Unmasked Michael Myers haunts Scream Park

October 4, 2018

NILES — Tony Moran was a 21-year-old, struggling actor when his agent told him about the part that would forever change his life.

The role was part of an unusual collaboration of talents that would bring the character of masked killer Michael Myers to life in John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic, “Halloween.” Moran, however, was reluctant to even go to the interview with Carpenter.

“My agent had to beg me to go because I wasn’t interested,” Moran says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “Back then, doing a horror movie was looked down upon by other actors and directors. If you made your name doing horror movies, you got a bad rap. So I didn’t really want to do it, but she told me Donald Pleasence was in it. He had already signed on. I was a huge fan of his. He’s a brilliant actor, so I was floored. Once I heard that, I had to go. I had to.”

Moran is officially credited as playing “Michael Myers (age 23),” joining Nick Castle (credited as “The Shape”) who plays Myers in the most scenes, as well as production designer Tommy Lee Wallace for scenes in which parts of the set had to be damaged, Will Sandin as “Michael Myers (age 6),” stuntman Jim Winburn for the climactic fall off the balcony, and even co-writer Debra Hill for the child-sized hands in the opening.

In the final scenes of the film, when Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, struggles with Michael Myers as he attempts to kill her, it’s Moran who gets unmasked, glimpsed only briefly but hauntingly effective.

Forty years later, Moran remains almost a cult-like figure for his part in creating one of the scariest characters in cinematic history. That status has only been augmented recently with the original film returning to theaters to celebrate the four-decade milestone ahead of the Oct. 19 release of David Gordon Green’s highly anticipated sequel, also named “Halloween,” which has Curtis reprising her role as Strode, the sole survivor of Myers’ 1978 killing spree.

“I just got back from doing a convention in New Jersey and every weekend until the end of November I’m booked doing things all across the country,” Moran says. “It’s incredible. It’s unbelievable how that movie is still so popular.”

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Moran will be signing autographs and taking photos with fans on the Midway at Niles Scream Park, which is celebrating its own milestone.

The park, now in its 45th season, features seven attractions, the most popular of which, the haunted house, offers a variety of paths so visitors can get a different experience every time they walk through.

Other attractions include, “Grimm’s Funeral Services,” billed as the funeral home of Dr. Adam Grimm, longtime mortician and accused killer; the “Doll Factory,” which takes visitors through the tale of a lonely doll maker who has customers come into her factory, but never out; as well as mini escape rooms, the “Field of Screams” maze and “Hooded,” the adults-only blindfold attraction that requires a waiver.

“We start from scratch every year,” says Kellie Welch, who works at the park. “The week after we close, we start tearing everything down and we basically have a blank slate. We create a new theme and really incorporate something that will be new and fresh each and every year. With all the attractions it does take a full year to tear everything down and rebuild and set everything up with the lighting, the scares, decorations, all of that.”

Moran, who last visited the park in 2014, is the older brother of the late Erin Moran, best known for playing Joanie Cunningham on the TV sitcom “Happy Days.” He was 9 and she was 5 when they were spotted by a talent agent at their parents’ Christmas party.

“A friend of a friend brought this agent to the party, and she saw Erin and I and wanted to sign us,” Tony Moran says. “So our parents signed us up and we did a commercial together as brother and sister as our first job. The first time it aired was during the original ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ so it was a big deal.”

Although he stopped acting, while his sister continued on, that same agent kept after him until, as a directionless 19-year-old, he decided to return to show business.

“When I graduated high school, I was a sports guy,” he says. “I played baseball and had a chance to sign with the Angels, but I tore my knee up, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I got into acting because there was nothing else. So I called her up and got back into it.”

Then came, “Halloween,” which Moran says, wasn’t exactly a big-budget blockbuster.

“It was an independent film, which is completely different than doing a studio film,” he says. “On an independent film, especially a low-budget independent film, everybody helps everybody. It’s like a big team and everybody was really close on the set. It was just a really great experience that way.”

Despite the film’s success, Moran decided not to be in the sequel. His scenes in “Halloween II” were shot for the original.

“They asked me to do ‘Halloween II,’ but I said no because I didn’t want to wear a mask again,” he says. “I was an actor and not a puppet, so they decided to use the footage of me in ‘Halloween’ and paid me and gave me credit. I got paid for doing nothing, so I was in.”

Moran continued to act until his early 30s, then left Hollywood to work in the mortgage industry. It was some years later that he learned of his cult status in the horror convention circuit and that promoters were actually looking for him.

“A buddy of mine was at a party and a guy there overheard him talking about me and came up to him and said, ‘I’ve been looking for that guy for 10 years,’” Moran says. “That’s when I heard about horror conventions and doing appearances at haunts and stuff like that. Through these conventions I have met a lot of filmmakers who do independent horror films, and so that’s what I’ve been doing now.”

His most recent film, “Death House,” released in February, features a who’s who of horror alumni. In addition to Moran, the film features Kane Hodder (“Friday the 13th” films), Barbara Crampton (“Re-Animator”), William Moseley (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”), Dee Wallace (“The Howling,” “Cujo”), Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Eyes”), Tony Todd (”Candyman” films), Sid Haig (”House of 1000 Corpses”), Adrienne Barbeau (”Creepshow,” “Swamp Thing”) and Vernon Wells (”The Road Warrior”), among others.

“It was a movie written by Gunnar Hansen, who played Leatherface in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’” Moran says. “He wanted to have all the famous horror actors in the same movie, like ‘The Expendables’ or something. It was shot here in Los Angeles and was just a great time.”

Moran says he’s often asked why the character of Michael Myers and “Halloween” continues to scare. It’s a question he’s had ample time to ponder.

“This movie could happen in real life,” he says. “That’s what it is. To some people ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a really scary movie, but that’s never going to happen to somebody. But someone breaking out of an insane asylum and going back to his hometown and killing people could really happen. I think that’s why it still strikes a chord.”

Still, Moran says, the attention he receives for his part in the creation of the masked, knife-wielding killer does leave him a bit dumbfounded.

“I’ll never get used to it, but it’s the greatest,” he says. “I mean, this movie is 40 years old and I still have this much attention coming my way. It’s crazy. Horror fans and ‘Halloween’ fans are the best people in the world. I’m just the most blessed guy.”

If you go

Who: “Halloween” actor Tony Moran appearance

When: 6:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 6:30-10 p.m. Sunday (6:30-7:30 p.m., 3-D pictures only; 7:30 p.m.-close, autographs)

Where: Niles Scream Park, 855 Mayflower Road, Niles

How much: Free admission to the park; 3-D pictures with Moran are $20; an autograph is $20; an autographed 3-D picture is $40; selfies with Moran are $10; sales are cash only

Contact: (269) 687-3327 or visit www.haunted.org

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