Sunday, October 2, 2011

Halloween: The Novelization

Every year around late September or early October I read the novelization of the film Halloween, also entitled Halloween which is either fortunate or unfortunate depending upon your point of view.
It is a fairly faithful novelization of the script, with some details different, such as how Annie is killed, and some different dialog, which is understandable given the format.  I enjoy it every time I read it, even though I know it backwards and forwards by now.  As you might imagine it is a short book, easily read, as any novelization of such a film would be.  The author, Curtis Richards, adds some background material to provide a supernatural, but convincing, cause for young Michael Myers's deeds.  Richards's work also delves deeper into Loomis, the trial of young Myers and some of his first year at Smith's Grove.  The Chaos Comics Halloween specials (one a year for three years) put some of the novel's back story into full color glory as well.  Thus we can say that the book really has been influential in creating the overall mythos.  Published in 1979, this book set out to explain the evil decades before Rob Zombie set Mike's origin on film.  Normally I am opposed to too much explanation in a horror film.  With rare exceptions I find that explaining things too much takes away much of the horror.  Only when the explanation itself is so horrific that we would be better off not knowing is it appropriate to provide a wealth of explanation.  
This review assumes that you have seen the original Halloween film directed by John Carpenter, as it discusses the elements of the novel that stand out, in my mind, for the better.
From Amazon, this is the cover of the edition I own.  Long out of print, you'll need to acquire a used copy from somewhere
     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.  Then, its lust sated, it shrank back into the
     mists of time for a year, a decade, a generation perhaps.  
     But it slept only and did not die, for it could not be killed.
     And on the eve before Samhain it would stir, and if the 
     lust were powerful enough, it would rise to fulfill the curse
     invoked so many Samhains before.  Then the people 
     would bolt their doors.
     Scant good it did them, for the thing laughed at locks
     and bolts, and besides, there were the unwary.  Always
     the unwary.--Halloween, page 1
The opening of the novel is a prologue set in ancient Ireland, and is a vague, thus believable, account of a Celtic tribe.  This prologue provides a mythical back story that is only hinted at in Halloween II when Dr. Loomis explains the SAMHAIN scrawled on the grade school chalk board.  I like this opening as it provides a grounding for the story that makes it just that much more "Halloween" oriented.  It is always a risk, in a horror work, to set the wrong tone.  If this Celtic prologue had been done in the film, it would likely have ruined the entire work.  Not only would it be too hard to film effectively given Carpenter's budget, it would have made the film feel like a fantasy piece, which ultimately would have spoiled the Hitchcockian thriller it became.
     Chapter 1
     It was Halloween.  Perhaps even more than Christmas, it          
     was the most innocent holiday on the calendar.  Yes, more 
     than Christmas, because Christmas celebrated a happy 
     event, and jolly St. Nick was a benevolent symbol anyway.  
     But Halloween's origins were darker, very much darker, 
     and it the children celebrated it as a happy event like 
    Christmas, it was a symptom of how far we'd come from the 
    time when mankind respected the forces of evil.
    Little Michael Myers's grandmother clucked her  
    disapproval as the visiting rosey-faced six-year-old 
    showed her the costume in the Woolworth box.--  
    Halloween, page 7
This chapter serves to establish something about the character of young Michael Myers and provides a teasing glimpse of a troubled family history.  While short (only 6 pages) it is an effective addition, establishing that on Michael's mother's side of the family at least one family member had been afflicted with bad dreams and hearing voices (this is seen again later as noted below).  Michael's maternal grandmother also introduces us to the notion of the bogeyman, which featured prominently in the film version.  This chapter, when coupled with the prologue serves to pull us deeper into the story to come by adding a folkloric cycle to the mythical basis.

The next chapter is the killing of Judith Myers, and again it is very much expanded in the novel, showing us Judith's relationship with her date, her brother and elements of a classic Halloween trick-or-treating.  Chapter 3 is very short and is Michael's killing of Judith, which is the establishing event of the film.  The next chapter details, in brief, the trial of young Michael and his first year at Smith's Grove.  Unlike in the film, Michael is not catatonic and speaks to Loomis.  Michael is established as a "force" of sorts in this chapter.
     In the following months there were more "occurrences,"
     and in Loomis's mind there was no doubt whom to ascribe 
     them to.  Every time Michael was slighted, or fancied he was,
     by a staff member or another inmate, some awful 
     vengeance was visited upon the offending person.  It
     might be a day, a week, or a month later, but Michael
     got even.
     The problem for Loomis was that no one ever observed 
     the boy doing it directly.--Halloween pp. 31-32
The post trial Smith's Grove passages serve to establish the growing threat that Michael represents.  However, as we are treated to this information through the character of Sam Loomis, we might be inclined to see it only as an indication of the good doctor's own obsessions.  When the narrative shifts to the omniscient point of view we are given a chance to see what Loomis has seen all along, but since we are in "Loomis mindset" at this point, we might be inclined to dismiss it as unreliable.  Of course as we all know from the film, the good doctor is quite right in his assumptions.

Introductions of Laurie Strode and her friends establish a Laurie that is a little less goody two-shoes and more introspective.  A virgin but not virginal, if you understand my meaning.  Since we know from interviews that Carpenter never intended for Laurie to be Michael's sister, but rather conceived that to make the sequel script workable, we are presented with a Laurie Strode who is most definitely NOT the long lost baby sister of the villain, but rather a girl that happens to come into his orbit at the wrong time and who bears enough of a resemblance to his slaughtered sister to incite his murderous rage.

A small, but notable, difference between Michael Myers in the book and in the film is the mask.  It is clear from Richards's descriptions that Myers wears a clown mask as an adult.  Commentary from the creators of Halloween, especially Debra Hill if memory serves, supports that a clown mask was one of the original choices in the running for the Shape's mask.  As Michael was dressed as a clown when he made his first kill at age 6 in both the book and film, it is poetically and dramatically appropriate that the adult be a "clown" as well.  Ultimately the blank faced Shatner mask of the film is more effective, but Richards sticks with the dramatically appropriate choice in the book.  Also the book provides us with a view into Myers's head such that we get internal monologue at times, which is absent from the film for obvious reasons. 
     "Perhaps.  These names, Sheriff.  Were they Celtic?  Would you recognize
        them?  Deirdre?  Cullain?"
       "Sorry, my friend, they don't ring a bell.  Who are they?"
       "Names of victims in Michael's dreams.  If we could establish a continuity 
        from the great-grandfather to the boy..." the psychiatrist mused.--Halloween pp. 94-95
The Celtic mythic back story is returned to again in the above exchange between Loomis and Sheriff Brackett.  In the closing lines of the book, seen below, we have the return to the bogeyman motif that we first see mentioned so very prominently in Chapter 1 with the narrative of Michael's grandmother .  These lines are a variation that reminds us of the prologue and thus make for a nice "mismatched bookends" effect to the whole work.
     Until this moment he had hoped against hope that
     the entity he had pursued to this place was a thing
     of flesh and blood like himself, though deep in his 
     heart he had known it would be otherwise.  The 
     evidence pointed not merely to another interpretation
     but, as he had said to Sheriff Brackett, to another
     He shuddered, wondering what little boy at this very
     moment was tossing in his sleep, tortured by a dream
     of tragic love that had occurred far away and long ago, 
     tormented by a voice commanding the dreamer to
     take revenge.
     Laurie's nails dug into his shoulder as she stared like
     a soldier in shell shock at the empty place on the lawn.
    "It was the bogeyman, wasn't it?" she murmured.
    "As a matter of fact," Loomis replied, "it was."-- Halloween p. 166

I can provide no higher praise than to recommend this book for reading.  If you are a fan of the original film it is a good book to read.  If you are looking for a Halloween book to read come October, it is good for that as well.  I find it as comforting as that old sweatshirt you pull out of the back of the closet in the Autumn to ward off the chill in the night air; the one that smells faintly of wood smoke from last year's bonfire.  I have read it every year for the past 10 years and I intend to do it again this year.

The novelizations for Halloween II and Halloween III are not so good.  I say this as an unabashed fan of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, unless you are a die-hard Halloween Franchise fan, you can give the sequel novelizations a miss.

Keep your pumpkin booklights lit.


  1. Been trying to get a copy for years and am still on the hunt! Can't overspend, so the search continues. I do have Halloween II & III in novel form. I have read II and am planning on reading III this year. I guess the original is now one of the "holy grails" I am searching for.

  2. Good luck in your search. I found my copy through Amazon's private sellers and still had to pay a few bucks more than one would expect from a paperback. I just repaired the cover last week.
    I hope you can find a copy, Joe.