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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

‘Halloween Kills’: The Novelization – Writer Tim Waggoner on How the Book Expands Upon and Differs from the Movie [Interview]

With the recent release of David Gordon Green’s Halloween Kills still delighting and frustrating viewers in equal measure, there’s perhaps no better way for horror readers to usher in every genre fan’s favorite holiday than by giving the upcoming Halloween Kills novelization a peek. Penned by Tim Waggoner and boasting a fleshed out version of Green and Co’s trilogy midpoint, this novelization is due to hit your local bookstore today, October 26th.

Joining us to chat about this novelization is Mr. Waggoner himself, who discusses how he came to write for Michael Myers, what extra content we can expect from this telling, and what other horror icons he might still love to write about.

Bloody Disgusting: How was it that this project came about for you? I know that John Passarella had penned the previous Halloween novelization, so was there any talk as to why he didn’t return, or is it that they’re looking for different writers for each outing?

Tim Waggoner: I have no idea, because nobody said anything to me about that. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just are interested in having different writers, but it could have been a schedule conflict.

I had already done a number of tie-ins for Titan Books, who’s the publisher of the Halloween novelizations. I’d done some Supernatural ones for them, and some other movie novelizations too. They just got in contact with my agent and wanted to know if I’d be interested. I was like, Hell yes, I would be interested. And that’s pretty much all there was to it.

BD: What was the adaptation process like for you, taking this pre-existing story from another medium and making it your own?

TW: Like I said, I’ve done four of them and each one’s been different in terms of just how it’s worked out. I’ve gotten scripts in very different ways. For my first novelization, I got photocopies of the script shipped from England. For another one, I had to log into the studio’s intranet, though my login was only good for three days at a time and they didn’t tell me. After three days, it went away and I panicked, but then they gave me access every three days after that. Other ones, it’s on the internet, and it’s fine. Or, you know, maybe they’ll e-mail it to you.

So when I got the access to the Halloween Kills script, first thing I did was print it out just so I can read it and have it to refer to as I was writing.

So I go through and read the script just to get an idea what the story’s like. Then I go through and read it again to look for places where I can add things or expand on things, because movie scripts are not long enough to make a whole novel. They’re like 90 to 120 pages, and there’s just not enough.

That’s part of the fun of reading novelizations anyway, the extra stuff that you don’t get from a movie. So I look for that. Then what I do is, and I just made this technique up, I sit down and I type up all the dialogue onto a Word document, because I know I’m going to keep all the dialogue.

So once I do that, I get a sense of just how much is already written for me, basically. And it’s usually maybe like ten thousand words. It’s not a ton in terms of the dialogue. That’s been pretty consistent over the four I’ve done.

Then when I do that, I start going through the script and I start adding. Depending on the script, sometimes there’s more description or less description. Halloween Kills had plenty of description of everything, so I was able to go ahead and work that in. I try to even use, if I can, some of the language of the scriptwriters, because I want their voices to come through in the book, too. The whole thing’s like a collaboration with people that you’ll never meet. So it’s not like I’m just writing this thing. It’s just a weird, long distance, no communication collaboration.

As I go along, I’ll just add in the scenes that I’ve kind of already blocked out in my mind. There’s a lot of research to do, too. I had to do a ton of research for the beginning, for the house fire. You know, it was pretty clear in the script. They lean a little bit in the movie at the end toward the “Is he or isn’t he supernatural?” The whole thing about Michael that’s really cool is that he exists in this kind of netherworld where we don’t really know if he’s just normal, or is he supernatural? And I don’t think we’ll ever know, really. That’s part of the fun. You know, the mystique of Michael.

So I was like, “Okay, if we’re gonna at least keep it up that he could be just a regular, real person, how the hell does he get out of a house fire?” So, you know, I find out how hot house fires burn, then I do research and I find out that any building or house built after 1960 … the materials release a toxic gas that will kill you within minutes. So Laurie’s house looked old enough that I thought, “Okay, I can get away with that.”

I made sure that the firefighters are thinking about that kind of stuff when they go in. You didn’t see it in the movie as much, but in the script it talks about how the firefighters are spraying water on top of the roof, and it’s breaking through the ceiling and falling into the house. So I use that to kind of show why the house itself was at least somewhat survivable as Michael got through, as he got water on him or whatever on the way out. But that took awhile. Also researching all the firefighters’ equipment. It would say what they were using in the script, and I had to go double check and make sure that’s what it was and figure out how it worked. So that sequence took a lot of research to do. Otherwise, I was able to write it pretty much from the script.

In the four that I’ve done, I’ve never gotten any material beyond the script. So I also hop onto the internet and try to find as many images as I can, or interviews where people like the director, the writers, or the actors might drop a few little tidbits and hints of things.

Plus, it was a sequel that goes right after the first movie, so everybody’s still kind of dressed the same. I could watch the movie to see what they look like, get a sense of their characters. I had already seen the movie a bunch of times. I own all the Halloween movies, I’ve seen them all. So I watched the first one again, and then I watched the 2018 one and just ignored the rest. Then I read John Passarella’s novelization too, because I wanted to make my book match his as best I could.

I also wanted to see how he wrote Michael too, so I could go ahead and just kind of stay in line with that for people who would read his book and then go to read my book. That it was to feel more like one person had written them.

BD: Is there anything that you can tease as far as any favorite moments that you created entirely on your own to expand upon the story that you got in the script? Or was there any specific character whose point of view you love diving into specifically?

TW: I love writing from Michael’s point of view, or as much as you can get into his point of view. It was a real challenge to get just a little on the surface of his point of view, because there’s not really anything in there as far as we know. According to Loomis in that first movie, there’s nothing in there. So I wrote him kind of like I would write a shark. It’s just stimulus and response. What stimulus attracts his attention, and what does he do about it? Sharks and animals like that, they just are what they do. So I kind of made it like that. But at the same time, there were things in the script that allowed me to push that just a bit, so I could kind of get into his point of view just a little bit more. You have a basic idea of how he’s reacting. Those are just little touches.

The biggest thing that I added was that there was someone in the script that doesn’t show up in the movie for a little bit. Then I added more about the other patient who escaped from the hospital. There are some scenes in the script, small things, where he’s there. He was also in the developed a little bit more in John Passarella’s novelization. The character [Tovoli] is one of the people that are standing outside with Michael in that very first scene in 2018 where the podcasters are approaching him.

But I got a chance to develop him a little more. I’ve got a backstory about how he ended up in the hospital. And … he was so terrified with all the people chasing them, I was able to write from his point of view for that. So that was a lot of fun.

I had two different editors on the project, and one of them was a big Halloween fan. So she and I together, we seeded little Easter eggs throughout the book, just for fun.

For example, there’s a pizza delivery. I can’t remember if it was in the script or I put it in there, but it wasn’t named. So we named it White Horse Pizza so we could reference the Rob Zombie movie, just to see if anybody notices or gets mad because we put some Rob Zombie’s Halloween in there. We have other little touches like that throughout that don’t do anything to disrupt the story, but they’re just there for fun. So all of that was good.

Getting to write Loomis was awesome, even if it was just for that one scene. I was really pumped when I read the script and saw that there was a flashback to the first movie, or at least the time of the first movie. So that was really cool. Just as a Halloween fan, there was just so much to enjoy about writing the book.

BD: Novelizations are sometimes based on early drafts which can change throughout the course of production, giving us books that can differ wildly from the final films. Was it similar in this case?

TW: Of the three previous ones I did, they did change a lot. I did one for Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I got one script and my editor got a different one, and nobody told us. So when I turned in the first draft, she was like, “What the hell is this?” I had to rewrite it. And then – this never ever happens, ever – but for whatever reason, the director decided I had to see the movie before I wrote the book, and I had to put everything that’s in the movie in there. So they flew me out to Hollywood to watch the movie. Then I had like three different versions of this story to work with. I just said “To hell with it” and made that book up out of the parts I liked the best, all three. And they were perfectly cool with that.

But when I watched [Halloween Kills] with my wife, I was stunned because there’s hardly any difference between the script and the movie. All the stuff that I thought they might take out in terms of little characterization bits and other stuff, every single thing’s there. There’s just a little tiny bit where it’s a little more streamlined or there’s just a little less dialogue, maybe in a scene. The ending is the same as in the movie, except in the script it goes on just a touch longer. It doesn’t change anything about the ending at all.

It just is a little different. It’s just like they ended thirty seconds early or something. Maybe that’ll show up on the special features of the DVD. But I was really surprised. It was kind of cool. It was weird because I’m used to seeing the movie and going, “Oh, that’s cool how they did that.” Or “Where the hell did that come from?” And it just didn’t happen with this one.

BD: The film was highly anticipated, but has been poorly received critically and has been divisive amongst fans. Does that concern you at all as a novelist who has penned a variation on this particular story, or are you even more excited to gauge readers’ reactions as a result?

TW: You know, I am active on Twitter. I’ve been following all those discussions that I see and reading whatever reviews I can find. I just think it’s really interesting. The strangest thing about it is that I’m watching people react to a story that they’ve just viewed, where I’ve known this story for a year and a half because the movie got bumped back by a year. So I have a really hard time critiquing it in any way, because in my mind it’s become concrete. You know, this is just Halloween Kills. This is just as how it’s made, this is what it’s all about. But it’s really interesting to me to see people that interpreted so differently.

It’s interesting to see people think that there’s some kind of political message about the insurrection in there because of the mob stuff, because I had the script in March 2020, so none of that stuff is intended. It hasn’t been changed from the script. It’s just circumstances.

In a lot of ways, I don’t know that … no matter how hard people try to make sequels to Halloween, the ’78 one, I don’t really know if you can recapture that in a lot of ways. So I think in some ways it’s good that people try to reinterpret Michael and do different things. I think it’s cool when people will do something different from the first movie, like in a trilogy. But especially for this one, people had a long time to anticipate what the story was going to be about, so it’s no doubt that people had the reaction to the reality of it. It just couldn’t match, you know, whatever it is that they imagined.

But yeah, it is kind of concerning. I saw the director talking about how he’s like, “Oh yeah, the ending isn’t there. We came up with a new one. It’s not even in the script. And I was like, “Well, damn it! My book’s not going to match.” Then when I saw the movie, I’m like, “It’s the same ending.” I don’t know what he’s talking about. There is absolutely nothing different than was in my script.

But yeah, I wonder if people will just not read the book because they think it’s a terrible movie. Or if they’re like, “Well, maybe it will be better in a book.” One of the things that I thought was interesting was people talking about how jam packed it is, and in a lot of ways that fits a novel a lot better than a movie because there’s just more room to breathe and for that stuff to spread out. You know, I get to develop that kind of thing more, I can add to it more, maybe even have characters comment on it in a way. Not like a meta-fictional way, but that they might be processing it the way the audience might be a little bit sometimes. So yeah, I’m really interested to see what people think about it.

I really hope they liked the scenes with Michael, because they were so much fun to write. I’m hoping that they feel like I captured him pretty well.

BD: I was a big fan of your Leisure novels back in the day, especially Like Death, Pandora Drive and Darkness Wakes, which were all very surreal. Were you able to inject any of that style into your adaptation of this somewhat more grounded tale at all, or did that even interest you?

TW: Maybe a little bit of both. I mean, a go-to trick that I’ll in use a novelization: sometimes if there’s a character that’s asleep, I can have them have a nightmare or a dream so I get to write a weird, surreal scene. I did that for Laurie when she’s on the operating table, when they’re working on her abdominal injury. I got to make that pretty surreal, which is a lot of fun. Hopefully people like that part.

The movie leans into at least the suggestion that Michael is supernatural, and I leaned into it a little bit more in a couple of places, and they had me tone that back. So I tried to do a little bit more, but that was all right. It worked out pretty good.

BD: You’ve tackled horror icons in the past – Freddy Krueger with A Nightmare on Elm Street: Protege and the Xenomorph for Alien: Prototype – and now you’ve written Michael Myers. Do you have any established monsters or horror villains that you’d like to tackle? Do you have a list that you want to check off?

TW: Well, when I was doing the Freddy Kruger tie-in for Black Flame, I was scheduled to do one for Final Destination, which was also going to be a zombie book because the editor was a big fan of European zombie films. But then they just stopped the line. I also wanted to pitch a Jason X book, where scientists in the future send Jason X back in time to kill previous versions of himself to try to wipe him from the timeline and save all these people … then just have him meet like every version of himself and fail, until he gets to the last version of himself. I was so excited to try to write that. I’d still love to write that idea.

The Universal Monsters I’d love to write, just because I grew up with them. When I was a kid, they were my favorites. I was jealous of Greg Keyes, who did the Godzilla novelizations, because I would love to write one of those. Especially Godzilla vs. Kong. My very first book I wrote when I was a kid, I took a stenographer’s pad and drew my own version of King Kong vs. Godzilla, because I hadn’t seen it yet. You could kind of flip through it like a book. It would have been so cool to actually get to write the real thing, but it just didn’t work out.

BD: Sorry, can we go back for two seconds to Final Destination with zombies, because that sounds incredible.

TW: Yeah. You know, I only wrote a chapter of it. The story was that there’s a trainwreck where there was this toxic chemical that killed a bunch of people. Of course, the characters were going to get into a wreck. They were gonna try to beat the train, they’re the ones that caused it, and then there’s a premonition and they don’t. So the Death Force later on causes this thing to derail, and everybody on the train becomes like a zombie from this chemical. The chemical, this gas cloud, is supposed to spread into the town and kill everybody, and it didn’t. So the zombies are gonna go in and do it.

One of the main characters was a serial killer who was trying to survive amidst all this other stuff with the people, and they had no idea who he was. I stole that idea and recycled it for book I wrote called The Way of All Flesh, another zombie book, where I had a serial killer in the zombie apocalypse. But that would have been a lot of fun to write, and it just didn’t work out.

When I did the Freddy Krueger novelization, I had a whole different story I was working on, and New Line hadn’t approved it yet. My editor was like, “Well, just start writing it. We’re getting close to the deadline, they’ll approve it.” And I wrote sixty pages of this thing. The story was going to be about Freddy chasing a girl in her dreams, and she has a Dreamcatcher over her bed. So she kind of dives through it from the other side, and he does, too. Except when he comes out, he’s human again. He’s excited at first to be human, but then something else takes over his position in the dream realm, and he wants to get back to it. He’s not powered up the way he was. He doesn’t have mastery the way he did over people, and he really wanted to get back to that.

And New Line said, “We can’t do that, because we don’t want anybody to remember that he was a child molester in the first movie.” I had a scene in there … I was going to have Freddy as a human hanging around the school yard, and all the kids by this point have been so educated in “Stranger Danger” that they won’t talk to him. So he can’t prey on them very easily. That was going to be the end of it, and I wasn’t going to address it at all anymore. But they nixed the idea, so I had to come up with another idea real quick, and that’s what finally became a novel

BD: It is curious that New Line almost wanted Freddy to be kind of cuddly and funny and amusing, and almost wanted audiences to root for him. They’ve tried to hide his origins as a child molester and child murderer and turn him into something more palatable for his adoring audience.

TW: You know, I have a theory that when something comes along, like a horror trope or a character of some kind … if it’s really, really scary and really disturbing, people will rush as fast as they can to make it safe. So they’ll turn it into a joke, or they’ll make it into a stuffed animal, like all these stuffed Cthulhu figures that you see, or they’ll turn them into [Funko] Pop figures. I remember when I showed my daughter Halloween, the ’78 version, for the first time … I showed it to her probably when she was like eleven, maybe.

She really wanted to see it. She was so wound up with suspense. At one point she stood off the couch and pointed at the screen and said, “Michael J. Myers, you stop that!” She gave him a middle initial, like moms do when they want to get after you. You know, she just couldn’t take it, so she was immediately trying to diminish Michael. And I think that we do that. I think that that’s probably what happened with Freddy Krueger.

Freddy is just a safe image at this point, pretty much. He’s like a stand-up comedian that’s just kind of getting after you in your dreams. And the kills are not even real. They’re just jokey kills.

BD: What do you have coming up aside from Halloween Kills that readers can keep an eye out for?

TW: Well, in February. I have an original adventure set in the world of the Zombicide Invader card game. It’s space zombies killing space Marines, basically. That was a lot of fun to write. My next novel for Flame Tree Press just went up for pre-orders, called We Will Rise. It’s about a ghost apocalypse. Ghosts rise all over the world and start killing people. That’s in July. Then sometime in 2022, the follow-up to my writing horror book Writing in the Dark. It’s a workbook called The Writing in the Dark Workbook. So those are all the things that I got coming out in 2022.

BD: Wrapping up, what final thoughts do you want to leave Bloody Disgusting readers with in advance of Halloween Kills’ release?

I mean, I think it’s really great that novelizations are still around and people are interested in them. Back in the day when I was a kid, novelizations were in a lot of ways the only way you could relive the movie. If the movie was ever shown on TV, it would be cut up, and there was no such thing as special features or deleted scenes. But you could get that kind of experience from a novelization.

Plus, I really loved the fact that you could get into people’s heads in a way that you can’t in a movie, because in a movie you’re a passive observer. But when you read, you get a chance to be immersed in these points of view of the characters.

For me, that’s the best part of a novelization, that I get to be in Laurie’s head or I get to be in Loomis’s head, or I get to be as much as you can be in Michael’s head. I think that’s the big appeal for novelizations, and I’m glad to see people still like reading them.

Very special thanks to Tim Waggoner for his time and insights.


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