Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Franchise of Fear: The Halloween Series Part 2
"You're talking about him like he were a human being. That part of him died years ago."--Dr. Loomis
The late 80s was a sad time for horror. Dominated by tired retreads, clones of past successes, sequels and stand up comedians masquerading as serial killers, horror had grown stale and would remain that way well into the 1990s. HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) was the first entry in the series without any association with either John Carpenter or Debra Hill. The re-appearance of one of horrors big guns was no doubt spurred on by the continued success of both the FRIDAY THE 13TH and ELM STREET franchises. For this new HALLOWEEN, elements that were uniquely HALLOWEEN were in evidence here, but for the most part, the return of Myers could just as well have been another Jason hack & slash. Michael Myers is given an air of sophistication and an outrageous level of Voorheesian super strength. The suspense was lessened and the gore was magnified. Michael Myers had now become like any other slasher.
Originally envisioned as a suspenser with very little blood and guts akin to the original, HALLOWEEN 4 had a small budget, a six week shooting schedule and a staggering one day of prep for last minute effects artist Ken Horn (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, THE BOOGENS). If a rushed shoot weren't enough, there was no time to build a new mask, the most iconic accoutrement of the franchise. Horn was able to utilize an old Myers mask left over from HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) and made the necessary adjustments to it. With no time to do it right, the mask needed to be touched up with each passing day. As far removed from the classic template of the Shatner mask as you could get, the films poster artwork wisely utilized the well known visage of The Shape personified in the first two HALLOWEEN movies.
After all was said and done, history repeated itself in that the producers decided the film wasn't gruesome enough to satiate the appetites of the horror masses. John Carl Buechler (who had previously done a magnificent job creating a stunning rendition of a rotting Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY 7, which he also directed) and his team were hired to come up with additional gore gags within a six day time frame including a ridiculous thumb through the skull gag and a throat ripping.
Donald Pleasence returned as Loomis now nuttier than ever and bearing burn scars suffered from the explosive hospital climax seen in HALLOWEEN 2 (1981). The plot is basically the first movie all over again. Laurie Strode has seemingly died in a car crash and her daughter, Jamie Lloyd becomes Dead Man Walking's new target after awakening from a coma while being transported to a different mental facility. The script attempts to reinvent the opening of Carpenter's original for the big cliffhanger finale of this third sequel as evil is apparently passed on. There's some nice photographic touches here and director Dwight Little ended up directing the Krueger-esque PHANTOM OF THE OPERA the following year and the actioners MARKED FOR DEATH (1990) and RAPID FIRE (1992). Long time stuntman George Wilbur donned the noticeably inferior Myers mask. From here on out, the HALLOWEEN franchise would get progressively worse and it would be a decade before things would temporarily get back on track.
"It's hard to play a continuing character like Loomis for nearly 11 years and simply wash your hands of him. It seems a pity."--Donald Pleasence, Fangoria #89, December 1989
Hailing from a French quarter of Switzerland, it was a mere few months upon the completion of the demonic-erotic horror picture NIGHT ANGEL (1989) that Dominique Othenin-Girard was offered the job of directing what became the least successful entry in the HALLOWEEN series. HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989) was yet another rush job with some of the most ridiculously lame scripting ideas of the entire franchise.
Whereas HALLOWEEN 4 paid tribute to Carpenter's original, Girard's movie goes in the opposite direction. Girard's overhauled script was accused of being too slow, was repeatedly changed from one day to the next and his penchant for excessive brutality was clearly in evidence resulting in the movie having problems with the MPAA.
Scenes already shot were excised and there's nothing in the finished film that even gives off a vibe that it's really Halloween. Arguably the blandest looking of all the sequels, the only thing this entry has going for it is an intense opening sequence and one or two incredibly mean spirited moments where Myers relentlessly tries to kill little Jamie Lloyd. The makers assumed they had a bonafide success on their hands as the script included unexplained nonsense such as 'The Man In Black' whom we see at regular intervals. This character was hyped a great deal prior to the films release despite the finished product giving us nothing as to who, or what his relation to Myers is. Adding further insult to injury, both Akkad and Girard had the temerity to allow the shooting of a scene wherein Michael Myers is arrested(!?!) by the police and they don't even bother to take his mask off(!?!?!).
Dr. Sam Loomis was originally supposed to die in this entry and in interviews at the time, Donald Pleasence would seem to be thankful for that. He was dissatisfied with the direction this sequel was taking even going so far as to call the story "stupid" and was vocally opposed to Girard's direction. At least the mask used here is a step up from the doll-like appearance of the previous entry. Reportedly Akkad wanted a mask that went back to the roots of the first two films. For whatever reason, the one ultimately designed by KNB looked nothing at all like the classic Kirk modified mask. Even still, it does have a certain degree of formidability about it giving off an almost scarecrow-like resonance. Don Shanks essayed the Shapester this time out. The movie did average business and was the least successful film in the series, but this didn't stop the descent into the bowels of mediocrity the series was rapidly sinking into.
"They wanted me to write HALLOWEEN 6 back when they were first going to make it. It totally would have dealt with that whole open-ended thing that HALLOWEEN 5 had. But it just never happened."--Quentin Tarantino on his initial attachment to HALLOWEEN 6.
Considering Jason Voorhees was now a body hopping parasite and Leatherface and the Sawyer clan were being observed by aliens, it was only natural that Michael Myers continue his downward spiral into 'Way Out' territory. The subtleties of Samhain discussed in HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) and the Stonehenge-Druid connection of the unrelated HALLOWEEN 3 (1982) became the basis for HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995). In this wildly ridiculous plot, Myers was now an emissary of a modern day Druid cult led by the black clad mystery man from the previous film. Myers' murderous tendencies are explained as a result of the convoluted 'Curse of Thorn'. First seen in the horrid HALLOWEEN 5, Thorn was an ancient runic symbol associated with some sort of demonic plague thwarted by a blood sacrifice of a first born child or some such garbage as that. Honestly, Rob Zombie couldn't have done a better job of series derailment as this, but at least Daniel Farrands inventively stupid script is creative in a bone-headed sort of way. But again, this is cinema sickness at its worst. Why bother utilizing a proven commodity if you're going to traverse so far from the established material?
"This is the most character driven HALLOWEEN since the first one..."--Director, Joe Chappelle, Fangoria 147
The previous two installments suffered from assorted production problems and this sixth film multiplied that by ten. Originally, Scott Spiegel and Quentin Tarantino were initially attached to the project when it was still known as HALLOWEEN 666. In a Fangoria interview, Tarantino expressed interest in taking the series back to its roots as seen in the Carpenter original. No doubt his version would have featured Myers' victims talking the stalker to death with hip dialog revolving around obscure drive in movies and rampant drug use. Amazingly, the script Spiegel submitted featured Michael Myers as a homeless person(!!!), a woefully ill conceived plot point Rob Zombie would employ for his disastrous raping of the series over a decade later. Ultimately, Spiegel and QT were out and Joe Chappelle was in. When the picture was finished, a massive amount of re-shoots was ordered causing the film to lose over 40 minutes of its running time and gaining an all new ending in the process. Also, the series had adopted a popular plot device from the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise wherein characters who survived a particular entry would be killed off in the next one. For the HALLOWEEN series, it was Rachel in the fifth film and now grown up Jaime in the sixth.
"If I've done nothing else with the script, I've answered a lot of questions that have gone unanswered since the original."--screenwriter, Daniel Farrands, Fangoria 147.
The Myers mask seen here is the closest to the original since part 2, but in some shots, the mask gives the All Hollows slasher a sort of drag queen look. The character is a bit more bloated than normal and played by a now bulkier George Wilbur who played Michael in part 4. Sadly, this would be Donald Pleasence's final bow as the increasingly 'mad' doctor Loomis. Planning to return to the stage after wrapping up his work on HALLOWEEN 6, failing health claimed the kindly actor on February 2nd, 1995 at 75 years old. He did express interest in doing a HALLOWEEN 7 should the project surface. It's a shame his last HALLOWEEN had to be such a major league disappointment. Had he managed to appear in the next entry, it truly would have been a special occasion and a much better last call than this cinematic train wreck. Dangling ever so close to PLAN 9 territory, there was nowhere else for the series to go but up despite nestling uncomfortably at the bottom of the barrel throughout the new millennium.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3....