It was 25 years ago this month, back in April of 1989, when filming began in Salt Lake City, Utah on Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, one of the most popular and controversial sequels in the genre’s most hallowed movie series.
To celebrate this year’s 25th anniversary of Halloween 5, we recently caught up with Jeffrey Landman, who starred in the film as the lovable pirate-costumed Billy Hill, without whom young Danielle Harris as Jamie Lloyd would never have found the infamous Tower Farm party and her ultimate reunion with her uncle Michael.
Read on for our full interview with Jeffrey Landman, as we discuss the making of Halloween 5, the legacy of horror’s greatest franchise, and surviving The Revenge of Michael Myers!
“The time flew by very quickly,” Landman says, looking back on how he got the role of Billy. “In fact I realized it was right around April 25 years ago that it all started with my audition and everything. At the time of the audition, I was appearing on Broadway in Les Miserable.
“I got a call from my agent saying I had an audition for this movie. It was in New York, and I went in and I auditioned for the casting director twice, and then the third time they put me on film. A couple days later I got the role.
“I did a couple scenes (at the audition). I can’t remember which ones exactly, but it was mainly stuff that involved the stuttering, which was always a part of the original script. I think they just wanted to see if I could do that.
“I got the job, and less than a week later I was in Salt Lake City. We had about a week of rehearsal before we started shooting. It was very whirlwind. It was less than a month from the first audition to being on set.
“Halloween 4 was such a success, they wanted the next film a year later, so everything was, not rushed, but expedited quickly.”
We asked Jeffrey how familiar he was with the four previous Halloween movies prior to joining the cast of the fifth installment, and he explained that the first film he saw was definitely not the best introduction to the franchise.
“Not at all” he answered. “At the time I was 11 years old and I had not seen many horror movies. I remember the night before my mom and I left to go shoot the movie, we watched Halloween III, because Halloween 4 had not been released on video yet. So we watched Halloween III and had no idea what was going on. It was a really bad reference point.
“When I got to Salt Lake, Danielle (Harris) had a copy of Halloween 4, so we watched it together, and that sort of clued me in on what was going on.
“Since then I have obviously seen every Halloween movie, but at the time I was not familiar. All I knew was that it was a stuttering kid, who at the time was on a bicycle, trying to save his friend from a psycho killer. That was as much as I was aware of at the time.”
One of Billy’s most memorable traits, and presumably one of Jeffrey’s biggest challenges, would of course be his stuttering, and the actor recalls it was always part of the plan.
“The stuttering was always there,” Landman said. “Literally the script says, ‘J-J-J-Jaime,’ but that evolved more in the rehearsal process. They brought in language experts for Danielle and I to meet with. They talked to me about stuttering and what sort of situations do stutterers tend to be more exasperated, and when is it worse, when is it better. Danielle dealt with learning sign language for the parts of the movie where there was sign language. Initially there was a little more sign language for her.
“I think the point of her not being able to speak and me having to stutter was that it was just so much impeding her from being able to communicate, so the only person she can communicate with for the first half of the movie is this kid who also can’t really communicate very well.”
Despite the fact that Billy gets a significant amount of screen time in the movie, even more than many of the teen victims, Jeffrey told us there was much more shot that never made into the final theatrical cut.
“It’s weird to hear people say that, because for me, I’m barely in the movie,” he said. “What I shot was almost twice as much as what was in the film. So when I saw the movie, I was like ‘Where did I go?’ From the script I have, Tina has twice as much. Everyone shot so much more. I have to sort of take the movie at face value, but for me, there’s so much more.
“I’m not actually a patient at the clinic in the script. You saw me outside of the clinic. You saw me at the house with Tina. When I watch with people that don’t know what I know, it’s totally different experience.”
“I was there for about seven weeks, so I was there for pretty much the whole shoot in Salt Lake. I think they did one or two weeks in Los Angeles in a studio, and I know that was mainly the laundry chute sequence and the hermit sequence at the beginning, which also was much longer. So all that stuff was filmed on a sound stage, but beyond that, I was in Salt Lake for the whole shoot.
“Obviously it was all cut for a reason, but like I said, you did see me outside the clinic during the daytime.
“The car chase scene is pretty much the most talked about change. Legend has it – this is what I’ve been told – when we shot the car chase scene, it was originally scripted that I was on a bicycle, and then the car hit the bicycle that Jamie and I were on, we flipped over the car, and the car backed over me. That’s what was initially scripted.
“By the time we went to shoot, they got rid of the bicycle and just had us running. It was shot much more graphically of me being hit and run over by the car. It was always shot to be implied that the car probably killed me. Obviously you see me alive after, but the implication in the moment was that the car had killed me, and then the surprise is that I’m still alive.
“When it was first presented for a rating, Halloween 5 received an X rating initially, and the reason given was specifically violence towards children. So they toned down the car crash a lot and they toned down the laundry chute scene, which again was shot much more graphically, so you don’t really see a knife go into her leg because it was cut away.
“Those two sequences are what I’ve been told were most edited down to show less children in danger. So somewhere out there, there’s footage of a car rolling over me.”
One of the most terrifying scenes in Halloween 5 is when Michael Myers is driving a car chasing young Billy and Jamie as they run frantically through fields near the Tower Farm, and Landman says the adrenaline of youth made a fun and excited experience out of what he would consider out of the question to even attempt if asked to today.
“The car stuff was done with mirrors, or rather a large mirror,” he remembers. “There’s actually a big mistake in the car sequence, and if you haven’t noticed it you’ll go back and then you can’t un-see it. For some of the shots where you see the car coming directly at me, there’s no driver. Michael’s in the passenger seat.
“The way it was shot was there was this huge mirror that the car drove towards and I was running next to it, and then the camera was at an angle shooting the mirror so it looked like the car was right behind me, and at some point the mirror image didn’t get flopped. It didn’t get turned around, so you’re seeing the mirror image, you’re seeing Michael in the passenger seat instead of the driver seat. It’s one or two quick shots, but it’s enough that once you see it you’ll say ‘Oh my God, I can’t un-see that!’
“The whole sequence at the farm was really fun, and it was exciting. I mean, there was a car blown up, there was a gate that was crashed through, and they made sure that everyone was there that day, because it was fun. I was there the day they blew up the car, because I remember them saying, ‘Hey, come watch this.’ It was fun.
“With Danielle and I running with the car chasing us, she had a stunt double for some of it, because her chase obviously continues into the forest, but in the field, it is all us running. There was really a car coming at us going 20 miles an hour. (With no mirror special effects.)
“You think 20 miles an hour sounds like nothing, but if something had gone wrong – we were never really in danger, but if something had gone wrong we could have been. Obviously we had our parents looking out for us, but we had the youthful exuberance of, ‘Let’s do it, it’s fun!’ I don’t think I would do it now. I’d be like, ‘Get a stunt double. I’m not trained for this.’ We didn’t know any better. We didn’t know how dangerous it could be.”
“Billy was supposed to be shown alive after the car crash. When I shot the stuff after (the crash), I was told to act like I had two broken arms and two broken legs, walking around on that, that was my direction. Obviously you couldn’t walk around like that, but I think it was just to get me to look like I had major injuries.
“You were always supposed to see me after the accident, but it was just supposed to be more of a surprise that I was still alive than it turned out to be.”
Jeffrey said that a scene near the end of the film that he was accidentally left out of would have better explained Billy’s seemingly ambiguous fate at the end of Halloween 5. Here, Landman sets the record straight.
“The question I always get the most is ‘Did Billy survive?’” he said, “because once I get taken away in the ambulance, there’s the thing when Jamie shouts out my name and all the cops come to save me, but you never see me again.
“It was another mistake in filming. The last scene that they shot of my stuff was the shot of the clinic at the end, and they had already sent me home. The scene in the end at the clinic, where you see the cops there and Michael has been there, I was supposed to be in that shot alive. They had released me from the film and sent me home, and then they went to shoot it and said, ‘Oh no, no Billy,’ but technically, according to the script, I am alive.
“I think in the lore of Halloween, I’m one of two main characters that survived according to the fans, and I’m going to side with the fans. Billy was always meant to live.
“I feel like if I’m an expert or source on any one thing, it’s the survival of Billy, so I say take my word for it. Until (Halloween 5director) Dominique Othenin Girard corrects me, I am still alive.”
As we have in every interview with a former cast member of the Halloween franchise, we asked Landman if he would consider a return to Haddonfield?
“Oh, in a minute!,” Jeffrey said, “I’m waiting for the phone to ring. Rob Zombie where are you? Come on, let’s see where Billy is 25 years later.
“I’d love to come back if the opportunity arose. There’s three different Halloween timelines now – actually there’s four (including Halloween III). If you take (Parts) 1through 6 as one timeline, then 7 starts a new timeline, and then the remake starts third timeline, so somewhere in there I’d love to come back.
“Obviously Danielle has had some wonderful success with the remakes, which is so good to see. I’d love to come back. I think the fans would love it.”
Jeffrey further states that he would not mind playing a new or different character, similar to Danielle Harris’s return to the franchise as Annie Brackett in the Rob Zombie 2007 remake and its 2009 sequel.
Looking back 25 years later, he feels the best part has been the love he has received from the Halloween legion of fans.
“You know, I’ve been so lucky,” he says. “Halloween is my only major film role to date. I work primarily in theater and concert. I just happened to luck out. I really happened to luck out that by circumstance and higher power or whatever, I ended up in this amazing horror franchise that people are so passionate about.
“I love meeting the fans, but with a different twist of fate, I wouldn’t have this whole world open to me, so I will always look at the Halloween world as a huge family, and if anybody ever asks me to come back as someone else, I will be there in a minute just to stay a part of it.
“I go to conventions and I meet people who were in other Halloween movies and you introduce yourself by how you died, like, ‘Hi, I’m Jeffrey, run over by a car in Number 5.’”
Landman remembers nothing but good times on the set and he is quick to praise his talented co-stars, including Danielle Harris, who became a horror icon following Halloween 4 and 5, and has starred in a total of four Halloween films, ranking her as franchise royalty, behind only Jamie Lee Curtis (who also appeared in four films, but whose uncredited voice can be heard in Halloween III) and Donald Pleasance (who appeared in five Halloween films).
“I was just so in awe of her when we were filming, and still am” Jeffrey said of Danielle Harris. “What she’s been through and done. After Halloween III, the revitalization of this series was kind of put on her shoulders really young, and I thought she just handled it so well. She’s really wonderful to watch in those movies.
“She’s always great, but especially looking back at Halloween 4 and 5, it’s such a wonderful performance from a child.
“It’s so rare to see such a great child performance, not just in a horror movie, in general. I think she really did something very special in Halloween 4 and 5, and I’ve heard her speak, and she’s very proud of those two movies.
“So, I’m so in awe of her. She had so much that was on her shoulders, especially coming into Number 5, where even more than in 4, she was carrying the movie. In 4, it’s her with a lot of help from Rachel. In 5, it’s just her pretty much.
“It was my first film and only the second job in my life. I was so new to everything, and she was so wonderful and patient with me learning on the job. It was just a wonderful experience all around.
“Everyone was so aware that we were kids. We were never treated differently, but we were taken care of. We were very well taken of by everyone, especially Donald (Pleasance).
“I know Danielle and Donald had a special bond. How could they not? He was a wonderful man to us. In hindsight, I know more about him than I did at the time. I just knew that he was this sort of very well known actor who was the icon of this series. He was so wonderful us. He would sit with us at dinner and tell stories. I wish now I could sit at that table again and hear those stories as an adult.”
Ironically, the one looking out for the kids’ well-being the most on set was really the man behind the mask.
“I would say actually the person who had the hardest job of all the adults was Don Shanks, who played Michael” said Jeffrey. “He, I’d say more than anyone, understood the responsibility he had towards us.
“He would take the mask off at every chance in a second, where maybe if you’re dealing with adults he might have kept it on between shots, but he would always take it off so it never freaked us out, which it didn’t.
“It’s weird filming a horror movie, especially at such a very young age, because it’s the performance that’s scary. In many ways, it’s really no different when you’re on set than when you’re filming anything else. Until the moment that they yell ‘Action’, everyone is just sort of casual and it’s not scary.
“The only scary stuff was the physical stuff of the car chase. Nothing else on the shoot was scary, because it’s play acting. You’re trying to make a scary movie, but that’s the guy that was just joking two minutes ago.
“There’s nothing scary about Don Shanks in a mask when you just had dinner with the man. He was very aware of making sure that we were okay. That’s what I remember most about the shoot was how kind and wonderful he was to us.
“He is still the most fit, muscular man I’ve ever met in my life, and a total sweetheart. I know he loves meeting the fans very much.”
Jeffrey tells us he never imagined that he would possibly be talking about his time in Haddonfield 25 years later.
“Oh, Hell no!” he says. “I didn’t know until maybe about 10 years ago when I did my first convention how wonderfully rabid the fans are. I say wonderfully because it’s been phenomenal.
“Any time I can get around that energy from the fans, who are so passionate about horror movies in general but specifically about Halloween, they care so much, it sounds corny, but it reminds me every time I meet any fan that there are people that care a great deal about this little movie I made 25 years ago that’s going to follow me the rest of my life.
“That’s a really awesome thing that no matter what I do for the rest of my life, for certain people I’m always going to be little stuttering Billy.
“I’ve heard other ‘actual’ celebrities talking about things like that and how great it is to always have something that you’re always going to be identified with, and for me, to a certain subset I’m always going to be little Billy.
“People care so much that it’s so heartwarming and moving and humbling to remember that nothing I do is insignificant, and that’s so important to remember. Someone somewhere is connecting to everything I do, and as a performer, that’s my job, that’s why I do this, because I want people to care about the stories I tell, and this one really resonated with people.
“The rise of the internet has really helped. I think fandom has really changed in the last 10 years. Look at Twitter. I got a tweet from a fan I’ve never met the other day, and 10 years ago that would not have been possible for a fan from somewhere in Kansas to talk to an actor or a performer or an entertainer or a politician or whatever and have that person respond. It’s so amazing that we have that ability now to really connect.
“I know a lot of people think the internet is the end of communication, but to me it really brings us so much closer together.”
Landman told us he did get to keep some pretty cool souvenirs from the set, including one of Billy’s pirate costumes.
“I kept my daytime outfit,” he said, “and we had five or six pirate costumes and I have one of the good-conditioned ones, and I have the I.D. bracelet and the eye patch and all that stuff.”
Like anyone who has survived a night like a Billy did, or the unique experience of being a working child actor like Jeffrey did, the memories are never too far out of mind.
“On my bookcase in my office, I have a little Michael Myers doll that I look at all the time,” he said. “I’ve never seen it anywhere else. It’s this very cute little wind-up doll of Michael Myers that one of my friends found in a toy shop and mailed to me, and we have been unable to chase another down.”
So it seems that just like in the movies, for this Haddonfield survivor, Michael Myers is still always watching.
Be sure to follow Jeffrey on Twitter @JeffreyLandman!