[Interview] ‘Halloween’ at 35: Brian Andrews on John Carpenter
It’s Halloween week and the 35th anniversary of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic that gave new meaning the spookiest holiday of the year, and to celebrate we’re bringing you Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Brian Andrews, who played lovable little Tommy Doyle in the groundbreaking film!
We talked to Brian at length this summer about his memories of making Halloween (click here to read Part 1), the genius of John Carpenter, and much more as part of our ongoing “Halloween at 35″ retrospective series, and we found the actor to be both humble and incredibly insightful in our extended conversations.
“What do I think of John as a director? He’s way on top,” Brian told us.“You ask me about John’s style? He just sat back a lot. He just had me and Jamie improvise, and we were able to connect.
“Once in a while I look at some of my work and I say, ‘Goddamn, I’m overacting,’ but those are the shots John used. Those are the shots he wanted, strangely enough. He could’ve told me don’t do this. He let me go as far as I could. It was a lot of fun really playing extreme like that.
“I don’t remember really a lot of direction. I don’t mean that to sound insulting, but this might have something to do with trusting your actors and trusting your casting and trusting your screenplay.”
Brian remembers that Carpenter had come up with a list of some of his favorite scariest ideas to include in the film.
“Supposedly John had got together and made a list of really, really scary things, and the ones they chose, they put in the movie,” said Brain.
“Some of the things that I really liked, they put in The Thing That Wouldn’t Die, and obviously Michael doesn’t die. That’s a horror standard, the thing that can’t be killed, can’t be stopped.
“The escaped lunatic; there’s your basic campfire story, that’s how it starts out. You know the tale of The Hook? You know, the hook’s on the loose, he escaped from the mental institution, hangs out at lovers lane, he’s called The Hook because he has a hook for a right hand. All good stories start out like this. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but even Stephen King kind of says that Halloween is a variation of the tale of The Hook.”
“I like that fact that they turned the movie around in the last 15 seconds.”
He says he still marvels the simple effectiveness of the film, even more so now.
“When I think of the movie I have to actually replay everything in my mind,” he said. “I like John Carpenter’s graceful camera movement. That’s really under-appreciated. It’s not understood well.
“Halloween is fairly appreciated in the horror genre because it’s a big iconic film, and sometimes horror does not get the best wrap, but John’s camera movements are just, the camera is an additional character that guides and leads the audience.
“It’s some of the best work I’ve ever seen.”
“It starts out with the beautiful camera movement itself. Right from the very beginning we’ve got the moving camera, we’ve got the camera in motion, we’ve got action, we’ve got a great plot.
“This is a very voyeuristic movie. One of my favorite shots is when we see Lynda and Laurie walk around the corner, and as usual I have nothing to do, and keep in mind that’s a steadicam, that’s a Panaglide shot and he (director of photography Dean Cundey) is walking backwards. It’s one of the better examples of the camera being an actual character or participant in the movie itself.”
Brian also remarked that the infamous ending of the film signals a perfect tragedy.
“I’ve been listening to David Mamet,” he said, “who I should’ve been listening to years ago, and he says that the perfect tragedy culminates in an ending that is both surprising and inevitable. The ending to Halloween is both surprising and inevitable.”
Andrews told us in Part 1 of our interview that Carpenter likely used so many of his own friends in the production of Halloween because it was simply the only way he could afford to complete his ultimate vision due mostly to the shoestring budget.
“We had box lunches when I was there,” he said, “so basically we’re getting our food from Kentucky Fried Chicken. I want to stress the low-budget of this.”
“I remember them talking about ‘We have to hide the palm trees’. I remember them mentioning that. I don’t really remember them doing anything regarding the leaves or anything like that. You want to talk about low budget? We had box lunches. We had one trailer, which served as production office, school house, and dressing room. That’s pretty low-budgetary as you could get.”
Brian went on to tell us about how the Halloween script alone is a work of art in itself that can and should be appreciated even apart from the finished film.
“I recommend if you have a copy of the screenplay, go read it out loud,” he said. “I recommend that everyone read the screenplay. The actual movie is plotted out in the screenplay, shot by shot. It’s storyboarded (in words), when the camera’s going to move forward, when the camera’s going to move back.
“Our first shot, we’re panning forward on the pumpkin. Then we’ve got the steadicam shot. These are both moving shots. After that we have a scene with Dr. Loomis, I’m going to skip over that, and our first shot we see Laurie Strode moving across the street, it’s just a beautiful shot. And they (the scenes) are so graceful, they’re not overdone. They’re not like ‘Let me show you what I can do with the camera’. They don’t distract from the mind.”
In the end, the success of Halloween lies in its continued enjoyment over repeat viewings year after year, and Brian believes that is because the film remains a great thrill ride rather than a dated torture chamber.
“The whole idea about this movie,” Brian said, “is it’s the setting of a tone and a mood. It’s the setting of the atmosphere, bringing out the element of fear in the audience.
“It’s not repulsion at all. A lot of horror movies you see these days, they just want to repulse the audience, but Halloween is a very fun film.
“It sets out to frighten you and scare you, but it doesn’t set out to make you nauseous or sick. Its purpose is to delight, so you can tell your best friend ‘I saw this great movie’.”
After 35 years, Halloween still stands as a monument to cinematic fear, and the young star of the film can’t say enough good things about the director who brought it all to life.
Brian recalled, “Carpenter says, ‘I try to be invisible, I try not to show off’, and it’s an old fashioned way of thinking, but I really enjoyed working with him. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to see him sometime this year.”
We will talk to Brian more about the legacy Halloween and the lingering weight of having survived the night Michael Myers came home in the emotional third and final installment of our interview!
Read Part 1 of our interview with Brian Andrews here.
Read Part 3 of our interview with Brian Andrews here.
You can watch Brian face Michael again in the original Halloween, currently playing in limited theaters, and you can meet the actor at the upcoming 35 Years of Terror Halloween anniversary convention happening November 15-17 in South Pasadena, California.
Be sure to click here to follow Brian Andrews on Facebook.