When Kevin Williamson was 12 years old, he went to see "Halloween," John Carpenter's 1978 low-budget horror film, 10 times. The movie's intense impact on its audience--which alternately shrieked at and talked to the screen, warning the characters of their doom--made him decide, then and there, to become a filmmaker.
In 1996, he made good on that vow. Williamson's horror-comedy "Scream"--his screenwriting debut--was packed with references to "Halloween" and other scary films. It was a box-office smash, and Williamson has been busy ever since. He wrote two of last year's most successful movies--"I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Scream 2"--as well as the forthcoming "Killing Mrs. Tingle" (which he also directed), "Scream 3" (which he will also produce) and "The Faculty."
By drawing moviegoers--particularly teenagers--in huge numbers, "Scream" and its offshoots have reinvigorated the horror genre. And just in time: Two decades after "Halloween" earned its star, Jamie Lee Curtis, the nickname the Scream Queen, Curtis is back in "Halloween: H20," which opens Wednesday. Just to bring things full circle, Williamson is very much involved in the project, having sketched out the story and polished the script (which was written by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg).
"I really wanted to do it," said Williamson, who is credited as an executive producer. " 'Halloween' is my favorite movie of all time. 'Scream' was a love letter to the entire movie--a homage, a tribute. And this ["Halloween: H20"] is a total celebration of the original. I connected 'Halloween' to 'Scream' to 'Halloween: H20.' It's like a mirror looking into a mirror."
Here's an example of what he means: In "Halloween," Curtis tells the two kids she is baby-sitting to go next door to "the Mackenzies' house" to call the police. In "Scream," Drew Barrymore plays Casey Becker, whose father at one point tells her mother to "go down the street to the Mackenzies' house" to call the authorities. In "Halloween: H20," the line is uttered again, with a twist: Curtis sends her son and his girlfriend to get help next door--at the Beckers' house.
Horror aficionados will catch several such echoes throughout the film, from its cast (Janet Leigh, Curtis' mother and the star of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 horror classic "Psycho," plays a secretary) to its props. Leigh at one point drives off in a blue-and-white Ford Fairlane--the same car, with the same license plate, that she drove in "Psycho." Another character appears in a hockey mask--a nod to the "Friday the 13th" movie franchise in which the scary villain, Jason, always wears a hockey mask.
"As long as it's reasonably clever, you can't do too much," Steve Miner, the director of "Halloween: H20," said of these nods to other films. He noted that in the original "Halloween," Carpenter paid tribute to his predecessors by including a scene of kids watching the 1951 film "The Thing From Another World" on TV. Such mimicry, Miner said, "has become part of the genre at this point."
(Miner even copied Carpenter's use of a movie within a movie, featuring a clip from "Scream 2" on television in one scene.)
Nevertheless, the cast and crew are adamant that "Halloween: H20"--plans for which were already underway before "Scream" opened--is much more than a two-hour inside joke. It was Curtis' idea to use the 20th anniversary of the original movie to revisit her character, Laurie Strode. But the only reason to do that, Curtis felt, was to explore what Strode would really be like two decades later: a damaged character still struggling to overcome her fears.
"This woman was a survivor, but the truth is that there is no surviving an attack like that. She had lost her soul," said Curtis, 39, recalling how Strode was stalked by a mask-wearing, knife-wielding attacker in the 1978 film. "That is how I pitched the movie: Regaining the soul by facing your own fear. Give [Strode] a chance to escape. Have her decide to stay and fight. When the stalkee becomes the stalker, I guarantee you the audience will go crazy."
She added: "I jokingly call it the field of screams. If you build it correctly, they will come, they will scream, they will go insane."
Curtis said that she was proud to return to horror, though she knows some see the genre as less prestigious than comedy, in which she has also excelled (in films such as "A Fish Called Wanda," "True Lies" and "Trading Places").
"As Williamson points out in his 'Scream' screenplay, it was in the world of horror that I played a high school student of high intellect who fought back against adversity. But in 'legitimate' movies I exposed my body. In 'Trading Places,' I was a prostitute, and six seconds of toplessness have followed me for 17 years. In 'True Lies' I end up dancing around in a G-string," she said. "In horror movies, I play intelligent, thoughtful, brave women. It's such an irony that someone would consider that a step back for me."
The actress said working with her mother was an added treat.
"Two women, iconographically recognized in this genre, who happen to be mother and daughter--it was completely delicious," she said.
Bob Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films whose Dimension Films division is releasing "Halloween: H20," said that without Curtis pushing it, the film would not have been made.
"I've got to give her credit. She called me up on the telephone and said no matter what she's done, 'Halloween' is what people always ask her about," he said. "Jamie Lee came back for a reason. Get ready."
* NO FEAR MARKETING: Dimension Films moves up the release of "Halloween: H20" to the highly competitive summer season. See Company Town in Business section.