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.

Gorezone issue #5, 1988

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.

This shot isn't in the finished movie; Fangoria 79, 1988

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

Fangoria #87, 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.

Fangoria #88, 1989

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(!?!?!).

Fangoria #88, 1989

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

Fangoria #147, 1995

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.

Fangoria #147, 1995

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.


Franchise of Fear: The Halloween Series Part 1


"I met him 15 years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscious, no understanding and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face and...the blackest eyes...the devil's eyes. I spent 8 years trying to reach him and then another 7 trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boys eyes was purely and simply...evil."--Dr. Samuel Loomis

There's been so much written about John Carpenter's seminal horror classic, HALLOWEEN (1978). It's been analyzed, deconstructed, reviewed, adored, championed and rarely has anything remotely negative been said about it. It's a rare breed among the insurmountable number of horror pictures produced over the decades in that it has lost little to none of its power to scare the hell out of you or raise a goosebump or two. The single most key ingredient to this slasher stew is the embodiment of pure evil, Michael Myers. Inexplicably murdering his sister on Halloween night, he escapes a mental institution years later and begins stalking and butchering a series of teenagers for equally unknown reasons. The appearance and mannerisms of Michael Myers has been branded onto the American horror lexicon like an irremovable tattoo and whose influence can be seen in numerous slasher films that came after including the recent MALEVOLENCE series.

In this Famous Monsters photo with Gene Roddenberry, you'll spy the original Don Post Captain Kirk/William Shatner mask that served as the genesis for Michael Myers

Another key to the success of this murderous predator is his mask that hides the face of the literal embodiment of evil. Referred to in the end credits as 'The Shape', Michael Myers personifies the 'shape' of man's maleficence that lays dormant within the dark recesses of man's psyche. Without rhyme or reason, this 'shape' kills randomly, without remorse and with seemingly no purpose (although the first sequel gives him/it a purpose). In furthering Myers as the walking nature of evil, he's referred to as 'not human' by his obsessed physician, Doctor Loomis. But what would The Shape be without that incredibly spooky, unforgettably frightening visage made from an old William Shatner mask? Over the course of the series, this mask has been tinkered with and drastically altered from one sequel to the next.

Photo: HorrorHound issue 2

Granted, there are a few things in HALLOWEEN that appear to have inspired Carpenter for his own work. One of them is unquestionable and another is negligible. An earlier slasher picture from 1974 entitled BLACK CHRISTMAS bore the POV shots and heavy breathing that would become synonymous with Carpenter's movie. Also, a sequel was proposed to BC that would have been titled HALLOWEEN. The script was very similar to what eventually morphed into the 1978 production. Even so, John Carpenter made the story his own and it's inarguably the directors most accomplished film out of his entire career. If nothing else, John Carpenter will always be remembered for directing HALLOWEEN over everything else.

The stationary shots of Myers blankly watching his intended targets are strikingly similar to likewise evocative shots on display in the obscure SHOCK WAVES (1976). Carpenter also utilized this blankly staring, zombie-like state for his cutthroat avenging angels in his lesser discussed ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1977). Still, on its own merits, Carpenter fashioned a unique viewing experience enhanced by not only a brooding visual palette, but also an audible one as well for his holiday horror classic.

It's difficult to imagine HALLOWEEN without the unmistakably nerve jangling music composed by the director. It's without doubt one of the single most recognizable pieces of theme music ever recorded. In addition, one of the other indelible factors that has solidified HALLOWEEN as a milestone in horror was the resurgence of the 'Scream Queen', or at least the popular use of the term. Jamie Lee Curtis carried the torch till proudly passing it on to Linnea Quigley in the 1980s. With an ending that shockingly announced the killer is still out there (a device also seen in BLACK CHRISTMAS), this little low budget masterpiece chugged along to big box office receipts. HALLOWEEN was a massive success and its popularity meant that a sequel was not far over the horizon and that soon The Shape would be stalking the screen once more.

"The first one still remains the best. I thought 2 also had its share of fine moments. Part 4 seemed to make some steps back to getting things on track. But 5? It was just rubbish."--Donald Pleasence on his career in the HALLOWEEN franchise Fangoria #147.

HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) was an early example of a sequel that was a worthy follow up as this second installment had huge shoes to fill to say the least. It's essentially the same movie but adds some additional elements to its script written by John Carpenter who handed over the directorial reigns to Rick Rosenthal. The nature and historical significance of the actual Halloween holiday is explored as well some mean spirited moments such as children having bitten into apples lined with razor blades (remember those parental warnings before accepting candy from strangers back then?). There's a satanic vibe running through the film on an alchemic level that would be explored in a wholly erratic fashion in a later series entry. The film picks up the very same Halloween night where the first movie ended. It should be noted there's a minor editing faux pas at the beginning. Loomis runs around stating "I shot him six times!!" Yet you hear an extra shot fired from his gun which brings the number of bullets to seven!

Rosenthal aped Carpenter's style to such a degree, one wonders if Carpenter weren't acting as some sort of hands on adviser. So much of what made the original a memorably terrifying experience is recreated here, but with added scenes of gore which were shot in post by none other than Mr. Carpenter himself! Apparently with the onslaught of gory creative kills popularized by the likes of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), it was deemed necessary to beef up the HALLOWEEN sequels violence quotient.

Granted, the added shots of gore aren't on the same playing field as a Jason Voorhees or even Freddy Krueger for that matter, but the showcase of slashed jugulars, a needle in the eye and a vicious hot tub skin peel with a totally naked Pamela Shoop raises an eyebrow, or two. Director Rosenthal was one of those with raised eyebrows as he was thoroughly disenchanted that his movie was tampered with in post production.

The mask went unchanged as Dick Warlock donned the spray painted Captain Kirk mask previously worn by Nick Castle. Michael's mannerisms and murderously creepy candor were expertly retained from the first film, too. Carpenter's script adds the caveat that Myers does in fact have a purpose for his merciless intention to bring bodily harm to Laurie Strode. For the sequel, we learn that Strode is in fact Myers other sister hidden away from him after the terrible incident that starts off Carpenter's original movie. Possibly the single longest night in horror movie history, Michael Myers traces Strode to the Haddonfield hospital mere moments after getting up and walking away from multiple bullet wounds and a fall from a two story house. The score from Carpenter and Alan Howarth was basically a reworking of the original with some added and unnerving musical stings. Brandishing a seven figure budget, the movie was a huge success upon its release in October, 1981--the year of the slasher. Interestingly enough, when the film aired on television, that version contained some differently edited sequences and alternate scenes. With its fiery finale, it would appear The Night He Came Home was finally over...

All three HALLOWEEN 3 photos: HorrorHound issue 8

The third time was definitely not the charm for HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982). It was a complete 360 departure from the previous two entries. The most noticeable alteration was the complete and total lack of the terror trifecta of Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis and fear's fuel--Michael Myers. It was an ambitious and daring move on the part of the producers to take a detour from the proven formula in what was intended as a yearly bid to present an all new tale of terror under the HALLOWEEN moniker. HALLOWEEN 3 may have made less money than the previous two installments, or even other horror pictures released that year, but it did make money. Its association with the HALLOWEEN franchise is the biggest crippling factor against it. Like other movies that exploit a proven formula or title, but deviate drastically from what made said formula a crowd pleaser in the first place, HALLOWEEN 3 boldly (or brazenly) tried something vastly different, but stirred the ire of HALLOWEEN's hellions in the process.

The fragmented plot was very ambitious if extremely outrageous in its fractured fairy tale depiction of an evil capitalist with plans to kill children around the world with the use of an electronic device implanted within three different Halloween masks. Acting as a receiver set off by a catchy commercial, the mask would then melt over the victims face causing every orifice to erupt in a gore ghoulash of insects and reptiles(??). Elements of Samhain, witchcraft, Stonehenge and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS styled robotic assassins(???) are wedged into the bizarre script written by its director, Tommy Lee Wallace. The reasoning behind this insidious plot is never satisfactorily explained, but then the nature of Michael Myers oppressive evil is never explained, either; It just IS.

The level of gore is high in this film and the exploitation potential is quite striking for a major studio release. Not only does it sustain itself on a nasty HANSEL & GRETALish scenario, a less than noble, playboy hero, it also contains one of the most satisfyingly downbeat endings in horror movie history. Both Carpenter and Debra Hill returned as producers and the former contributed to the score along with returning composer, Alan Howarth. The film has earned a new found respect among horrors rabid fan base, but for the time, the overall disdain from the horror community sealed the fate of an all new, all different HALLOWEEN feature every year. Somehow, someway, evil was coming home yet again, only it would be six years for it to arrive.

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