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Friday, October 30, 2020

‘Halloween: Bad Blood’: Josh Stolberg Details the Sequel That Would’ve Brought Back Jamie Lloyd [Phantom Limbs]

phantom limb /ˈfan(t)əm’lim/ n. an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated.

Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which will take a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we will be chatting with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.

Our fourth and final Halloween-themed Phantom Limbs for this October finds us chatting with screenwriter Josh Stolberg. Known for penning such horror films as Piranha 3D, Sorority Row, Jigsaw and the upcoming Spiral: From the Book of Saw, Mr. Stolberg here discusses his multiple brushes with the Shape throughout his career. While two of these potential projects have been discussed at length in the currently available Taking Shape II, specifically his Halloween/Hellraiser crossover and an intriguing screenplay called Halloween: Asylum, we’ll mostly be focusing on breaking down his pitch for Halloween: Bad Blood.

Following Halloween: Resurrection and featuring a grown-up Jamie Lloyd in the lead, Bad Blood would have made for a fascinating retcon of an entry in the franchise before the eventual Rob Zombie reboot…

“I’ve had a bunch of swings at the ball with Halloween,” Mr. Stolberg reveals at the beginning of our chat. “The first one came really early on in my career. I pitched two different versions of Halloween sequels to Moustapha Akkad.

“[Halloween] was one of the first horror movies I ever saw as a kid, so it’s always held a special place in my heart. I had a poster of Michael Myers hanging on my wall growing up as a kid. I really, really became obsessed with that franchise from the very start. So when I got out to LA, and I was starting to write movies, that was my dream project for a long time, to write a Halloween movie.

“At the time, though, I wasn’t a horror writer. When I first got started in the industry, I was writing for kids’ television and for comedy. No one’s just going to hand you the keys to the castle when you just don’t have the credits. But I did wind up scoring two different meetings with Moustapha, and pitched him. At one point, we [Mr. Stolberg and early writing partner Bobby Florsheim] pitched him Halloween vs. Hellraiser. We called it MVP: Michael vs. Pinhead. It was a lot of fun.”

Mr. Stolberg describes this initial pass at the franchise: “[There was] this survivors’ group of final girls, basically. [We] brought in Kirsty from Hellraiser at the beginning, and it basically becomes a battle royale between Michael and Pinhead. One of the things I love about horror, and writing in this genre, is how vastly different the tones of films can be. At that time, when I was writing that particular pitch, I really leaned into the camp. I wouldn’t say it was silly, but it definitely had touches of camp. I was going through my Evil Dead phase.

“When we went in to talk to Moustapha, he had a very specific idea as to what the franchise was and should become. He was very set in his ways as to who the Michael Myers character was, and if it deviated at all from his talking points … I still remember when I went into the meeting, he gave me a piece of paper, and it was like – ’These are the rules of our universe’. It really spoke to the bloodline of the Strode family, and he was very much into that. And ours broke a lot of rules set up in that document.”

Ultimately, this approach would never make it beyond the pitch stage. However, the writers did take some elements from this initial story and wove them into a new tale titled Halloween: Bad Blood. “The second one that I put together, because of that conversation, was focused more on the bloodline. We came in with an idea that was based on the actual bloodline.”

Opening in Chicago with a support group for victims of domestic violence, Bad Blood introduces us to a collection of characters dealing with their own personal traumas. Some are abused by their children, others stalked by their husbands. The last member of this group to take the spotlight is one Jamie Lloyd, now grown up and to be portrayed by Danielle Harris, who played young Jamie in Halloweens 4 and 5 before being replaced by J.C. Brandy in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.

Wait, Jamie Lloyd? As an adult?! So this film would have been a follow-up to Halloween 6? “Yes and no. I have a date stamp from around November 2000. Twenty years ago.” So that places this project before Resurrection, the final film before the Rob Zombie remake, but after Halloween: H20, which effectively retconned Jamie Lloyd out of existence.

So why would Jamie Lloyd have acted as the lead this time around? Well, it all goes back to that mandate to stick with the Myers/Strode bloodline. “We were going to use Jamie Lee Curtis, and we were told point blank that [H20] was her final movie. The crazy thing is, she still did the death scene in [Resurrection]. It was basically said to us that she’s no longer doing any more Halloween movies.” With Laurie Strode out of the picture, Jamie Lloyd was once again handed the reins to the franchise.

Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) in ‘Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers’ (1988)

Once Jamie has the floor in her group meeting, she describes her own troubles. ”It’s been seven months and four days since Michael’s tried to kill me.” She describes her situation to her fellow support group members, detailing the Thorn curse, Michael Myers, etc. ”My family is gone. I’m the last one…if I die, Michael wins. I keep moving, but he’s always there behind me. I can’t date, I can’t hold down a job without everyone getting massacred.”

She even goes so far as to reveal how much effort she’s put into tricking the Shape while trying to stay alive. From the treatment: “She even talks about some wild things – like having used body doubles to escape him – and even having a blood supply on hand at the hospital for the next attack. He just keeps coming…”

On a break for the group, an attacker appears – an angry husband wielding a knife, looking for his wife. Jamie steps up and disarms the husband, revealing that her constant fights with Michael have honed her self defense capabilities. Just as this situation is defused, Michael appears and attacks, slaughtering his way through the support group to get to Jamie.

In the chaos, both Jamie and the Shape are struck by an oncoming ambulance, seriously injuring her and apparently killing Michael. The two are transported to the hospital, where Jamie is treated for her wounds and sedated for coming off as hysterical as she attempts to warn them about her murderous uncle. As she’s being given blood from her own personal supply at the hospital, the doctors marvel at the amount of scarring on her body. “The doctors can’t believe the number of scars and stab-wounds on Jamie’s body (from all her run-ins with Michael) … this pretty girl looks like a one-woman-warzone.”

Unfortunately for Jamie, a simple mistake made by a nurse propels the plot forward, significantly increasing the number of potential targets for Michael. From the treatment: “IN THE CHAOS, THE NURSE SCREWS UP AND PUTS JAMIE’S PERSONAL BLOOD SUPPLY IN THE MAIN STORAGE FREEZER WITH NO NAME … Her bloodline is what Michael is trying to wipe out, and it’s about to get put into seven random people unlucky enough to get a transfusion with the Curse of Thorn attached.”

Mr. Stolberg elaborates: “There was a story point in the movie where Jamie winds up getting blood taken from her … This blood winds up being put into other people. So, from our first Moustapha meeting, we leaned into the idea of the bloodline quite literally. It was our way of being able to expand out the franchise and make it so that we weren’t having to go after the same person every single time with each movie.”

J.C. Brandy as Jamie Lloyd in ‘Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers’ (1995)

Of course, Michael isn’t dead, and soon enough he’s on his feet and chasing after Jamie once more. Only this time, he finds that he isn’t merely after his niece, he’s also compelled to chase after the poor recipients of Jamie’s blood. These include: Amber Lynn, a “fake-attempted suicide”; Betsy, a ten-year old “tomboy with cancer”; Ed, a goth vampire wannabe who sneaks into the hospital and drinks from Jamie’s blood supply; Leon, a “badass stuntman” who winds up in the hospital after an on-set injury; Sheila, a plastic surgery-addicted socialite; Berger, a hemophiliac; and Gus, a 24-year old student who suffers from severe OCD.

Also introduced into the mix is Horace Merryweather (“think Steve Buscemi”), an eccentric serial killer enthusiast whose gothic house is home to an extensive collection of items related to Michael Myers’ exploits. Horace and Jamie know one another, with the latter believing Merryweather’s home to be her safe haven. From the treatment: “We also find out that Horace and Jamie share a symbiotic relationship – he has paid Jamie for Myers artifacts in the past – allowing her to live on the lam. We even find out Horace was the one who helped Jamie change her identity and find a decoy (although it resulted in the death of her doppelgänger – actress J.C. Brandy).” In a conversation between Jamie, Horace and Betsy, the trio realize the connection Jamie has to all of the blood transfusion recipients, and therefore understand why Michael is now targeting numerous potential victims.

Michael cuts his way through the cast of characters, until the climax finds Jamie and Michael alone in the now-deceased Merryweather’s collection room – “where he stores every weapon from the Halloween movies.” The two do battle, wielding every weapon they can get their hands on. “It turns into an all-out slasher-fest between a bad-ass Jamie and Michael as they go toe to toe. This is what we’ve been waiting to see. Jamie is obviously well-trained – her whole life spent preparing for this moment.” The story also brings back the telepathic connection between Jamie and Michael, allowing the two to have a sense of what their opponent is going to do. “So the fight scene is even cooler as each has an idea … how each is going to act – so the attack and counter-attack gets even wilder.”

Jamie is ultimately saved by Betsy, who uses the heavy farm machinery that dispatched Jamie’s double in Halloween 6 to subdue Michael before Jamie ultimately finishes him with the first butcher’s knife that Michael ever used. The treatment concludes: “The original butcher’s knife that started it all will be the instrument that will dispatch Michael to his death. And Jamie and Betsy limp into the sunset.”

Danielle Harris in ‘Hatchet III’ (2013)

“While we thought we’d come up with a clever way to continue Halloween,” Mr. Stolberg notes, “Moustapha pointed to his piece of paper again and said ‘That’s not the way our franchise works.’ So both of those early pitches got shot down because of their desire to adhere to these rules that they felt were very strict.” Mr. Stolberg stresses here that he was a young writer who hadn’t yet tried his hand at the genre. “Again, it was twenty years ago, it was before I’d ever written a horror movie. I just had no shot. There was no way they were going to hire the writer of Sabrina: The Animated Series to reinvent Halloween.

“So that all happened, and disappeared, and I continued my career. I got to do my first horror movie. Again, I was coming out of kids’ television at the time. My first writing job was the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV show, [and then] Avatar: The Last Airbender. All of these super, uber kids’ things. I’ve never even thought about this before, but if you look back on my Honey, I Shrunk the Kids days, my very first script was called ’Honey, I’m Haunted’, and it was a horror episode about a ghost tormenting the family. So even back then, that’s where my mind was. Here I was, this crazy horror fan, that wanted desperately to get out.

“So I had a friend named J. Todd Harris, who was a producer, and I knew he owned the rights to the Piranha franchise. I knew he wouldn’t just hire me to do it, because I hadn’t written a horror movie before. But what I did was, I went to him and said, ‘Hey, listen, just do me a favor. I know you have the rights to Piranha. I know you’re not going to hire me to do it, but give me two months. Let me hook up with my buddy Pete [Goldfinger, Mr. Stolberg’s writing partner], and we’ll write a script. So we banged out a spec script called Killer Fish. The unsigned agreement between me and J. Todd was that he would wait to hire somebody on it so he could read our script. If he liked our script, then they could option it and use it. And if they didn’t like it, they could just give it back to us and we’d have a spec script called Killer Fish. Luckily, they really, really liked the script, and that’s what became Piranha 3D.

“Then I was able to get a couple of horror films under my belt, with Piranha and Sorority Row, and I directed a couple of indie horror films as well. That’s when I got the opportunity, after I had a couple of films under my belt, to go back [to pitch for Halloween]. At that point, Moustapha was no longer alive, and Malek Akkad was the owner of the franchise then. He’d just gotten through with the Rob Zombie era, and they were looking to do something else.

Michael Myers (Brad Loree) in ‘Halloween: Resurrection’ (2002)

“They had found this old script, the Halloween: Asylum script [written by Matt Venne], that had been written after Resurrection, but before Rob Zombie. That film had gotten killed to give Rob Zombie his shot at the franchise. Now, having made a name for ourselves in the horror world, we were easily able to get a meeting with Malek Akkad. Bob Weinstein came to us and said that they had this old script that everybody liked, but that it felt dated, especially after Rob’s movies. It was something that they were thinking of coming back to.”

What was Mr. Stolberg’s thoughts on the Halloween: Asylum screenplay he was given? “It was great. Matt’s a really good writer. But it definitely follows in the footsteps of Halloween Resurrection. I think Busta’s even in it. So it felt a little dated at the time, especially coming off of Rob’s movies. Coming off of those films, you couldn’t go back and do Busta Rhymes anymore. It just didn’t make any sense. I’m a big fan of that original script, but it needed to be retooled a bit.”

The 2013 rewrite of Halloween: Asylum found Michael imprisoned and on death row after the opening act sees the Shape targeting a new group of characters. This storyline has Michael breaking free inside of the asylum where he’s held and wreaking havoc, before he’s eventually captured and put behind bars yet again by the story’s end. Again, a very detailed look at both Matt Venne’s original draft and Mr. Stolberg’s rewrite can be found in Taking Shape II.

Sadly, this version of Asylum would go unproduced as well. “The Halloween: Asylum thing ended … there was a lot against it at the time. You look at it now, and you see what Blumhouse wound up doing with it. I really did wind up liking that new film.

“What happened with Asylum was, at the time there was a feeling that Malek Akkad and Weinstein wanted to move away from the darkness of Rob’s movies, but they weren’t sure where they were going because they also didn’t have Jamie Lee Curtis at the time. So they were really trying to figure out what this new chapter was going to be.

“But for Asylum, no one quite knew how to market it [or] knew where it would fit in with the other films. It was different from the other movies, it had different characters. I think that we tried to work in some of the older characters, but the franchise had gone in such a weird direction. There were a lot of things we couldn’t do. No one was able to firmly state, ‘Oh, this is it! This is the future of Halloween!’ It didn’t lose steam, but it never had that exclamation mark on it.

“And then the Weinsteins wound up getting into huge financial troubles and lost the franchise. Then Akkad came in and brought it over to Blumhouse. We wrote our draft months before Weinstein lost the rights to it. We were kind of a victim of timing, I think, in a lot of ways. I wish we had had an opportunity to spend some more time on it.”

After all of these brushes with the franchise, Mr. Stolberg closes out our conversation with his final thoughts on the Halloween franchise. “I love Michael Myers. I love Halloween. There’s never going to be a Halloween that I don’t go see on opening night, no matter what. I’m really enjoying this new Blumhouse direction. I think that it’s a lot of fun, and I love seeing Jamie Lee Curtis back. There’s nothing that makes me happier than being in a dark movie theatre with a bucket of popcorn and watching Michael kill some folks.

“I hope I get another crack at it. I know that three strikes and you’re out and I’ve had my three strikes, but that last swing was a foul tip. I mean, I got to actually write a Halloween script and that was a dream come true. Never in my wildest imagination growing up and being a little kid hiding behind the couch watching the original movie could I imagine myself actually writing kill scenes for the Michael Myers … it was another level. I hope I get another shot! I’m hoping that I get to come back to it one day. Maybe when this current trilogy ends and I come around in the line-up again. I’m looking forward to that day!”

Very special thanks to Josh Stolberg for his time and insights.


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