his grandmother who we never meet in the film. We learn about Michael’s dreams of a boy murdering a girl in another time, we learn of the family history including his grandfather, who appeared to have been suffering from the same kind of curse or possession that is now preparing to seed itself into young Michael. It’s a very different and more overtly supernatural approach, but one that evokes deep folk horror tones.

One of the most exciting things about the Halloween novelization, though, is just how much time is spent in the sanitarium. In the film, those fifteen years pass in the blink of an eye. They’re alluded to, and we see an incredibly small snippet in the TV version, but other than that, nothing. That’s definitely not the case in the book. Here, we see not only Loomis’ attempts at treatment, but also how Michael subtly manipulated his environment throughout his time at Smith’s Grove to make his eventual escape extremely easy to swallow. These sequences are what the novelization excels at, filling in these gaps that audiences were meant to reach their own conclusions about in the film.

When Loomis is first introduced to Michael, he tries to treat the boy as he would any other patient, understanding that he has done a terrible thing, but having worked with children who have done horrible things before. If there’s one criticism to be made about this chunk of the novel, however, it’s the fact that Loomis seems to connect the dots to Michael’s evil much sooner than the eight years suggested in his monologue in the film. That’s partially understandable in this version, though, given the addition of the Druidic, supernatural elements. In Michael’s early sessions with Loomis, the boy recounts his dreams of another time and place, dreams in which he relives the murders of the prologue. Even if there’s no connection to be made right away, there’s something more unusual and eerie going on from the very beginning.

The best part of this, however, is the characterization of Michael himself. At first, he’s a seemingly normal if quiet boy, and before he stops speaking altogether, there’s something of a game of chess between the child and his doctor. It’s almost as if Michael wants Loomis to know just how evil he really is, because he knows that there’s nothing the older man can do to stop him. Like Dracula appointing Renfield, Michael almost seems as though he handpicks Loomis as a kind of herald, someone to announce his eventual, devastating arrival. The scenes depicting Michael’s life inside the sanitarium are fascinating, especially when observing the different ways he acts around staff and his fellow patients.

Obviously, patients aren’t as kind to Michael, they tend to harass him, even bully him. There’s a great sequence in which, against Loomis’ pleas, a Halloween party is held at Smith’s Grove. During a brief power outage, a girl is found drowned while bobbing for apples. Michael’s nowhere near her when the power comes back on, there’s no way the death could be ruled as anything accidental, and these scenes are terrific little moments as if Michael’s saying to Loomis, “I dare you to prove it,” that help to explain just how determined and frantic the doctor is when we’re first introduced to him in the film.

Around the staff, however, Michael is practically a vegetable. They see nothing in him to warrant the need for maximum security, even any security, because he does not allow them to. He’s, as Loomis points out in the movie, “the ideal patient.” There are several times throughout this section of the book where Richards notes that Michael has the administration wrapped around his finger. It’s the easiest explanation for what eventually happens. Why is it so easy for Michael to escape? Because he has the run of the place. For fifteen years, he could probably have walked out the front door if he wanted, and everyone would have been too unnerved to stop him.

It’s also worth noting that some of the elements of this section of the book were adapted into the 2000 Halloween comic book from Chaos! Comics. While it told its own version of Michael’s time in the sanitarium, it borrowed the Halloween Party scene directly.

We also learn some incredibly intriguing new details about Loomis in the novelization that add a little bit more context to his character. One, he has a wife. Not only that, he has a teenage son. That definitely adds an extra layer to Loomis’ obsession. This is a man who’s given his life over to trying to stop exactly what has just happened from happening. He tried to treat Michael before he realized it would be no use, that what was wrong with the boy was not any kind of actual mental illness but something sinister, potentially ancient. He’s given his life to this obsession, to trying to keep Michael’s evil contained, and now we learn that this single-minded focus has also potentially cost him his own family.

But, given that Loomis and Laurie do not actually meet until the very end, it’s worth it to note the introduction of Loomis’ son, even if he’s only ever mentioned in passing. Loomis has a child that’s right around Laurie’s age and that adds a layer of sincerity toward the doctor’s attempts at protection when he finally catches up with Michael at the end of the book. More than that, it adds weight to each of Loomis’ scenes with the sheriff, knowing that they both have children right around the same age, that they are at least on the same page on that level, even if the connection goes unspoken.

Occasionally, we even get brief insight into Michael himself. It’s wise that these moments are short, so as not to break down the illusion too much, but they’re warranted, given the novel’s more direct explanation of Michael’s inner darkness. When Michael watches Laurie, it’s almost a generational thing, as she reminds him both of his sister Judith and the girl from his dreams, the poor girl slaughtered in Celtic Ireland thousands of years before he was born. There are moments when it even suggests that there are times that Michael even becomes aware of the curse and tries to break free of this supernatural hold, but that these moments are fleeting as the evil takes hold of him once more.

These moments are perfectly echoed in little bits throughout the Halloween films, like the moment when Michael tilts his head after hearing Laurie say his name for the first time in Halloween II, and especially the scene in which he actually sheds a tear in Halloween 5. They also provide a perfect template for the curse angle that would be solidified in The Curse of Michael Myers, as that film even states that after he claims this last sacrifice, the curse would in theory leave him entirely.

While the teenage characters don’t come into the book until almost the second half, they don’t take a backseat either. Laurie is a little awkward, but definitely no prude. Her characterization in the novelization suggests that she’s just as interested in doing all of the things her friends are doing—and that she’s partaken in some of them before—but that she’s just not great at initiating them. She fumbles around boys, she doesn’t know what to say, but it doesn’t appear to be for lack of trying. This definitely keeps in line with her film counterpart and helps to make her a relatable and endearing lead.

Halloween is one of the most well-known and highly regarded horror novelizations because it is one of the boldest. It doesn’t simply adhere to the original script, and even when it does, it pads out those details with whole sections of things we didn’t see and backstory we didn’t get in the film itself. Richards clearly was not interested in simply emulating the movie and wanted to give the reader an experience which would stand on its own, but one which could also provide insight into the world of darkness and mystery that is sometimes only skirted around in Carpenter’s film. At that, he definitely succeeds.

ColumnsNat BrehmerHalloween