The Shape of Things: Hutchinson talks "Halloween: Nightdance"

Thu, January 31st, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Shaun Manning, Staff Writer

"Halloween: Nightdance" on sale in February

Halloween begins in February this year, and lasts right up 'til All Hallow's Eve. "Halloween: Nightdance" from Devil's Due Publishing is a four-issue monthly miniseries that looks to return to the horror movie franchise's terrifying roots. CBR News had a chance to chat with writer Stefan Hutchinson about the Tim Seely-illustrated book and get his take on what makes a really effective horror story.

Hutchinson describes "Halloween: Nightdance" as "a very back-to-basics storyline, and the first stage in a larger scheme to re-introduce the characters." One of the writer's goals with the miniseries is to reestablish what he sees as the most true (and most terrifying) take on the murderous main character. "Lots of people know 'Michael Myers', due to the sequels, but less know 'The Shape', so hopefully by the end of this story we'll have gone some way to restoring that, without undermining the other stories," Hutchinson told CBR News, referring to the original "Halloween's" end credits, in which the actor who played the killer for most of the film is credited as playing the role of "The Shape."

"Nightdance," Hutchinson revealed, will follow the original film's model of establishing normal, sympathetic characters who are targeted without apparent reason. "It's about a young girl named Lisa who The Shape again fixates on, unbeknownst to her," said Hutchinson. "He's been watching her for a long time, stalking her and her friends, learning about her fears in his inhuman, patient way. Lisa has a very ugly event that she's been struggling to come to terms with - an event that left her with a chronic fear of darkness. In her dreams, however, she's conquered this fear, and she sees herself as a ballerina dancing under the starlight, afraid of nothing. As we get closer to the night of Halloween, The Shape begins to move in, and Lisa has to overcome this fear if she stands any hope of getting away."

Pages from "Halloween: Nightdance"
Hutchinson is no stranger to the "Halloween" film property nor comics based upon the classic horror series. "I got involved way back in the beginning of 2003, the original film's 25th anniversary," Hutchinson said. "A convention was being put on for the series, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to try and put out a 'Halloween' comic book. I'm a huge, lifelong horror fan and had actually studied the film as part of my Film Theory degree, so as a result I had a real reverence for it. I'd just seen 'Halloween: Resurrection' and felt mortally wounded by how 'lite' the films had become (prior to this point, even the worst films in the series always had a dark feel to them).

"I got in touch with the license owners (who were different back then) and pitched what would become 'Halloween: One Good Scare.' It came out at the convention, actually got really strong reviews, but because we didn't have distribution in place, cost myself and a friend an absolute fortune! But I guess, going from the horror stories I hear, that's how you learn in comics.

"So, while various legalities and ownership rights to the series were discussed, everything went into limbo. In the meantime, I directed the 'Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror' DVD, which was another massive learning experience. I wrote another comic, 'Halloween: Autopsis' purely for inclusion in that DVD, and also to get some sort of interest in the comic books again. Meanwhile, Devil's Due was chasing the rights, and everything fell into place. It's just a shame I had to wait five years!"

Pages from "Halloween: Nightdance"
This time, Hutchinson's artist on "Halloween" will be Tim Seeley, already a slasher star with "Hack/Slash." "It was great working with a name artist who really loves the original film and is a huge horror fan like myself," Hutchinson said. "I think you'll find that the books get better from issue to issue as we get more 'in sync' with each other. On my previous two books, I've worked really closely with the artist, whereas this time it wasn't like that, so it's been a real learning curve for me in that way, and I think you'll see that as the book goes from strength to strength with each issue - which is as it should be. We'd spoke over MySpace in advance and he told me that he really wanted to do the book after reading the outline, which was great, and his enthusiasm really shows through in the detail level of some of these pages - I don't think he knew what he'd let himself in for though! I'm sure Tim probably wants to kill me at this point, because I'm really detail-oriented and annoying. I guess I'm just so sick of seeing my favorite screen villains being treated as cash cows. There's a reason we have these horror icons, and that's because once-upon-a-time, they were in some really scary stories that made a massive impact on people. I'd love to see those days return."

Elaborating on the idea that horror icons have been misused and that later "Halloween" movies had become "lite," Hutchinson says these films had lost what made the first so memorable. "There's no sense of any real danger in 'Resurrection,'" he stated. "Characters die, but it's all done in such a humorous way that there's no gravity to any of it. I mean, I don't need my 'Halloween' fix to be relentless, repulsive and harrowing, but it should be played straight and shouldn't really be a showcase for pretty faces without any real tension or drama. Lots of scenes in that film come across as poor parodies of the earlier films defining moments, and it's almost a 'made-for-teevee' remix without any of the claustrophobic atmosphere of the original."

"Halloween: Nightdance" #1 variant cover by Greg Capullo
In the landmark "Halloween," Hutchinson continued, "the first half of the movie is all in daylight, with very 'normal' characters, and it's really, really creepy. You can't really get that when you have Busta Rhymes performing Kung-Fu moves on a villain that worked principally due to his uncertain and ethereal eerieness. It's the same sense of disappointment that comes from finding out the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is just an old man."

These ideas are readily in line with Hutchinson's notion of what makes a good horror or slasher story overall. "A good horror story can be anything that terrifies you. I mean, really, 'horror' is the wrong word because that relates purely to an emotion of repulsion, but that aside, the genre is really powerful because you can tell any type of story within it," he said. "You're dealing with heightened emotions and the fear of death which is directly at the root of what it means to be human. To experience a great horror story is to genuinely look into the abyss and come out on the other side - alive - which is something that rarely happens to the characters we side with during the story.

"A good horror film can be scary, can be repulsive, can be terrifying and exciting. There's a real purity in that, and it's such a shame to see that our genre is always the most maligned. I guess there's an assumption out there that it's really easy to make a good horror story - when it isn't - which is why, unfortunately, especially in horror cinema, there's so much shit floating around. It gets hard to find the gems amongst the poorly made crap."

Art from "Halloween: Nightdance"
So what, in Hutchinon's view, should a "Halloween" story be? What makes a killer like Michael Myers compelling? "To me, he's not Michael Myers, he's The Shape - a fairly ambiguous force of nature who's also a bit of a sadistic, evil bastard," Hutchinson said, adding The Shape should retain as much mystery as possible, at once human and inhuman. "He inhabits a strange, unexplained place between a conventional serial killer -- complete with human attributes as voyeurism, sadism, some perversion and a very twisted sense of humor-- and something out of a nightmare; something you can't argue or plead with, something unstoppable and silent. It's that uncertainty that makes him a bogeyman."

Hutchinson is skeptical of the continuity that's been built up across the several films. "I'm of the opinion that the less defined [The Shape/Michael Myers] is, the more scary he is. I know the sequels set up a bloodline plot (in that he hunted down his family), but in the original, he fixated on a random girl (she wasn't his sister until they did a retcon in part II) and stalked her relentlessly, just for leaving a key on his doorstep. There's something extremely primal and fairytale about that, and I think the simplicity is one of the main reasons for the film's endurance in popular culture."

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