2018 "Halloween" is a homecoming for horror franchise, UNCSA alumni

When Michael Myers quietly stalks the neighborhood streets of Haddonfield on October 19, it will be for the first time in 40 years. The latest film in the iconic horror franchise, simply titled “Halloween,” is a homecoming for Myers and protagonist Laurie Strode.

It is a return to a form that tunes out the convoluted storylines of the previous nine installments. UNCSA School of Filmmaking alumni Jeff Fradley (’98), Danny McBride (’99) and David Gordon Green (’98) penned the screenplay, with Green at the helm as Director. Together, these friends and self-proclaimed film nerds bring a new, terrifying energy to a much-anticipated chapter in the “Halloween” saga.

Return to Haddonfield

A film marked by many homages to the past, perhaps the most lauded returns for 2018’s “Halloween” were that of John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Carpenter revisited the series for the first time since 1982, serving as executive producer alongside Green and McBride. He also lent support as creative advisor and as composer of a modernized version of his infamously chilling “Halloween” score.

Encouraged by friend and formidable horror producer Jason Blum, Fradley, McBride and Green pitched their story to Carpenter, who liked their vision to return the film to its roots, picking up with the same characters and storyline from the 1978 original. “I’m going to help to try to make the 10th sequel the scariest of them all,” said Carpenter, who admittedly has not watched some of the previous sequels.

Another major coup? Inspired by an impactful script and Green’s enthusiasm, Jamie Lee Curtis signed on to portray Laurie Strode for the first time since 2002’s “Halloween: Resurrection.” In a recent Den of Geek interview, Curtis drew parallels between Carpenter and Green’s approaches to storytelling: “To me, the parallels of these two movies are wild, because at the helm were these two Southern boys who were film geeks and love it, so everyone who wants to work with them loves it.” 

Without Carpenter and Curtis aboard, the film would have been a ‘major risk,’ according to Green. The retconned story finds Curtis’ character, Laurie Strode, simultaneously overcome with debilitating fear and erratic anticipation for the possibility of a final confrontation with Michael. Her paranoia has strained relationships with her daughter and granddaughter, who all but dismiss her previous trauma. Though some “Halloween” iterations have strayed to California locales, Fradley, McBride and Green’s story places Myers and Strode in their unassuming hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois.

McBride spoke about the decision to anchor “Halloween” in its original suburban setting:

“Sometimes, when you have a really heightened horror movie that takes place in some extreme location it’s kind of hard, when the movie is over with, to be frightened by it because you’re not in that situation. But everybody sits at home in the house alone at night and thinks they hear a noise outside. That’s kind of what ‘Halloween’ taps into so effectively.” 

Film school network

Though Haddonfield bears the force of Myers’ murderous rampage on screen, “Halloween” was filmed in and around Charleston, South Carolina—the town that is home to a recently relocated Rough House Pictures, the production company Green and McBride co-founded with fellow UNCSA alumnus Jody Hill. 

The three lived in the same dorm on campus. Green, a year ahead of McBride and Hill, shared his first-year student film, “Will You Lather Up My Rough House,” with them, and the trio became fast friends—a bond that remains unchanged 20 years later.

Rough House has made a name for itself in the comedy genre over the past decade, backing McBride’s recognizable “Eastbound and Down” and “Vice Principals” for HBO and a slew of independent comedies and dramas, including “The Catechism Cataclysm,” “Manglehorn,” “Joe,” “Flower,” and “The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter.” “Halloween” is the company’s first foray into horror, but likely not its last.

Green, McBride and Fradley returned to UNCSA to screen “Halloween” for students at their alma mater a week before its world premiere, giving them the opportunity to ask the filmmakers questions about their journey from film school in Winston-Salem to tackling one of the most famed horror anthologies of all time. 

With an air of excitement around Film Village, students and faculty lined the studio backlot street to greet Green, McBride, and Fradley upon arrival. Some students quoted fan-favorite films from Green and McBride, like “Your Highness” and “Pineapple Express,” many clutched “Halloween” posters. A vintage marquee brightly advertised the 7 p.m. film screening.

Alumni guest artists and feature film screenings are a staple at UNCSA’s School of Filmmaking, and it hosts many screenings for Winston-Salem’s RiverRun International Film Festival. But few films screened on campus have drawn as demanding of a crowd as “Halloween.” The 300-seat Main Theatre quickly filled to standing room only, and a second, late screening was added to accommodate overflow. 

After the credits rolled and cheers subsided, Green, McBride and Fradley took questions from students, reflecting on their time at UNCSA, the collaborative nature of their work, the “Halloween” franchise and how they continue their working relationships with fellow alumni after graduation. 

David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley

Filmed by students in the UNCSA School of Filmmaking, watch excerpts from David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley's Q&A following the screening of their film, "Halloween."

Pickle expertise

Though 2018’s “Halloween” was conceived by a trio of UNCSA alumni, many other pickles (the Fighting Pickle is UNCSA’s proud mascot) contributed to the film. Collaboration isn’t uncommon amongst students in UNCSA’s five arts conservatories. This extends to the working world, where pickles often hire other pickles because they are confident they’ve received the same level of training and carry an expected degree of expertise.

For the new “Halloween” chapter, Dylan Arnold (Drama ’16) was cast as Cameron Elam, a friend of Laurie Strode’s granddaughter, Allyson. Arnold’s character was a planned Easter Egg for fans of the franchise who remember bully Lonnie Elam from the original film. 

There’s a lot of like-minded artists and technicians that we went to school with.

David Gordon Green, B.F.A. Film '98

Film alumnus Richard A. Wright (’99) was Production Designer for “Halloween.” He re-joined his fellow alumni after previously collaborating on a slew of projects with Green and McBride, dating back to “George Washington,” Green’s feature film debut. 

Another frequent collaborator, DeVoe Yates (’98), came on board as Music Supervisor. Yates recently served as Music Supervisor for “Ocean’s Eight” and “Arizona,” starring McBride. Michael Brake (’95) and Will Files (’02) were tapped as Music Editor and Supervising Sound Editor, respectively. Christof Gebert (’00) stepped in as Production Sound Mixer and Dylan Trivette (’00) was EPK (electronic press kit) camera operator.

Filling sets and post-production suites with pickles is a no-brainer for Green, who told the Winston-Salem Journal, “There’s a lot of like-minded artists and technicians that we went to school with.” Green is already set to executive produce McBride’s “The Righteous Gemstones,” which will premiere on HBO in 2019 and will no doubt boast a crew of UNCSA alumni.

Fradley, McBride and Green’s “Halloween” creates a trail for Myers and Strode to find their way to each other for a final stand—a satisfying moment for fans of the franchise. Their homecoming to UNCSA demonstrates a respect for their formal training and an appreciation for industry collaboration and connection, which continues to inspire them as artists and as storytellers. “Halloween” is a homecoming you can’t help but to celebrate.

by Hannah Callaway

October 16, 2018