Welcome to Scene of the Scream – a monthly column investigating the settings in which horror takes place. Locations are a crucial part of the genre – from gothic castles to suburban high schools, where the horror happens often has a big influence on the story itself. Each month this column will explore a real or fictional location in the horror genre or set design from a particular film, and look at their influence on the themes and characters that live inhabit them.
By the 2010s, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) had given rise to a fully-fledged franchise, encompassing seven sequels and a pair of films in the reboots directed by Rob Zombie. When director David Gordon Green was putting together his script for the newest chapter in the Halloween canon, he had to decide how much of this multi-stranded backstory to incorporate. Although he “hung on tight to Halloween II for awhile”, Green ultimately decided that his film would be a direct continuation of the events of the original film, discarding the history established in the other sequels, including the brother-sister relationship between Michael and Laurie. This choice establishes a strong link between the 1978 and 2018 movies, which is reflected in many aspects of the production.
From the very start, the design choices signal that this film will be going back to the original source material. The opening credits are near-identical to the 1978 version – orange text in ITC Serif Gothic Heavy appears on a black background while the Carpenter theme plays. A rotted pumpkin springs back to life – a reverse time-lapse sequence described by production designer Richard Wright as giving a “sense of the rebirth [of the franchise], 40 years after the original.”
“From the very start, the design choices signal that [Halloween 2018] will be going back to the original source material.”
The plot of Halloween (2018) is a direct continuation from Halloween (1978), the events taking place exactly 40 years later. Laurie Strode, haunted by what happened to her in high school, has become obsessed with protecting herself and her loved ones from the dangers of the world, and the possible return of Michael Myers in particular. She raised her daughter Karen to be able to defend herself against any threat, but her survivalist way of life led to Karen being removed from her custody at the age of 12. Now an adult with a daughter of her own, Karen has done her best to reject Laurie’s doom-laden teachings, and tries instead to focus on the good in the world. The imminent transfer of Michael to a new secure facility brings up Laurie’s anxieties, and it seems that it may be impossible to keep the events of 1978 in the past.
The set design throughout Halloween (2018) strengthens this sense of connection to the events of the 1978 film. The neighborhood of Haddonfield has a very similar feel, with the closely-connected suburban houses and cluttered garages around which Michael stalks his victims. As set decorator Missy Berent Ricker says, they aimed to create a similar atmosphere to 1978 Haddonfield: “we tried to stay true to that homey, low-budget kind of vibe.”
In both individual moments and longer plot arcs, Halloween (2018) often echoes or mirrors the 1978 film, and set design is used to enhance these references. Michael‘s journey in both is nearly identical – he escapes incarceration, makes his way to Haddonfield and embarks on a murderous spree. A distinct sense of location has always been crucial to Michael‘s character and motivations. Although he remains enigmatic and we never learn much about his true aims or inner thoughts, it is clear that he is irresistibly drawn back to Haddonfield. The tagline to Halloween (1978) – “The Night He Came Home!” – is significant: Michael‘s desire to return to his old neighborhood is the force that drives his actions.
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In Halloween (2018) we first see Michael at the Smith’s Grove facility, when the two journalists come to visit him. There are again stylistic nods to the 70s in the design of the prison – we see old-fashioned surveillance monitors with Dymo labels, and an ancient-looking beige record player. The presence of these antiquated items subtly suggest that the facility is perhaps underfunded and far from state-of-the-art, which plants a seed of doubt in our minds as to whether the place is truly capable of holding Michael, should he choose to escape.
In many horror films prisons are depicted as dark, forbidding places, such as the dungeon-like cells that hold Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (1991). By contrast, Smith’s Grove is brightly-lit, and we are introduced to Michael in the light, sunny prison yard. It feels jarring to see the character in this environment, being used to seeing him operate under cover of night, hiding around corners and in the shadows. The checkerboard pattern on the ground with inmates confined to taped-off squares brings to mind a chess board, hinting that a battle between two foes will soon be under way and that Michael may be already preparing his opening move.
Once he has made his way back to Haddonfield, Michael is again in his natural environment, able to blend into the shadows, and unremarkable amongst the costumed residents. After killing a woman in her kitchen, he drops the hammer he was using and picks up her kitchen knife, this prop completing his iconic look. He leaves the house by the front door and stands on the street, taking in the scene with its pumpkin-filled porches and Halloween decorations, clearly feeling that he is back home.
“As set decorator Missy Berent Ricker says, they aimed to create a similar atmosphere to 1978 Haddonfield: ‘we tried to stay true to that homey, low-budget kind of vibe.'”
The main location in Halloween (2018) is Laurie’s home – an isolated farmhouse in the woods on the outskirts of Haddonfield. It is here that we first meet her, when the journalists visit her for an interview, and the house itself tells us a great deal about her mental state, her history and the woman that Laurie has become. We learn that Laurie has been married twice and has a daughter, and the house has a homely, lived-in feeling – chintzy sofas, cane furniture and warm-colored patterned wallpaper.
Straightaway though, it’s also shown that this building has a purpose other than being a family home – the driveway is gated, there are multiple locks on the door and surveillance equipment in the kitchen. The farmhouse shows the 40 years’ life experience that Laurie has had since the events of 1978 – wanting to move on from the trauma that Michael caused her, but unable to while he is still alive. Ricker describes how the set dressing showed these layers to Laurie’s character: “You’re looking at this floral print couch but then you see a gun cleaning kit on the kitchen island, or you see bars on the windows”
It is clear that Laurie only feels safe in her own home; at the interview she is self-assured, challenging the journalists’ assumptions and coolly requesting her $3000 dollar fee. In other places however, her anxieties surface: visibly upset and drinking heavily when she goes to meet her family at a restaurant, and frantic and seemingly paranoid when she turns up unannounced at her daughter’s house. Karen’s home is itself almost ostentatiously ordinary, a physical demonstration of her rejection of her hypervigilant upbringing. The walls are magnolia, and there is pleasant, neutral decor: drawings of birds and china-patterned teapots on shelves. Laurie launches into a severe critique of Karen’s security measures, pointing out the open side window and lack of an alarm, demonstrating her fixation on the home as the only potential place of safety, to be defended at all costs.
In a way, Laurie has been living in a horror film since the events of Halloween night in 1978, and there are a number of design choices in the film that reflect this. Chain link fences with prominent “No Trespassing” signs are a staple of the slasher genre, and are usually at the entrance to a villain’s abode. Laurie’s shooting range populated by mannequins has a darkly disturbing atmosphere, especially as shop dummies are generally associated in horror with deeply disturbed characters such as the serial murderer in Maniac (1980 & 2012). In one sequence near the end of the film, Allyson stumbles into the clearing filled with mannequins, and the direction frames this as a terrifying experience, zooming in on the uncanny figures as Allyson screams.
Taken out of context, the viewer would assume that Allyson had entered an extremely dangerous place, rather than the safety of her grandmother’s property. The use of these environmental cues typically aligned with horror movie killers being associated in this film with Laurie gives extra nuance to the character, and leads the viewer to have some doubt as to whether her plan is right one, or if her obsession with Michael has led her to become a dangerous figure herself. While she was the clear heroine of the original Halloween, in this version her character is much more ambiguous.
Perhaps the most significant space in Halloween (2018) is the hidden cellar in Laurie’s house. This space demonstrates most clearly the psychological damage that Laurie has suffered, and is the means by which she passes some of the trauma she has experienced on to the next generation. The room is filled with gun racks and food supplies, resembling a survivalist bunker. The fact that the entrance to the bunker is concealed beneath a kitchen counter illustrates Laurie’s competing priorities – she wants to create a family home, but the need to be alert to and prepared for danger is ever present, just beneath the surface.
“[…] Laurie has been living in a horror film since the events of Halloween night in 1978, and there are a number of design choices in the film that reflect this.”
In a flashback, Karen tells Allyson about her childhood experiences, being taught to fight and shoot guns at an early age, and that she “had nightmares about the basement”. While Laurie sees this room as a sanctuary, her only place of true safety, Karen sees it as a prison, somewhere she was kept from having a normal, stable childhood. In the final fight with Michael, first Laurie and Karen, and then Karen and Allyson find themselves hiding in the bunker. It is here that the three generations of women acknowledge the effect that Myers has had on their lives and relationships, shown in their feelings towards the room itself. Laurie admits her faults as a mother to Karen, saying “I was wrong to raise you the way I did, but at least I can protect you… I know you thought this was my cage.”
This description is then echoed by Allyson is hiding in the cellar with her mother: “I’m locked in a cage!” In the final moments of their fight against Michael, they escape from the basement, and in doing so symbolically escape their shared past. He is kicked down in to the bunker, as Karen declares that “it’s not a cage… it’s a trap”, throwing a lever to activate spiked bars across the entrance.
In the end sequence, Laurie switches on a gas tap in the cellar and tosses a flare inside, intending to incinerate Michael. Shots of other rooms in the house reveal that she has booby-trapped the entire property with ignition points, to ensure that the whole place goes up in flames. This final look at the way she has designed her home shows that she has always been ready to surrender her stronghold when it matters, and is ultimately prepared to leave her past behind when the safety of her family has finally been secured, at last achieving some form of closure.
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