'There’s a whole young audience out there that has never seen a Halloween movie, the older fans are coming back for more. It’s a real benchmark moment,' the Syrian-American producer says
Producer Malek Akkad on getting his chance to remake the horror film 'Halloween'
When Halloween opens across the UAE this weekend, it’ll be coming highly recommended by American audiences, who have flocked to the film in their thousands since it opened in the United States last weekend, making it the second-highest-grossing horror film opening in history.
The $76 million (Dh279,110m) it made domestically on opening is second only to last year’s It, and producer Malek Akkad, son of the original, seminal, 1978 Halloween’s producer Moustapha, says a number of fortunate circumstances collided to help the film along – surprisingly, even one involving disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
“The whole franchise had been tied to Weinstein’s Dimension Films until about two-and-a-half years ago,” Akkad explains. “We all know what happened with Weinstein, but fortunately that deal expired and I got the rights back before all the headlines happened. That gave me the option to really check out the landscape and see what options were available to me, because Dimension simply didn’t have the motivation or infrastructure to really budget or market the franchise the way we might have liked.”
Akkad says a number of studios were interested in taking the genre-defining franchise on, but there was really only one option. When Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse Productions is responsible for such low-budget, high-return horror successes as Get Out, The Purge and Paranormal Activity, expressed an interest, the deal was as good as done.
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“That Blumhouse model is amazing,” says Akkad. “Low-budget films that have the quality and the scares to really grab audiences. The old horror films would recoup a lot of budget through DVD and other tertiary markets, but Blum has taken that model, he’s not reinvented the wheel, but he just makes a good horror film and thanks to his deal with Universal he can run it through one of the big six studios with their incredible marketing machine, and that really works.”
Of course, it’s not a one-sided deal, and Akkad notes that the model has its bonuses for Universal, too: “For every big Oscar-potential movie they do, where returns may be minimised, for every First Man, critically acclaimed and a great movie, but not necessarily a box office performer, they cover their backs with a big box office, low-budget horror. Everybody wins.”
Bringing back the original cast
This particular incarnation of Halloween is the 11th in the series, although Akkad and his team have dropped the numbering for this version, and it is a direct sequel to the very first film. Significantly, Akkad has also successfully reunited the original film’s stars Nick Castle and Jamie Lee Curtis, who reprise their roles as serial killer Michael Myers and Laurie, the sole survivor of his 1978 killing spree, and that film’s writer, director and composer John Carpenter, who again scores this instalment.
Akkad says it was reasonably straightforward to bring big names, in particular Curtis and Carpenter, back to a franchise that, 10 films in, had perhaps lost its way in B-movie territory to some degree: “They all have a really fond place in their hearts for the film,” Akkad explains. “I think Jamie especially really identifies with the really strong character she plays, and it certainly wasn’t intentional to have a film with such a strong female lead, but it really tied into what’s happening at the moment, and I think there was extra appeal there, too.”
As for Carpenter, Akkad says he was determined to have the original film’s creator, and as such the creator of the entire slasher film genre, back on board: “For John I think he was really keen to get involved with a really good, high concept return to the franchise. He hasn’t been involved so much with the later films, but as soon as I got the rights back he was the first person I went to, and thankfully he was really fired up about making a sequel worthy of the original.”
Audiences and critics alike seem to agree that the film is very much a return to form, and Akkad notes that includes not only the die-hard fans who have watched the movie at Fantastic Fest or his own five-yearly Halloween convention in Pasadena, but the more mainstream audiences at Toronto International Film Festival, where the picture won a People’s Choice Award, the film’s premiere, and now those who are pouring through the doors of cinemas.
'A real benchmark moment'
For Akkad, there’s another, more personal, side to breathing life back into a franchise that had laid dormant since Rob Zombie’s last two takes on the theme in 2007 and 2009, Halloween and Halloween II. Akkad’s father Moustapha had executive produced the original movie, and although Akkad junior has been closely involved with the franchise ever since, this year marks a milestone for the producer in commemorating his late father’s legacy. In June, Akkad finally succeeded in releasing his father 1976 classic The Message in Middle Eastern cinemas following a four-decade ban. Now he has successfully reunited the key figures required to revisit the legacy of his father’s most grisly work.
It’s been quite the journey for the producer: “My father’s presence was massive, I could feel him on set with me every day and it was amazing to continue something that he started 40 years ago,” he says. “I’ve worked with my father’s films for so many years, so to be able to be on set with all these amazing people he worked with 40 years ago, these wonderful actors who, really, he gave flight to their careers, and I think they’d be the first to acknowledge that, there was that continuation of what he started which is a wonderful thing.”
Halloween may be a continuation of his father’s 1978 work, but Akkad concedes that the hugely successful release of this film has been a stark contrast to events 40 years ago: “The first one opened in one theatre. They only budgeted for one print, they really didn’t know what they had,” he reveals. “Then they bought another, then four, then eight. It was just this crazy roll out that no one expected because it was such a new thing. This one opened in about 4,000 screens in North America alone. There’s a whole young audience out there that has never seen a Halloween movie, the older fans are coming back for more. It’s a real benchmark moment, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see anything like it again.”
Halloween is in UAE cinemas from this weekend