When Don Shanks got the job of stunt coordinator for the 1989 sequel Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers he also became the new man behind the infamous white mask of horror’s most hallowed killer, bringing back to life the big screen’s greatest cinematic terror while exposing a new degree of humanity to The Shape.
We caught up with Don Shanks during the epic Halloween movies reunion at Flashback Weekend Chicago this past August, where he joined the largest gathering of Michael Myers actors ever in Illinois, home state of both Myers and Shanks. Read on for our full interview with Don Shanks!
Was driving with the mask on difficult?
“Yes it was. It has netting over the eyes, and we had a lot of smoke. So you get like a starburst off of it when you do it like that. In some places we were able to take the netting off. There’s one shot of me driving, a still shot, and the smokes coming out of the eye holes
“But we were using the car for lighting too.
“So there’s a scene were I’m chasing Wendy, and I’m chasing her with the car and I’m right on her, because I had to get the lights on her. On the third take, she said, ‘Well when do you see my face?’ And the D.P. goes, ‘Well I can’t really see your face.’ So she turned as she was running and stepped on her cape and tripped, and I put the car right on top of her.
“I mean I heard her scream, but you know, it didn’t hurt her, it just scared her.
“And I was like, ‘Why did you do that?’ And she goes, ‘Well I wanted the camera to see me.’
“We were also using Danielle. But she was quick, you know, in and out of the trees.”
Is it true that some of that was done using mirrors?
“Well that’s (the scene) when I hit the little boy, because they wanted me to come in close and I said I wouldn’t do it. I mean I had to put my foot down. So they get this mirror that was like 10 feet tall and 12 feet across. When they brought it out, usually what you’d do is you would use tempered glass, you hit it and it goes into little pieces. I looked at it and I go, ‘This isn’t tempered.’ And they said, ‘Yes it is.’ I go, ‘No it’s not, because it’s got a double edge on it.’ And they said, ‘Well you don’t want to do it?’ I said, ‘No, I’ll do it.’
“So if you watch the film, you’ll see that I’m sitting on the passenger side, because of the mirror, but when I went through it, it came out in shards and it ripped the top off, and they thought it had killed me. What I had done was I went underneath the dash. As soon as I hit it I ducked underneath it, because it would’ve taken my head off.”
Was that the most challenging scene of that film?
“We we used real weapons. So when I’m doing different kills and stuff, I’ve got a real knife, I got a real scythe and pitchfork, a real weedeater. The only one where we used a retractable (knife) was when I killed Wendy. But everything was real.”
Is that normally how it would have been for you on other films?
“No. But I used to teach fencing, I do knife throwing, tomahawk throwing, I have a target out in my backyard. So you know, I was comfortable with it.”
|HDN editor in chief Matt Artz interviewing Don Shanks at Flashback Weekend 2015. (photo by Sue Artz for HalloweenDailyNews.com)|
Were you a fan of the movies that had come before it? Had you seen them all?
“I had seen 1 and 2and I thought those were the best, I still do. Part 4 was just coming out when we were doing Part 5, and I asked them, ‘Do you want me to go see it?’ and they said, ‘No.’”
So they wanted a different interpretation. But you had seen the first two. Do you remember trying to incorporate anything from what Nick (Castle) and Dick (Warlock) did?
“It’s in the back of your head, you know. I still think that number 1 is just great, and number 2 is the best sequel. But they wanted a little more acting in this one. Dominique (Othenin-Girard, director) would give me different suggestions as we were doing a scene. He told me, ‘We want you to walk like wood moving through water.’”
At first I’m laughing, but then you think about it and that really kind of makes sense for Michael. Was Dominique a cool director to work with?
“Yeah he was. I mean, sometimes he went off a little bit. At one point when Donald (Pleasence) is beating me up with a 2×4 – it’s foam and it’s got a PVC pipe in it – and he broke my nose. Dominique goes, ‘Oh that doesn’t hurt, there’s foam in it.’ I said, ‘Well let me hit you with it.’ I hit him and knocked him across the room. He goes, ‘You’re getting hit in the head by that?’
“But that’s how it goes. It happens. I used to fight competitively, so I’ve literally had my nose put on the side of my face. When I was 17 I had my nose broken and the coach put two pencils up my nose and popped it back in and said, ‘Okay, get back out there.’”
Do you have any advice for the makers of the next Halloween movie (Halloween Returns)?
“Yeah, hire me. I’d come back in a heartbeat. And technically, if you went by the age that Michael is supposed to be in the beginning, he and I are about the same age. And I’m from Illinois.”
Can we talk about that quick scene with you and Danielle where that’s you without the mask?
“When we were doing it, they had to put my head in a vice because it was so precise. And they shot a lot of other stuff of me without the mask. Dominique was saying that for the sequel, I was going to be the Man in Black, because I played him too. I did bits and pieces, I didn’t do all of him, but there would be scenes where I’d go out one door here and I’d just put on the coat and come through the other door.
“So I go, ‘How is that going to work?’ And there was a movie at the time called Raising Cain, it’s like is it real, is it an alter ego, or is it a twin brother? So they were going to cut back to Part 5 showing that it was the same person.”
That’s such a nice, almost tender moment in the middle of all this chaos.
“He wanted me to be like a shark on a feeding frenzy, so that bathtub I threw around was 600 pounds. They were afraid we were going to knock out that back wall. Then when I go back downstairs and I get caught in the chains, he wanted it to be like a shark getting caught in a net.”
How was it working with Donald Pleasence?
“He was great. We were doing the scene right after I kill Wendy, and I was wrapped for the night. There’s a scene where the ambulances come and he has a dialogue with Michael. He came to my dressing room, and I was getting ready to leave, and he said, ‘Might I ask a favor of you. Could I impose on you to just be there? When I say that (dialogue), I just want to know that you’re out there.’ I said, ‘Of course.’”
So did you suit up as Michael?
“Nope. When we were doing the film, all the other actors would be there on their day off, supporting everybody else. It’s just a professional courtesy, and everybody was having fun.”
Have you enjoyed watching Danielle’s career continue to grow?
“Yes. There was one shot, I wish I had it, but it’s she and I sitting in the director’s chair and we’re both asleep.”
“He was a great kid.
“When we were filming in avenues of Salt Lake, they would put the mask on me in the makeup trailer and I would walk to set, and they finally came and they asked that I not do that, because the people in the neighborhood were freaking out. It’s two o’clock in the morning and Michael Myers is walking around.”
Do you enjoy making these appearances and going to conventions?
“Oh yeah. You find out exactly what the fans want. I wish sometimes the producers and the directors would come and just sit at their table.”
Do you have an opinion of why Michael has lasted this long?
“Simplicity. It’s a simple thing, but it’s like riding a roller coaster. You’re excited, you know what’s going to happen, but you also know that it’s not real and it’s going to end. There are some things that don’t have to be explained.”
Another one of my favorite seasonal horror movies that you were in is Silent Night, Deadly Night.
“I had someone say, ‘Well you’re only in that one scene,’ but no, I was the stunt double. And I also played the priest, and I also doubled the cop because he didn’t know how to drive a car, I take the chop to the chest, I fall down the stairs.
“It was fun. I was helping a friend out. At one place where I’m doing a driving sequence, my son is about a year old, and he had called me and I didn’t have a babysitter, so he’s in the car with me while I’m doing stunts. I just belted him up and we’re doing high speed stuff.
“There’s a scene where I’m the guy who shoots the gun, and then I turn around and I take the shots, so I shoot myself.
“I also did another one, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, and I did the Hook in that. What I like about that one is that I play the cop at the end, and I ask them, ‘You didn’t recognize this guy?’ and I’m the guy.
“I also did another film with John (Schneider) called Like Son. It’s kind of a vigilante type film. I play the lead. I play the father, the sheriff. It was a lot of fun to do. And I got to do all my own stunts. He’s an excellent guy. He’s got a studio down in Louisiana. I hope he keeps going. Where we shot Smothered, he bought the property. I had thought about buying it myself, because it’s a really cool place. So in Like Son, we literally shot out his backdoor. We shot the whole thing on his property.”
On bringing Dick Warlock (Halloween II, Halloween III) into the convention circuit…
“We were doing a Married with Children episode, and I said, ‘You and I, we’ve played the same part. I’ve done one of the Michael Myers. Why aren’t you doing the conventions?’ He said, ‘I don’t know anything about them. What do you do?’ I said, ‘Well you bring your pictures and you sign them.’ I had a show that I couldn’t do, so I called him. He said, ‘You really going to do this for me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’
“The next time I saw him he had the banner and he had his pictures. He learned quick.
“We help each other. We were just talking about that this morning. He said, ‘If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.’ But it’s just, you know, unless somebody tells you about it you don’t know. Nobody was really doing these (conventions). There would be like four or five people (signing) and that would be it. They were not like these. They were more haunted houses. Then the conventions started.”
So you’ve been doing conventions for a long time then?
“Since ’89. Going back to when I did the TV series, (Grizzly Adams) we started in ’76 doing car shows. Those were really insane. “One weekend in Detroit, (Grizzly Adams co-star) Dan (Haggerty) and I went through 180,000 pictures. They would literally put four bodyguards on me. First they would bring you out in a motor home and they’d park it next to the stage, because there was so many people, it’s like 400,000 people go through there in three days. This car show is the biggest in the world. And kids got in for free. So I have a shot of it, and it’s of the line, and you just cannot see the end of the people.”
Well thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.
|HDN editor in chief Matt Artz with Don Shanks at Mad Monster Party 2014 (photo by Sue Artz for HalloweenDailyNews.com)|