August 29: Synapse finds complete HALLOWEEN negatives
Don May Jr. of Synapse Films gave Fango the exclusive news of an amazing discovery regarding John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN: “What we’ve got is pretty much all the unused original camera negative from John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN,” he says (see another photo below). In conjunction with friend Billy Kirkus, Synapse was able to obtain these materials and save them from heading into a trash bin. “Luckily, Billy was able to find this material before it was destroyed,” May tells Fango. “The story on how we got the negative is a long one, but we’ll save it for when we’re able to showcase the materials in some way. Kirkus should be commended for pretty much saving the Holy Grail of horror films.
“Right now, I need to physically go through all the reels and, hopefully, match up the numbers on them with a lined script, like I had to do when I was looking for extra scenes from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,” May continues. “I called HALLOWEEN editor Tommy Lee Wallace, and he was pretty excited about the find and will hopefully find us a lined script to reference the individual shots. He was amazed that this material has shown up almost 30 years after filming.”
HALLOWEEN fans will likely be amazed too when they eventually get to check out the visual riches Synapse and Kirkus have unearthed. “Wallace told me about some specifics of the original shoot,” May says, “and pointed out that what we have probably contains scenes that were originally filmed much differently and reshot. The ‘clothesline’ sequence was completely redone by Carpenter; what you see in the film wasn’t the way it was originally done. The most exciting possibility is that Wallace told me about the original ending—and if this is indeed all the original camera negative, then we certainly have it. Wallace explained that he always thought it was funny that, even in the ‘original shooting scripts’ that are for sale for HALLOWEEEN, the ending always has Michael Myers disappearing at the end. That isn’t the way they originally shot it. The original shooting script, and the way the movie was initially filmed, had Michael dying at the end. Only a few days later did Carpenter decide to reshoot the ending with him staying alive. They filmed him falling, and Donald Pleasance doing a bunch of different reaction shots on the balcony, just in case they decided to change it…which they did.
“There was even one can in those boxes labeled ‘1981,’ ” May adds, “so it makes me wonder if what we have is the new footage that was shot for HALLOWEEN’s television version. I won’t know for sure until I start digging through them.”
Which is not to say he hasn’t already started checking out part of this treasure trove. “Last time I was in Los Angeles working, I shipped a few of the reels to myself and put them up in an HD telecine room,” he says. “The negatives were in such good shape, they looked as if they were shot yesterday. The sequences I randomly grabbed were Jamie Lee Curtis talking on the phone and carving the pumpkin, and the sequence where Kyle Richards tries to pull Nancy Loomis out of the laundry room window. [Laughs] Poor little Kyle doesn’t quite succeed and, after failing to pull Nancy properly, just turns, looks at the camera and shrugs. An obvious blooper! God only knows what else we’ll find.”
It’s also uncertain at this point exactly what use will be made of all this material. “Malek Akkad [son of late HALLOWEEN producer Moustapha Akkad] has been in contact with me, and we’re speaking right now,” May reveals. “Obviously, Malek really wants the materials. I want to work with him and make sure it’s all properly transferred and preserved, and Kirkus was very adamant that the footage not go anywhere without my participation and restoration services. It will be a major undertaking. It’ll take months. I’ve restored some classic horror films before [TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, RE-ANIMATOR], but I’ve never been so excited about a project. I mean, this is HALLOWEEN we’re talking about here—one of the most influential and important horror films of all time—and we’ve got around 45,000 feet of unused footage. It’s worth it to go all out and make sure it’s all properly archived and transferred.”
And he’s hoping to team with another of the big guns in the cinematic restoration field. “I recently spoke to film preservationist Robert Harris about all this,” May says. “He has restored classic films for major studios, like VERTIGO and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. He’s been a friend of mine for over 10 years, and even he was surprised at our find. We only spoke briefly about it, but can you imagine if Synapse and Robert Harris were to join together for this restoration undertaking? It certainly could happen!” And Fango will keep you informed of any and all updates. —Michael Gingold