Movie theaters became a ghost town once the COVID-19 pandemic forced non-essential businesses to shut down.
Theater chain Emagine Entertainment plans to scare-up new customers throughout October by turning the historic Birmingham 8 building into a multiplex haunted house.
It’s also debuting the latest installment in the Halloween horror film franchise featuring masked slasher Michael Myers, “Halloween Ends.” The man who plays Michael Myers, James Jude Courtney, was on hand for the grand opening of the haunted house.
Emagine Entertainment CEO Anthony LaVerde says each of the theaters inside the Birmingham 8 building will have its own scary theme.
“You’re going to walk through each room. Someone might be speaking to you, telling you the history of the building. And you never know what might happen as you wander through the building,” LaVerde explains. You’ll even be brought down corridors that the public’s never seen before and hear rumors of employees who refuse to walk down some of these corridors because they hear noises and believe it’s haunted. It’s truly going to be a special experience and we’re super excited for it.”
Quinn Klinefelter, WDET News: The theater does kind of have a spooky backstory, a spooky history, doesn’t it?
It does, you know, depending on who you ask. We have employees that have been with us 20-plus years that claim they still hear bowling balls from the old bowling alley facility downstairs. They claim to hear walking on the rafters that are no longer open. So we’ll see what people feel when they walk through some of these areas and if they get their Spidey senses up.
Is it a pretty costly venture to try to redo these theaters, even if it’s only for a month or so?
It wasn’t cheap. It’s certainly a bet. But Emagine likes to go above and beyond. So hopefully people appreciate the hard work and effort that went into this with our partners Bluewater, who have just been absolutely tremendous to work with, such talented artists. And we’re, again, super excited to open this and see what the public thinks of it.
It’s not been any secret that movie theaters have been one of the types of establishments that have suffered while people were staying home during the pandemic. Is this kind of a new way to repurpose the theaters and lure people back?
Yeah, we’re bullish on the industry. We believe that theaters are a special place and folks want to have communal experiences. In fact, the month of July was the most profitable in the history of Emagine. So we think when you provide an exemplary out-of-home experience and if there’s good product Hollywood puts out that folks want to see, then folks will come. And we’re not all the way back. But we’re certainly looking at brighter days ahead. And we’re always open to using our wonderful facilities for new ideas.
Critics will say that there’s only a limited amount of the kind of blockbuster films that usually draw big crowds to theaters coming out over the whole rest of this next year. Do you feel that you’re ready to weather any kind of a barren period, ticket-wise?
We don’t see that same sort of lull in the industry. We think we’re pretty much behind that COVID delay of production in films. We think 2023 should have 25%- 30% more film releases. And ‘24 should be back to 2019 levels.
One of the films coming out soon that could help the box office is the latest installment of the Halloween movie franchise, called “Halloween Ends.” The actor who portrays the main antagonist in the movie, Michael Myers, is James Jude Courtney. He’s doing extra knife duty by cutting the ribbon for the grand opening of the Birmingham 8 haunted houses.
James Jude Courtney: I’m not really cutting the ribbon. I’m slashing the ribbon. It’s what I do best [laughs]!
You’re playing Michael Myers again in the new Halloween movie. It’s “Halloween Ends.” But it seems from the previous Halloween movies that Michael is pretty hard to get rid of. Can you really have a Halloween “ends” finale movie?
To be honest, this is the end for Jamie [co-star Jamie Lee Curtis] and this is the end for me. I think we’ve accomplished something really beautiful in making three wonderful films, which really if you look at it is one very large film. “Halloween 2018” being the first act, “Halloween Kills” being the second act, and, of course, when you’re building a beautiful, powerful film, the climax is always at the end of the film. And so this will be “Halloween Ends.” So it’s it for me.
I’d heard that there’s a kind of a “grand finale” final scene with Jamie Lee Curtis, who’s been the protagonist in many of the movies for four decades now. I’d read that you guys go to a kind of a deeper, more “spiritual” place than in the previous films. It must have been a pretty emotional experience.
It was profoundly emotional. We didn’t speak at all on Halloween Kills, but we have this dynamic between us. We both very much appreciate each other, we like each other as friends, and we respect each other. When we got ready to shoot the finale, we went off to the side and went over the beats. And literally, both of us had tears rolling down our cheeks. It’s a release of 40 some odd years of pain and suffering. And it’s erotic and it’s filled with love. It’s so deeply powerful. And Jamie and I both agree that it’s the most powerful thing we’ve ever done in our careers.
That captures a lot. You both have quite a filmography. For most of the time in these movies, your character wears a mask and you don’t speak. I would think that kind of deprives you as an actor of some of the main tools of acting, using facial expressions and voice inflections. How do you bring somebody like Michael Myers to life, so to speak, without having those tools to work with?
I think the object there is you have to tell the truth. I was blessed to study with Stella Adler, who was Marlon Brando’s coach. And I had a private coach from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. And I remember that coach in particular when he was just grinding and grinding and grinding me and I was like, “You know, why are we doing this?” He was like, “Look, when you’re inspired, you’re as good as anybody. But it’s those days when you’re not inspired. This is why we need to work on technique.”
There are so many facets to what we do as actors. Jimmy Cagney said to be a good actor, all you need to do is stand on two feet and tell the truth. Well, in order to tell the truth, you have to be living that experience within you. So when I play this character, I literally breathed this character into me. And I breathed it out.
In fact, my partner Sarah, we’d only been dating a short time on Halloween Kills. She was watching the film from video village, which is usually 100-200 yards away from the filming. And this was particularly far away because we’re doing all the fire scenes. She was next to me, it was getting close to dawn, and we were talking about what we were going to have for breakfast before we went to sleep. And all of a sudden, we needed to catch a particular shot and we had to do it now. I can’t put that mask on myself. It has to be applied to me, it’s formed exactly to my face. So Christopher Nelson, the Academy Award-winning special effects makeup artist who created the mask, came over to apply it to me. They put the mask on me and I became Michael Myers. And Sara was…it freaked her out. She literally took a step away from me and she told me afterward she got chills. Because it is truly an embodiment of a spirit. And then when I’m done with a particular scene, when I know we’re moving on to another setup, then I breathe it out. And then I become me again.
Is it that easy to do? When it’s a character that is not particularly “saintly” yet you still have to encompass so much of it. Can you just breathe it in for a while and then just breathe it out and go back to being James again?
Well, I think this is where Heath Ledger ran into trouble. But this is the culmination of not only, you know, decades of work as an actor and a stuntman. It’s also decades of work on my psychological being, my emotional being, and my spiritual being. I’ve gone to the jungles of Peru and worked with a shaman and done plant medicine. I’ve worked with North American Native shamans, and I’ve worked with African shamans doing plant medicine. I’ve gone to some pretty deep and dark places. And so that vessel that was opened up and able to carry that particular energy has been practiced. I don’t know that I could have done it when I was 25 or 30.
On a far more prosaic level, I’d read that when you were devising some of Michael Myers’ mannerisms, you based some of his movements on your cat.
Absolutely true. And sadly my cat Parcival just passed away a couple of months ago at 23 years old. When I met him he was a stray and I watched him hunt. It was amazing to watch him even moving in the house as he got older. If you’ll notice, every muscle in a cat is under control when they’re, say, moving low to the grass slowly before they pounce on a mouse.
So the way I move as Michael Myers, I can feel every muscle in my body. I don’t walk heel to pad to toe. I’m gripping the ground with every toe, I’m feeling every muscle in my calves and my thighs and my glutes, my stomach, my back. Everything in me is alive. I work at and I feel that. And the funny thing is, when [director] David Green cast me, he called me and said, “Okay, let’s talk about his character. I really feel he needs to be cat-like.” And I said, “Well, when you say that, Parcival is sitting in my lap right now.” And that conversation lasted about 30 seconds and we knew we had it.
You’ve been in a ton of pretty high-profile stuff. And it’s kind of impossible to sum up somebody’s entire body of work, especially when you’re still working. But you’re likely going to always be remembered, at least in part, as the actor who portrayed Michael Myers. What kind of a legacy do you think that’ll leave behind for you?
Well, first of all, I feel incredibly honored to work with these just wonderfully-talented people like Jamie Lee Curtis, David Gordon Green, Christopher Nelson, I mean, the list goes on. And to have a character and an experience like this, these three films, at this stage in my life. I mean, many times by the time when a guy gets into his 60s, he’s washed-up or not in much demand. But for me, I think this is certainly the highlight of my career thus far. Of course, I look forward to doing other things that will be just as powerful or maybe even more so. But I don’t know that anything will ever be the same. This will always hold a very, very special place in my heart.
“Halloween Ends” opens in theaters nationwide on October 14. The Birmingham 8 Ghosts on the Balcony haunted attraction runs October 1-31. Tickets are available at emagine-entertainment.com.