Today we are excited and honored to welcome Stef Hutchinson as today’s guest for this latest installment of Dissecting Fear. Stef is responsible for what are arguably (seriously, you can’t actually argue this because it is true) the best Halloween and Michael Myers stories told since the original two films. The author of the critically acclaimed Halloween comics; One Good Scare, Nightdance, 30 years of terror, Autopsis and The First Death of Laurie Strode, Hutchinson displayed an innate understanding of the characters Michael Myers, Laurie Strode and of course Dr. Sam Loomis.
The results yielded stories that were respectful of the source material while still treading new ground. Sometimes those stories were based on the main characters of Loomis and Laurie, while others, built off of minor background characters such as the Mackenzie’s expand and add depth to the world created by John Carpenter and Deborah Hill. He understands Myers is much more than just a guy with a mask who stabs people. He understands what it is that makes Myers such a compelling and frightening character due to the way he torments his victims long after he has physically disappeared from their lives.
I cannot recommend how imperative it is for fans of Michael Myers and Halloween to at the very least, read these stories. Unfortunately The First Death of Laurie Strode was cut short due to issues with the publisher that were beyond Hutchinson’s control. Still even the first two issues in that series serve as an intriguing and worthy sequel to Halloween II. Had he been able to carry on with his plan, he would have finished off the Laurie Strode story and then bridged it into Halloween 4 and beyond. Hutchinson had a way of making the most out of even the weakest elements and installments in the series as evidenced by his work on a Laurie Strode tale found within the 30 years of terror book that serves as a well told prequel to Resurrection. It is a shame we could not see where things would have gone in the Halloween comic book universe created by Hutchinson.
Stef was kind enough to take some time out and answer some questions for us. For all the years I have known Stef, one thing was apparent he has always had strong opinions on what horror is, means and needs. Even when we have disagreed on things relating to horror, his opinion is always insightful and valuable. I think this will be evident when you read his answers below!
As a Child what horror film and/or horror character scared you the most and why do you feel they had this effect on you?
The first one – and in many ways the last – to have a major impact was The Shape in the original Halloween. There had been precursors for me, but these usually involved singular moments in other stories which wouldn’t always fall into the horror category (I’m thinking of the Witch at the top of the stairs in the forgotten children’s TV film, Quincy’s Quest, and the majority of Scooby Doo villains, things like that).
What these innocuous monsters had in common was a scene or moment that directly correlated to the real world I lived in. A shadow at the top of the stairs. Someone – something – lurking in the garden. Moments that fit perfectly on the straight line between mundane, real life experiences and horrific nightmares.
Halloween is a film that doesn’t just fit that line – it effectively replaces it. Its horror breathes in the everyday and its madness lurks on the periphery of the ordinary. It can’t help but be unsettling.
Obviously, no film can have that sort of impact on a person without the right context – the where and the when of that first viewing. I was seven years old, immersed in a fascination with my own fears, in a darkened room. And thus it scared the living shit out of me.
Do you have an example telling of an instance where this fear really manifested itself and had an impact on you and your behavior?
The fear was already there, I think. I was fairly neurotic in that respect, although it was in that weird, abstract way that it is when you’re young – the more primal stuff. You don’t know why the way the light falls on that wall scares you, it just does. The best horror stories tap right into these spaces.
In some ways it’s reductive – unexplained feelings given form – but I guess that’s just part of growing up anyway. Simplifying stuff, inventing meaning, coping mechanisms and all that. Along the way, certain images and motifs from the genre seem to become hard-wired because of the impact they make.
What VHS covers or horror movie posters scared you as a kid and why do you feel the poster or cover had this effect on you?
They didn’t scare me as much as they fascinated me. As a kid, I would always wander to the Betamax section of the video store – because it was much smaller, the horror films were on lower shelves, covers right there to see. Seeing the covers would be enough for me to invent the films in my head – and again, the more abstract / vague the image, the better. The covers for the first three Halloween films, Scanners and Dead & Buried, for example.
Do you have a specific example of a time you may remember that you have come across one of these and it had that effect on you when you were younger?
Friday The 13th Part 2 comes to mind. I didn’t see the Friday films till I was 11 or so, simply because they weren’t readily available here in the UK (I think we got parts 3, 4 and 5 all in 1987, as well as a re-release of the original). Part 2 (on the CIC label, if memory serves correctly) was a common sight, however. I never saw any images of Jason – or if I did, they didn’t stick with me. It was the outline on the cover and the image of Mrs. Voorhees head upon the shrine that did.
From there, I had my own idea about what Friday The 13th was. Many years later, when I was working on a Friday script (an unsolicited wee thing), I found myself going back to the mythology in my head, merging it with what actually did already exist.
What is your definition of “scary” when it comes to modern horror films these days. So many people are quick to say a film isn’t scary, but each person has a different definition of what “scary” means.
That’s a tough one. I can’t recall the last time I was scared in any way. I mean, there have been jump scares here and there, but that’s not really the same, is it?
What do you NOT consider scary or not like in your horror films?
Relentless gore and violence, to be honest. I’ve always liked the red stuff in my horror films, but in recent years, I think too many filmmakers have used it as a crutch. It’s particularly notable in the human-on-human violence (films following the Hostel trajectory and so on). My thinking is that ANYONE can invent horrible things for one person to do to another. I find the relentlessness of that type of horror to be ultimately very, very boring.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for gore and violence when used by articulate filmmakers or when there’s a purpose behind it (for example, the cold, intellectual anger that permeates Martyrs). It seemed for a while there we were stuck in a cycle of graphic one-upmanship, ironically to the point of boredom.
What do you look to get out of horror films these days?
I look for surprises. Not the same old stories retold. Admittedly, in my own small way I’ve contributed to this problem by writing the Halloween comics, but I did try to avoid retreading the same beats and instead went inwards, focusing on the subconscious stuff that doesn’t really translate to film – at least not within the accepted Halloween aesthetics.
I just want something new, fresh, that doesn’t rely on the same old recycled crap. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to franchises – I love long-form storytelling and iconic characters, although the sheer glut of horror merchandising that keeps coming out with the same characters over and over again makes me fucking nauseous.
What is your favorite recent horror film and why?
My favourites from the last few years are Excision and Maniac. Neither was scary, but each both had a voice and identity that I appreciated. They both felt unique.
Excision was a breath of fresh air from start to end (like an indie film going to hell) and Maniac transcended its origins as a remake to become something quite special. Both of these films actually left me with an actual feeling, which is an achievement in itself.
Do you feel there is a certain way or mindset to have to watch a horror film as far as it being effectively frightening?
I think there’s a lot to be said for the theatre experience. As an adult, the corners of my home aren’t filled with the same imagination they were all those years ago.. Watching a horror movie with a crowd – particularly the more fun ones – is great. It’s almost interactive. Then there’s the opposite – an empty cinema – which is just as fulfilling.
I was always envious of Americans and their access to horror movies growing up, because so few of them here made it to cinema screens. What you guys got to see on the big screen usually went straight to video here.
I used to sneak in to the few that did show (well, not so much sneak in as blatantly lie about my age – 13 playing 18) and very few people would be there. I saw The Exorcist at a midnight screening. I was 13 then, and there were 3 or 4 other people in there. Fantastic!
But that’s the physical place, I guess. Not the mental place. In that respect, you just have to approach it with an open-mind, and also in a scenario when you are not going to be distracted. There are few things that compare to the magic of being fully pulled into a film’s world, be it horror or not.
Do you feel there is any correlation to your tastes in horror films now based on the horror related experiences and viewings of your youth? And if so could you elaborate on that a bit as to what way they were affected?
There definitely is, but a lot of that is due to the childhood experience as a whole. The borders on reality aren’t quite set at that point, and things can crawl in. I had a few real-life scary experiences that correlated with my viewing, and there’s also the way I’ve come to understand the world in the last few years.
I like the subjectivity of experience, the vagueness etc. There’s a dreamlike sensibility there, in the same way that memories are like sunlight flickering through a tree. Given that the cinema screen is the same at 24 frames per second, so it seems to me that on some sort of subconscious level it captures that feeling.
For example, how an adult can look to child’s eyes, how a shadow that flutters may contain any number of horrific beasts. The monsters are already there. I think this is why, as a horror and film viewer, after discovering Carpenter in my childhood, Lynch was the next logical step and inspiration.
I’m agnostic, probably atheist, so I don’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural, but I do believe we know very little about the universe itself and what reality actually is. That to me, is terrifying, and to go further and imagine a subjective universe, unique to each individual – imagine the sheer number of horrors.
We all have our demons, don’t we?
Thanks again Stef for taking the time out for us to pick your brain, as you know it is much appreciated!
Everyone else be sure to track down the Halloween comics so you can get a proper Michael Myers fix that as fans we all deserve. Most can be found on ebay currently, in single issue of paperback form.